Australia news LIVE: Julian Assange unlikely to accept deal ahead of hearing; Border Force boss rejects Dutton funding cut claims

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Australia news LIVE: Julian Assange unlikely to accept deal ahead of hearing; Border Force boss rejects Dutton funding cut claims


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Australia’s home affairs minister says the government of Nauru is now in charge of processing the asylum seekers who arrived on Australia’s shores by boat.

Clare O’Neil has been speaking on RN Breakfast this morning, about the arrival of men in WA and said they were now in the hands of the Nauru government.

“[They] will manage those individuals and this is an important message to people smugglers and anyone else was thinking about this, if you attempt to make it to Australia by boat, you will not be allowed to resettle in Australia,” she said.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

But the minister was also pushed about how long the men would be held at Nauru.

O’Neil said it was in the hands of the Nauru government, and they would also determine the men’s asylum claims.

“Those who are disputing the ethics of this approach … it was not a very good humanitarian outcome when we had boatloads of people coming to Australian and many people, very tragically dying because they failed and drowned on the journey to Australia.

“That is not … the definition of a humanitarian approach. We have a better system of managing this now.”

She also confirmed all the medical care for the men would be carried out at Nauru.

“I’m confident in the way that Nauru is managing medical care, but I would say … it is not the government’s intention to use Nauru … as a permanent internment camp for people.”

Staying with news about the arrival of 40 asylum seekers, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has defended the government’s commitment to the Operation Sovereign Borders regime.

She lashed Opposition Leader Peter Dutton for “wandering around the country in a slightly unhinged manner” making funding cut claims about the regime.

“We have invested in additional almost half a billion dollars in this operation compared to what the previous governor was looking to spend,” O’Neil said on ABC Radio National.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has been probed about the security of Australia’s borders.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has been probed about the security of Australia’s borders.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The minister urged people to consider the words of Australian Border Force boss, who said the organisation was better funded now than it had been previously.

“This particular operation is better funded today than it has ever been in the past. That is a matter of fact, and should not be the subject of any further conjecture by politicians or journalists around this country.”

She was also probed about claims from the opposition that surveillance flights around the border had been cut, but wouldn’t comment on specific details.

“The protection of our borders is a military-led operation which is difficult and dangerous, and obviously the most valuable information for people smugglers is specifics on exactly how we go about that task,” O’Neil responded.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie says the government doesn’t have a plan for the border, after up to 40 asylum seekers arrived at WA’s remote northwest coast.

“The last time these guys [Labor] were in charge, we had over 800 boats, 50,000 arrivals and 1200 people dying at sea,” McKenzie told Nine’s Today program this morning.

Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie, who visited the seat of Dunkley with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton earlier this month.

Victorian senator Bridget McKenzie, who visited the seat of Dunkley with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton earlier this month.Credit: Eamon Gallagher

She said the government cut surveillance flights, and if it hadn’t been for a civilian with a drone they may not have found the men.

“They don’t have a plan for border. They don’t have a plan for inflation or cost of living. And they always seem to be getting cut short.”

But the Australian Border Force boss insists federal funding reached its highest level since the agency was established in 2015 and had grown by hundreds of millions of dollars last year.

Turning now to independent MP Monique Ryan, who said she didn’t support alcohol and drug testing within parliament house.

It comes after a Nationals MP was caught on camera slurring her words at Senate estimates, and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was seen lying on a footpath after a parliamentary day.

Ryan, who represents the blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong in Melbourne, said it wasn’t a good look for the country when politicians acted like that.

Independent MP for Kooyong Monique Ryan doesn’t support alcohol and drug testing.

Independent MP for Kooyong Monique Ryan doesn’t support alcohol and drug testing.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

But she told Nine’s Today program this morning that alcohol and drug testing was a “a little bit nanny state”.

“I came out of hospitals where people were operating on people, and we didn’t have random drug and alcohol testing,” she said.

There needed to be a clear rationale for testing, she said.

“At the end of the day, politicians are answerable to their own electorates every three to six years, and if I behave like that, I would hope that my electorate would let me know that they weren’t happy with it.”

A dramatic navy overhaul will double the nation’s number of warships and boost the firepower of the surface fleet, but risks angering Germany if the federal government guts a troubled offshore patrol vessel program to free up money for missile-laden ships.

Defence Minister Richard Marles will today release its response to a review of the navy’s surface fleet led by retired US vice-admiral William Hilarides, which made 18 recommendations aimed at speeding up the delivery of new ships and avoiding a $20 billion cost blow-out in the maligned Hunter-class frigate program.

The offshore patrol vessel designed by Luerssen and already being produced in Australia could be scrapped in favour of more heavily armed corvettes.

The offshore patrol vessel designed by Luerssen and already being produced in Australia could be scrapped in favour of more heavily armed corvettes.Credit: Defence Department

Marles will announce that the navy will be equipped “with a major surface combatant fleet twice as large as when we came to government — and with more of these new surface combatants in the water and operational sooner”, according to an excerpt of his foreword to the review published on Wednesday.

Learn more on this issue here. 

Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram has dismissed fears of a cut to the agency’s funding after the Coalition launched an incendiary attack on Labor for slashing its funds and leaving the nation exposed to asylum seeker boats that escape detection.

The border control chief insisted that federal funding had reached its highest level since the agency was established in 2015 and had grown by hundreds of millions of dollars last year, in a direct intervention in the political dispute over asylum seeker arrivals.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have traded blows over border security.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have traded blows over border security.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

The High Court has scheduled two days of arguments over whether Assange, who spent seven years of self-exile inside a foreign embassy and the past five years in prison, can ask an appeals court to block his transfer. If the court doesn’t allow the appeal to go forward, he could be sent across the Atlantic.

Here’s the latest on this issue.

The wife of jailed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said her husband was unlikely to accept any plea deal with the United States government in return for early release over espionage and computer hacking charges, believing it would set a dangerous precedent for journalism.

Assange, 52, an Australian hacker-turned-publisher, faces what could be his final court hearing in London starting on Tuesday (London time) as he tries to stop his extradition to the US on charges relating to the 2010 disclosure of a huge cache of classified government documents.

Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Stella Assange, wife of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.Credit: AP

The High Court has scheduled two days of arguments over whether Assange, who spent seven years of self-exile inside a foreign embassy and the past five years in prison, can ask an appeals court to block his transfer. If the court doesn’t allow the appeal to go forward, he could be sent across the Atlantic.

In several media appearances ahead of the hearing, Stella Assange said her husband was “extremely weak” both physically and mentally, and warned the decision could be a matter of life and death.

Find the full story here.

Good morning, and thanks for your company.

It’s Tuesday, February 20. I’m Caroline Schelle, and I’ll be anchoring our live coverage for the first half of the day.

Here’s what you need to know before we get started:

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