Doorstop interview with Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg
Subject: Australian Border Force
Check against delivery. E&OE.
QUESTION: Commissioner, how does it strike you that the CPSU has taken industrial action for two hours while this ceremony has been on this morning? And can you give us your assessment of the extent to which it's compromised our border security this morning? Or hasn't it?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: None whatsoever. We are in a good faith dialogue with our workforce, with the industrial representatives. They gave us plenty of notification in relation to their intent to take action today. We were able to put contingency planning into place, and that continues. They have a prerogative and a right to represent their claims.
QUESTION: And no security implications?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: None whatsoever.
QUESTION: You said in your speech that our utopia is under threat - who is threatening us?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Look, the threat comes from a range of transnational crime syndicates. Whether they're people-smuggling, illicit drugs, proliferation of prohibited goods, there is a very sophisticated and very mature, very syndicated, transnational crime threat to this country.
QUESTION: Commissioner, do you have any thoughts on the young Australian man who has died whilst fighting for Kurdish forces against ISIS, how will this event stop young people going over to the Middle East and fighting?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Even before this merger started we established counter-terrorism teams at the airport. Every single day we are stopping more than 400 people that are travelling out of this country, who we are checking their bonafides, we are checking where they're going. If they are suspicious, we'll refer them to our security enforcement agencies. We are doing significant amounts of work in terms of protection at the border. Since August last year, we've spoken to about 125,000 people. We've offloaded somewhere in the vicinity of 250 people travelling to the Middle East to engage in jihad. And I think we are doing tremendous work to support the national security of this country.
QUESTION: Commissioner, the Border Force Act comes into force today and that includes provision of a two-year jail term for entrusted persons who, you know, speak out against what they claim are abuses in immigration detention. Now, there's a list of over 40 people that have put their name down, as they're concerned that they could get prosecuted for speaking out against human rights abuses. Do you think they should face prosecution?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: No, I think those provisions have been over-interpreted somewhat. They're no different to provisions that are currently in play for many security enforcement agencies. This is about the leaking of classified information that can compromise operational security for our officers. It's not about people having a right to be outspoken and communicate a range of things.
QUESTION: Commissioner, you will not be cracking down on whistle-blowers?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Not whistle-blowers, no. But if classified information is leaked, we will conduct an investigation and if they have breached and committed a criminal offence, they will be prosecuted.
QUESTION: And what about this instance?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Which one?
QUESTION: Will you be going after the 40 medical professionals who have spoken out today?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: I sincerely doubt it.
QUESTION: But the AFP is going after some people, there have been things at work at the AFP, we've heard that in communities, so doesn't this mean you are taking the approach of investigating leaked information coming out of the Department?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: The Australian Border Force has made no referrals to the AFP under the ABF Act.
QUESTION: And the Immigration Department?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Well, that's a matter for the Secretary and you need to speak to him about that.
QUESTION: Commissioner, do you think the Prime Minister and other ministers are using national security as a way of covering up other flaws like economic management? Or do you think they're trying to scare people into worrying about this issue?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Look, those are questions you need to put to them. What I can say to you very clearly from my comments in the speech and my comments just now, there are threats to this country, there are threats to our national security, to our sovereignty. Our job is to prevent those threats.
QUESTION: Commissioner, do you trust the issues that the doctors are raising and will you be going to them to address the concerns?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: I think a very important aspect of the Australian Border Force – it's not all about unilateral enforcement – we have to engage with all stakeholders, with our constituency, with the media, with the public, with advocates, with interest groups. And we will be engaging with them in a very open, a very transparent way.
QUESTION: Is [Indistinct] considered classified information?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: No.
QUESTION: Commissioner, in the last two years there's been a very steep jump in the number of Australians that border officials are stopping – the number of – sorry, global citizens, border officials are stopping from coming into Australia, about 45 per cent only three years ago I think. Who are we stopping from coming into this country that would come in beforehand and how important is it?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Look, I'm not sure where you are deriving those statistics from, so I will take that on notice. But what I can say though, our intent under our enforcement program, under our immigration enforcement program, is to say yes more often. People coming to this country are welcome. Tourism and travel are actuating prosperity, but whilst we are saying yes more often, we'll also be saying no more often to those people we don't want in.
QUESTION: Commissioner, in the lead up to this Australian Border Force coming into effect, did you talk with Labor as well as the Government about how this force would work?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Absolutely. The Labor Opposition Immigration and Border Protection Minister and his colleagues have had briefings over the course of the last 12 months in establishing the Australian Border Force. We have through our Minister's office responded to those requests, provided detailed and comprehensive reviews in relation to our functions and our objectives.
SPEAKER: Right, thank you very much guys.
VARIOUS: Thank you, cheers, thank you very much Commissioner.