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Transcript

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Acting Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force address press conference on Operation Sovereign Borders

30 September 2013

PROOF COPY E & OE

TOPICS: Operation Sovereign Borders.

SCOTT MORRISON: Thank you for joining us and welcome to the weekly briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders. Operation Sovereign Borders is the Government's new military-led border security initiative to stop the boats, to prevent people risking their lives at sea in the hands of criminals, and to preserve the integrity of our immigration program, particularly in relation to our refugee and special humanitarian program where Australia chooses to provide our support to genuine refugees all around the world.

Today I am joined by Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, who is acting commander of Operation Sovereign Borders during Lieutenant General Angus Campbell's absence. During the establishment phase of Operation Sovereign Borders, which we are in, of the Joint Agency Task Force or JATF. The JATF remains under the jurisdiction of the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley. I thank the CDF for his strong support of the JATF in providing his own vice-chief to act in this role to ensure that the early momentum established by Lieutenant General Campbell is being maintained.

Today Acting Commander Binskin will run through an operational report of key events and activities during the past week, including the tragic incident that occurred just off the coast of West Java late last week. Before I commence with my own update, I want to pass on my condolences, and those of the Government, and sympathies to all those affected by this terrible tragedy. It is a chilling reminder of what can occur when you put your life in the hands of criminals.

I also wish to stress that there has been no change to how Australia responds to search and rescue incidents, operationally. As the acting commander will report, this was an incident that occurred in Indonesia's search and rescue region, close - very close - to the Indonesian coast. The new government has adopted the same practice of the previous government in relation to responding to these incidents in the nature of these locations.

We stated last week that briefings - and for that matter the release of information outside the regular briefing process - will be determined on a case-by-case basis. After returning from Papua New Guinea on late Saturday afternoon, I was briefed by the acting commander on this matter and the decision was taken then to release a statement which was then prepared and was released later that evening at around 7pm.

Australians working in our border protection and maritime agencies routinely put themselves at risk in responding to search and rescue incidents. They respond with a professionalism, a selflessness and a sense of urgency that all Australians should be proud of and which I am proud. Any suggestion otherwise is as offensive as it is wrong.

During the past week we've been able to advance a series of issues, some of which were flagged last week. Firstly, my department has ceased the process of providing permanent visas to those who have arrived illegally by boat under the previous government, and furthermore the previous practice of such visas taking the places of those applying through the offshore program has been abandoned.

No longer will anyone who has come by a boat take the place of someone who has sought to come to Australia the right way. This will better equip Australia to respond with greater certainty to international situations that rightfully make a call on our offshore program, particularly in relation to the present conflict in Syria.

However, on this we must be very clear. While we will continue to provide that support through our offshore program, anyone seeking to illegally enter Australia, who is impacted by these conflicts or other events or situations, who come illegally by boat, will not be resettled in Australia in accordance with the Government's policy. They will be transferred to Manus Island or Nauru where they will be processed, and if found to be a refugee will be resettled in a country other than Australia.

I note that the expansion, to go on with my further report, of our offshore processing capacity on Manus Island is underway and clearing of land is now being undertaken. Canstruct and Transfield Services have also been selected by my department as the preferred tenderer for the expansion works to be undertaken on Nauru, which will commence shortly.

On Tuesday last, I met with the Nauruan Justice Minister, David Adeang, where a series of issues were progressed relating to the expansion of the operations at the centre. As well as our 48-hour transfer target, with whom they've been incredibly cooperative, and in particular, to begin a planning process to establish post-assessment accommodation for both positive and negative cases.

On Thursday, I travelled to Port Moresby where I met with the Attorney-General Kua, as well as the Manus open member, Ronnie Knight, and our own team at the High Commission in separate meetings. At the meeting with the Attorney-General, we were able to renew our commitment to the arrangements we have in place at Manus Island for offshore processing, and highlighted the need to turn our attention to establishing post-assessment accommodation.

