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John Howard Presser - Migration legislation Dumped

14 August 2006

Transcript Of The Prime Minister

The Hon John Howard MP

Press Conference,

Parliament House, Canberra

Subject: Migration legislation; terrorism.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, I’ve called this news conference to announce that the Government will not proceed with its migration legislation. The reason for this is it was made very clear to me this morning that a Government Senator would cross the floor and vote against the legislation. The intention of that Government Senator was communicated directly to me in a one on one discussion that we had. It was also plain to me that one other Government Senator, having circulated an amendment that was both unworkable and unacceptable to the Government, would abstain in the event that that amendment was not supported. In those circumstances, given the arithmetic of the parties in the Senate, it was clear that the legislation was going to be defeated and in those circumstances I recommended at a special cabinet meeting that the Government not proceed with the legislation. So it will not, of course, be debated in the Senate and there will be no further process in the Senate in relation to the Bill.

I’m disappointed that this is the situation. What has happened is that the Labor Party and a small number of Coalition Members and Senators have together, well not acting together let me make that clear, but their views have essentially coincided. That combination means that we would not secure passage of the legislation and I saw no point, nor did the Joint Party meeting see any point in prolonging the debate. Australia has very strong border protection laws. This Bill would have made those strong border protection laws even stronger. But the Labor Party has always been weak on border protection, remains weak on border protection, and, of course, the fact that on this occasion, there were some in our own ranks who had reservations about aspects of the legislation; that together means we can’t go ahead. Now that is the situation. We saw no point in a prolonged debate, leading to an inevitable outcome. There is other legislation, there are other issues, which of course will occupy the time of the Senate this week. Are there any questions? I don’t intend to hold you in the cold for very long on this occasion, but if you insist, Mr Street.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you now concede it was a mistake to proceed with this Bill, knowing it would deeply divide the Coalition?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am more interested in these matters in the interests of the Australian people. I proceeded with this Bill because I believed it would add strength to already very strong border protection laws. I never think it’s a mistake to try and provide more protection to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

What will you do then Prime Minister to give effect to the intentions of the legislation if you think we are deficient in this regard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is plain that the parliamentary process will not deliver this particular change. Obviously as a result of this I will look, within the parameters of that reality, I will look at whether there are any further measures. But plainly this particular approach was not going to muster Parliament’s support and we are a parliamentary democracy and the executive, despite what some people say, is accountable to, and answerable to, and in the end controlled by, the Parliament. And that is the reality and it’s the reality I always respect.

JOURNALIST:

Does the Nauru processing centre still have a future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. Let me make it clear that the existing law in relation to people who do not make the Australian mainland, that involves offshore processing, that law will be maintained and utilised to the full. So people who arrive on excised islands will still in the appropriate circumstances be processed on Nauru, now there haven’t been many recently, that’s not going to change, and of course there were, I should point out, a number of refinements and changes that would’ve governed all unauthorised arrivals that we agreed to insert in this Bill in the course of discussions and negotiations and none of those changes will, of course, go ahead because the whole Bill is being withdrawn.

JOURNALIST:

So the changes to the Nauru camps for example, with family and community housing, that won’t go ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

The whole Bill is out. I mean, I’m not saying that at some time we won’t look at this or that aspect, but there were a number of changes that were intended, but they’re all out. I mean, this was a package. I think what people have to understand in analysing it is that there are passionately held majority views in the Government on this. I believed in this Bill, I still do, but I accept that there aren’t the numbers in the Senate to pass it and I’m a realist as well as a democrat and that is why we’ve taken the decision we’ve taken today. But don’t let anybody think for a moment I didn’t believe in it. I believed in it very strongly and I suspect the majority of the Australian community believed in it very strongly. But those matters come out in the wash.

JOURNALIST:

Will Indonesia be disappointed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know and frankly that is a secondary consideration. This Bill was not designed to get a tick in Jakarta.

JOURNALIST:

The Indonesian Trade Minister suggested last week, Mr Howard, that if this Bill does not succeed Australia might want to look at the criteria for processing political asylum claims?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we won’t be taking any advice from the Indonesian Trade Minister about our processes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you regard your authority as being slighted by this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, commentary Phil. Commentary

JOURNALIST:

Personally do you feel…

PRIME MINISTER:

No doubt people will engage in commentary. Look my authority is ultimately derived from the Australian people and they have an opportunity every three years to make a judgement on that and they’ll have an opportunity towards the end of next year in normal circumstances and they will make a judgement. Until then, I’ll read the commentary but not necessarily contribute to it.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve described the Labor Party as being weak on border protection. Doesn’t this suggest that some of your own side are also weak on border protection?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m disappointed that a number of my own colleagues were unwilling to support the strongly held majority view. However, that is ultimately their right. We do pride ourselves on being a little different from the Labor Party when it comes to the right, after careful, searching, introspective, self examination, the right of people to dissent from the strongly held majority view. We don’t exact, as a matter of course, expulsion, suspension, penal recriminations. Now that is not our style and it’s, in some senses, it’s something that we do pride ourselves on. And I think it’s important to bear that in mind, but not that differences of this kind is something I welcome, but you’ve got to balance it. We are a broad church and we have to occasionally remain in the pew even though we might think the note is poorly touched.

JOURNALIST:

Would you then appeal to preselectors not to use this instance as an opportunity to seek retribution…

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. Let me be very blunt about that. I will be suggesting, if I’m asked, to the Liberal preselectors, say, in the electorate of Pearce, to take the range of contributions of Judi Moylan into account. I have said I see no merit, and I will not be seeking within the ranks of the Liberal Party organisation the exaction of any kind of vengeance. Nothing is achieved by that. Equally of course, those who have chosen a different path from the majority must respect the fact that nobody occupies exclusively the moral high ground on these issues. There are many people in the majority in the Coalition who feel that their position is just as correct and moral and decent and Australian and all of those things as others. So people have to exercise commonsense and restraint. All parties have these challenges and we are often marked and measured by how we handle them. If they’re handled with conviction and grace and without recrimination then the Party is not done any damage. If there’s a sense that I was right and you were all wrong, that is not helpful. Equally recrimination is not helpful. I think the Party, and I judge by the reaction of the Party Room, I think people will take that on board. Two more questions then I must go.

JOURNALIST:

Don Randall said earlier this morning that MPs should vote for this Bill to make Australia safer from terrorism. Does the failure of the legislation to get through put Australia at risk? And do you have any response to these reports that a baby may have been involved in the terror plot in the United Kingdom?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in relation to the baby, I mean I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong. I’ve read the reports. If that were true, and I stress if it were true, then that would be an appalling reflection on the lack of humanity of that poor child’s parents. But I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong. In relation to Mr Randall, I was asked a question about this on Friday and I suggest you have a look at the Neil Mitchell transcript.

Thank you.

ends

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