Transcript

Joint doorstop interview with Tony Abbott, David Johnston, Michael Keenan and Barry Haase

Subjects: The Government’s failed border protection policies; school funding; Julia Gillard's carbon tax.

EO&E...........................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s good to be here in Geraldton. I’m here with Barry Haase, the local member. I'm also with Senator David Johnston, the Shadow Minister for Defence and Michael Keenan, the Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs. Geraldton Harbour here, just a couple of weeks back, was the site of a major lapse in Australia’s border security. A boat carrying illegal arrivals turned up here in this harbour, close to Australian population centres, on the mainland of Australia. It was a graphic illustration of this Government’s border protection failures.

Michael Keenan and I have sought an official briefing from the Government on precisely how this boat came to enter Geraldton Harbour undetected, precisely what failures allowed this boat to arrive here like that, and the briefing has been thus far at least refused. Therefore Michael, David and myself thought it was appropriate to come here to Geraldton and talk to locals about exactly what happened. It’s pretty obvious that the local response was perfectly acceptable. The police and other local authorities were here quickly on the scene and they dealt with the matter as best they could. What is totally unacceptable is this Government’s border protection failures.

Now, three years ago when the Prime Minister supplanted former Prime Minister Rudd, she said that there were three things that she was going to fix: she was going to fix climate change policy – well, that’s been a disaster. She was going to fix the mining tax - that's been another disaster. She was going to fix border protection - well, that is perhaps the biggest disaster of all. This situation is bad and getting worse all the time. Just yesterday in Perth, Michael and I unveiled a new billboard about the number of illegal boats since this Government took office. In the time between preparing the billboard and unveiling the billboard there were two more boats. I understand the billboard has now been vandalised. Well, my message to the vandals is, you can vandalise a billboard but you can't hide the facts, and the facts are that this Government has totally, utterly, comprehensively and in the end disgracefully failed on border protection because there is no higher priority for a government than the border security of our country. It's not just a border security problem, it's a budget problem. The border protection blowouts arising from this Government's failure to leave well enough alone are now over $6.5 billion in costs and that's $6.5 billion worth of borrowed money to pay for illegal boat arrivals, $6.5 billion that Australia increasingly just doesn't have access to.

So, my assurance to the people of Australia is that there is a better way; that we can and will and must stop the boats. The Howard Government inherited a problem, it crafted a solution. An incoming Coalition government will do the same. I regret to say that the current government inherited a solution and it's put the people smugglers back in business. It has no plan. It has no answers. It has effectively surrendered to the people smugglers and if there is one thing that is likely to prejudice support for immigration overall, it's a government which has failed on border protection. Support for immigration overall reached very high levels under the Howard Government, at least in part because the Howard Government had our borders under control.

I'm going to ask David and Michael and Barry to say a few words and then obviously I'll take questions. So Michael, as the Shadow Minister for Border Protection, why don't you start?

MICHAEL KEENAN:

Thank you, Tony. We wanted to come to Geraldton today to find out the circumstances of the boat that sailed directly into Geraldton Harbour about 200 metres off the coast here. We've asked for some details from the Government but those details haven't been forthcoming. What we do know is Australia has a very sophisticated system of border protection manned by very professional men and women. Their job is to stop boats from arriving at our mainland like the boat here at Geraldton, but their resources have been stretched by the failure of policy in Canberra. We've got a policy, an immigration policy, that is acting as a huge magnet sucking people in from all over the region, in fact all over the world. The men and women of border protection command have been forced to mop up for Labor's failed policies with the resources they have at their disposal. They're required to police a sea area from Cocos Island through Christmas and essentially now between Perth and Darwin. They do it very professionally, but they're being let down by the Government that's not supporting them with the policies that would dissuade and discourage people smuggling; policies that we'll implement if we get a chance to govern after September.

TONY ABBOTT:

David?

DAVID JOHNSTON:

Thank you, Tony. The city of Geraldton and this beautiful town deserves and needs to be protected. The infrastructure that you see here, the billions of dollars of infrastructure are really important not just to Western Australia but to the national interest. When you have a boat turn up this far south, everybody can see that there is a serious shortcoming in our capacity to look after ourselves. This Government has taken defence spending as a share of GDP back to 1937 levels. Boats turning up like this will continue to happen until Canberra, this Government, wakes up to the fact that we need to resource defence properly to do the job properly.

TONY ABBOTT:

Barry?

BARRY HAASE:

Thank you, Tony. The situation, ladies and gentlemen, is that a good leader finds out from the local situation just what's going on. If they can't get answers from the Government they've got to come to the situation and find out for themselves. My aspiration was to have my leader come and do that here in Geraldton. He's come, I'm very pleased and I think all the people of the mid-west should be very satisfied that a potential leader of this country is concerned sufficiently to come and find out what the people are worried about. God knows, there's a lot of worried people here in Geraldton, especially cockies, who are concerned about the passengers that may come ashore with any unannounced arrivals.

TONY ABBOTT:

Thanks mate. Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, is the fact that this billboard has already been vandalised suggest you may have underestimated the negative response to this campaign?

TONY ABBOTT:

You only need one person to vandalise a billboard but you need a strong and effective Government to protect our borders and that's what we haven't got now. We haven't got a strong and effective Government that can be trusted with Australia's border security.

