Topics: Morrison Government’s strong border protection measures, launch of the Civil Maritime Security Strategy
BILL KOUL: A big thank you to Minister Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs, for taking the time out of her busy schedule and coming to this beautiful electorate of ours to launch this important strategy. Thank you, Minister. Over to you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, thank you very much Bill, and as the Liberal candidate for Fremantle, I know you understand the seriousness of keeping our borders safe and that you will do all that you can to look after the community of Fremantle. So, it’s a pleasure to have you here today, and thank you so much for joining us. I also have with me today the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Rear Admiral Justin Jones, and the Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner, Emma Johnson. Today is the official launch of Australia’s Civil Maritime Security Strategy. Now, this strategy has been a work in progress for some time as we’ve consulted very broadly on the strategy. Border security is one of the most significant issues that a government has to face and has to deal with. The Morrison Government has always had front of mind the need to keep Australia’s borders very safe and very secure. We have been enormously successful so far with stopping the boats, but if I could just point out once again the risk that a Labor government would have to Australia. When Labor was last in Government, there were over 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals on over 800 boats, and sadly at least 1,200 people died at sea. I have been very clear in the time that I have been the Minister for Home Affairs that I would never, ever have more deaths at sea on my watch. So, I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with the Rear Admiral Justin Jones and his predecessor and work very closely with my colleagues in Government to make sure that we continue to keep Australia’s borders safe and secure. The Civil Maritime Strategy deals with more than just the people smugglers, where we know that there is quite a lot of activity at the moment, particularly in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where they are clearly awaiting the outcome of the next federal election, which will be called clearly within days by Prime Minister Morrison. We know that they are actively watching. They’re already starting to talk about, should there be a change of government, what that would mean for future boat arrivals here into Australia. My messaging is very clear, and was clear when I came into the role of Home Affairs, that there was no change to Government policy as a result of change in Ministers; we have been very clear that if you arrive illegally by boat in Australia you will never, ever, ever settle here. But the Civil Strategy deals with more than people smuggling and keeping our borders safe in that respect. It also deals with illegal importation of firearms, weapons, and drugs. It also deals with issues including illegal fishing. So, it is a very important security strategy that I’m announcing the release of today. We will continue to work with agencies, we will continue to work with state and territories to make sure that we continue to keep Australia’s borders safe and secure. I will invite the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Justin Jones, to say a few words.
JUSTIN JONES: Thank you, Minister. Good afternoon. My name is Rear Admiral Justin Jones. I am the Commander of Maritime Border Command and the Commander of Joint Agency Task Force Operation Sovereign Borders. Every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the men, women and assets of Maritime Border Command execute intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, patrol and response functions at sea, in the air, and on land across Australia’s maritime zones in order to protect our sovereignty. Maritime Border Command is a multi‑agency task force within the Australian Border Force. We cooperate and collaborate with many of the government agencies identified in the Civil Maritime Security Strategy in order to provide a whole‑of‑government response to civil maritime security threats. In particular, we use assets assigned from the Australian Border Force and from the Australian Defence Force, the Navy, the Army and Air Force to conduct civil maritime security operations. Maritime Border Command has the lead role for ensuring maritime domain awareness and coordinates national awareness and response efforts to protect Australia in its maritime jurisdiction. The Australian Government’s Civil Maritime Security Strategy outlines seven strategic objectives. At the operational level in Maritime Border Command, we identify eight civil maritime security threats, those being: Unauthorised maritime arrivals; maritime terrorism; prohibited imports and exports; illegal exploitation of natural resources; piracy, robbery or violence at sea; illegal activity in protected areas; compromise to biosecurity; and marine pollution. The assets assigned to Maritime Border Command conduct law enforcement activities to counter these threats on behalf of other Australian Government agencies. I’ll now hand over to our colleagues in the Australian Border Force Maritime Operations.
