Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force address press conference on Operation Sovereign Borders
22 November 2013
TRANSCRIPTION: E & OE
TOPICS: Operation Sovereign Borders update.
SCOTT MORRISON: Welcome to the 10th weekly briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders. As noted last week, I will make a brief statement, followed by an operational report from Lieutenant General Campbell. He will then take questions on that report and depart, after which time I will be happy to address any further questions you may have on Operation Sovereign Borders.
Operation Sovereign Borders, I'm pleased to report, is maintaining the significant momentum that has been built up against the people smuggling trade and further momentum is building to stop the boats. November is traditionally a high-volume month for illegal boat arrivals to Australia, particularly as the monsoon season approaches. Last November there were 2630 illegal arrivals to Australia on 43 boats. So far this November, there has been just four boats carrying less than 200 people. We remain, though, very much on watch and stand at the ready because, as we have said at this briefing on several occasions before, this is typically a period of high intensity and we have no doubt that smugglers also can try things on as we move into that last phase before the monsoon.
The positive progress of Operation Sovereign Borders is due to no single measure or any single relationship or partner. They are all important. Our partners, in particular Indonesia, have demonstrated over many years their commitment to tackling people smuggling through their leadership such as Indonesia in the Bali Process. This has demonstrated their dedication on these issues, as responsible international citizens seeking to deal with the scourge of people smuggling. We continue to commend them on these efforts and re-state our commitment to support those efforts in pursuit of our shared interests.
As the Prime Minister stated in the Parliament this week, there are serious issues that need to be worked through in this area, and further comment from me would not assist our national interest and I do not support - intend to provide any further comment on those relationship issues here today. Those matters are being addressed directly by the Prime Minister with the President.
I'm pleased to report, though, about further progress in our regional co-operative efforts in other areas, in particular Malaysia and Singapore where the special envoy has been over the course of this week. With respect to Malaysia, his engagement follows up the outcomes agreed when I met with Minister Zahid several weeks ago, and I reported here on those meetings, to put in place targeted operations to further disrupt and prevent the movement of people into and through Malaysia by air, by land and by sea. The response from Malaysia in moving these operations forward has been outstanding and we appreciate their strong cooperation.
We appreciate the strong cooperation and smugglers can expect to face even further opposition throughout the region as our regional deterrence framework continues to take shape and fall into place. At the same time, our people smuggling ambassador has been continuing his diplomatic level engagements in the Middle East, to further identify areas of cooperation to address people smuggling issues at source.
Operation Sovereign Borders works right across the spectrum, drawing together the full efforts and resources of government to focus single-mindedly on this very important task. It is expected that the operation will face challenging environments from time to time for any number of reasons. Through its diversity of action, Operation Sovereign Borders inoculates against reliance on any single area of activity or cooperation. Such an approach enables us to adapt and overcome in response to any particular situation we might face on a daily basis or more further afield. This Government will not give an inch to people smugglers anywhere. Our position and resolve is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
I will now ask Lieutenant General Campbell to provide his report.
ANGUS CAMPBELL: Thanks, Minister. Welcome to the Operation Sovereign Borders briefing for the week including 9am morning.
During the reporting period, 35 illegal maritime arrivals and four crew from one suspected illegal entry vessel were transferred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection authorities on Christmas Island on Sunday 17 November. Cumulatively, that brings to four SIEVs and 198 IMAs that have arrived thus far in the month of November. For the reporting period, a total of 50 people were transferred to an offshore processing centre, all to Nauru. At nine o'clock this morning there were a total of 1144 people on Manus, 659 on Nauru, and 2197 people in the Christmas Island facilities. Also for this reporting period, 21 illegal maritime arrival transferees were returned to Iran after electing to go home voluntarily, eight from Nauru and 13 from Manus Island.
This week, the human toll of people smuggling was highlighted by a Four Corners investigation and the story by Luke Mogelson and Joel van Houdt in the New York Times. For the Four Corners report, it brought into sharp contrast many of the things I have been referring to in recent weeks. One of the people featured by Four Corners, a man named Khalid Taleb, now back in Lebanon, was promised by people smugglers genuine visas and passports to get to Australia by plane. They took $60,000 US as payment and promised him that the journey would be quick and easy and that he and his family would be safe.
