29 November, 2015
Subject: Syrian refugees, NSC, Monkey Pod lunch, Human Rights Commissioner.
E & EO Transcript
JOURNALIST: Australia's taking an extra 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq on top of the nearly 14,000 we already bring in each year.
Now, obviously, there's a security risk here. For instance, three recent terrorist attacks in Australia were all committed by Muslim refugees – the Lindt Cafe siege, the shooting of Curtis Cheng and the stabbing of two police in Melbourne. Other refugees have fought for the Islamic State and Al Shabaab or been jailed here for terrorism plots.
Now, the Government has hinted that these 12,000 extra refugees will, therefore, be mainly Christians.
MALCOM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: I've been concerned for some time, and have been very vocal about my concern, for the persecuted minorities in the Middle East, prominent among whom, of course, are the Christian communities.
JOURNALIST: Joining me is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Thanks for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Andrew.
JOURNALIST: Now, like I said, the Government is hinting that most of the refugees you'll bring in will be Christian but, of the first four families you've selected, half are, in fact, Muslim and the first family you’ve brought over is, in fact, Sunni Muslim, not one of the persecuted minorities at all. How did that happen?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Andrew, obviously, the Post has a look at the applications and we decide on the basis of the circumstances whether or not somebody is worthy of a place within the humanitarian or refugee program.
I think it's important to recognise that people that are coming out of Syria, Christians included, are fleeing a dictatorship, they are fleeing ISIS and they're fleeing, effectively, the same terrorists that we've seen inflict such damage in Paris.
So we need to make sure that people are worthy that their applications are properly scrutinised, that their identity is absolutely verified and if we can do that then I think we can offer a new home to those people that are most in need.
JOURNALIST: Now, I've got all that. I'm just saying the mismatch between the hints that they're, all… mostly going to be Christians and the fact that… and persecuted minorities and the fact that the first one is not from a persecuted minority and half the first four families are, in fact, Muslim.
PETER DUTTON: Well the only point that I'd make Andrew is that it's hard to go into the individual circumstances, but it may be that family members have been abducted or killed. It may be that they've been in circumstances where there has been torture and trauma. So I can't go into the individual family circumstances, but I think overall people should try and hold back their judgements until they see the composition of the 12,000 over the next couple of years.
We're not going to rush the program. I don't want any mistakes to be made in relation to the identity. I want to make sure that all of the checks are done with our Five-Eyes partners to make sure that we are not facing a threat from people who come through the refugee program. That’s why it will take some time. I think in the end that will pay a dividend.
JOURNALIST: Is it legitimate to say that faith does matter when picking refugees? Not simply because Christians are persecuted, but in terms of their ability, the ability of refugees to settle in to a community that is basically Christian?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Andrew, since the Second World War, we've taken about 825,000 refugees, so we've been a generous nation. But at the same time, we've been able to settle people well, in many cases regardless of their backgrounds, because people do come from very difficult circumstances...
JOURNALIST: But that's true. These true. But I'm just saying given the problem that we've had with, say, with some of the Lebanese intake from the Lebanese war, for example, the fact that jihadism, the number of refugees have turned to that, that's not quite true. I am just wondering, is it legitimate to say we'll take Christians to minimise that problem?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I think what we're saying is we're going to prioritise, firstly, women and children and then persecuted minorities which will include Christians. I think people will make their judgements about the 12,000 once they're here and once they see the contribution they make.
JOURNALIST: You don't want to address that part of it? Whether Christians are more likely to settle in well here and, therefore, whether we're entitled to pick them first?
PETER DUTTON: No, I'm happy to answer it. I think it is the case that we've got problems with some particular communities, particularly in parts of Australia in Sydney and Melbourne and we need to do a lot to address that and there are some people who, regardless of their faith, will integrate or they won’t integrate, depending on their circumstances. Some people will get into jobs. Others will speak English proficiently. They'll get into an Australian way of life and others resist it.
So, I think we've got to recognise that for those that don't integrate, whether they're from an Islamic background or otherwise we need to work with those communities to say to them, ‘look you need to leave your problems behind...
JOURNALIST: No, that's true...
PETER DUTTON: ….you’ve been given a great opportunity to come here’.
JOURNALIST: But getting in to whether…who you should pick in the first place. Listen, the flood of refugees into Europe is slowing down with winter now, obviously in Europe. What do you expect to happen next year?
