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Subject: Syrian refugees; Paris attacks.

E & EO Transcript

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton is the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Minister, thanks for joining me.

PETER DUTTON: Pleasure. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Now, there's news this afternoon that the first intake of Syrian refugees will arrive in the next 24 hours. I've heard they're a family of five. What else can you tell me about them?

PETER DUTTON: Well, I haven't got a great deal of information to pass onto you this afternoon. Obviously, as Minister Porter's pointed out this afternoon, they are expected within the next 24 hours.

The family's come across sooner than we expected because the mother in the family is about seven months pregnant.

So, they have been in a camp for a couple of years and it will be a decision for them about what interaction they want to have with the media.

But the first and foremost priority is to make sure that we can give them the settlement services assistance that they require and I think they deserve a bit of privacy until they're settled in and ready to talk about their experience.

JOURNALIST: I'm interested in – if you can help me out with some of the mechanics of this, why Perth and what kind of – how was that all decided that Perth would be the right place to go and also around the vetting?

We're obviously having a debate now around the vetting of refugees, on the checks and the balances. Have they been robust?

PETER DUTTON: Well, I can help you out with the checks and balances that we've put in place. There’s obviously a lot of work by immigration and border protection and a lot of our agencies before people arrive and once they arrive then Minister Porter, through the Social Services portfolio, provides support for people about where they're placed and the services provided to them.

The only point that I would make to that is we are keen to try and provide support to people to move out of just Sydney and Melbourne.

Now, some people will have family there which is fine and they'll want to locate around where their support services are in terms of family and places that they know and are familiar with, but the states and territories have all expressed a desire for people to move into their particular area and we're keen to accommodate that so if people have an inclination that they're happy to go into one of the states or territories outside of New South Wales and Victoria then that can be accommodated.

In terms of the checks and balances that are put in place when we're screening people, we take biometric testing as well as fingerprints and we check all of that with our intelligence and security partners, internationally, and we check against known data bases and obviously we have people who can check the authenticity of travel documents, passports, the like.

So, there's a lot of work that goes into the background checks and the Government's been very clear about the fact that we're not going to compromise on any of that because we think the security checks are incredibly important.

JOURNALIST: And why is Perth being chosen first? I know Queensland was demanding or at least requesting, is probably a better word, a third of these 12,000 refugees. Why Perth first?

PETER DUTTON: Well, again, I think it's a little arbitrary for some of the state governments to be putting figures on it because we don't mandate where people will live.

So, there may be family in Perth, there may be just a desire to move to Perth because they've learnt about that city, I haven't got the background as to why Perth, but as I say, the point that I make is that we don't prescribe, as part of a visa condition, for example, that people need to live in a particular locality.

We don't have travel restrictions and we don't bond people to particular areas as may have happened in previous decades.

But people are given information about each capital city and information about what opportunities there might be. I think there's a good opportunity for the states and territories who I know are very serious about getting many of these people to live in their states or territories that they can look at additional support around education, particularly where kids need to be bought up to speed in the early years of their education that they may have missed out on - even the basics.

So, look, there are lots of reasons why people will move to different parts of the country, but the important thing is that we are getting them here as quickly as possible, but without sacrificing any of the security or health checks.

JOURNALIST: Minister, there are reports you may delay the intake of 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, the bigger group, the bigger caseload, why and what will you be doing with the extra time?

Will you now in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack, create extra layers of checks and balances on those 12,000 refugees?

PETER DUTTON: Patricia, the point that I made to the staff, to our post staff in Amman and in Beirut the week before last, and I've reiterated it on a few occasions now, meeting with our people here in Australia and the department, is that we're not going to sacrifice anything in terms of the security checks that need to be undertaken.

So, if we're in doubt about a particular person's identity or we think that maybe their documents aren't legitimate, then we're moving on to the next application.

There are plenty of people, millions of people who are desperately in need and I don't want to displace people who are genuinely in need by people who may have a different motive to come to Australia or maybe they're desperate to get to our country, they're pretending to be Syrians and they've come from another part of the world but joined the queue.

Whatever the circumstance might be, the national security of this country comes first.

And the point that I've made is if that causes delays then it causes delays and we're not going to change that approach and as I say I had that approach when I was in the Middle East the week before last but that’s been the case before.

JOURNALIST: So, to be clear does that mean that the approach hasn't been changed at all in the wake of the Paris attacks, that it's the same stringent approach that you talked of a few weeks ago?

PETER DUTTON: Absolutely and we need to make sure that people understand that we do undertake significant checks.

So, as I say, we have document examination experts, we have people who are well connected within the intelligence communities through the Middle East and we do our due diligence on each of the applications and that was the case before the Paris atrocity and it will be the case after as well.