At this meeting I learned the detailed discussions on resettlement arrangements in Papua New Guinea had simply not yet occurred under the previous government. I indicated our government's commitment to work through that process now with Papua New Guinea as we are committed to salvaging what we can from those arrangements, but clearly now all the work that has to be done on resettlement in Papua New Guinea will need to be done by the new government, as the file on this is pretty much empty.

The more pressing issue, though, was to stabilise our operations on Manus Island. On Friday, I made my second trip to Manus Island, this time as Minister, where I met with service providers, the acting commander of the Lombrum Defence Base, the Governor of Manus Island, Charlie Benjamin, representatives of the transferees held in the centre, and the captain and crew of the HMAS Choules that is currently on deployment providing accommodation for Australian staff working at the centre, and they are doing a fantastic job.

At the centre, I delivered a clear message to those who are in that centre, including to those who had just arrived, when I arrived, on our rapid transfer arrangements. I gave them a very clear message, and it was this; they will not be getting what they came for. They would remain there at that centre until they went home or were settled in a country other than Australia. I confirmed that the new government had implemented a more comprehensive and strengthened set of measures that we would not be putting up with people coming to Australia illegally by boat, and that they should warn others not to follow them.

I also advised that we'd be seeking to identify and arrest anyone who sought to support or facilitate someone coming to Australia illegally by boat, including if they were family members, and offered a warning in that regard.

During the visit I also inspected the expansion works, as I mentioned, underway on two sites at Lombrum, as well as the East Lorengau site where we have ensured that clearing work has now commenced on that site as well. No works on the East Lorengau site had been commenced under the previous government.

With local officials, we were also able to clear some obstacles, in particular through Governor Benjamin and also speaking to the Manus open member, Ronnie Knight, the day previous, that were preventing getting underway with around $40 million worth of aid projects on Manus Island, and I was pleased to learn that also 217 Manusians had already found jobs directly in the centre.

And I saw additional locals being trained at the site during my visit. I have requested the High Commissioner to proceed with a new communications program on Manus Island to ensure that the local community was aware of the benefits being provided by hosting the centre to Manus Province.

Finally, there were two other incidents that occurred that the Acting Commander will brief you on in just a minute. Arrivals this week included two nationality groups that have been subjected to a different process to those who are transferred to Manus Island and Nauru. A first group of Indian nationals is currently being interviewed by their own consular officers in Darwin, and they will be removed directly back to India.

A second group, of West Papuans, were transferred back to PNG on Thursday within 24 hours of arrival, under a concession provided by the PNG Government under a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding put in place by the Howard Government to enable returns in these circumstances.

During my meeting with the Attorney-General, we were able to agree that a standing informal arrangement would be put in place between myself and the Immigration Minister - the Attorney-General was acting Immigration Minister at the time of our meeting - and that would be implemented through our respective agencies to ensure the prompt return of any others who may seek to come to Australia via that method in the future.

I will now asking acting Commander Binskin to provide his report.

MARK BINSKIN: Thank you, Minister. This is the Operation Sovereign Borders weekly briefing for the period nine o'clock Monday 23 September to nine o'clock this morning, and the purpose of the briefing is to provide an operational update on the past week's activities.

First I'll provide an update on recent arrivals transferred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. During the reporting period, three suspected illegal entry vessels arrived. On Tuesday 24 September, 18 people were transferred to Australian immigration authorities in Darwin and this was the boat with the Indian nationals on board that the minister just referred to.

On Wednesday 25 September, seven people were transferred to Australian immigration authorities in the Torres Strait. All seven persons were returned to Papua New Guinea on Thursday 26 September and the Minister has provided details on that as well.

On Thursday 26 September, 70 people were transferred to Australian immigration authorities on Christmas Island. In addition during the period, five crew members were also transferred to immigration authorities.

And you may be aware of another boat that arrived overnight. As that transfer took place outside this reporting period, for consistency of information those numbers will be included in the next weekly update, but I do understand that there was 78 unauthorised maritime arrivals on that vessel.

