11 November, 2015
Subject: Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015; Christmas Island Detention Centre disturbance.
E & EO Transcript
JOURNALIST: The citizenship legislation will be debated in Parliament today. Has Labor given their commitment that they will support the legislation?
PETER DUTTON: Well, we need to hear from Mr Shorten in relation to whether or not the Labor Party supports this very important piece of legislation. All Australians know that terrorism is a great threat to our country and we’ve seen evidence of that in Martin Place and we’ve seen it in Melbourne and we’ve seen it play out in Paris and other developed countries like ours.
This is a real scourge and it is going to be with us for a long period of time.
The Government believes very strongly that this Bill – which does not render people stateless – but does say to dual nationals that if you have engaged in terrorist activities then that conduct means that you have breached your allegiance with our country and we will do whatever it takes, within the law, to try and keep our country safe.
And Mr Shorten no doubt at some stage will declare whether not the ALP supports this piece of legislation.
I think it’s important for Mr Shorten to answer that question today and the Bill will be introduced this afternoon and debate will commence this week and the Government’s desire is that this Bill be dealt with by both Houses by the end of the next sitting week.
So it is important and Mr Shorten needs to declare what Labor’s position might be.
JOURNALIST: What’s the risk if it doesn’t get dealt with so quickly?
PETER DUTTON: Well, we believe it’s important for this legislation to be dealt with.
There are recommendations that have been made by the Joint Standing Committee, by the Intelligence Committee. The Government has accepted those recommendations – so Mr Dreyfus sat on that committee and made the recommendations – and now the reasonable expectation is that Labor would support the Bill given that we have adopted the recommendations from the committee and this is a very serious piece of legislation and it deserves bipartisan support.
Originally Mr Shorten had pledged his support for this Bill but he’s been silent in relation to the Bill now. The amendments were distributed yesterday and we await Mr Shorten’s advice.
JOURNALIST: There are concerns from some that the legislation could still be brought before the High Court, it could be challenged. Do you still hold any of those concerns?
PETER DUTTON: Well, lawyers have the ability to appeal matters and take matters to the High Court – I mean that’s an issue for others to decide on. In these circumstances you would expect that there would be a High Court challenge in relation to some aspects of the Bill or the legislation at some stage, but that’s an issue for others.
From the Government’s perspective, there is always a risk with any piece of legislation, with any piece of national security legislation. We minimise that risk in this Bill and we believe that we’ve struck a reasonable balance by accepting all of the recommendations from the committee that if somebody has committed a terrorist act, if they’re a dual citizen, they’ve broken their allegiance with our country, then through their own actions they’ve renounced their Australian citizenship – that’s very important.
There are other limbs to this Bill which include that if people have fought for an organisation like ISIS, but a prescribed organisation otherwise, then by that action they renounce their citizenship as well and if they’ve been convicted of a terrorist offence, that is also grounds for revocation of their or renunciation of their citizenship – and as I say these are very serious issues.
JOURNALIST: Minister, one of the changes that the Party Room included yesterday or accepted yesterday, external from the 27 recommendations, was the issue of intent. Can you explain why that was included and whether that means anyone who has not necessarily carried out a terrorist attack, but is proved to be planning to, will be caught up in the automatic revocation of their citizenship?
PETER DUTTON: Well, the Government has obviously put together a Bill which we think minimises the risk of any challenge in the High Court and our judgement is that there needs to be the elements in there that we’ve put within the legislation.
The intent is important because if for example Man Monis had of gone into the café and held people against their will – so he deprived people of their liberty – if he’d committed assault or murder there, then those acts are covered by existing criminal law.
The question is how does it then become a terrorist act? So it then goes to what a person’s intent is. Was it politically motivated? And other elements to that intent.
So the Government’s overall package though is designed to be effective, to capture those who would seek to do harm to Australians and at the same time minimise the constitutional risk, the challenge in the High Court and that’s the balance that we’ve attempted to strike in this Bill.