JOURNALIST: On RN Drive, my guest is Peter Dutton, he's the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Our number here is 0418 226 576. I'd love it if you could text us, you could also tweet us @RNDrive.

Minister, a Syrian passport was found near the bodies of some of the attackers in Paris.

There are some reports that the passports are fakes but either way, how do you deal with that renewed fear of terrorists sneaking into Western countries alongside asylum seekers?

How do you deal with helping legitimate asylum seekers while also looking after the national security of the nation and also appeasing people's concerns that this might be a threat?

PETER DUTTON: Well, Patricia, this is, as I say, this is a balance that we need to get right. So we have, I think, people recognise now, some of the best intelligence analysts in the world.

The staff at the Australian Border Force not just here, but at our posts in dozens of countries around the world, work very closely with their counterparts in those respective countries to exchange information, to check documents, to look at the background stories that people are providing, see whether they've given a consistent story at different points along the journey, if they've been displaced from a particular part of Syria or Iraq.

So all of that is already in place and I think it just indicates the strong stance that we've taken and the fact that we need to, a: have the national security of this nation first and foremost, but b: make sure that we can get it right so that we're not displacing people who are genuinely in need and replacing them with those that might be travelling on false documents.

I had a briefing from our intelligence people in both Lebanon and in Jordan and they alerted me to the fact that people are travelling on false documents so we need to be alive to it, we need to react to it, and I think we've got the best people possible in place to analyse all of those documents so that we can minimise the risk as much as we possibly can.

JOURNALIST: Both Scott Morrison and yourself have highlighted the plight of Christians in Syria. Now the Treasurer says they are the most persecuted group. Are you now less likely to accept Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq because of the Paris attacks?

Will it change the way we approach this 12,000 resettlement?

PETER DUTTON: Patricia, the Government's been consistent from day one, both under Prime Minister Abbott when the announcement was made, but also under Prime Minister Turnbull, who's reiterated the Government's position and that is that we want to concentrate our efforts, our priority if you like, on women and children in particular, but persecuted minorities otherwise – that can include people of Christian faith or Muslim faith, or others who are stuck in a very difficult scenario.

So in Syria, as we well know, we've got the Assad regime attacking its own people on the one hand, and we've got ISIL people, operatives, who are cutting off heads and abducting and torturing people, both of Christian and Muslim faith.

So the desire of the Government is to try and identify those people who are most at risk and in some cases that will include people living outside of camps who are of a Christian faith, who don't feel safe within the camps.

In some cases, it will be a situation that people are of the Islamic faith and they are equally persecuted. So we'll look at the cases individually.

But what I don't want is a situation where we're taking people that aren't worthy of support relative to others.

The idea, for our country, in keeping a very strong border protection policy – which the Government's been criticised for for a long time – but the dividend of having that tough border protection policy is that we do have the highest number of refugees settled on a permanent basis in this country, compared to any other nation.

And we need to make sure that we get the security and the health checks right so that we can take the confidence of the Australian public with us during the next crisis, or the crisis after that – whether it be in Middle East, Africa, Asia, wherever it might be – where we may need to lend a hand to, people need to have confidence in the Government that we get this right and that's an absolute priority for this Government.

JOURNALIST: Now, you're no longer a full-time member of the Cabinet's National Security Committee, but you're supposed to be brought in when necessary. Do you think you should be a full-time member?

I know the Prime Minister arranged some urgent NSC phone hook-ups over the weekend – were you part of them or do you think you should be part of them?

PETER DUTTON: Look, I don't have any comment to make in relation to NSC discussions over the weekend. I've been seconded into NSC as the Prime Minister's seen fit, and the composition of the committee's is an issue for the PM, Patricia, so I'll leave that to him.

The only thing that I would say is that obviously border security is paramount to keeping our nation safe, and the work of the Australian Border Force officers feeds into the intelligence gatherings of the central agencies every day.

There's a lot of work that our Border Force officers do with the AFP and the intel agencies.

JOURNALIST: Do you think then that it's getting so intense, that workload, that your role is almost…it can't happen that you're not on it permanently, given the intensity of that work?

PETER DUTTON: Patricia, as I say, the PM's made that decision when the reshuffle took place when he assumed the leadership and he's made that decision.

He said at the same time that it would be reviewed, that it wasn't set in stone. So no doubt he'll do that when he sees it appropriate. But I provide advice to him on a regular basis, and as I say, our officers work very closely together.

JOURNALIST: Minister, many thanks for your time.

PETER DUTTON: Thanks Patricia, thank you, cheers.

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