When he was told the plane was no longer available, they assured him the journey by boat would be on a large, well equipped vessel. As we know, when the boat foundered, 44 people died. Among them, Hussein Kohdr lost his wife and all eight children. Saturday's New York Times article gave a harrowing account of abandonment and broken promises. Promotional photographs of luxury boats with food, water and first world amenities gave way to a dangerous reality. As Kerry O'Brien stated at the start of the Four Corners story, people smuggling is truly a sordid business. This is what we are focused on stopping.
JOURNALIST: General, the Indonesians have made it clear there will be no further cooperation on people smuggling with Australia. How much of a setback is that?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: I really think this is a matter at the moment for government-to-government, indeed leader-to-leader engagement. It is not something a military officer should comment on and certainly I have no interest in muddying the waters at this stage.
JOURNALIST: But you've spoken about the good relationships you've had with Indonesia. What has been the impact of this latest issue?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: As I say, I think right now, we are at a phase in this issue where it's government-to-government and leader-to-leader and I'm not going to engage there further.
JOURNALIST: But surely there will be operational ramifications from that decision. Can you take us through what those ramifications would be?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: I would like to leave the space open and clear for government-to-government engagement.
JOURNALIST: Is there a risk that we will see a flood of boats now with this spat between the two countries?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: As I say, I think it is much better and much more in our national interest and much more in my operational interest to allow government-to-government engagement and leader-to-leader engagement. That's where I will leave it.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us about the boat that you tried to tow back earlier in the week and it actually fell apart and sank? Whose idea was that?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: Now, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, and I think with some fairly fulsome explanation, I'm not going to go into details of on-water operational activity.
JOURNALIST: What about the people on board, though? Were they still on the boat when it was sinking and you had had to rescue them? That's not operational.
ANGUS CAMPBELL: As I say, Natalie, I am not going to go into operational management, but I can assure you and I can assure everyone, that as we have done previously and as we will do, if there are serious incidents they will be reported at the time, otherwise operational on-water activities is something that I'm not going to discuss.
JOURNALIST: General, what's the nature of the Thai boat that is currently off Christmas Island at the moment? Is that involved in any on-water activity relating to asylum seekers?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: I think we're in that same space where on-water activities is an area where for to balance the needs of caring for my people and of the potential for bilateral or multilateral relationship issues to be developed or for the messaging it might give to people smugglers, it's just not appropriate to comment on those issues.
SCOTT MORRISON: Any other questions of General Campbell?
ANGUS CAMPBELL: Thank you.
SCOTT MORRISON: Thank you, General. Any other questions?
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you take us through the ramifications of the cessation of the cooperation on the people smuggling venture between Indonesia and Australia and what that means currently?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, as I said in my opening statement, Operation Sovereign Borders operates from destination through to source. It is designed to ensure that the operation stands or falls on no single measure, and we have the ability to work through our chain of measures to ensure that whatever circumstances we face, and for whatever reasons we may face those circumstances, we are able to adapt and overcome and ensure that throughout the chain we are able to ensure that the people smugglers will be frustrated. That is the nature of the operation, and the issues between our leaders are issues that are being addressed between our leaders and I don't intend for the reasons I've said before to run a commentary on that.
I don't think that's in our national interests. I will allow the Prime Minister to address those matters directly. But Operation Sovereign Borders, the reason we designed it the way we did is that it enabled you to draw across all the areas of our government activity which previously sat in silos and were unable to be integrated end to end, and what we're doing now enables us to adapt and overcome the circumstances we may face at any one point in time, and that's why I can say whatever the circumstances it may present, the Australian Government will be there to disrupt and deter people smuggling activity.