With regard to detention and transfer for the reporting period, a total of 148 people were transferred to offshore processing centres. Eighty-eight were transferred to Manus, and 60 were transferred to Nauru.

Since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders on 18 September until nine o'clock this morning, a total of 218 people have been transferred to offshore processing centres. A hundred and three people were transferred to Nauru, all these people were family groups, and 115 people were transferred to Manus, they were all single adult males.

As at 09:00 this morning, there were 825 people at Manus and 770 people at Nauru, as well as 2401 people in the Christmas Island facilities. Most transfers are occurring within the 48 hour target period discussed last week. All people remain eligible, though, for transfer to offshore processing centres and this is being actioned as we go through. Further transfers to Manus and Nauru are expected this week as recent unauthorised arrivals complete their rapid transfer processing and are transferred to one of those two facilities. And we have sufficient offshore processing capacity to meet all the transfer requirements.

With regard to other operational activities, I'll now provide an update on other activities that were completed during the reporting period.

On Thursday 26 September, Australian authorities went to the aid of a vessel carrying 44 people and two crew. The vessel was unseaworthy and all people were recovered from the vessel and transferred to the Indonesian authorities.

On Friday 27 September, Australian authorities went to the aid of another vessel carrying 31 people and three crew. It was also unseaworthy and all people were transferred to Indonesian authorities.

And also, on Friday 27 September, Australian authorities responded to a vessel seeking assistance close to the coast of Indonesia and I'll provide more detail on this incident in a moment.

In other activities, the taskforce headquarters facilities are nearing completion and the headquarters staff will be coming together this week. And as discussed at the last briefing by General Campbell, our primary focus first up will be the development of the strategic plan for border security operations and an associated regional deterrence framework.

With regard to the maritime incident in Indonesia on Friday, I'd now like to take you through a chronology of events relating to the vessel which tragically capsized off the coast of Java. Now, all the times I'll give you are Australian Eastern Standard Time as the reference.

At approximately 7:57 am on Friday, the Australian Federal Police on Christmas Island received a phone call from a person in Melbourne reporting that they had friends on a vessel that had departed Jakarta four days ago with 80 people on board. The caller reported that they had received a call from the vessel requesting assistance. The caller reported the vessel had broken down, had no food or water, was sinking, and that there were a number of unconscious people on board.

At 8:12 am, after an approximately 12-minute phone call, the Australian Federal Police advised the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Rescue Coordination Centre of the call. AMSA made contact with the person in Melbourne at 8:26 am and gained a significant amount of information on the status of the vessel, but the person was unable to provide that vessel's location.

At 9:05 am, the person assisted with a contact mobile phone number for the vessel. At 9:11 am, the regional - sorry, Rescue Coordination Centre established communication with a male person on board that vessel. Again, he was unable to provide the location of the boat.

At 9:44 am, the RCC advised the Indonesian search and rescue agency, Basarnas, of the incident and requested assistance to locate the mobile telephone, which appeared to be close to the Indonesian coast.

Between 9:46 and 9:55 am, the RCC was able to coach the person on the vessel in an SMS text exchange to provide a map reference which placed the vessel approximately 190 nautical miles north northeast of Christmas Island or approximately 25 nautical miles south of the Indonesian coast of West Java.

At 10:07 am, the RCC broadcast an alert to shipping, requesting the assistance of merchant ships. Four merchant vessels responded.

At approximately 10:10 am on Friday, the RCC contacted Border Protection Command to request assistance and BPC provided the RCC with the details of all available assets.

At approximately 10:20 am, the RCC requested the assistance of a border protection surveillance aircraft that was located at Christmas Island. This aircraft launched at 12:23 pm.

At 10:25 am on Friday, the RCC also requested Defence assistance and a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft was tasked to respond from Darwin and it launched at 2:27 pm in the afternoon.

Given the distances involved, the proximity of the incident to Indonesia, and the merchant vessels in the area, this was the most expeditious and practical assistance that we could provide to this vessel.