QUESTION:

There's been at least one Indonesian MP who has been upset by your comments about turning back the boats, describing them as disrespectful. Are you putting one of Australia’s most important relationships at risk?

TONY ABBOTT:

Two points. First of all, what's been done in the past can be done again in the future. Turning boats around under the Howard Government was quite compatible with a strong and getting better relationship with Indonesia and I'm confident that under a government which takes Indonesia seriously, which doesn't ban live cattle exports, which doesn't conduct megaphone diplomacy, we can do what we need to do and the Indonesians will be happy to cooperate with an Australian Government. The other point is that, look, this Government has not really invested enough time and energy in the relationship with Indonesia. I applaud the fact that the Prime Minister has been prepared to spend days in New York in support of our Security Council bid, days in China in support of our better relationship with China. No such effort has been made with Indonesia and I regret that and certainly an incoming government would be more than prepared to put the effort in.

QUESTION:

Is the Coalition fully committed to Australia remaining within the refugee convention?

TONY ABBOTT:

We're fully committed to protecting our borders and we think we can do that consistent with our international obligations.

QUESTION:

Is there any circumstance in which you might consider withdrawing?

TONY ABBOTT:

We are confident that we can protect our borders consistent with international obligations.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you say this is the Government’s failure that the boat arrived in Geraldton. What would you have done differently?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it's pretty obvious that there would be temporary protection visas to deny the people smugglers a product to sell; there would be rigorous offshore processing - not the kind of pussy-footing around that we've seen from this Government - at Nauru and Manus; there would be the option of turning boats around where it's safe to do so; and there would be better relations with Indonesia. Now, all of those things would stop the boats in the future as they stopped the boats in the past. You've got to remember that when this problem existed before, it was successfully addressed by the Howard Government. It's been recreated by the Gillard Government because the Gillard Government wasn't prepared to leave well enough alone. Well, what can be done before can be done again. The professionalism of the Navy, the determination of our diplomats, a government which is fair dinkum about stopping the boats can and will make a difference.

QUESTION:

So, can you promise that a boat will never reach the mainland again if you’re elected?

TONY ABBOTT:

I can promise that a Coalition government will make a difference from day one and I can promise that we can again get to a situation that existed over the last five years of the Howard Government, where Julia Gillard was able to say "another boat, another policy failure" and there were only three or four policy failures a year, if that. Now, of course, we've got three or four "policy failures" a week; sometimes three or four "policy failures" a day.

QUESTION:

Has Barry O’Farrell done the right thing in signing up to the Gonski reforms?

TONY ABBOTT:

I'm confident that Barry would have done what he thought was in the best interests of New South Wales. I'm also fairly sure that a desperate Prime Minister would have thrown money at this particular problem. The difficulty is that more money for one state means less money for other states and we've always said that you can't have a national deal without every state and all we've got so far is just one.

QUESTION:

Do you think other states will now follow?

TONY ABBOTT:

I suppose it depends whether they trust the Prime Minister to deliver, and this is a Prime Minister who so far has been hopeless at delivering on anything. She couldn't deliver border protection, she couldn't deliver a mining tax, she couldn't deliver a decent climate policy. The idea that she's somehow going to solve the problems of schools overnight I think is pretty implausible.

QUESTION:

Did this come as a surprise to you? Did you know that Barry O’Farrell was going to sign up to this?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I always expected that some states would sign up, because when you've got a government making enormous promises of money, money and more money, the temptation - particularly from hard-pressed state governments - is to sign up. The question is does she really have the money that she's promised? Can she really deliver on her promises? So far, the Prime Minister's record is appalling. She's good at making promises but hopeless at delivering them.

QUESTION:

Does this make it hard to implement the all-in or none-in approach, though?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, the challenge for the Prime Minister is to get them all in. That's the challenge.

QUESTION

Are you concerned that it took a newspaper report to alert authorities that a suspected Egyptian terrorist was being held in a minimum security facility?

TONY ABBOTT:

It's yet another example of the comprehensive failure of this Government when it comes to border protection. The journalists seem to be able to find out more about the nature of people arriving by boat than the Government.

QUESTION:

When will you release your industrial relations policy? It was supposed to be imminent.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I've said of all of our policies that they will come out in good time before the next election and I've said of some of them that they'll be sooner rather than later but the precise time, I'm afraid I'll have to prolong your frustration.

QUESTION:

You’re on a fact finding mission here. The WA museum just over there has expressed an interest in acquiring the asylum seeker boat. Is that the right thing?Should we be put that boat on display?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I leave museums and curators to make their own judgment but normally with boats of this nature, they're destroyed because they're often a hazard. We don't know what animals have been on them, we don't know what pathogens may be present, so normally they’re destroyed.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you say a Coalition government would abolish the carbon tax within months of taking office, but given the Senate won’t change immediately, are you expecting Labor MPs to just rollover?

TONY ABBOTT:

Yes, I am expecting Labor MPs to respect the mandate of the people and the next election will be - if nothing else - a referendum on the carbon tax. Now, if the Labor Party loses a referendum on the carbon tax, particularly if it loses badly, I think that Labor MPs who persisted in supporting a carbon tax would not only be guilty of bad policy judgment, but they'd be guilty of defying the will of the people and that's the last thing that any democratic politician would normally want to do.

Thank you.