PETER DUTTON: I think it depends on what happens in countries like Syria and Iraq. If there is a settlement, if you like, around the Assad regime, if he was to go. If there was to be a concerted effort against ISIL on the ground and there was some stability that returned to that country then there would be an opportunity for people to go back.
But I think that's unlikely. The advice that I received when I was in Amman in Jordan, it was very clear to me that the view is that many of the military leaders there that the situation is going to deteriorate even further.
There are seven million people who are displaced in Syria at the moment. So there's a great potential for many of them to flood out across borders, and make their way, in some cases to Europe.
So I suppose we'll have to see what happens on the ground. Nobody truly can predict it, but all of the sensible advice, it seems to me, is that it's going to get worse before it gets better.
JOURNALIST: And that's scary. Back home, Malcolm Turnbull dropped you from the National Security Committee. Can you give me one good reason, one good reason, why the Immigration Minister in charge of our borders shouldn't be on that committee?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Andrew, the PM explained it to me at the time and that is that he wanted to trim the numbers back and he was open to reviewing it, at some point and I would be co-opted on to the NSC when required.
JOURNALIST: I heard the excuse but, really, what's the reason for dropping you? For heaven's sake.
PETER DUTTON: Well, that's the point that he made and I presume it will be reviewed at some stage. I'm co-opted when I’m required. That's what happened and look, I continue to work as hard as I can with this portfolio because, we've increased our counter-terrorism unit officers at the airports...
JOURNALIST: No, it's no criticism of you, Peter. None of you. I'm just wondering what's going on here.
But, listen, Turnbull supporters in the Government leaked this story to the Sydney Morning Herald this week, complaining that fellow conservative MPs, your fellow conservative MPs, have been lunching with you and that even Tony Abbott turned up to one lunch with a chocolate cake - this is apparently sinister - and you're all plotting against Turnbull. Can you tell me how paranoid are Malcolm Turnbull's supporters?
PETER DUTTON: Well, look, I think somebody's been given this story and it's a mischievous story. There's no doubt about that.
I had a chat to James Massola who is a good bloke who wrote the story to start with. I think frankly that he was embarrassed that he'd been, sort of, dudded in this story, but that's life. We live and learn.
I've been going to these lunches for about 14 years Andrew and it's a gathering of like-minded people talking about important issues.
We talked the week before last about a very important issue - adoption - and the fact that many kids are living in circumstances, which will mean that the rest of their lives is far less than ideal to say the least, with mums and dads missing out.
JOURNALIST: Yeah, but…good point, but how paranoid are Turnbull's supporters that they leak that kind of rubbish?
PETER DUTTON: Well, look, I think there would have been one or two behind it, Andrew, and I think people recognise now that there's no sinister intent.
We're all absolutely determined to get behind Malcolm Turnbull so that we can win the next election.
JOURNALIST: What a nice answer, Peter. What a nice answer. You are the milk of human kindness, mate.
PETER DUTTON: If people…It is Sunday– it is Sunday morning. If people want to make trouble, Andrew, that is an issue for them.
I think, for us, there's a genuine intent to make sure the conservative voice of the party is heard because we are a centre-right party and there are progressive dinners that take place and Christopher Pyne, my good friend, and Marise Payne, my good friend, all of them conduct dinners with colleagues.
It's the way in which Parliament works on both sides.
JOURNALIST: Good friends all. Good friends all mate.
PETER DUTTON: We're all a broad church, as you know, Andrew.
JOURNALIST: Well I'm not so sure about that unfortunately any more. But Peter just quickly before we go Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs this week said ‘the way we treat boat people means the days are gone when we could say countries such as Saudi Arabia had no business criticising us in human rights’.
What's going on here? Malcolm Turnbull had tea with her the other day. I mean what's going on?
PETER DUTTON: Well, my favourite criticism in this space out of the United Nations, Andrew, is the criticism of our border protection policy by North Korea. And they criticised our human rights…
JOURNALIST: Gillian Triggs.
PETER DUTTON: And Gillian, obviously, is relying on the advice of some of these countries and the experience of some of these. She can explain her own logic. I don't understand the logic. That's a crazy thought as far as I'm concerned.
I think the Government is doing a good job in border protection and why anybody would want to undo it is for them to explain.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton, thank you so much for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Andrew. Thank you.