Subject: Syria Refugees, Amnesty Report, ‘Abyan’, Citizenship legislation.
E & EO Transcript
JOURNALIST: Our programme guest is the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who joins us from our offices in Brisbane.
Minister, good morning. Welcome.
PETER DUTTON: Good morning, Barrie.
JOURNALIST: You've just visited a refugee camp in Jordan which I understand is home to about 80,000 refugees. How was that experience? What struck you the most about that?
PETER DUTTON: Well in the camp there were also 40,000 children and seeing kids run around in that environment is not a pleasant sight.
Many of them have lost family members, people from their own villages and obviously the camps are overflowing, but the difficulty, of course, Barrie, is that the situation is only going to get worse in Syria because there's no quick fix, no political outcome.
The Assad regime is still in place, ISIS is still running around causing havoc and that is a very confronting experience and I was warned by Phillip Ruddock that it would be so and it has been. And I think it's something that we should be proud of in terms of the Government response to what is a horrible situation. Our country's responded.
At the moment we seem to have some bidding war going on between the states and territories about how many Syrians will come to the respective states and territories and that's a great thing.
I think people recognise that we have the capacity the help those who are genuinely in need and the Government announced that we would take 12,000 and provide additional financial support to the camps to provide support around not just housing, but education and health services and we've done that in a timely way, but more assistance will be required because, as I say, the situation is going to deteriorate.
JOURNALIST: I'll come back to that, to the 12,000 figure that you mentioned, but when you see the sense of enormity of the problem and you know that countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan have at about a million refugees at least each and they're trying to take care of them in a temporary situation, does the problem seem so large that a solution is almost beyond reach?
PETER DUTTON: Barrie, I think when you look at the raw numbers, so the UN predicts something like 60 million people displaced or would potentially travel to a safer destination and no country, not the United States, nobody in Europe, certainly not Australia with a population of 24 million could accommodate 60 million people.
So there needs to be a regional response, there needs to be a global response essentially to make sure that we can have movements which are regulated and orderly and provide support to those who are most in need.
And I think that's the message that I take out of it: that we need to make sure that we're part of an orderly migration program and we've sought to do that in our country and the dividend of that is being able to provide support in the humanitarian and refugee programme in record numbers, but we need to be realistic about the millions of people.
There are 4.2 million people who have left Syria, but seven million who are internally displaced and it's a situation, as I say, getting worse.
JOURNALIST: Now one thing that struck me - the UN, there's a report that they're running out of money to take care of the people that are there already.
They say that it costs around $1 billion to take care of a million refugees and yet we spend $1 billion a year on just 1,500 refugees. Now, that does put into perspective just how costly the offshore detention solution is.
PETER DUTTON: But it also, Barrie, highlights the difference in terms of the way in which we fund the program.
So in the camp that I went into, there's raw sewerage flowing down the streets, there's no electricity, people have open fire arrangements out in the camps.
We have an $11 million hospital at the regional processing centre in Nauru. We've provided an additional $26 million for the upgrade of the hospital on Nauru. We fly people down to either Australia or to Port Moresby for treatment at international hospitals.
So it's a very different offering in terms of the way in which we provide services.
Children are educated. They're provided with small staff to - or children-to-staff ratios. So there's a world of difference.
People are providing support in a temporary basis in these camps, and ultimately, when you speak to the people there, they want to return to Syria at some point, but it is going to go on for a long period of time and the support that's provided on the ground in Jordan or that we saw in the communities in Beirut is a very different standard to that which we provide here in Australia or that we support through Nauru or Manus.
JOURNALIST: Now, you did refer to what you call the states in a sort of a bidding war over the Syrian refugees, which you say is a good thing, but Queensland, for example, say they're ready to settle 3,500, which is almost 30 per cent of the 12,000.
That does suggest that if you were to increase the numbers, the states would take care of them.
PETER DUTTON: Well, Barrie, we haven't had discussions with the states about how they intend to do that.
We obviously don't, when people arrive under this program, under the humanitarian refugee program, we don't prescribe where they live, we don't have travel restrictions on them and people have a general sense that they will move to areas where family might already be living if they've got that contact in Australia.
So, we need to provide support for people that move out into the regions away from just Sydney and Melbourne because we have settlement services across the country and we'll work with those state and territory governments, I think particularly around the offering of education where you've got children who might be eight or nine or 10 who can't speak English, who don't have the ability to be at the standard in an educational sense that Australian children would have been having attended child care and then prep' and then junior school.
So there might be the ability for the states to offer more in terms of the catch up, if you like, around the education services that'll be needed. So there are a number of ways in which we can work with the states and we will.
JOURNALIST: Yeah and might you increase the numbers as a result?
PETER DUTTON: Well I think the first thing that we need to do is demonstrate to the Australian public that we can do what is necessary in terms of this program; that is, to make sure that we're bringing people in that are in the most need.
We need to recognise the fact that there are a lot of people running around with fraudulent documents pretending to be Syrians, so we need to make sure that we can bring those people who are most in need in to Australia through the 12,000.
I think if we can demonstrate that we can get the security and health checks right and that we're bringing the right people, that I think people will have confidence in the program perhaps at some point extending depending on the circumstance in Syria.
But I've said publicly before and I said when I was in Jordan that the Government is open to further assistance given that this situation will deteriorate, but we need to first demonstrate that we can have success in the bringing the 12,000 across.