EMMA JOHNSON: Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Rear Admiral Jones. My name is Emma Johnson and I am Assistant Commissioner West and Close Support Command for the Australian Border Force. ABF’s mission is to protect Australia’s vast border while enabling legitimate travel and trade that helps support Australia’s economy. ABF proudly plays a role in providing maritime security and safeguarding Australia’s maritime domain. Together with our partner agencies, we will work together to support the delivery of the important objectives outlined in the Civil Maritime Security Strategy today. The ABF operates a fleet of vessels, supporting a whole‑of‑government approach to civil maritime security threats in Australia’s maritime domain. We have a large range of assets to detect, deter and respond to maritime security threats, including unlawful maritime arrivals, prohibited import and export activity, and illegal fishing. In Western Australia, the ABF has a vast reach across strategic locations, from Broome and Christmas Island in the north down to Esperance in the south. Maritime operations in WA is ABF’s largest command, covering over 20,000km of coastline, including its islands. We have a strong presence here in Fremantle, as one of WA’s key ports, with our offices based nearby at the Maritime Operations Centre. Located here is ABF’s Container Examination Facility, which has a self‑propelled X‑ray capable of scanning a 40ft sea container in just two minutes. The vessel you see behind us ‑ I’m not sure how close it is, but it’s behind us ‑ is one of ABF’s Island Class small vessels called the Rottnest Island, which is the largest of this class at around 12m in length. Designed and built in Australia, it is capable of speeds of up to 50 knots and it is one of 52 [indistinct] small vessels around Australia. After questions, I invite the Minister to come on board the vessel to see its capabilities. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you just spoke about activity in Sri Lanka, you know, waiting for the result of the federal election. What monitoring is going on and how do you know that they’re looking to Australia right now?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I take advice from a number of agencies in relation to the activity. We clearly monitor what is happening overseas. That happens as a matter of course all the time and we monitor what information we’re receiving. Now, we already know that the people smugglers are looking at activating that trade at any point in time, so our agencies are very closely monitoring what is happening. I will invite the head of Operation Sovereign Borders to comment more but I can’t go into the details in terms of the intelligence that we have. But we do know, and we would always expect, in any event, that the people smugglers would be looking at what a potential change in government is going to mean. They will look actively at any opportunity to restart the people smuggling trade and they will actually sell an opportunity on to people in either Indonesia, Sri Lanka, or elsewhere.
JOURNALIST: OK, so that’s not an assumption? They are looking at the results of the election?
KAREN ANDREWS: We are very much aware that there is activity looking at what will happen as a result of the Federal election. Let’s be clear, they would do that in the event of any federal election. They would look at what the change of policy is. That’s why, when I came into the role of Home Affairs, we were very conscious of making sure that there was no signal sent to the people smugglers that a change in minister meant a change in our policy. We were very clear, we went out quickly and filmed messages, we translated those into a number of languages to make it very clear there was no change in our policy.
JOURNALIST: You spoke about illegal fishing – obviously that’s been an issue off Broome. Can you tell us what the situation is there? There were numbers increasing of the amount of vessels engaged or found? Do you know where those numbers are at? Are we seeing unprecedented levels?
KAREN ANDREWS: I will invite Rear Admiral Justin Jones to comment specifically on the details. But what I can say in relation to illegal fishing is that it creates many risks for us here, primarily biosecurity risks, but it’s also damaging to our fishers here in Australia. So, it takes fish that they would be wanting to catch, it disrupts their activities. So, we have a very, very strong position in relation to illegal fishing. I’ll invite Rear Admiral to make some more comments.
JOURNALIST: Just before you go, you talked about biosecurity, but does it set a precedent for other illegal activity ‑ people smuggling, terrorism, getting, you know, drugs or ammunition or weapons into Australia?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’re very conscious of maintaining the security of our borders. So, there have been a number of operations that have taken place over a number of years, quite frankly, that have a sole aim of protecting our borders from illegal fishing, from people smuggling, from smuggling of weapons, firearms, drugs into our community. Now, we do know that over COVID there has been some activity continuing, and it also includes illegal tobacco coming into this country. So, we have been monitoring that. Border Force has done an outstanding job. We will need to remain forever vigilant. Rear Admiral.
JUSTIN JONES: Thanks, Minister. To the point about foreign fishing, I take great interest in all aspects of Australia’s maritime domain as part of my role of Commander of Maritime Border Command. There has definitely been an increase in foreign fishing activity in Australian waters. That is thought to have been driven largely by the economic circumstances surrounding the pandemic, as people turned to other trades and professions to ensure their livelihood. Between the 1st of July 2021 and the 31st of March this year, we’ve executed 296 legislative forfeitures of catch. And we have destroyed in the order of 40 foreign fishing vessels who were found to be breaching Australia’s laws in terms of foreign fishing in our area. So, we are out there, as I said, every day of the year, enforcing and protecting Australia’s sovereignty.
JOURNALIST: So, that’s huge numbers compared to the ’20‑’21. I think it was only 83 vessels?
JUSTIN JONES: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Is there more patrols going on? Is there more resources going into it? Or is there actually more boats out there?
JUSTIN JONES: Well, it’s a bit of both. So, we are throwing what resources we can. I think you’ll respect that I won’t talk about what we’re doing in any detail, I won’t disclose tactics, techniques or procedures, for the very reasons of disclosing our activities. But we are certainly out there in force. But we pay attention to all eight of those maritime threats that I talked about. Foreign fishing vessels is certainly one of them that has some prominence at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Yeah, and just on where it’s happening, is there a particular area or is it, you know, quite a few locations off the WA coast?
JUSTIN JONES: It’s in all the normal areas that go back to my days as a very young officer in the Australian Defence Force in the early ’90s. It’s the same areas it always has been, so we know where to find them.
JOURNALIST: Yep. And just in terms of illegal fishing, is it just isolated to that or are there other national security concerns or any other concerns that are coming from these vessel interceptions?
JUSTIN JONES: No. It’s illegal fishing, so it’s very much a civil maritime security threat, as we’ve referred to today, and as the Strategy refers to as well.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.