10 November, 2015
Subject: Christmas Island Detention Centre disturbance; UN Human Rights Council.
E & EO Transcript
JOURNALIST: Minister, thank you for coming in.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Leigh.
JOURNALIST: You've said this afternoon that security has now been restored at the Christmas Island Detention Centre. The question is: how did you end up with a situation like this in the first place?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Leigh, obviously the population within the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island has changed quite dramatically. So as boats aren't arriving, obviously the number of people that had arrived on boats that had been in detention has decreased dramatically.
JOURNALIST: Therefore you'd think it should be more secure, wouldn't you?
PETER DUTTON: Well, at the same time we've increased the number of cancellations on character grounds – people from outlaw motorcycle gangs, people who have committed serious criminal offences in Australia – they've had their visas cancelled and the population now within the Immigration Detention Centre there is a much more hardened population.
Now, we had beefed up security and provided additional infrastructure builds and a hardening of the infrastructure and the fences, the perimeter fences, for example. But clearly we will review what's gone wrong here and we'll make the necessary responses to make sure that we can have a safe environment.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that it's a more hardened population. You said today that of the 199 detainees in the centre, 113 are convicted criminals. That means that 86 people are not.
Why do you have these hardened, serious criminals, to use your words, housed with people who are not, including some who are undoubtedly legitimate refugees to whom Australia has an obligation under international law to provide a safe haven?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Leigh, there's couple of problems there in the question. So there are people who will have charges pending, serious charges and allegations that have been made against them.
There will be a situation where there may have been threats made to the life of guards. There may be assaults on other detainees, where complaints haven't been initiated to the police.
But nonetheless, Australian Border Force looks at each individual and risk-profiles that person and in some cases, people even without criminal convictions were regarded as being of extreme risk.
JOURNALIST: But Minister, my point is you've got two situations here. You've got hardened people who are convicted criminals, who you're awaiting to deport and then you've got people who are awaiting refugee processing?
PETER DUTTON: No, but as I say, Leigh, I think people when they think of Christmas Island think automatically of people who have arrived by boat. As I say, most of those people have gone out on bridging visas into the community.
If they've had a bridging visa cancelled, for example because they've been involved in an assault or an offence in the community that may not have yet been to court, it doesn't matter whether someone has arrived by boat or they've arrived by plane, the risk assessment is based on their behaviour and all of the information that's available to the officers determines whether they are in a hardened environment like Christmas Island or if they would come to a centre like Villawood or Maribyrnong or somewhere else on the mainland.
JOURNALIST: One detainee has told ABC radio over the phone that some people had armed themselves with chainsaws, firebombs, machetes, bats and hunks of iron. Is that accurate? And if so, how does anybody have access to such things inside a detention centre?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Leigh, obviously when the officers made a decision over the weekend that they couldn't contain the situation, for their own safety they made an operational decision to withdraw from the centre.
JOURNALIST: But how do you get a machete or a chainsaw?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I'm just coming to that.
So the difficulty then, of course, is that people within the centre, the detainees, have then broken into other secure areas, including, as I'm advised, an area where some of the gardening equipment was stored, including a chainsaw.
And they're very serious criminals that we're talking about: people that have been convicted of manslaughter, of armed robbery, of all sorts of crimes including sexual assaults against children. So we're dealing with some pretty serious characters here.
And the Australian Federal Police used the necessary force to repel those attacks on them and in the end we've restored order to the centre and we'll review all of that CCTV footage. All of that information which is then gathered by the investigators will be looked at. If there are recommendations about the way in which security operates into the future, then we'll embrace those recommendations.
JOURNALIST: The riot started after a detainee escaped. So apparently not only is there not sufficient control inside the centre; the centre is sufficiently insecure that people are able to escape?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Leigh, again: I don't think that's a proper characterisation of the centre. There was a person who did escape and that's...
PETER DUTTON: Well, that's being investigated now and I've received some additional advice in relation to that but I'm not going to comment publicly on it because I think it will be the subject of inquiry by the coroner.
JOURNALIST: Well, how do we know some of these other "hardened" criminals that you've referred to can't escape?
PETER DUTTON: Well, because we have perimeter fences which are reinforced. And there are ways in which obviously the security forces on the ground deal with this threat.
But there was a breach and that is being investigated. And, as I say, tragically upon escape this person was later located deceased. There are no suspicious circumstances, as I'm advised, in relation to the death but nonetheless the federal police obviously will investigate that matter.
JOURNALIST: And was that person a refugee?
PETER DUTTON: That person had arrived by boat and all of the circumstances surrounding his case will now be investigated by the coroner as, I think, is fit.
JOURNALIST: And was he a refugee?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I'm not going to go into his individual circumstances but it is a complex case and there are facts which aren't known to the public which will be considered by the coroner, as is the case. And again, I'm just not going to go into personal details or allegations against individuals.
JOURNALIST: This week at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, a number of countries have criticised Australia's human rights record, particularly its immigration policies, including countries that are close allies of Australia, such as the United States and Japan. How seriously does Australia take that criticism?
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, the United States didn't criticise Australia, so again there's a false premise in that question as well. We were criticised by, I noted, Bangladesh, by Iran, by North Korea – North Korea was my favourite, criticising Australia for our...
JOURNALIST: Also France, Germany and Japan.
PETER DUTTON: ...for our human rights record and others in Europe criticised us. And they don't agree with our strong policy when it comes to boats and that's been their long-standing position for some of those countries. But frankly, I think it belittles the UN process when you've got countries like North Korea trying to lecture our country in relation to human rights.
JOURNALIST: But they weren't the only countries?
PETER DUTTON: No, they weren't but I think when you talk about countries, it wasn't the United States, and countries in Europe who obviously haven't yet been able to deal with their own breakdown in migration crossings and border policy, where we have been able to implement – yes, a strong policy – but the dividend of that is that we're offering on a permanent basis more places to refugees than any other of these countries – and that's something of which I think we can be very proud.
JOURNALIST: All right. I'll check the United States comments and correct the record if necessary. Peter Dutton, thank you very much for joining us.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks very much, Leigh. Thank you.
LEIGH SALES: And for clarity: the United States urged Australia to closely monitor the off-shore processing of asylum seekers and refugees and to ensure humane treatment and respect for their human rights.