JOURNALIST: Does this mean there won’t be any disruptions on the beaches in Indonesia and hotels, there won't be arrests?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, Natalie, I wouldn't be leaping to any of those sorts of conclusions, and…
JOURNALIST: Well, we're not leaping to conclusions. They're not helping, and that's what [indistinct]…
SCOTT MORRISON: Natalie, with respect, I don't think that has been the commentary. People may write any number of different things, but what is important right now is that we work through, as the Prime Minister said, the serious issues that are there and he is doing that directly and that is in the best interests of managing the cooperation that has been so effective.
And I should stress Indonesia has engaged in stopping people smuggling over a long period of time and they've done that as good international citizens, as good regional partners and showing the leadership for which they are well-known on these topics, and that goes beyond people smuggling.
The Bali Process deals not only with people smuggling, its deals with transnational crime, it deals with issues such as human trafficking, it deals with issues such as counter-terrorism and any number of these different issues. Now, these are all matters that we all know are very important to Indonesia for their own national interest, and countries will continue, I'm sure, to act in their national interests.
JOURNALIST: But this whole operation is underpinned on cooperation from Indonesia. How can it possibly succeed without it?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well I can only refer you again to what I said at the outset. I said this operation rests on no single partner, no single operation, no single measure. All of those measures are important. Our special envoy right now has been up in Malaysia pursuing the disruptive operational planning and activities that were discussed with Minister Zahid and I not that long ago.
Now, 60 per cent of those who are coming through on their way to Australia go through Malaysia and those operations focus on air, land and sea disruptions. The people smuggling ambassador has been in the Middle East dealing with issues at source. Nauru and Papua New Guinea continue to work closely with us on the offshore processing elements of the plan and the strategy.
This is an end-to-end operation, and it ensures that we can adapt and overcome, for whatever circumstances we may face at any time, and the message to people smugglers is very simple: you will face a government that is resolute more than any other to disrupt and prevent their activities and that is occurring.
JOURNALIST: How much disruptions have there been this week? You've had the AFP before telling - well, boasting how many disruptions they've had. How many have you had this week?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, again, that would be for the General because that's directly operational, but again Natalie….
JOURNALIST: No, that's on land in Indonesia.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, that's part of Operation Sovereign Borders, which is an operational issue.
I'll give you the same answer I gave before, Natalie, and that is commentary on what is taking place between Indonesia and Australia presently in a forum such as this does not assist working through the very real issues that the Prime Minister highlighted this week and is working through at a leader-to-leader level.
Now, I'm sure that all of us would want to see a restoration of the relationship in a way that benefits both countries, and that's what we're seeking to do and that's what I encourage others to focus on as well.
JOURNALIST: Since, September, Minister, there were 1151 asylum seekers stopped from boarding boats in Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, the vast majority in Indonesia. How do you possibly propose that we can stop the boats if we can't disrupt them at their source if Indonesia ceases cooperation?
SCOTT MORRISON: As I explained before, there is a chain that goes all the way up through to source countries.
Sixty per cent of those coming through Indonesia are coming through Malaysia. The work that is done up in Pakistan and Iran and Iraq and other places such as this are all important in an end-to-end process to stop the boats.
No single measure is responsible for our success. All measures working together, backed up by the consistency and resolve is what is delivering success. Whatever measure there may be, it's the steel that is put in that measure by this Government's resolve that gives it its effectiveness, and that's why we are able, I think, to give the Australian people a very strong assurance today that our efforts to stop the boats go forward, unaffected, and with great resolve because our commitment is to stop the boats and that is exactly what we're doing.
JOURNALIST: No single measure Minister, but this is a huge part of it, isn't it, even though there was more to it than Indonesia, but this is a huge part of it….
SCOTT MORRISON: And the question is?
JOURNALIST: Don't you concede that there may be many different measures but the Indonesian side of it is a huge part of your policy?
SCOTT MORRISON: Our cooperation with all of our partners has been important in this, and I've specifically at forums such as these highlighted the great appreciation we've had for the work that Indonesia has shown not just recently, but over a very long time and they have done so very much out of their spirit of partnership, their regional leadership, and their own national interests, and that's why it's important that we move as quickly as we can, work through the issues that are there the Prime Minister has noted, and be able to move forward in the way we have in the past.
