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  • Interview with Peter van Onselen, PVO Newsday, Sky News
Subjects: Anglican Dean of Brisbane comments; High Court judgment; tax reform.


JOURNALIST: Welcome to the programme.

PETER DUTTON: Thanks Peter.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of this story on the front page of The Australian about the Anglican Dean of Brisbane talking about using his church as a sanctuary for asylum seekers and other church leaders talking about doing the same thing if the threat of deportation rings true, do you think there’s any legal basis to it?

PETER DUTTON: I think the churches and lots of other NGOs do some great work in this space. We work well with some of the church groups who are providing financial support, delivering programmes in the community, but ultimately there are some Australians who are dead opposed to the Government’s stance in stopping the boats and that’s fair enough.

I understand this particular Dean has had a very strong interest in climate change issues and other political issues as well – and that’s his right, we’re a democracy – but in the end everyone has to abide by the Australian law and yesterday the High Court decided that the Regional Processing Centre arrangement, the way in which that operated and including other matters, not only is legally but constitutionally sound.

So we need to work with all groups, including churches and those that are providing services to refugees in the community. But one of the important things of course is that we want to welcome all refugees but we want to welcome them through the front door, through the programmes that we have in place to identify those who are most at risk of persecution and provide a new home for those people.

JOURNALIST: But just going back to this specific example. The argument seems to be that there might be some sort of precedent going back to the UK from the 1500s, the idea of the church as a sanctuary. What happens though if we don’t acknowledge that? I suspect it doesn’t have legal basis. Do we send people in there, into a place of worship like that and drag them out? It’s going to create quite a scene.

PETER DUTTON: No Peter, we’re not doing that. So, we’ll work with groups and there are about 267 people or so that have come from Nauru to Australia. The large bulk of those are family members attached to somebody who has come to Australia for medical assistance.

As I say a family where mum has had a difficult complicated pregnancy, we’ve bought mum down, we’ve also bought the children and father down as well. Once the medical assistance has been provided – and we’ll assess each of the cases individually – but once the medical assistance has been provided then we can make arrangements for those people to go back to Nauru, or preferably we’ll make arrangements for them to go back to their country of origin and provide financial support for that to happen, because people aren’t owed refuge – we’ve been very clear about the fact that we want to increase refugee numbers but we don’t want to do it in a way that is going to allow men and women into the future to be taken advantage of – like they have in the past where people smugglers have extorted money out of them.

JOURNALIST: I mean just being realistic for a second though, and this doesn’t fly in the face of the obvious success at stopping the boats, of Operation Sovereign Borders, but I can honestly say this; whether I’m a genuine refugee or not, if I’d fled Iran, essentially illegally, I’m pretty sure the last thing I’d want to do would be to turn up there again with or without financial assistance, I would have thought that’s a one way recipe to be persecuted, isn’t it?

PETER DUTTON: Well Peter obviously the professionals make their judgments when they’re looking at the in-country advice; what threats people might face, individual circumstances and claims that people make.

Obviously there’s a judicial aspect to that process as well, where people can appeal, and in cases where all of that has been exhausted and it’s deemed, regardless of what country somebody has come from that Australia doesn’t owe that person protection, well we need to return that person back to their country of origin.

As we’re seeing in Europe at the moment there are millions and millions of people across the world that would seek to come to a country like Australia tomorrow. But for a lot of those people they are seeking, understandably as you point out, an economic outcome as opposed to a refugee that’s making claim out of Syria to say that you know their children have been abducted or somebody has been beheaded by ISIL.

The decision is a difficult one but we have to prioritise for those who are most in need and that’s what we’ve done, particularly through the programme of 12,000 additional refugees that we’ll take from Syria and Iraq and help them start a new life.

JOURNALIST: We’ve had a question from one of our viewers on social media asking why is it necessary to keep these people in detention if the boat turn backs are working, which they obviously are, why do you need to do both?

PETER DUTTON: We know that history has demonstrated when Labor lost control of the borders and 50 odd thousand people came on 800 boats, that the introduction of Regional Processing Centres did have an impact.

So the legislation that was tested in the High Court was legislation introduced by the Labor Party, improved by us and ultimately part of the reason that it withstood the challenge in the High Court. But nonetheless it has had an impact on reducing boats and the other element of course is the Temporary Protection Visas, which Labor won’t adopt and that would be a green light for people smugglers, but also the fact that we’ve been able to turn back boats where it is safe to do so.

So there’s no silver bullet in any of this and all of the intelligence that I see says that people smugglers, not only in Indonesia but in Sri Lanka, other parts of the world are trying to put together ventures now.

I just don’t want to see people, including women and children drowning at sea. We saw 1,200 tragically lose their lives when Labor had lost control of our borders and I’m absolutely determined, not only to be the Minister to get kids out of detention – I want to reduce that number down to zero – but I also don’t want the boats to restart with new arrivals because it is the policy of both the Liberal and Labor Parties in this country to continue regional processing and to continue detention – in particular so that we can establish proper identities – and again you’re seeing out of Europe examples where people are saying that they’ve come from a particular country, it turns out that’s not the case. So it does take time to establish peoples’ bona fides and identity, particularly if they have discarded documentation, and then of course to test their claims as to whether or not they do have a claim to make and whether or not we therefore afford them protection or try and make arrangements to send them home.

