TOPICS: Morrison Government’s strong border protection arrangements, joint resettlement arrangement with New Zealand, Australia’s strong support for Solomon Islands
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much.
Australia and New Zealand have jointly agreed today that New Zealand will resettle up to 150 refugees per year for three years from Australia’s existing regional processing cohort. I’m so pleased that our two countries could reach this agreement and I thank the New Zealand Government for the constructive way that they have worked with Australia and the constructive way that Minister Faafoi from New Zealand has worked with me.
The resettlement arrangement will be implemented under New Zealand’s existing Refugee Quota Program. This is New Zealand’s sovereign process and they will be managing that process. It is run very independently of Australia.
Importantly, this arrangement will not apply to anyone who attempts an illegal maritime journey to Australia in the future. Australia’s strong border protection policies have not changed. People who come to Australia illegally by boat will never be allowed to settle here. Anyone who breaches our borders will either be sent back or they will be sent to Nauru. We can’t forget that these arrangements have only been necessary because of Labor’s border policy failures. Under Labor’s watch, there were many deaths at sea. We know of 1,200 deaths at sea but there’s every likelihood that more people drowned at sea. We know that there were more than 50,000 arrivals on more than 800 boats. These are extensive numbers and it’s the stark reality that we have had to spend a considerable amount of time winding back the policies of the failed Labor governments that have led to all of these deaths and illegal arrivals here in Australia. Now, I have seen claims from Labor today ‑ particularly from the current Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Keneally ‑ that the arrangement might never actually happen. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. So, we are now in the process of operationalising those arrangements. We will continue to work with New Zealand to operationalise the arrangements, we will continue to work with the UNHCR. Now, let’s be clear. It was the middle of last year where I announced that I was working with the New Zealand Government to facilitate the finalisation of this it arrangement. We have worked productively with New Zealand and they have worked very collaboratively with us to reach this arrangement. So, a lot of issues had to be negotiated. We had to work closely with the UNHCR. But the important thing is that this agreement has now been reached, it has been finalised, and we will proceed immediately to operationalise this agreement. This is a positive outcome for those who have been in this country, or are in a regional processing centre ‑ Nauru ‑ and they will have the opportunity to consider, and be considered, for resettlement in New Zealand. But let me be very clear: we prioritised the arrangement with the United States that was reached some time ago. People who are already on a pathway to consider, and be considered, for resettlement in the United States need to stay on that pathway. Similarly, for any resettlements anywhere else, including in Canada, they need to stay on that pathway. So this arrangement with New Zealand will happen in parallel. So, I think, again, this is a great day. We have all worked very hard to facilitate this arrangement in the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government, and I’m very happy with the outcome and to be able to announce its finalisation today. So, I’m happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: Are the refugees resettled in New Zealand under this deal free to come to Australia, as other New Zealand permanent residents and citizens can?
KAREN ANDREWS: It will be a very different arrangement. So, let’s be clear: our policy position has not changed. We have made it very, very clear that the people who come to Australia illegally by boat will never, ever settle in Australia. That policy position has not changed. So, anyone who is part of the resettlement arrangement with New Zealand will not be able to come to Australia permanently, will not be able to become a citizen of Australia, and will not be able to stay here on a permanent basis.
QUESTION: The Coalition has long knocked back this offer from New Zealand on the basis it would be a pull factor. What has changed?
KAREN ANDREWS: We have negotiated the pathway with the United States. We made it clear that that was a priority and we would continue to work to resettle as many as we possibly could under that arrangement. That arrangement is now drawing to a conclusion. There are approximately a couple of hundred places still available in that program. As I said in the middle of last year, I was actively working with New Zealand to finalise a resettlement arrangement there. That is exactly what I have done. That is exactly what the Morrison Government has done. We have delivered on our promise that we said we would finalise the arrangements with the United States, we would look to resolve that, we would look to resolve an arrangement with New Zealand, and that is exactly what we’re delivering.
QUESTION: How quickly can the first resettlements take place?
KAREN ANDREWS: We will immediately start to operationalise the terms of this agreement. That means that we will work with the New Zealand Government and we will also work with the UNHCR. Both have expressed a willingness to get things moving as soon as they possibly can, so I’m hopeful that we will have the finalisation of the details around this program as soon as possible and we look forward to people being resettled in New Zealand. I can’t put a time frame on that, but we are working very productively and we’ll make that happen as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Can the refugees on the pathway to New Zealand live in community detention while they wait?
KAREN ANDREWS: I get advice from my Department on a regular basis in relation to those people who are in held detention. I’m not going to comment on individual cases and nor have I been asked to comment on individual cases in that question. But I will take advice from my department. I will consider that, as I have in the past, but I’m not making any commitments in terms of people moving out of held detention. But I would encourage those people who are on the pathway to resettlement in the United States to continue on those pathways but other people who are not on those pathways to look at an opportunity to resettle in New Zealand.
QUESTION: How many asylum seekers will remain that can neither be repatriated home nor be resettled in New Zealand or the US?
KAREN ANDREWS: We will continuously look for resettlement opportunities. So, we do have another couple of hundred places in the United States that we will work with the United States to fill. We have an arrangement, that I’ve announced today, with New Zealand. We will work with New Zealand. There are opportunities for people to either go to the United States or potentially to Canada ‑ there are some options available there. There are options now in New Zealand. I would encourage everyone who is eligible to look very closely at those opportunities.
Question: Some people might be wondering, “Why now? Why couldn’t this decision have been made years ago?”
KAREN ANDREWS: Because we were going through the pathway of resolving the mess that we had to clean up from Labor, quite frankly, and 50,000 people arriving here illegally on over 800 boats, 1,200 deaths at sea. We really must be mindful of the fact that that was the legacy of the Labor government and it took some time for us to be able to deal with that. But we have worked sensibly, we have worked very consistently to finalise these arrangements, so we’re in the position that we are now, where the arrangements with New Zealand have been finalised and we now have an opportunity to take that forward.
QUESTION: On another matter, a draft document from the Solomon Islands suggests the Government there is prepared to allow Chinese forces to be used to protect the safety of Chinese personnel on projects in the Solomon Islands. Is Australia concerned there could soon be a Chinese military presence in the Pacific?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, let me leave most of those questions to the Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, to answer. But in relation to the Solomon Islands, what I can say is that Australia has always done all that it can to support the people of the Solomon Islands. We have demonstrated that in the past. We currently do have personnel on the ground supporting the people of the Solomon Islands. We will continue to support the Solomon Islands. We know the difficult circumstances that they are in. In relation to China, the Morrison Government has been very clear on its position in relation to China, in relation to the Pacific region. That is our backyard, that is our neighbourhood, and we are very concerned about any activity that is taking place in the Pacific Islands. Our Pacific Island friends know that we are there to support them. Thank you.