Now, I think that's what all Australians want to see. I think the Prime Minister is addressing these matters with the level of focus that you would expect, that I think with the level of patience and courtesy and respect that you would anticipate in these situations. This is a time for cool heads and I think the Prime Minister has been demonstrating that very well.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you able to tell us what specific operations have been postponed by the Indonesians? The national police spokesman said this week that all cooperations have been postponed except for ongoing criminal investigations. So are you able to tell us which aspects have actually postponed and what the government will be doing to…?
SCOTT MORRISON: I just have to simply refer to you to my earlier responses on these matters because what you're inviting me to do is to add commentary into a very sensitive environment that any commentary on would simply not assist our national interest.
JOURNALIST: I'm not asking for commentary, I'm asking for specific facts about which part….
SCOTT MORRISON: And to be engaged in that dialogue at this sensitive time I don't think would be helpful to our national interests and I'm sure you would want the government to pursue our national interests.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to your Indonesian counterpart since the spying row [indistinct]…?
SCOTT MORRISON: The last time I had my last scheduled meeting was with Minister Syamsuddin and that was in Indonesia. There have been no further scheduled dialogues between himself and I, and so…
JOURNALIST: You didn't get on the phone [indistinct]?
SCOTT MORRISON: Look, this is a matter for direct discussion between presidents and prime ministers. Operational level dialogues have continued as you would expect.
JOURNALIST: So that is to say you've had unscheduled [indistinct]…?
SCOTT MORRISON: No, that's not to say that at all.
JOURNALIST: So you haven't spoken to [indistinct]…?
SCOTT MORRISON: There were no planned further meetings between I and Minister Syamsuddin after our last meeting and that was true last week, the week before, and so…
JOURNALIST: There have been reports of another sexual assault on Manus Island. Are you confident the PNG Police is [indistinct] investigating the matter?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I am, and any matter involving sexual assault is extremely serious and not just sexual assault but other forms of violence that may take place involving people who have come to Australia by this method.
And where allegations of that nature are presented, they're referred to the relevant law enforcement authorities. Now, whether that is Papua New Guinea, whether that is Nauru, whether that is on Christmas Island or frankly whether it's here in Sydney, the largest number of charges for sexual assault that have been laid in this area have actually related to asylum seekers who had arrived illegally by boat that are living in the community, where I have had on quite a number of occasions had to take people back into detention while those charges are being addressed through the courts.
So wherever it takes place it is a serious matter and it is taken seriously by my agencies and it's drawn to the appropriate law enforcement authority's attention.
JOURNALIST: Minister, regarding that same allegation, are you able to tell us where the victim currently is now? Are they still in the same area of the detention centre as the alleged attackers or have they been separated?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the appropriate actions which have been informed by previous events I'm sure and would trust are in place. And the first thing that needs to be done, though, I think is that these things need to be identified, addressed, the appropriate references made to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, and also concurrently the protections are put in place for the individual themselves. Now, that is my expectation and I'm sure my department knows what my expectations are very, very clearly on these issues.
JOURNALIST: Manus MP Ronnie Knight recounted reports of expat guards, G4S guards, harassing women on buses on Manus Island and also some harassing schoolgirls at the local school. Is your department aware of any investigation?
SCOTT MORRISON: That matter is being looked into by G4S directly.
JOURNALIST: G4S and Serco are both engulfed in really serious fraud investigations over in Britain right now and they've admitted to overpaying of tens of millions of dollars, dead people - charging for services for dead people. Do they both have your full confidence still?
SCOTT MORRISON: In all of these cases our contract management is something that occurs on a daily basis, not even on a weekly or monthly basis. We are constantly ensuring that our contractors are performing to the standard that we would expect and that we're contracted for.
