Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Senator if the Government is defeated on the floor of the House today, it will be a sign it doesn’t command the Parliament. Should the Prime Minister then go to the Governor General?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That sounds to me like a highly hypothetical question. Lots of ifs in there. We do not intend to be defeated. We will do what we have done for the last five and a half years and that is to stand up forcefully for our strong and important border protection arrangements. All Australians need to remember that Bill Shorten before Christmas was prepared to ram legislation through the Senate and through the House of Representatives which he now acknowledges himself would have prevented the Australian Government from turning away criminals from coming to Australia. Bill Shorten in pursuit of a tactical political win on the floor of the House of Representatives along the lines of the one that you are just describing there in your question was prepared to compromise our border security and our national security arrangements. That is incredibly reckless. It shows an incredibly poor level of judgement. It shows that Mr Shorten does not have what it takes to be Prime Minister. He is not a fit and proper person to be Prime Minister. His actions before Christmas as he has now had to acknowledge himself were incredibly reckless and not the actions of somebody who should be eligible to be Prime Minister of Australia.
QUESTION: Senator, if this bill goes through the House today it will come back to the Senate. Will you do what you can in the Senate to frustrate the passage of that legislation in the Senate and stop it from become law?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, a lot of ifs there. What I can say …interrupted
QUESTION: That is the prospect that is going through today.
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is your proposition, with all due respect. There are those of us who work in this Parliament and make judgements every single day on how we deal with legislation. What I can point you to are the facts. You know what the facts are? The facts are, if we as a Government had not done everything we could to stop Bill Shorten from watering down our border protection arrangements towards the end of last year, a bill would now be law which by Bill Shorten’s own admission would have prevented the Government from turning away criminals from coming to Australia. Bill Shorten needs to look the Australian people in the eye and explain to them, why he was prepared to ram legislation through the Parliament before Christmas last year that would have prevented the Australian Government, by his own admission today, to turn away criminals. Why did he make that judgement without first seeking the advice of the national security agencies. It was very late in the piece after he had already organised for his Labor Senators in the Senate to put in place a guillotine to ram legislation through the Senate to get it into the House of Representatives on that last Thursday in the last sitting week to make it law before Christmas. If we had not done everything we could to frustrate him in the Senate, as you describe it our borders today would be less secure, people smugglers would be back in business. That is what we are dealing with.
QUESTION: Senator has the Government been speaking with the independents on this bill and do you know if they’re wavering?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not, as I never do, going to give a running commentary on the conversations that take place between the Government and non-Government members of Parliament. There always are a whole range of conversations on a series of matters in the public interest. I will just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Senator, will the Government be asking the security agencies to provide advice on the implications of this bill as amended in the same way you did the Phelps bill? And if you do, will you release that advice in the same way you released the advice on the Phelps bill?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, a lot of ifs. What I can say is what the Government will do. The Government will continue to stand up for the strong border protection arrangements that we put in place on coming into Government back in 2013. When Labor was last in government they lost complete control of our borders. Kevin Rudd after first asserting that he would be strong on border protection, dismantled the strong border protection arrangements that Australia had in place. 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat and 1,200 deaths at sea later, we came into Government. We put in place the offshore processing arrangements, turning back the boats, temporary protection visas. We stopped the boats. We stopped the deaths at sea. We put people smugglers out of business. Bill Shorten through his actions before Christmas and again this week is intent on dismantling our strong border protection arrangements. We will stand firm in support, absolutely unequivocal support, of our strong border protection arrangements because we believe that they have been successful. We believe that they are important.
QUESTION: Senator, what do you think of Labor’s amendments?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The bill that Labor decided to support before Christmas was a bad bill. Even if amended it is still a bad bill. The amendments that Bill Shorten has flagged, Bill Shorten and the Labor party have flagged last night are a recognition that Bill Shorten before Christmas was prepared to vote for a bill that would have prevented the Australian Government from turning away criminals arriving here in Australia. That is what Bill Shorten as somebody who aspires to be Prime Minister was prepared to do in pursuit of a tactical win on the floor of the House of Representatives. There is absolutely no case for the bill that is in front of the Parliament. There is absolutely no case to weaken the border protection arrangements that are currently in place. No amount of amendments and no amount of back flipping by Bill Shorten will make a bad bill a good bill. It will continue to be a bad bill. We will not be supporting it.
QUESTION: One of the amendments they are proposing is to restrict this legislation to the existing cohort on the islands. They are arguing that would mean that there is no pull factor in this legislation. Would this legislation in your view restart the boats?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Here is the point, so not only did Bill Shorten vote for legislation and try to ram legislation through the Parliament before Christmas that would have prevented the Australian Government from turning away criminals, he also voted for legislation which by his own admission today would have been a massive pull factor, putting people smugglers back into business, giving them a product to sell, helping them to attract people to come back into this insidious trade. If he now acknowledges that there are all these problems with this bill, why proceed with the bill at all? Bill Shorten should concede that … interrupted
QUESTION: So do you concede that by restricting this legislation to the existing cohort that removes the pull factor?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I concede is that Bill Shorten was caught out in pursuit of a tactical win on the floor of the House of Representatives. He decided to compromise our national security and our border security arrangements. He is embarrassed now. He is trying to recover some ground. That is why he is now belatedly trying to address some of the issues that we pointed out in relation to the legislation that he decided to support. The point is, that no amount of desperate last minute attempts to scramble together some amendment principles, is going to make a bad bill a good bill. He should step away from it all together. He should cut his losses. He should acknowledge that he made a serious mistake. That he exposed Australia to serious risk in terms of the security of our borders and our national security. That the only course of action for him should be for him to walk away from supporting this bad piece of legislation all together.
QUESTION: Last year the Prime Minister vowed to do whatever it takes, they were his words, whatever it takes to stop this bill from becoming law. The Government is not promising to do that this year. Why?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You are quite wrong. We are doing whatever it takes to prevent this bill from becoming law. You will see how these processes are going to evolve over the next 24 to 48 hours. I know that as is always the case in this place, many people have made judgements on what they apparently know will happen. All I would say to you is watch this space. The Government is unequivocally committed to protecting our borders, is unequivocally committed to maintaining the strong and important and appropriate border protection arrangements that we have in place. As we did before Christmas, we will do everything we can to stop Bill Shorten from undermining our national security and from undermining our strong border protection arrangements.