At 10:41 am, the RCC provided an update to Basarnas and requested that they assume coordination of the incident. Basarnas acknowledged the update but advised they were unable to accept the coordination role.

At approximately 11:15 am, the RCC received a text message from the vessel notifying a second location. This newly received information placed the vessel 60 nautical miles or 110 kilometres to the east of the original position and approximately eight nautical miles or just under 15 kilometres from the Indonesian coast and within Indonesian territorial waters.

The RCC had no independent means to confirm whether that newly advised position was correct at this time, although based on subsequent events, it appears that that was a closer position that we had been given previously.

At approximately 12:50 pm, the BPC aircraft conducted search operations in an area south of the Indonesian coast of West Java. The aircraft was unable to locate the vessel and reached the limit of its endurance at approximately 5:00 pm and returned to Christmas Island.

Responding merchant ships were unable to safely enter the shallow waters that close to the Indonesian coast. At approximately 4:40 pm, the RCC and Border Protection Command were made aware of a maritime incident in the vicinity of the reported vessel in distress.

Now, you'll be aware of some of the reporting surrounding this tragedy. I would like to just clarify at no point did AMSA indicate that assistance would be provided within two hours as has been reported to the media. Nor was AMSA aware of the vessel for 26 hours prior to the vessel foundering, as has also been reported.

Australian authorities conducted extensive work to attempt to locate the vessel, providing highly capable search aircraft and diverting up to four merchant ships. Despite these efforts, no searching ships or aircraft ever sighted the vessel.

The Australian Government is seeking additional information from our Indonesian counterparts at the moment, however, as we understand, the information to date, 31 people have been confirmed deceased with 22 survivors recovered.

Our response was professional and timely. Australian authorities took every step available to them in responding to this incident. This is a tragic event and I would like to take this opportunity to pass the condolences of Australian authorities to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives.

I'll conclude today's weekly briefing by stating again that we're involved in a complex border security operation and the taskforce is committed to stopping people-smuggling and ultimately saving people's lives.

Thank you. We'll now take questions.

SCOTT MORRISON: Thank you, Commander. You just might like to on the map point out the suspected location of the vessel where it foundered.

MARK BINSKIN: So if I look at the map, you have Sumatra here, Christmas Island down here, Australia down here. The suspected position of the vessel is where this red thing is just off the West Javan coast. As I said in the brief, it's in shallowing waters. The merchants weren't comfortable with going in there and it was relatively or very close to the Indonesian coast line.

SCOTT MORRISON: One of the key issues that formed the policy that goes to implementing Operation Sovereign Borders is to be working constructively with our Indonesian counterparts to do what we can to continue to bolster their capacity to respond on search and rescue incidents and under their undertakings relevant to the various conventions, and that is certainly one of the priority matters that we will be seeking to progress with our Indonesian counterparts. Because as you know the Prime Minister is there meeting the President today. But I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Minister, do we know when the passengers on the boat first contacted the individual in Melbourne because as I understand it, the AFP on CI were told early Friday morning, I think it was about 10 past seven on Friday morning. So do we have any explanation at all for the persistence of survivor accounts that the calls were logged on the Thursday?

MARK BINSKIN: No, none at all. And we have no record of any contact to Australian authorities before 7:57 on Friday morning. I will say that from what I've got speaking to AMSA about their coordination with those that were on the vessel, there was a large level of confusion, disorientation, I think. But no, there is no record of any contact before then and I think the - as I understand it, the person in Melbourne at about 10 past seven was the first contact we know of in Australia.

QUESTION: There was some reporting that has suggested that perhaps they contacted the embassy I think in Jakarta. I just want to check all of those…

MARK BINSKIN: No, I've contacted the embassy through the task force and had confirmation because they did another check for us this morning on that and there is no record of any phone-call into the embassy at all. But we do keep looking for them.

QUESTION: It's not what the guy in Melbourne was told Thursday night - he didn't call until Friday morning. There's no…

MARK BINSKIN: I couldn't speak for him. I wouldn't imagine so. No.