Now, the events that take place in a large international company in other places, one shouldn't assume then specifically translate to their activities in another part of the world. Yes, they are a global company, but their operations in Australia are run here by those who are appointed to do that and they are the people that we deal directly with and I will have meetings actually with some of the chief executives of some of those contractors in Canberra next week to discuss some of those matters in terms of some recent incidents.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what can you tell us about the case of an Iranian man on Christmas Island who suffered a heart attack? He was sent to hospital in Perth, leaving behind a 15 year old now unaccompanied son. Are you aware of that case?
SCOTT MORRISON: In all cases such as this, the first priority is the health of the individual. The next priority is to ensure that we keep families together. Now in some circumstances those two objectives can't be met concurrently, but where they can, that's addressed as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: But why wouldn't his 15 year old son go with him?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, as I said, the first priority is to get someone to have their assistance and we have facilities in place to ensure that if someone is unable to go for whatever reason that they are cared for until such time as they can.
JOURNALIST: But if he's there only with his 15 year old son and your interest is to keep families together, why can't the two of them...
SCOTT MORRISON: I've said that on occasions where that can't be done concurrently, that the appropriate care is provided for the family member who can't immediately join them, and when they can, they do.
JOURNALIST: And what would be the circumstance in this case? Why wouldn't the son be able to go? What was the circumstance?
SCOTT MORRISON: There are any number of logistical reasons why that would not be possible, and on this occasion, what is absolutely important is that the health of the man involved was the main priority.
JOURNALIST: Will they be reunited?
SCOTT MORRISON: Sorry?
JOURNALIST: Will they be reunited?
SCOTT MORRISON: It is our policy to bring families together, as I said, as soon as is practicable.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you have an update on the refugee family in Brisbane?
SCOTT MORRISON: What update are you seeking?
JOURNALIST: The health of the child, for example. I understand it's relying on formula and [audio skips] immediate plans to send them offshore?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, as you know, there are no exceptions to offshore processing for any individuals who arrive illegally by boat after 19 July. That is the government's policy. And when there are medical clearances that are in place for people to return to Nauru, in the case of families, then that is what would occur.
JOURNALIST: The family's lawyers have asked for 24 hours’ notice from the department before that might happen. Will that take place?
SCOTT MORRISON: I note their request.
JOURNALIST: There are 719 unaccompanied minors in the system. How do you satisfy yourself that they're all being treated well?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we have contracting arrangements with those who directly provide services to unaccompanied minors and because of those obligations that are possessed under the Act by me as the Minister, it is of great concern to me that when we were elected there were 33,000 people left behind by the previous government who hadn't been processed.
This has created an enormous backlog of cases and will put an enormous strain not just on our people to provide the care that is appropriate and necessary, but the cost of doing that, not just delivering that care and support, but also going through the processing which will be a Herculean task. And we're setting about that task. I don't pretend that it's an easy task.
Combined with the work of Operation Sovereign Borders it is what has got my absolute focus in addressing that. But 33,000 people were left behind by the previous government. They handed out just over 15,000 permanent visas and the rest they just left behind. Now, that, I think, is an abhorrent way for a government to walk away from its responsibilities, and we are now working through that legacy case load, and including those unaccompanied minors that have arrived illegally by boat on the previous government's watch.
JOURNALIST: Minister can I ask you, was it you that gave the go ahead for that boat to be towed back last week?
SCOTT MORRISON: I think the Lieutenant General has outlined the comment we'd be making on on-water matters.
JOURNALIST: Well, he said he couldn't talk about it, but I'm asking you. Did you give that go ahead?
SCOTT MORRISON: For the same reasons that Lieutenant General Campbell said today, and he explained to the Senate this week and he explained at this forum last week, you will not find me coming to this podium or any other podium, wherever it is, giving people smugglers information that would assist them. It's just not going to happen.
JOURNALIST: Did you give the go ahead?
SCOTT MORRISON: I have just answered that question.
JOURNALIST: The story in The Age this morning about the Iraqi who worked with Coalition forces and came to Australia, he's now been told that he can't bring his family here because of changes to these laws. Will you give consideration to individual cases for TPVs like his case?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the Act provides for that. But let me go back and deal with the more general issues that sit around this.
