22 February, 2016
Subjects: Baby Asha; the Coalition Government’s border protection policy.
JOURNALIST: Joining us from Canberra is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Good morning to you Minister.
PETER DUTTON: Good morning Lisa.
JOURNALIST: Has baby Asha been moved already?
PETER DUTTON: Yes she has. She's in community detention and obviously support will be provided to the family.
That's been the case for 83 other people including women and children that have come to Australia for medical assistance or they are the family members of somebody who has and we've placed them into community detention until their matters are finalised then they can be returned to Nauru.
JOURNALIST: So why did you decide to release Asha into home detention if she's only going to be returned to Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: Well, as I say Lisa, there are two issues here. One is the medical support that's provided and the other is the legal issues.
So there is lots of pro bono work in this area. Lots of lawyers are running around injuncting the Commonwealth from sending people back and we defend those actions at the cost of many of millions of dollars to the Australian taxpayer.
We've been very clear about the fact we want to have a compassionate Refugee Programme and allow record numbers of people in, but for people who have come by boat we've been very clear and that is that they won't settle in Australia.
So we'll provide the medical support required, but particularly where people haven't been found to be refugees, we would expect that they go back to their country of origin.
JOURNALIST: So when will she be returned to Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: Well it's hard to say without knowing exactly what the courts will determine in relation to this matter.
I've been very clear, the Government's been very clear from day one, that we have a responsibility not only to this baby, but to the babies who drowned at sea before and also potentially to babies that will drown again in the people smugglers got back into business.
So there is a much bigger issue this at play here and, as I say, as a country we should be proud because we bring in record number of refugees through the UN and through the Special Humanitarian Programme, but we are not going to allow a message to get out that people can come to Nauru, come to Australia for medical assistance and then that will be their ticket out into Australian society. That is not going to happen.
JOURNALIST: What were the circumstances around her being burnt while in detention?
PETER DUTTON: Lisa I don't have the detail in relation to that.
JOURNALIST: Isn't that fairly important detail?
PETER DUTTON: Well the reason I can't comment on it is because there is, as I understand it, a police investigation in relation to the matter and that's an issue for the Queensland Police to comment on.
But in terms of my responsibilities, I’ve been very clear that we are not going to allow people to come to Australia if they've arrived by boat. They will go back to Nauru.
I've been very clear that that’s what will happen in this case. We've provided the medical assistance that was required and then people go back to Nauru or we facilitate the passage back to country of origin.
JOURNALIST: Ok. So would you be happy for Queensland Police to give us information on exactly what happened to Asha?
PETER DUTTON: Well Lisa it's not up to me because it's obviously an issue...
JOURNALIST: …but the Government seems to have this policy of no transparency whatsoever. No case workers at the detention centres are allowed to talk about any of the abuses that have happened whilst in detention.
Are you going to put the same silence over Queensland Police on this issue, because it's fairly important matter in relation to this little baby?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Lisa if I can deal with facts. What you say is not...
JOURNALIST: …we're not getting any facts, that's the problem.
PETER DUTTON: Well what you say is not a factual statement so just let me deal with it.
The fact is we do have an arrangement where employees that work for the Department who are working with individuals, like you aren't allowed to disclose private information or confidential information about individuals, our employees have that same obligation. Frankly they've got an obligation not only under our law, but under the privacy laws and the rest of it.
So we deal with people compassionately, but we've been very deliberate in saying that if people release information that’s of a Top Secret classification for example, or intelligence that we may have received about particular people smuggling syndicate or somebody that came on a boat that we have a suspicion may be involved in criminal or terrorist activity - if we receive that information from one of our intelligence partners like the US and somebody leaks that information then there is a consequence for that.
JOURNALIST: Isn't that different to a child being abused?
PETER DUTTON: Well if a child being abused then there is an absolute obligation for the matter to be reported. I've been again very clear about this. If there is an allegation then it should be reported to the police and it should be reported to child services. That's the protocol as it would happen in Australian society and that's what we would expect.
JOURNALIST: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has offered to take 150 of Australia's refugees currently in detention.
Why don't you take up that offer particularly in the case of baby Asha?
PETER DUTTON: Because the agreement that Julia Gillard struck with Mr Key would mean that people could go to New Zealand, a country very comparable to Australia in terms of - in particular - health and welfare systems, and they could wait a short period of time, gain their New Zealand citizenship and then hop across the ditch into Australia as is the right of availability to New Zealand citizens under the special visa category that we have with New Zealand, and basically that would be the back door entry to Australia.
So the way in which the Gillard Government structured it, was as competent as the way in which they dismantled the rest of John Howard's policies.
As I say Lisa, all of the intelligence that I receive says that people are ready to get on to boats now. We turned back another boat recently and the threat is still there. I'm not going to allow more women and children to drown at sea. Labor apologised for the 1,200 who drowned.
There were 8,000 children in detention when Labor was in power. I've got down that number to 80. I want to get it down to 0, but I'm not going to allow boats to recommence which will fill up the vacancies of the people we've been able to release out into the community or send back to their country of origin
JOURNALIST: So given that you had this offer that you could relieve the tragedy of 150 people who are seeking asylum.
Is the tragic truth of the matter that you actually don't want refugees who to come to shores to go on to live happy fulfilled lives, because you've got an offer where you could make that happen for 150 people?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Lisa, you are putting a lot of emotion into the question…
JOURNALIST: …Well I mean these are human lives Minister.
PETER DUTTON: Well of course they are and we help people every day and in fact on a per capita basis…
JOURNALIST: There are 150 you can help now.
PETER DUTTON: So Lisa let me ask you this question because it's an important one and it's one I have to grapple with. If we allow the people smugglers to say that ‘if you come by boat to Australia you’ll settle in society in Australia,’ then what about the 14,000 people in Indonesia now wanting to get on to boats? What about the 1,200 who drowned at sea? These are the issues that we need to grapple with. So what about their lives? What about the voices of the 1,200 who went to the bottom of the ocean before we got control of this situation? So you're advocating putting the power back into the hands of people smugglers? How will that help?
JOURNALIST: I understand it's a difficult issue Minister and I don't think anybody envies the job you have.
There is just a 150 people who could be saved in this situation, but this is your role not mine and I do thank you for your time this morning.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks for your time Lisa. Thank you