JOURNALIST: Now I want to take you back to the Amnesty International report that found that Australian officials paid people smugglers to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia.
You dismiss that as an ideological attack. Now, doesn't that imply that Amnesty International was prepared to put out a dodgy report simply to hurt the Government?
PETER DUTTON: No, Barrie, the point that I was making is that Amnesty, like many other NGOs, have had a long-term opposition to the regional processing centres, to turning back boats where it's safe to do so, but in the end, we've not had a drowning at sea under this Government, we…...
JOURNALIST: …..No, no, but they - sorry, just on that, that does imply they put out a dishonest report if it was driven by ideology.
PETER DUTTON: Well Barrie, the point that I make is that organisations such as Amnesty have had a very longstanding position. That's their right in a democracy. I disagree with it vehemently because we've been able to stop deaths at sea and we've been able to reduce the number of children from 2,000 down to less than 100 in detention.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, but - I accept that, they might have an ideological opposition, but are you implying that they put out a dishonest report?
PETER DUTTON: Barrie, I've said publicly before and I'll repeat it again now that we reject the suggestions that have been made in the report and my officers within Australian Border Force have acted within the law and that's the basis on which we operate, so suggestions to the contrary are completely false and that's ...
JOURNALIST: ….So where are they wrong? What part of it did they get wrong?
PETER DUTTON: Well, for anybody to suggest that the officers of the Australian Border Force or people involved in Operation Sovereign Borders have acted outside of the law is completely false and it's without ...
JOURNALIST: What, that they paid people smugglers?
PETER DUTTON: It's without foundation and if people have evidence to the contrary, they should provide that evidence.
JOURNALIST: But are you saying point-blank they did not pay people smugglers?
PETER DUTTON: I'm saying that no so such evidence was provided in the report of any illegal action and if people have any evidence ...
JOURNALIST: No, no, there was evidence that they paid people smugglers. Now, you're saying that's not true.
PETER DUTTON: Barrie, the evidence that people have spoken about that was contained - so-called evidence - that was contained in the report, as I said before and as I say again this morning, the Government completely rejects the suggestion that any of our officers have acted outside of the law.
JOURNALIST: But you're not rejecting the suggestion that they paid people smugglers.
PETER DUTTON: But Barrie, the point, and this is an issue that took place, this discussion many months ago, so I'm happy to revisit it again this morning, but we've repeated this claim that in relation to the actions of the officers of Operation Sovereign Borders, nobody has acted outside of the law.
We have done what it takes to stop the boats and we're not going to take a backward step from that. We're not going to allow the drownings at sea to recommence.
JOURNALIST: Alright. So you're no denying that Australian officials paid people smugglers. You're just simply arguing that's not against the law. Amnesty International says that they committed a transnational crime by paying people smugglers.
PETER DUTTON: Well Barrie, I'll use my own words instead of having them framed. I'm putting to you that the Government operates within the law. We've done that consistently in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders.
We have a difficult situation in relation to cleaning up Labor's mess where we lost control of our borders as a country. We've not had any drownings at sea and we've been able as a dividend from the success of Operation Sovereign Borders to take people in in record numbers through the refugee and humanitarian programme.
JOURNALIST: Alright, but can you understand why people interpret from that that as far as the Government's concerned, in the absence of a denial, you can pay people smugglers and that's within the law?
PETER DUTTON: Well Barrie, people can draw their own conclusions. The point that we've made consistently is that we don't comment on operational matters. Suffice to say that our officers operate within the law to stop the boats, stop them we have and we're not going to allow people smugglers to get back into business.
JOURNALIST: OK. Can I ask one question too on ‘Abyan’, the asylum seeker who became pregnant as a result of a rape. What's the latest with her now? Is she in Australia?
PETER DUTTON: She is and she's receiving medical attention, and as I've said before, we will do what's in the best interests. Her doctors, specialists that spoke with her recommended that she come to Australia and we've accommodated that.
She's receiving medical attention, but I don't have anything further to say in relation to what I think is a very private matter between her and her doctors.
JOURNALIST: OK. And just finally on the citizenship laws that I understand will come before the Parliament this week where you can strip dual citizens of their citizenship in certain circumstances, now a committee has had a look at this.
They've come up with bipartisan recommendations for amendments. Can we take it from that if these amendments will, as far as you're aware, have bipartisan support of major parties?
PETER DUTTON: The short answer is yes, Barrie. Just - we're having a look at some constitutional issues and some legal advice in relation to a few of the recommendations.
But the Government's position has been consistent; that is, that where people are involved in terrorist acts and they're a dual citizen, it is the Government's intent to continue with the legislation and we're of a mind to accept the recommendations, subject, as I say, to the advice from AGS - from the Australian Government Solicitor - and we'll proceed with that as quickly as possible because the threat from people returning from Syria, from Iraq that have been involved with ISIL is very real.
We need to deal with it and we need to be realistic about the fact that terrorism is a scourge that's going to be with us for a long period of time, and if we can take the Australian citizenship away from dual nationals without rendering people stateless, if they've been involved in terrorist activity, that's absolutely the intent of the Government and we'll implement that as soon as we can.
JOURNALIST: Good. Thanks for your time this morning.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Barrie. Thank you.