JOURNALIST: How can you feel comfortable sending women and children to Nauru given some of the accusations that have been coming out of the detention centres and the facilities there?

PETER DUTTON: Peter I have been to Nauru, many of these people of course haven’t, and I think it’s important to recognise that the hospital that the Australian Government has funded there is of at least the same standard as I saw operating for our troops in the Middle East, certainly much better than some of the hospitals I’ve seen in regional Australia. There is an education programme that is provided for the kids of these families on Nauru, there’s obviously financial assistance that’s provided and….

JOURNALIST:…but I’m talking about some of the accusations of what’s gone on there, including by some of these organisations which were pilloried at the time but independent evaluations have confirmed that there was nothing untoward in the accusations being made by some of those workers there. How can you feel comfortable sending women and children back into such an uncertain environment, notwithstanding your own firsthand experience, surely you’d realise that as Minister they’d make things as pleasant as conceivably possible for your arrival?

PETER DUTTON: No, Peter, the point that I would make is that I was for a long time a policeman, I was paid to lock-up sex offenders and I took that work very seriously.

I’m not going to step back from that moral responsibility that I’ve got and I’ve always fought for families who in particular have had children that have been abused or trying to prevent that from happening again.

I don’t want the people for example that are alleged to have committed these offences to become refugees and settle in our country. I just don’t want that because I owe ultimately responsibility to the men, women and children of our country and I take that, as I say, very seriously.

But there is a lot of overblown rhetoric and claims here and we need to deal with the facts as they’re made known to us. If people do have a complaint to make, there are sexual assaults that take place in Australian society and the Royal Commission is having a look at that at the moment.

Where complaints are made here or on Nauru, they need to be reported to the police, to the proper authorities and prosecutions if they can be undertaken, should be undertaken.

So that’s the reality. But I think the picture on the ground is somewhat different than what some of the advocates want you to believe here in Australia. But ultimately what I want is for people who are owed protection to be afforded that protection, for those that we don’t owe protection to, that aren’t refugees, that have just come seeking a job because they couldn’t get one in their country of origin – which I understand – but we can’t provide homes to millions of people that would flow across our borders if we had an open arrangement, but we have to make sure that we can make quick arrangements for those people to return to their countries.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the criticisms from the Human Rights Commission? There’s obviously been a testy relationship there in the past, although under Malcom Turnbull it seems to have been a little bit improved, what’s your reaction?

PETER DUTTON: Peter, I’ve met with Gillian Triggs in the past. I’m happy to look at what’s out in the public domain today. No doubt there’ll be some sensible suggestions there and others that we won’t agree with.

But there are many advocates in this space who don’t agree with the Government’s policy of stopping the boats. But the reality is that one of the reasons that this Government was elected, only a couple of years ago, was because Labor had lost control of our borders and we’ve restored control to the borders, there aren’t people drowning at sea, there were 8,000 children in detention under Labor and we have now less than 80 and I do genuinely want to be the Minister that gets children out of detention. I’ve worked on that from day one. That number is now less than 80 and as I say we’ve reduced numbers in detention by 95 per cent – that’s something that we can be proud of – but as I say these people smugglers are desperate to get back into business. They’re cockroaches that are waiting for an opportunity to spring back into action and they will prey on these men, women and children and the women and children who drowned at sea have no voice at the moment and so in good conscience I can say that I don’t want women and children, in particular, but men as well, to follow in the footsteps of those people, that yes are seeking a better life, but the help that we provide to people in need, to refugees, is through the UNHCR and through the special humanitarian programme and as a country, on a per capita basis, we settle more refugees than any other country in the world.

JOURNALIST: That is true. Now let me ask you quickly before we let you go on another issue, the GST, there are reports in the papers about a backbench revolt – that might be slightly overstating the case, but the AFR calls it “unrest on the backbench.” I know there’s at least some of that based on backbenchers I’ve interviewed on this programme. Is the executive going to hold firm on this do you think?

PETER DUTTON: I’m not detecting that level of angst at all. I think the Prime Minister’s been very clear, the Treasurer has been clear and that is that we need to talk about what the Government’s motivation is at the moment and that is to make sure that for mums and dads, in particular, who are working hard, but look at the amount of tax being taken out of their pay packet each week, that we want to reduce if at all possible the tax that they pay to the ATO because we think they are smarter at spending that money than any government could be.

So if we can provide a further incentive for families to work, to be more productive and to end up with more of their own money in their pocket, then I think that’s an admirable objective for any Liberal government and the Labor Party’s proposal of course is to increase taxes and spend that money, we just don’t go down that path.

So I think what Scott is talking about at the moment, what the Treasurer is talking about at the moment is the way in which the tax mix works and we haven’t yet made a final decision but we have committed to taking a tax package of some form to the next election and I think as that detail comes out, as backbenchers understand exactly what it is the Government’s proposing, then I think people will see sense in what we’re putting to the Australian public. They’ll see a vast difference under us compared to what Labor will offer and that is to go into more debt and I think people realise that our country just can’t afford that right at this point in time.

JOURNALIST: Well, we’ll see how the backbench goes, whether they hold their nerve, soon enough hopefully anyway. Peter Dutton, always appreciate your time. Thanks again.

PETER DUTTON: Thanks Peter. Take care.

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