16 November, 2015
Subject: Resettlement of Syrian refugees, NSC, Paris attacks.
E & EO Transcript
JOURNALIST: Thanks so much for joining us on PM Agenda. Can I first of all ask you, what steps is the Government making to ensure that IS operatives are not posing as refugees to get to Australia?
PETER DUTTON: Laura, the first point to make is that we won’t be doing anything at all that will sacrifice our national security.
That is our first and foremost concern - to make sure that we can protect our citizens.
People should be reassured by the fact that we have one of the strongest border protection policies of any government in the world and the Government won’t be retreating from that position at all.
In relation to people coming through the humanitarian program, in particular the 12,000 Syrians and people from Iraq who will come through the announcement that we made in September, we conduct biometric tests, we take fingerprints, we consult with our intelligence partners, including the United States, to check names and details against data bases that they have. We have experts working out whether people have forged documents.
So unless we can establish the bonafides of individuals, then we don’t deal with that application, we move onto the next application where we can guarantee somebody’s identity and that’s a policy that we won’t be stepping back on.
JOURNALIST: Ok, so if there is any doubt you just leave that application and you move on to the next one. Will there be any rethink though in the minorities we do take? Are you more inclined to take [inaudible] or Christian minorities to really guard against that risk?
PETER DUTTON: Laura, I think the first point to make here is that people who we are talking about within this program, and the Government made its policy prescriptions pretty clear, that is that we want women and children as a priority – so people coming from family units, in particular persecuted minorities – so these are people who are fleeing the terrorists that are doing the work in Paris right now.
This is the fact that we just can’t get away from. These people have dealt with a terrible situation in their own country, in Syria and in Iraq. In Syria they’re facing not only IS, but the Assad regime attacking its own people as well.
So these are people fleeing persecution and….
JOURNALIST: And ISIS has been…sorry to interrupt Minister…
PETER DUTTON: …sure…
JOURNALIST: But ISIS has been known to be operating in these camps, in Jordon, Lebanon and Turkey, isn’t that right?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there’s been some reports of that and we need to make sure that we recognise that many people are running around with false documents and I received that advice when I was in the Middle East.
But the people that we’re taking, we are confident that given the expertise that we have, in examination of documents, in checking databases, in taking all of the personal details, including biometrics and fingerprints, that we can weed out the people that are seeking to do us harm.
So we said though that we won’t take people just from camps, but from communities within Jordon, within Turkey, within Lebanon and the north of Iraq as well and we’re working with Syrian leaders here in Australia to make sure we can identify those that are persecuted, those from villages and from areas that have been the subject of ISIS attacks.
There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
JOURNALIST: Do the events of recent days Minister add weight to the argument that you should be restored as a permanent member of the National Security Committee?
PETER DUTTON: Laura I think that’s an issue for the Prime Minister. Andrew Nikolic, who’s a person for whom I have a great deal of respect; 30 years serving our country at very high ranks within the Australian Army, he’s expressed a view about that this morning.
Look, my view is that, yes, border protection is absolutely central to our national security – not only stopping people from leaving, because if they leave they get more radicalised and as Australian citizens they’re entitled to come back and they pose a greater threat, but also very importantly for people who seek to come to our country, we have a presence in dozens of countries around the world, very good contacts with security agencies and intelligence agencies – so my department feeds a lot back into the work that’s being done by ASIS and ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, the composition of the NSC though, is a matter for the Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott was criticised a few weeks ago you will remember when he gave the Thatcher address in London for what was described by some as giving gratuitous advice to European nations on border protection policy.
Given the events of recent days, again, do you think he’s been vindicated in some way?
PETER DUTTON: Well Laura he wasn’t criticised by me and I think if you have a look at the text of his speech as opposed to the way in which some people wanted to report it, I thought it was a perfectly sensible contribution.
I think the threat that the Prime Minister, when he was in that job, when he got all of the information from the intelligence agencies, I think Tony Abbott understood that this was a very significant threat and we saw in Lebanon, only last week, 40 odd people killed there in an ISIS attack.
So they have very extensive reach and the difficulty for Europe, as I think Tony Abbott was pointing out, is that they have porous borders in many instances because you’re dealing with land borders and it’s very hard given the amount of people movements to have it regulated and to be assured of peoples documents and identities as they’re crossing borders.