JOURNALIST: But just to be clear, so that means that an act, some sort of act, a crime has to have been committed before they can be stripped of their citizenship? It’s not just that there’s evidence that they were planning to do something?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there’s a reference not only to state of mind, if you like, but also to elements otherwise, which include certain offences within the criminal code, which go to acts associated with a terrorist act or acts [inaudible] to or in relation to financing other aspects which are contained within the legislation.
But there are three limbs to it. So you’re talking about the conduct limb and we’ve defined that within the legislation as to what comes within that definition. So that’s the first limb, as I say. The second limb includes the terrorist organisation. The third limb includes convictions.
So, there are those three aspects and it’s tied back to definitions if you like or elements within the existing legislation. So that will define whether or not a particular act is captured by the intent of this legislation. But you know that’s for lawyers to argue and people can challenge.
Our responsibility is to make sure that we can keep our country as safe as we can by adopting these recommendations. It’s hard to see now why Mr Shorten is hesitating in coming out to offer his bipartisan support.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you that people on Christmas Island were able to get out of solitary confinement?
PETER DUTTON: Well I don’t know [inaudible] the circumstances in terms of where people were accommodated immediately prior to the incident up on Christmas Island, if that’s the question.
If people are accommodated within the compounds – and obviously the Serco guards within the centre made a decision that they weren’t able to contain the behaviour of some of the extreme elements within the Immigration Detention Centre there, and bearing in mind, given the activity that you’ve seen over the last 48 hours, we are dealing with significant criminal elements that have had their visas cancelled and are now awaiting deportation – they made a decision at that point to step back because of their own safety issues – which is entirely appropriate – and from there, obviously, the damage has been caused to gain access to parts of the centre. And ultimately the Australian Federal Police and the Border Force officers, as well as those involved yesterday in the response, I think have done a terrific job.
JOURNALIST: What do you say to the claims overnight from New Zealand that some of their citizens who are being held in immigration detention are guilty of nothing more than repeat traffic offences and that they’ve been held now for over six months and misled about the conditions under which they would be held?
PETER DUTTON: I’ve seen those comments from some elements of the New Zealand Parliament.
We’ve had a very open discussion with the Key Government. I greatly respect Prime Minister Key and the relevant Minister’s in New Zealand. I had meetings with my counterparts in Sydney the week before last and I spoke yesterday to the Minister in New Zealand.
Australia is happy to pay for these people that are in detention that have had their visas cancelled from New Zealand, we’re happy to pay for them to go back and I think some of them will take up that offer.
They can use the legal system to their advantage, which is what they’re doing now from New Zealand if that’s their wish. If they get up on appeal it’s their legal entitlement to come back to Australia and none of that is denied.
So if people choose though to stay in detention to appeal their cancellation of their visa on character grounds – well that’s an issue for them – but we’ve worked closely with the High Commissioner here, Chris Seed, with whom we have an excellent relationship.
We have an MOU with New Zealand in terms of the transfer of people back.
But Australia will do what is in our best interest and it’s not in our best interests to have these people running around in our community committing serious crimes.
We’re talking about outlaw motorcycle gang members here and we’re talking about people that have had repeat criminal offences and significant breaches of the law otherwise.
I heard a suggestion this morning from a New Zealand MP that somehow somebody had been charged with shoplifting, had been sentenced to 12 months – it’s complete nonsense. I’d just ask people to look at the facts.
We will work with New Zealand constructively.
If people want to go back to New Zealand then we will pay for them to go back and if they’ve had their visas cancelled because of character breaches, because they’ve committed offences against Australians or indeed against New Zealanders who are living here in Australia, then they can expect to have their visa cancelled and return to their country of origin.
JOURNALIST: …serious offenders….
PETER DUTTON: Tim, I’m happy to look at any case you want to put to me. I had a case put to me last week about this lady that apparently had her visa cancelled because she was a shoplifter.