SCOTT MORRISON: But as you say, Commander, the information we have is that call was at 7:10 on the Friday morning.

MARK BINSKIN: About 7:10…

QUESTION: Minister, a new boat has arrived with a suspected 80 or so asylum seekers overnight. I'm wondering as promised, will you send them away within 48 hours of being resettled elsewhere and do you believe that the amount of time is appropriate to do all the necessary checks - health-checks, et cetera?

SCOTT MORRISON: Yes, that's the target and yes I believe it's satisfactory.

QUESTION: Just the question of this boat. There have been again accounts from the survivors from the sinking that they were assisted in their journey by Indonesian soldiers who they say drove them to the drop-off point. Have you checked that? Or what do we know about that claim?

MARK BINSKIN: I haven't heard that claim.

SCOTT MORRISON: I haven't seen anything of that nature with respect to that.

QUESTION: Well, it's a claim being made by people with a basis for making a claim we'd assume. I mean will we do anything about it?

SCOTT MORRISON: I haven't made that assumption.

QUESTION: Well, will you pursue it?

SCOTT MORRISON: All of these matters are things that are reviewed but I'm not about to give any substance to a claim that at this stage is speculative.

QUESTION: Where is the search for those survivors up to - I mean how many people were suspected to be on that boat and where is the search?

SCOTT MORRISON: One thing we need to make very clear is that this is something being done now by the Indonesian authorities. It's not something being done by the Australian Government. Previously, under the previous government, when there were operations being run by Indonesian authorities it wasn’t for the Australian Government to give those sorts of details. That's a matter for the Indonesian Government and we're working closely with our Indonesian counterparts to get to the details of the very things that you have just mentioned. But those, all the precise nature of those details, we have not available to us at this time unless you've got anything to add Commander?

MARK BINSKIN: No, no, I don't have any...

QUESTION: So they haven't really told you one thing or another.

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we're working with them but I - as you'd expect I think their focus is actually on assisting people right now rather than complying with email requests and other requests for information from the Australian Government. What we have said is that whatever assistance they need, they will get from Australia.

QUESTION: Have you asked them how many were on it?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I'm not about to go into the nature of the discussions we're having with them as you wouldn't expect me to but we engage with them in these situations, we offer our support and assistance for whatever is required. And the Indonesian Government knows that in these situations as you can see this is a long way, a long way, from Christmas Island and it's even further from the Australian mainland and - but to even be operating in that area, obviously presented challenges for us but we were prepared to go up there because that's the nature of our border protection agencies and our maritime rescue people. They do their best on every occasion.

QUESTION: Minister, a number of medical people in Australia have raised concerns about this 48-hour turnaround time. Can you give a bit more detail on the advice that you have received that says this is a satisfactory amount of time that you can complete a medical check [indistinct]?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I was there seeing it for myself. I was there and when I saw the latest group arrive. All the necessary checks were undertaken and anyone who is transferred to either Manus or to Nauru, the information on their condition is relayed to those at the other end and quarantine measures are in place. But all the necessary checks are undertaken and the most important for their welfare is their fitness to fly. And the fitness to fly is exactly the same as what was done under the previous government. We're just not allowing people to settle in as the previous government did. They won't be settled in Australia, they won't be settling in, in Australia, they'll be going to Nauru or Manus Island and that's what they can expect.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] time in which is takes an inoculation for example, to take effect and that's something…

SCOTT MORRISON: Inoculations as I understand it have always been done on Manus Island anyway previously.

QUESTION: So you believe the 48-hour turnaround time is realistic. You say it's a target…

SCOTT MORRISON: Yes I do.

QUESTION: But is it realistic?

SCOTT MORRISON: And we're achieving it.

