Joint Press Conference – Canberra


Subjects: Asylum seeker legislation

PM: I’m here this evening with the Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen and the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare.

As Australians know we have seen another day where there has been a tragedy at sea. I will ask the Minister for Home Affairs to update the Australian people on what is happening with that search and rescue at the conclusion of my remarks and the Minister for Immigration’s remarks.

We have just come from a parliamentary vote on asylum seeker legislation. A significant vote has just been taken in the House of Representatives and what that vote means is we are on the verge of ending the impasse which has prevented our country processing asylum seekers offshore.

We are just one day away from having a solution which would enable us to better deal with asylum seekers and to send a clear message of deterrence to people smugglers. To say to the people smugglers that we do not want to see them continue to ply their evil trade and seek to profit on misery.

The vote endorsed by all of the Independents in the House of Representatives and a piece of legislation that Mr Mal Washer clearly viewed as one worthy of support is truly a compromise.

It is a Bill brought to the Parliament by an Independent, by Mr Rob Oakeshott.

A Bill that involves an element, the key element, of the Government’s policy, the arrangement with Malaysia and combines it with key element of the Opposition’s policy having a detention centre on Nauru.

It’s also been improved by the work of Rob Oakeshott himself and by a proposition from Mr Wilkie the member for Denison.

This is an example of where the Parliament has come together and worked together to see a solution to a very difficult problem.

Tomorrow the Senate will have the same opportunity. The senate will debate this Bill tomorrow and arrangements will be made so that debate can be concluded in the Senate tomorrow.

I am calling on each and every Senator to accept that this is now the only Bill that can pass the Parliament before the Parliament goes into the winter recess.

The only way we can leave this Parliament this week with legislation to break the impasse on asylum seekers and people smugglers is for this bill to be carried by the Senate tomorrow.

There is no other way. No other path that will have us leaving the Parliament with laws in place.

It is also the only true compromise on the table combining key elements of the Government and Opposition’s plans and brought to the Parliament by an Independent.

In those circumstances I believe each and every Senator should consider this matter deeply overnight. They should consider it deeply and individually.

The Senate tomorrow has the opportunity to break this deadlock.

The Senate tomorrow has the opportunity to ensure that Australians in the weeks ahead know that there are effective laws in place that can make a difference to the tragedies we have been seeing on our seas.

I’ll turn now to the Minister for Immigration for some comments.

MINISTER BOWEN: Thank you Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister said, this is a significant day, with the House of Representatives voting for legislation to authorise offshore processing.

But it is not the culmination. It is not the end. The key is tomorrow seeing this pass the Parliament.

Tomorrow Mr Abbott has a chance. He has a chance to prove to the Australian people he doesn’t have to say no all the time.

The Australian people know that Mr Abbott can say no. Tomorrow he has the opportunity to show them that he can act in the national interest as well.

People smugglers are watching as well. People smugglers are watching to see if tomorrow will be the day their business model comes to an end.

People smugglers are watching to see who will win this battle of wills: them or the Australian people.

People smugglers are watching to see whether they can continue to tell vulnerable people that they should risk their lives to come to Australia by boat, or they can no longer tell them to do that.

That is what is at stake in the vote that Senators will face tomorrow.

There was a lot of argument in the House today, appropriately. These are big questions. But what was clear from the Opposition’s argument is that there is no coherent reason for the Opposition not to support this Bill.

You can’t argue that people should only be sent to countries which are signatories to the Refugee Convention at the same time as you are arguing that they should be turned around to a country which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

You can’t argue that you can’t vote for a proposition which has a cap of 800 people, when their own proposition has a cap of 1200 people in the detention centre at Nauru.

And above all, nobody, nobody could argue in the House of Representatives today, and nobody will be able to argue in the Senate tomorrow that if you do Nauru and Malaysia together, that will not be a disincentive to making those boat journeys.

The Opposition says they don’t believe Malaysia will be effective, we disagree. We believe that Nauru would not be effective; the Opposition disagrees.

But nobody can coherently and sensibly argue that if you do both, as this legislation authorises and as the Government has made clear we will if the legislation passes, this will end this terrible trade and Australia will be able to say that we have dealt with this once and for all.

PM: Minister Clare.

MINISTER CLARE: Just quickly, I can provide the following information on the search and rescue effort that’s been continuing throughout the day.

We’ve now managed to rescue 130 people. In addition, unfortunately I have to report that we’ve recovered the body of one person.

The information that we have is that there were as many as 150 people on the boat; that leaves many people still unaccounted for. Reports I have are that the boat has now sunk.

The search and rescue continues out there, some 107 nautical miles north of Christmas Island. That’s led by one of our patrol boats HMAS Maitland. The other boat, a hydrographic ship, Leeuwin, is now making its way back to Christmas Island.

It’s expected to return to Christmas Island in the early hours of the morning, and it will be bringing the survivors of this, yet another tragedy.

And can I use this opportunity to thank the men and women of the Australian Navy and Border Protection Command and the men and women of the merchant vessels that came to the rescue of the survivors once again today.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, isn’t the truth of this Bill that it’s doomed in the Senate?

PM: Well that is a question you need now to put to Senators, Paul. But what is absolutely clear this evening is this.

The only piece of legislation that can give Australia effective laws on asylum seeking is the piece of legislation that passed the House of Representatives today.

The Senate’s got a complete yes or no choice.

If they vote no, they are voting for our nation to have no effective laws, and that will mean that we will continue to see asylum seekers arrive and tragically we know when people risk the journey, too many of them lose their lives at sea.