I went back and had a look at the criminal history. She did have a charge of stealing, of shoplifting, she also though had a charge which was never released at the time that the claim was made she was just a shoplifter. The information was never released that she was also charged with break and enter and she was charged with drug offences and she had quite a lengthy criminal history.
Now, I’m happy to look at any case because nobody in Australia goes to jail for 12 months if you’ve been a shoplifter, first time offence or you’ve broken the speed limit, all of that is nonsense and we are dealing here with the top criminals in Australia, the top priority that we have and if people have committed offences where there is a 12 month sentence otherwise, they’re captured by the legislation – it was supported by Liberal and Labor – and we will work with New Zealand and other countries to deal with it.
Part of the reason that we have an issue with a number of New Zealanders is that we have a special relationship with New Zealand where people can come in a seamless way to our country in a way that they wouldn’t be able to if they had a criminal history coming from other parts of the world.
If you have a criminal history coming from the United States or the UK or France, you don’t get a visa in the first place.
Our relationship with New Zealand means that people even with a criminal history, providing they hold a New Zealand passport, are visaed in under the special arrangement in the Triple Four category visa.
So we will work with New Zealand and we have a special relationship that is very important and must continue and we respect that relationship but in the end Australia, like New Zealand, will not tolerate people coming into our community, committing offences and expecting to stay in the community as non-citizens.
JOURNALIST: Is it possible for a New Zealander for example to go back to New Zealand while they’re awaiting their appeal process or if they go back home, is that it? That’s the end of the appeal process?
PETER DUTTON: No, and again I repeated this yesterday, but to be very clear, it is possible for people that have had their visas cancelled under Section 501 to go back to New Zealand, unless they’ve got criminal charges pending otherwise, but providing all of their matters are finalised here, if they’re in detention, they’ve had their 501 cancelled, sorry they’ve had their visa cancelled under Section 501, they can go back to New Zealand and they can appeal from New Zealand.
If they get up on appeal they can come back – that’s the way our law operates – and so there’s a no prejudice basis on which they can return and we’ve been very clear about that.
JOURNALIST: Yesterday you confirmed one of the detainees did have in their possession a chainsaw, can you outline any of the other weapons? We’re lead to believe some people had fuel from the maintenance shed and also are you now able to confirm how many people were in that core group were causing a major disturbance?
PETER DUTTON: The advice that I was given yesterday, which I conveyed to you, was that some of the more severe elements, the most serious criminals within the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island, were able to gain access to a garden storage shed.
From there they did obtain the sorts of equipment you’d expect to be in the gardening shed, including fuel and the Australian Federal Police were aware of that and they dealt with that threat and ultimately they contained the situation very quickly.
So that’s the situation as best I’m aware. In terms of numbers; I don’t have the final advice in relation to that and I think that will be the subject of some investigation.
Those investigations have commenced already, as has the response to try and clean up the mess created and as I made very clear yesterday; if people have committed lawful damage, if they have committed arson, if they’ve committed offences against Australian Commonwealth property, then the police will investigate those matters and that’s what the Australian taxpayer would expect.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify with the citizenship legislation, the respective part of it, is it something to do with 10 years….
PETER DUTTON: …Ok, so there’s a retrospective….
PETER DUTTON: That’s ok. So there’s a retrospective element to the legislation and that is that if over the last 10 years an individual has had a cumulative sentence of 10 years or more, then they can be captured by this legislation.
So that is people that have been convicted if you like of in all likelihood the most serious of terrorism offences, there is a potential, if they’re dual nationals, to be captured by this legislation.
It will have limited application but nonetheless we thought that was important and obviously the committee, the joint committee with Liberal and Labor members on it had made a decision in relation to retrospectivity and this is again a very serious issue.
If you’ve been committed to a 10 year sentence for a terrorism related offence in our country, you face a great threat to our country, there’s no question about that. Thanks very much.