QUESTION: There is a suggestion in the Lebanese media that the large number of Lebanese, unusually large number of Lebanese people on this boat were a consequence I suppose of the Syrian crisis. Are we seeing that Syrian refugees are creating a sort of downward pressure on waves of asylum in northern Lebanon and providing an impetus for people to get on boats? Are we seeing an emerging pipeline as a result of the Syrian conflict or are you concerned that one might be on the horizon?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think these are things we have to be very mindful of. I think it's still very early stages and right now our focus is on preventing everybody coming regardless of their nationality and so what I wanted to stress in my opening remarks that any assistance that we will be providing and we will be providing to a UNHCR effort, resettlement places under our refugee program for people affected by that conflict for permanent resettlement in Australia - that in no way should send any signal of welcome or suggestion that people should seek to illegally arrive in Australia. We are shut when it comes to people seeking to come that way. If you want to go through the proper way, then there is a process through the UNHCR to do that and Australia will be doing some significant heavy lifting on that front.

QUESTION: Some of the Lebanese, sorry just to follow up that question, some of the Lebanese media are - is saying, reporting that there are smugglers actively recruiting in some of these areas, particularly in the north. Are you aware of those reports?

SCOTT MORRISON: I'm never surprised that criminals will get up to whatever they need to further their business and look for new clients and what we're working to do is to ensure that whatever client they may seek to solicit, they won't be able to deliver on their product. But we are mindful of the international pressures that are there. What matters though at the end of the day is whether people can deliver on the promise and at present we're making very good progress on ensuring that they don't have such a product. Because they don't.

QUESTION: You mentioned before that the group of Indian arrivals was subject to a different form of processing to the arrivals that were sent offshore. Is that a reference to the enhanced screening process that was set up under the previous government?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, they were screened out and they've been given access through their consulate officials to ensure their return.

QUESTION: So you're saying that you're continuing the process of screening out individuals pursuant to the previous government's enhanced screening process?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we have two arrangements. Where someone happens to have crossed our sea border, then that is a policy that we frankly had to drag the previous government kicking and screaming to do when the pirate boat was on its way to Australia and we made a point as an Opposition at that time that under no circumstances should those people be able to come to Australia. And when the government at the time actually finally relented to put in place those arrangements, we did see a fairly dramatic drop in the arrivals out of Sri Lanka. Now that is something I welcomed at the time as shadow minister and it's something that frankly should've been happening for a long time before that and its efficacy I think was proven. Our posturing though is to ensure that people who may seek to come from Sri Lanka would be intercepted outside of our sea border and returned directly and all of them.

QUESTION: Minister, were the West Papuans also screened out?

SCOTT MORRISON: The West Papuans were transferred under the MOU and the concession achieved with the Papua New Guinea Government.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Law Centre has raised concern that there's an extradition agreement that was signed in June between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and they're concerned that that might allow extradition of those West Papuans back to Indonesia should the Indonesians press charges against them. Has the Government taken any steps to ensure that they won't be returned to face harm?

SCOTT MORRISON: Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the Refugees Convention which binds on them a non-refoulement obligation as is - as does Australia and that's the care into which they've been released and they've resolved those matters.

QUESTION: Minister, can you explain why AMSA's been gagged from speaking on these issues?

SCOTT MORRISON: As we've said at previous briefings, operational matters will be reported here as part of this weekly briefing session. They form part of the JATF that the Government has put in place and they're the arrangements.

QUESTION: Do you have written advice to that advice - sorry, to that effect?

SCOTT MORRISON: It's government policy.

QUESTION: Can you provide that, produce that?

SCOTT MORRISON: I've just stated it. It's Government policy. What's unclear about it?

QUESTION: Well, do you have written advice?

SCOTT MORRISON: That's the Government's policy. I'm being very clear with you. I don't think anyone…

QUESTION: [Indistinct].

SCOTT MORRISON: I don't think anybody misunderstands the Government's policy when it comes to communication on operational matters. On the basis of the discussions with the JATF leadership, we have gone down this path of having the briefings handled in this manner. When there are significant events, a statement for example was issued on Saturday night. It was not normal process for the previous government to hold detailed briefings like the one we've gone into today on things happening so close to Indonesian waters. Post some statement from Indonesia I know the previous minister for home affairs would do that and do it quite ably. But that's the process we're following and they are part of the JATF arrangement and that's how communications are being handled.