The previous government had a process in place for dealing with protection visa applications for those who'd been involved in assisting our efforts through that operation. Similar to the arrangements that are in place currently, and we're working through for those in Afghanistan. And so the Australian Government provided the support and assistance to those that they'd identified through that process that should've received protection visas in return for the support they gave us during that operation.
So there was a full process that occurred at that time. Now I couldn't tell you what role this individual had in that process, whether they've made any application as part of that process, whether they were considered. That is not something that I have information on.
The second point is this. Regardless of how or why someone has illegally sought to enter Australia by boat, the policy is crystal clear. It's crystal clear. If they arrived before 19 July, the best they could ever hope for is a temporary protection visa. If they have arrived after the 19 July, then they will go to Nauru or Manus which is where they will be processed and they will not be coming back to Australia.
Now, that is the policy. It will apply universally to the cases that I have outlined. Under the Act, there are ministerial intervention powers and there are other things that exist for all forms of visa applications. That is just a statement of fact. But I wouldn't be suggesting anything particular in this case, and if I were to consider such a case, if it were to be brought to my attention then I would to apply the appropriate assessment of that at the time.
JOURNALIST: How many TPV’s have been issued since the Coalition came to power?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we are still working through the revised assessment processes that would apply. Now, a number have, a number have but that is dealing with some cases that were at fairly advanced stages under the old processing system.
JOURNALIST: You don't have specific numbers on that?
SCOTT MORRISON: No, I know what they are, but what's important is that they're at a very modest level at this point. There have been a few, but that is because that is the tail end of a previous assessment process.
We are putting in place a new assessment process which I hope to make some announcements about in the next few weeks as we work through those issues within government. And once we get into that, then you can see us moving through those cases and those claims. And those who are ultimately found, if they are to be refugees under that, well they would be eligible for a TPV only.
JOURNALIST: You said you know what the figures are. Can we know what they are too?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, look, I've said it's a modest amount. We're not talking about many; we're talking about a few.
JOURNALIST: But if it's a modest amount…
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I've answered the question. Next.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you comment on allegations of an assault on a young boy at RPC3 on Nauru by a local Nauruan who was tasked [indistinct] security capacity?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the case you're referring to, I'm following that up with the Chief Executive of the contracting agency. These are very serious issues, and I take them very seriously - to the extent that disciplinary action has been taken there. I think that's an appropriate first-level response.
If I’m understanding we're talking about the same situation, then there have been no complaints formally made by the individual to the appropriate law enforcement authorities there. So that channel, the individual who was at the centre of that hasn't chosen to pursue that. But from our perspective, any behaviour that was in that direction, well, that is completely intolerable, and I'm seeking the appropriate assurances from those who run those operations.
JOURNALIST: Are you confident in the capacity of the contractors who are running the security on that centre?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I've seen their work first hand, in terms of what they're doing there; I've been there on several occasions. And these alleged events are things that I find appalling and that's why I'm seeking the appropriate assurances from the contractors involved and you would expect that I would not rush to judgment on those things. I will listen to what they have to say, and what steps have being put in place to ensure that these events would not be repeated.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when you were Opposition Spokesman for Immigration, you said to Sabra Lane, in an interview on the ABC, when talking about your suite of Operation Sovereign Borders policies, all of these programs will be run through cooperation with officials in Indonesia. It seemed in Opposition you talked up the role of Indonesia and put it at the centre of making this policy work, and now you seem to be putting emphasis back on the wider regional framework. Is that because you're concerned about losing Indonesia as a partner?
SCOTT MORRISON: No, and - but I wouldn't accept your characterisation of what I said prior to the election of this Government. I mean, you can go back to the speeches I gave at the Lowy…
JOURNALIST: I have quoted you word for word.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, have you read the speech I gave to the Lowy Institute on the regional deterrence framework?
JOURNALIST: I have, indeed.
SCOTT MORRISON: And, maybe you might want to share how, in that speech, I went through quite fulsomely across all the areas of cooperation from source to destination. It has always been my view that a regional deterrence framework involves the region. Of course Indonesia is a very important partner.
