Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended his government’s release of information regarding border security amid reports of a stand-off with Indonesia over a boatload of asylum seekers off Java.
Speaking in Melbourne following an industry and government roundtable on the abolition of the carbon tax, Mr Abbott was quizzed about why Australian media were getting more information from Indonesian authorities than the Commonwealth.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a round table discussion on the carbon tax with business leaders on Friday. Photo: Joe Armao
Mr Abbott said it was important not to provide “a shipping news service” for people smugglers and that “the important thing is to stop the boats”.
“They [Minister Scott Morrison and commander Angus Campbell] are happy to answer questions as fully as they can, consistent with the need to deny to people smugglers information that will be helpful to them,” Mr Abbott said.
The Prime Minister, who promised during the election campaign to make the relationship with Indonesia the warmest it has ever been, said relations were constantly improving – and dismissed suggestions allegations of espionage from the Australian embassy in Jakarta had derailed diplomatic efforts.
“All governments collect information from a variety of sources. It has been absolutely consistent policy of the Australian government that first Australian officers and agencies operate within the law, and second that we do not comment on security matters,” he said.
During his first formal press conference in more than three weeks, Mr Abbott was asked about a swathe of issues including mounting tensions in the Coalition over the sale of Graincorp.
Mr Abbott denied the party was divided by the prospect of an overseas buyer taking control of Australia’s largest listed agricultural company.
He said Australia was open for foreign investment and there was an appropriate process of review that was being undertaken.
Mr Abbott would not be drawn on job cuts at the CSIRO saying the employment of staff and contractors was a matter for the CSIRO, not his government.
“We haven’t made any cutbacks to the CSIRO. The management of the CSIRO and the employment of staff inside the CSIRO and the management of contractors for the CSIRO is a matter for the CSIRO itself,” he said.
Mr Abbott also defended the abolition of 20 “redundant” government advisory groups, including the Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Committee, Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing and the National Housing Supply Council.
“What we don’t need is an absolute plethora of standing committees. If you at look at the committees that have been abolished some of them have been in existence for many, many years and the policy issues they were designed to considered have been resolved,” Mr Abbott said.
The Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing has been scrapped, just months before it was due to report but Mr Abbott said everyone knew it was important to treat older people right and that the independent Council for the Ageing was offering advice already.
“I think we have more than enough advice on this issue to make quality decisions,” he said.
Fresh allegations of sexual abuse and bullying in the military would be appropriately investigated, Mr Abbott told reporters.
“I do think that our defence forces are determined to stamp out inappropriate behaviour. I think that people who serve in our defence forces have the highest of aspirations, the noblest of purposes and I think by and large their behaviour is of the very highest standard,” Mr Abbott said.
On the beleaguered car industry Mr Abbott said the carbon tax would eliminate some impost on struggling manufacturers.
“We want the car industry to have a long-term viable future in this country, but in the end the best way the government can help the car industry is to try to ensure that as far as is humanely possibly that it is operating in a low tax, less over-regulated environment,” he said.