The Government here has been criticised by many for being tough when it comes to border protection policy, but frankly I think people understand, why the Government has taken such a tough approach.
This is a new age and this threat will be with us, and increasingly I think, for at least a generation and we need to recognise that and we need to step up and make sure that our policies reflect the fact that these people have no regard for our law, for our civil liberties, for the way in which we treat people with respect and decency and frankly we have to match them and do one better when it comes to thwarting these attacks, to gathering intelligence and to making sure that we can keep our people safe.
JOURNALIST: This attack also in Paris over the weekend and reports of not only one, but two of these attackers coming through Greece on boats to get there only a couple of months ago. This also has a huge psychological effect. It does seek to try and drive a wedge between mainstream Muslims and mainstream society injecting more division in Paris in particular, but I think this resonates the world over.
What do you say to a society here in Australia that is growing increasing cynical of each other?
PETER DUTTON: Laura, I think more than ever we need to work together because what the ISIS leadership wants is division and distrust and disharmony. We shouldn’t allow them the propaganda opportunity.
We need to recognise that we have in the Muslim leadership generally speaking within our country people who are prepared to speak out and condemn these atrocities.
It shouldn’t be with qualification, it shouldn’t be with hesitation, it needs to be unequivocal.
People need to condemn these acts for what they are - these people are murderers - and the same as we would condemn any murder in our society; people from every part of Australian society should be condemning these attacks as murderous attacks and that’s what I think we have seen today.
JOURNALIST: You talk a lot about community engagement side of things. This fight against ISIS is really two pronged though. There is a military side to this which some argue actually that is, what we have seen in Paris, as a response to the US Coalition being quite successful in the Middle East.
Now there seems to be some sort of breakthrough at a political level with regards to Assad and the political solution in Syria. There was UN mediated talks in Vienna over the weekend. Australia was excluded from those talks though and we are the second largest contributor.
Do you think down the track that this should be reconsidered? Is there any political pressure from Australia in making sure that we are involved in these talks?
PETER DUTTON: Laura, I think it’s pretty obvious that the leadership needs to come out of the United States, the United Kingdom and others - in particular in the Middle East - UAE countries need to be part of this solution and many of them have contributed to the fight against ISIS.
This is a global effort and Australia will provide whatever support we can.
The point that I would make is that we have many people of an Islamic faith living within our country who are living here peacefully. They have started new lives for themselves and they are contributing in a positive way.
Anybody that says that everybody from a particular race, religion or creed is evil or a terrorist I mean just defies common sense.
The fact is that there are good and bad within every element of society and we need to make sure that the good outweighs the bad and the good condemn the bad even if they are people living within their own communities.
If we do that then I think we send a very clear message of cohesion across our society.
I think history has demonstrated that people who have believed people of one religion or race were all evil have been condemned through the course of history.
In our country we are home to people of moderate stance in relation to these matters. Many people are misusing religion to try and take up arms with a cause frankly that they don’t really understand.
The biggest threat that we have in our country at the moment is young people who are being radicalised online that are presenting in airports wanting to go and fight or, as I say, coming home to fight here having been armed in all of the information on how to become a terrorist.
So we need to put it all into perspective I think and have a balanced response and this Government will always take national security as an absolute priority and we are not going to apologise for that one bit.
JOURNALIST: Minister just finally, does a balanced response include the real possibility of Bashar al-Assad remaining in power for the foreseeable future and then some kind of democratic election and does it include boots on the ground?
Are you comfortable with both of those scenarios in the medium to long term?
PETER DUTTON: Laura, unless you are close to those discussions it is hard to know what the next step, the most productive next step will be, but I don’t think any country, any western democracy facing the threat that we’re facing, that we’ve seen playout in Paris in the last 48 hours, frankly could rule in or out any response.
I think we need to do what is in our best national interest and in the best interests of our partners because we are not going to tolerate the advance of these extremists and we’re not going to tolerate people disrupting our way of life because we have a peaceful way of life.
The fact that we allow women and young girls to be educated and to roam freely and be equals in our society, is what offends these extremists, as much as it does having the presence in Syria or Iraq and we cannot allow that ideology and the perversion of that religion to dictate anything other than a swift response from us.
So that’s what the Government is committed to and we demonstrated that, particularly through the strong border protection policy now for the last couple of years and that will continue.
JOURNALIST: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, you’ve been generous with your time, thanks so much.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Laura, thank you.