SCOTT MORRISON: It has always been a very, very important partner and it has been a partner that has acted as a great international citizen to address the scourge of people smuggling. Now, that is something that has been very much not just in our shared interests, but very much in Indonesia's interests. And so there is no diminution in my recognition of the important role that Indonesia has played in this area. I simply make the point that our operation has been designed to ensure that it rests on no single measure, or any single partner. And the smugglers can be assured that we will resist and deter and stop them every possible point we can from source to destination.
JOURNALIST: Peter O'Neill, the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, has expressed concern his people are getting short shaft in this deal. I understand you're flying to Port Moresby next week to discuss things with him, is that a reaction to those statements he made in Parliament?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, as people know when I have visited people, and I've had meetings, I report here in this forum, as I have in relation to all the meetings that I've held on these things. When I was last in Papua New Guinea I was very pleased with the progress we were making on, particularly, the employment of PNG nationals and Manusians in particular. I mean, there are over 500 Manusians that have been employed in those facilities.
There is $40 million worth of aid projects which are going ahead in Manus Island on everything from roads to the restoration of the local market, and those programs will greatly benefit the local economy but it will also improve services to the local Manusian community. It is one of our very important priorities in our dealings with Papua New Guinea, and particularly with Manus Island, that we leave a very positive legacy. A very positive legacy, and the same is true on Nauru. The investments we make, the improvements we put in place, are things that I want to see have an enduring benefit for people of Manus Island and for Papua New Guinea and, indeed, for Nauru.
Now, I've had those discussions directly with those - not just in the Papua New Guinean National Government but also the local governor of Manus Island and, indeed, the open member for Manus, Mr Ronnie Knight, who I've met on a number of occasions. I'm very familiar with the issues that they raise and been very open and upfront with them about how we are continuing to work to ensure that more and more people are able to benefit.
But I would also say this: the spending of Australian taxpayers' money, wherever it happens, whether it's in an aid program or it's in the establishment of facilities has to be done in accordance with the financial probity arrangements that you would expect of Australian taxpayers' money, and that would always be our obligation, and that's something that I have made very clear about how those moneys are spent. Last question.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] have you have a conversation with the Prime Minister about how do you think the public perception of these briefings is going?
SCOTT MORRISON: Sorry?
JOURNALIST: Have you had a conversation with the Prime Minister about the public perceptions of these briefings?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I'm sure, Natalie, you wouldn't expect me to go into any conversations about, that I would have with the Prime Minister, that would be I think highly surprising if a minister were to do that, you shouldn't assume that such a discussion has or hasn't taken place. But what I can tell you, I'm pleased about these briefings Natalie, is every week - this is the 10th of these briefings, and you’ve been to most of them. We are providing an update on what is actually the results of our efforts under Operation Sovereign Borders. Those efforts have produced a more than 75 per cent reduction in illegal arrivals by boat to Australia.
We said we would make a difference from day one, and that clearly indicates that we are making a difference from day one. Now, the Prime Minister and I have never suggested that this is finished business, it is unfinished business. There is still some way to go here. As I said in the opening remarks, we are in that pre-monsoon period which is a very dangerous period. It is a period where smugglers intend to increase the intensity of their operations. So, in the month of November to have had just four boats, with less than 200 people, turn up that is an encouraging sign and it demonstrates that the momentum we have established under Operation Sovereign Borders is not just being maintained but, I think, being built upon, and we stand ready to deal with what may come.
JOURNALIST: My question, though, was about public perception. I detect a change in tone. That's what I'm asking.
SCOTT MORRISON: Look, my interest here is the success of Operation Sovereign Borders. And, the success of Operation Sovereign Borders is not judged, in my view, by what commentary people might make about me. It's about whether the boats stop, and that's the benchmark that I know the Australian people are interested in. And I will use every fibre of my being, as the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, to ensure we get that result.
This isn't here for the sport of opposition or commentary. This is a serious operation which is stopping boats and saving lives, and that's what we will continue to do.
Thanks for your time.