QUESTION: But surely, Minister, after all the confusion of the last two days, how can you continue to justify this stance?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the confusion must have been on others' part. We've provided a statement as soon as we were in a position to do so and if others want to speculate in advance of those statements, that's a matter for them. In a serious incident like the one we're seeing, we moved pretty much straightaway to clarify the response of the Australian Government to this incident. That was done on Saturday night within a few hours of us having a better understanding of what had occurred. There was no delay in doing that. I think we're pretty forthright in doing it. If others want to speculate what's happening in between these weekly briefings, they can do that. But you often get it wrong and if you want to get it wrong, that's a matter for you and your readers.

QUESTION: Minister, there were reports last week that a number of unaccompanied minors were transferred to Nauru. Can you confirm those reports if they are there can you tell us at which processing centre they are being held?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I'm not going to go into the specifics of individuals transferred. All I can say is this - everyone who comes to Australia illegally by boat is eligible for transfer to those centres.

QUESTION: But you are their official guardian [indistinct].

SCOTT MORRISON: I've told you what our policy is.

QUESTION: Will the public be told if there is a successful boat turnaround? Because it seemed to me last week that you suggest we may not be told that.

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we said very clearly that we wouldn't be commenting on any matters that would prejudice current or future operations.

QUESTION: So perhaps during briefings like this today, will we learn about any, I guess, turnarounds?

SCOTT MORRISON: Look, let me say exactly what I said to you last week, not from this podium, or that one, or in similar places, will you hear commentary on operational matters that have taken place that could compromise future or current operations.

QUESTION: What about matters that didn't take place? I mean, you've had three or four [indistinct] interceptions this week, why weren't any of those boats turned around, what was…?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, Paul, you've - I've just given my answer to you in the response to the previous question. I'm not going into operational matters that put at risk current or future operations.

QUESTION: But your whole policy was based on turning back the boats, so if you can't tell anyone about it [indistinct]?

SCOTT MORRISON: Our policies were based on stopping the boats, and that's what the Australian people are looking for the outcome, and people will know when that's occurred.

QUESTION: There were a number of children on this boat that went down off Java, are you concerned that the re-introduction of TPVs is seeing, or has resulted, or could result, in a spiking of children and family groups on the boats?

SCOTT MORRISON: More children turned up on boats, and were in held detention under the previous Government after they abolished temporary protection visas than at any other time. So, I'm confident that our policies are strong, they're tough, that if families want to put children on boats, then that's something they will attempt to do. What they need to know is the outcome they're seeking, they will not get. Our policies are designed to stop people getting on boats. Children, families, single adult males, unaccompanied minors, all of them. And when that was achieved last time, I can't even begin to guess at the number of people whose lives were saved because policies like temporary protection visas, and the full suite of maritime options and offshore processing were put in place. And that's where the Government stands.

QUESTION: Just on the latest arrival, I think Air Marshal Binskin, you said there 78 people were involved there. Can you confirm, was that an interception, or did the boat make it all the way to Christmas Island, was there a rescue involved?

MARK BINSKIN: I'm not going to talk about the operational matters, and the exact numbers, with the breakdown of crew and people, I think is 78 and a couple of crew. But we'll get those numbers in the next brief.

QUESTION: That wasn't actually a rescue though was it?

MARK BINSKIN: Oh look, that wasn't a rescue, no. Sorry, again, I'm looking at the details, I don't believe it was a rescue per se.

SCOTT MORRISON: We'll update on that.

MARK BINSKIN: I'll update - we will make sure that detail [indistinct].

SCOTT MORRISON: Time for a couple more.

QUESTION: Has Australia altered its positions on people rescued, or intercepted, in international waters in cooperation with Indonesia?