Or the Senate can say yes, and by the end of tomorrow our nation can be in a position where we can have effective laws and start offshore processing.

This is the choice before the Senate. As I said in my remarks, we are on the verge, as a nation, of getting the laws we need. We could have those laws in place by the end of tomorrow.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there were some pretty passionate speeches in the Parliament, you’d have to say this afternoon, over the last few hours. We saw some on the Coalition side even in tears, and there was a suggestion from your side as well that the Opposition is still playing politics on that. Do you believe that this is the case?

PM: Well I think we will be in a position to judge at the end of the parliamentary proceedings. I understand-

JOURNALIST: So if they don’t support this in the Senate this is playing politics.

PM: I’ll answer your question. I understand that people have different views. I do understand that. And I understand that those views are passionately held by individuals.

I called on the Parliament today at two o’clock to deal with this matter urgently because of its importance to the nation.

We had just seen another tragedy at sea.

And I asked people in that debate to put the politics to one side. And I believe many people across the Parliament did that; many people from all political persuasions did that.

They put the politics to one side. And there were some tears, and there was a lot of emotion, and I respect that.

I respect the fact that people come to this debate with different views, and because I respect that, I’ve been prepared to compromise and to accept the key plank of the Opposition’s plan.

It’s not my plan. I didn’t agree with it. I didn’t create it.

But in order to see change here – because change is so important – I’ve been prepared to see us as a Government embrace a proposition that has the central element of the Opposition’s plan combined with the central element of the Government’s plan.

It’s a genuine compromise.

Now, as for whether people are going to put the politics first, frankly, I think it’s too early for me to judge. I would prefer instead to see what happens in the Senate tomorrow.

But we’ve got to be very clear about the nature of the choice the Senate will face: the Senate will face a yes/no choice; laws or no laws; yes or no by the end of tomorrow.

The House of Representatives has spoken. I respect that there are others of a different view.

But the House of Representatives has spoken. The Bill of an Independent has been endorsed.

This isn’t a proposition where someone politically wins and someone politically loses. I said that at two o’clock today.

But the House of Representatives has got an important step done: it has passed laws.

The Senate now has the opportunity. And it is an opportunity to create laws or to deny our nation laws. That’s what the Senate needs to focus on tomorrow.

And I think, of course, that it would be a tremendous act of destruction and a tremendous denial of the national interest when the proposition is as clear as that; laws or no laws, to conduct yourself in a way which means that there are no laws.

JOURNALIST: Why wasn’t the Oakeshott Bill introduced or pushed forward last week when we had the first asylum seeker boat incident? Why has it taken a week and why on the second last day before the winter break?

PM: I think since last week’s tragedy and reinforced today, we’ve seen a mood across the Parliament for people to work together for change. I think we’ve seen that both early in this week on Monday and today, when backbenchers across the Parliament came together and said that they were prepared to talk and think and work together.

And I pay a tremendous tribute to people like Mal Washer who instituted that process and were so sincere about it and continue to be so sincere about it.

So in the face of last week’s tragedy, I believe we started to see a mood for change in this Parliament.

And certainly as Prime Minister, as I indicated on Monday, I was more than willing to sit down and keep working, keep thinking, keep helping this Parliament find its way through to new laws.

I think we saw that mood reinforced today when we got the shocking news of yet another asylum seeker tragedy, and I think what you’ve seen tonight is people of goodwill who have seen so many tears and so much tragedy put some of the politics aside and work together to get something done.

And if you look at the people who’ve supported this proposition, many of them found it a very difficult thing to do.

Many of them really found this an incredibly hard issue to grapple with. Many have seen their views change over the months in which we’ve seen asylum seeker tragedies like the one last week and the one today.

People really wrestled with it, but having wrestled with the issue they found a conclusion, they found a compromise.

The Senate should respect that, the Opposition should respect that and we should leave this Parliament tomorrow with laws.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the deal with Mr Wilkie was obviously critical. At what stage today was that deal done?

PM: Look, we’ve been in discussions with Mr Wilkie during the course of today and the course of this afternoon.

You saw too, very clearly, from Mr Washer’s conduct that Mr Washer was prepared to support this proposition had his support been the difference and his support been necessary to see it go through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: He told you that?

PM: Yes, he did tell me that, absolutely. Mr Washer is a man of goodwill and I think he has found the last few days some tremendously difficult days.

I’m sure he’s incredibly loyal to his political party – I know what it’s like to be loyal to a political party.

I’ve had a Labor Party ticket all my adult life – I’m sure Mr Washer is someone who takes his belief in the Liberal Party very, very seriously and it is very close to his heart.

But he was sufficiently moved, over the last few days, to be prepared, if it was necessary, to vote with Mr Oakeshott, for Mr Oakeshott’s Bill, if that was the difference between it going through the Parliament or not going through the Parliament.

Now, I think that’s to be respected, and it says something about the preparedness of people to deal with this issue with the politics to one side.

And, you know, I’m standing here today with my ministers, but I am not here to crow about a Government’s success.

As I said in the Parliament today, this is the Bill of an independent; no-one’s won here, no-one’s lost here. What we can do tomorrow, though, is make this a win for the Australian nation.

JOURNALIST: Eight votes are needed in the Senate, is that correct, and if that’s the case – I think it is about eight – do you believe that enough impassioned speeches have been made today from your side of politics that you will get those eight extra votes?

PM: Well, I think that all of those questions now need be directed to Senators who have got a tremendously important decision to make tomorrow.

Thank you very much.