Press Conference – Sydney

Topic: Asylum Seeker vessel; HMAS Armidale; Robert Hughes

QUESTION: Okay, well, can you explain the nature of yesterday’s rescue involving more than two hundred asylum seekers?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, happy to do that. More than 200 individuals on a vessel were rescued by the Australian Navy. They were rescued by the Australian Navy at just before midnight on Wednesday by two Australian Navy vessels. I think that gives you an indication of just how serious this issue is and how important it is that the Australian Parliament come together next week to take the action necessary to stop people making the dangerous journey by sea and stop the risk of people dying at sea.

QUESTION: How dangerous was the operation?

JASON CLARE: Any operation at sea in the dangerous sea state has the potential for people to lose their lives. In this case the sea was sufficiently rough that the Navy made the decision not to board the vessel straight away but to tow the vessel until such time as the sea state had improved and they could board the vessel.

The vessel was boarded yesterday afternoon when the sea state had improved and then the people brought back to Christmas Island late last night.

QUESTION: There are reports that three patrol boats have cracks in them and there is an investigation going on. Are Australian Navy patrol boats cracking under the pressure of all these rescues?

JASON CLARE: I’ll give you a little bit more information about that. We’ve found cracking in the engine room of HMAS Armidale. This is the part of the ship, the part of the boat that comes under the most strain, the most pressure particularly in rough weather and we’ve identified minor cracks in two other of our Navy patrol boats.

The Navy’s now conducting a detailed structural engineering analysis of all of our patrol boats and developing a permanent repair plan. They’ve made some temporary fixes to those vessels already but are developing now a permanent repair plan that will be implemented by October.

I make this point, our patrol boats are working hard. Our sailors are working hard as well. They wouldn’t have to work as hard if our politicians would just work together and that’s what we need to do next week.

QUESTION: But can you point these cracks are happening because these Navy patrol boats are under pressure because there are increasing numbers of boats coming?

JASON CLARE: Well, that’s what the structural analysis will tell us. It’ll get to the bottom of why the ships are cracking, why these three boats have had cracks in their engine room.

I’m not going to pre-empt the work that the engineers are doing. They’ll do that work now. We’ll have their results in October and begin to implement a permanent repair plan for those vessels.

QUESTION: How long before we know anything?

JASON CLARE: In October we’ll have that permanent repair plan that’ll outline how to make a fix to those cracks that we’ve seen in HMAS Armidale and two other boats.

QUESTION: Because this is an old fleet? Sorry, is this an old fleet?

JASON CLARE: No it’s not – no, no. No, it certainly is not.

QUESTION That’s all right Minister. Just on that, I mean, if the cracks are related to workload – I mean they wouldn’t be related to a particular type of work, would they? It’s not a direct relationship between having to deal with asylum seeker boats?

JASON CLARE: I’m conscious that I don’t want to pre-empt the work that the engineering structural analysis will do but, as I said, these boats have been working hard and they’ve been working hard in rough weather. And the sailors who are aboard these boats have been working very hard as well. They wouldn’t have to work as hard if politicians would just work together. That’s what we had an opportunity to do when Parliament sat in June and the Parliament failed. That’s what the Parliament has an obligation to do when we return next week.

QUESTION: On yesterday’s boat what – any particularly reason – significance in the fact that there were so many people on it?

JASON CLARE: Well, the point I’d make is that we’ve seen boats with large numbers of individuals and we’ve seen boats in recent times with small numbers of people on boats. In all cases you’ve got people are that are hurrying to get on boats as quick as possible before this Parliament implements legislation that would introduce a real disincentive for people to make that dangerous journey at all.

Remember what this is all about. We’ve had more than 300 people die in the last seven months. We had 200 people die in December. We had 11 people die in February. We had more than 90 people die in June and the people of Australia have had a gut full of this. They’ve had a gut full of seeing news, hearing stories about people dying. They expect their Parliament to come together to pass legislation, to introduce a real disincentive for people to get on a boat and risk their lives and we’ve got an opportunity to do that and we’ve got to do that next week.

QUESTION: Okay, tell us if the boat that was picked up was in distress. Was it damaged and how big was that boat?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have the details of any damage on that vessel but I’m happy to follow that up for you.

QUESTION: Just with the – going back to the cracks on the boats, the Opposition’s Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison says that people smugglers are now stopping our boats. What’s your response to that comment?

JASON CLARE: Well, we don’t need smart comments. We need smart answers and we need smart politicians to work together next week to stop people making a dangerous journey and risking their lives. That’s what I’m focused on.

We had an opportunity to do this in June and the Liberal Party decided to vote against the legislation. The Greens Party voted against the legislation. In my book the Liberal Party and Greens are just as bad as one another. Both of them have refused to compromise at all. They’re just stuck in the mud, holding up their swords, still fighting.

The people of Australia are yelling at the Australian Parliament saying just fix this and we can do that but it requires politicians to put down their swords and work together next week.

QUESTION: But as Scott Morrison says, it’s not the Greens or to the Opposition that are in power, it’s you. You should be coming up with the solution, isn’t that right?

JASON CLARE: I think most people if you ask them, would say that the Liberal Party is playing politics with this issue and that if they wanted to work with the Government they could but they’ve deliberately decided not to.

Most people would also agree that the Government has got an obligation to work with all parties in the Parliament to try and broker an agreement, a compromise so we can stop people getting onto boats and stop people dying. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.

That’s why we asked Angus Houston, one of Australia’s most eminent individuals, to come forward with a plan that can help us to break the deadlock. And I’m hopeful that when he presents his plan to the Australian Parliament next week that’ll provide the formula for us to break the deadlock.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the boats might be getting bigger, that people might be thinking, well, there’ll be a report to Parliament this week, we’ll try and get as many people as possible on the boats that are coming in this timeframe?

JASON CLARE: I’ve been saying for a couple of months that people smugglers are pitching the idea of a closing down sale. They’ve telling people that it’s only a matter of time before the Australian Parliament passes legislation that makes their job more difficult at encouraging people to get onto to boats.

They’ve been doing that for months. They’ve been doing that in the past month. They’ve seen that window of opportunity over the course of July when the Australian Parliament failed to pass legislation and they know we meet again next week.

They’ve all got the Internet. They know that that report’s being handed down next week and they know the Australian Parliament has an opportunity to pass legislation to put them out of business. So yes, I think they’ve been encouraging people to get onto boats big and small and we’ve seen evidence of that over the past month.

In July we had six times as many boats and six times as many people get on a boat and come to Australia as did in July of last year – July of last year – when we announced or when we had on the table the Malaysian plan.

Now, the Opposition then decided to vote against that plan and they ruled it out and we’ve seeing the consequences of that now with more boats, more people coming to Australia.

QUESTION: So you’re expecting more boats between now and Monday?

JASON CLARE: Well, I’m not going to comment on intelligence. It’s not appropriate for me to do that. You wouldn’t expect me to do that but I’ll say this, whilst-ever the Parliament hasn’t passed legislation to introduce a disincentive for people to get on a boat you’d expect people smugglers to try and put as many people on a boat as they can.

QUESTION: Just what’s the state re the extradition of Robert Hughes?

JASON CLARE: can provide you with some limited information on this.

As you know, Mr Hughes has appeared before court in the United Kingdom. This involves a number of very serious allegations.

The Attorney-General’s Department has made a request for his arrest, pending the presentation of an extradition request.

The matter’s before the courts in the United Kingdom. We all want justice to be served. It’s important that justice is served. Because I want justice to be served I won’t be providing any detailed comments on this matter.

Okay, thanks very much.