SCOTT MORRISON: Again, I'm not going to comment on operational issues at sea that could compromise current and future operations. I mean, we can do this every week, and I can give you the same response every time you ask those questions. And if you want to ask other matters, that we can actually give you a response to, then we're happy to do that. Paul.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] domestic one, but you've got - the boats aside for a moment, I think, 20,000 people in the queue whose processing had not occurred under the previous Government. You've got a suspension - the processing arrangements for people are unclear. What progress have you made there, has - are people being processed here in Australia and, if so, under what regime?

SCOTT MORRISON: Good question. That technically doesn't fall under Operation Sovereign Borders, but I'm happy to give you this response. We are now working through the re-orientation of the process, and the officials are working on that as we speak and I'm expecting some advice on that fairly soon. In the meantime, people remain in that state of not having their claims processed at this time until the new arrangements are put in place. And remember, there's also a very significant triaging of the current caseload that also has to take place. Now, as I understand it, that process has commenced, but we're working through a legacy caseload of 32,000 people that had arrived illegally by boat under the previous Government. And that is an enormous legacy caseload to work thorough, and that will take some time.

QUESTION: Minister, you've referred several times to the phrase illegal boat arrivals…

SCOTT MORRISON: Yes.

QUESTION: Which is obviously a highly contentious claim. Would you be able to name what international or domestic laws an asylum seeker arriving by boat in Australia breaks?

SCOTT MORRISON: We had this debate before the last election. I refer to the phrase illegal entry both under the UN Convention on Refugees, as well as the People Smuggling Convention, and I refer you to my remarks on those occasions.

QUESTION: Minister, do you think it's an acceptable state of affairs that not a single journalist has been allowed onto Manus Island to examine the regional processing centre there?

SCOTT MORRISON: I visited Manus Island last week, and I am reviewing that policy in taking soundings from people operationally about what the impact of that policy would be if it were to be changed on the security of operations of those centres. My next visit is to go to Nauru and have the same consultation with the people who are running those centres. The worst thing you can do to people who are in these centres, is falsely raise their expectations about process and other things that may occur for them. I've been working around this portfolio for four years, and I have seen the impact on people's mental health of people who are given unrealistic expectations about their outcome. Sometimes that can flow from media exposure, and it can flow, frankly, from people who go and visit them and tell them something which is not going to happen. And that is a very cruel thing to do to people. And I won't be allowing that to happen.

QUESTION: Have any boats been turned around, or towed back to Indonesian waters?

SCOTT MORRISON: Look, we've already addressed that issue.

QUESTION: On the boat that sunk, do we know anything about what it was doing before it made contact with Australia? As in did it make it to Australian borders at any point?

MARK BINSKIN: No, we don't know any of that detail. What we do know is that again in this case, it's happening with many boats out there, they've got criminals taking money off unsuspecting people in Indonesia and around the world, promising a product that they can't deliver. They're doing it in their own self-interest, not the interests of these people, they're putting them on unseaworthy, unsafe boats, and that's the result of what's happening.

SCOTT MORRISON: And Commander just to add to that, the question was did they reach Australian waters?

QUESTION: Yeah, do we know what its movements were before the [indistinct]?

SCOTT MORRISON: All I can tell you is we're…

MARK BINSKIN: It's unlikely.

SCOTT MORRISON: It's highly unlikely. You've seen for yourself where the vessel foundered, and where it departed from. So, unless it was on its way back via Australia - I would find that a pretty unlikely arrangement.

MARK BINSKIN: We don't know its definitive movements.

QUESTION: With the West Papuans, do we know - can you please explain the difference between screening out, and the process under which they were returned?

SCOTT MORRISON: We have a standing arrangement with Papua New Guinea that facilitates the return in those circumstances.

QUESTION: But can you go into detail about what that involves?

SCOTT MORRISON: We have a standing arrangement, a 2003 memorandum of understanding, that a concession was based on in this instance, and that arrangement was confirmed when I met with the Attorney-General in Papua New Guinea this week. Thanks for your time. We'll see you at our next briefing.