Subjects: Offshore processing; Syrian refugees.
JOURNALIST: Minister good morning.
PETER DUTTON: Good morning gentlemen, how are you?
JOURNALIST: Good thank you Minister. Minister Dutton in the letter which he wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday, Jay Weatherill has this to say: ‘many Australians have lost confidence in an offshore detention system that lacks transparency, is without independent oversight and offers refugees no credible hope of resettlement.’
Do you think that that is an accurate assessment by our Premier of public opinion on this issue?
PETER DUTTON: No I don’t and I don’t think anybody wants to see politics played with this issue. I think Jay Weatherill’s seen a political opportunity and I think it’s regrettable.
The fact that the federal Australian Labor Party set up regional processing, in both Nauru and on Manus, indicates that there is a big divide now in the Labor Party and if Mr Weatherill wants to make a difference, if he truly believes the policy should be changed, then he should be speaking to Bill Shorten because there is a situation that the ALP Conference, only last year, where Richard Marles the Immigration spokesman said that Labor felt deep regret for the 1,200 lives that had been lost at sea.
The Government wants to have a compassionate approach to this, but we don’t want to see the boats restart, we don’t want to see people self-harming and we want to provide support to people, but the fact that it’s been turned into some sort of political opportunity by Mr Weatherill, particularly when it is so insincere that he hasn’t even contacted Bill Shorten, I just don’t think people will see that as a legitimate position to take.
JOURNALIST: So Minister, just walk us through the logic behind offshore processing because a lot of people would listen to this show and say, ‘well hang on, 267 people, 37 of them are children, what threat do they pose? Maybe in this instance we can just let them stay’.
Is it a sort of thin end of the wedge argument where we say, ‘well hang on, if we do say on compassionate grounds we will let these people in’, does Australia go back to being the sort of beacon that it was under the last three Labor PM’s, Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, where people would just take their chances trying to land here?
PETER DUTTON: Well people are desperate to come to Australia and as we’re seeing in Europe at the moment there are millions of people who are prepared to cross borders there, risk their lives on the Mediterranean, many lives lost at sea and essentially that same dysfunction here operated for a period of time.
If you have a look at what was working, there were no children, not one child in detention when John Howard left office in 2007.
Mr Rudd dismantled the offshore processing arrangements and trashed the policy basically.
We saw 8,000 children end up in detention and 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats and it deteriorated very quickly because once one or two or three boats get through, you’ll end up with 300 and there were 800 boats with 50,000 people who arrived and as I say 1,200 drowned at sea.
Now Labor says that they never will repeat those mistakes, but we’re obviously seeing splits at the moment.
Intelligence that I get is that every time I say, ‘look, no longer do we have 8,000 kids in detention’, in fact the number is less than 80 and I want to get that down to zero, the social media message is going out from people smugglers in Indonesia, says; if you’ve got a wife and kids, pay your money because Dutton will allow you to stay in Australia and you’ll be released out into the community and they follow it very closely because they are a sophisticated organised criminal network.
I want to work through each of the cases of the kids that are here at the moment and as I say provide a compassionate response – which we’ve done in the first place which is why they arrived in Australia to receive medical assistance – but there are lots of women and kids still on Nauru who will look at this situation and if they think that there has been a backflip in the Government’s policy, we will see self-harm because people will want to come to Australia, bring their kids to Australia and already we’ve seen instances of that and I just don’t want a repeat of that dysfunction because the kids who drowned at sea before, well the kids who will drown at sea if the policy fails, don’t have the voice that some other kids might have at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Minister there appears to be two tranches of objection broadly when it comes to offshore detention in places like Nauru.
There’s the philosophical objection to the idea that we hold and process people offshore, but there also seems to be a great deal of concern about the conditions in which people are held in those places.
Are you satisfied in Nauru at the moment that that is as good as it could be?
PETER DUTTON: The situation in Nauru is very different to what people have in their own minds and the Government has a difficulty here because, for example, the Regional Processing Centre hospital on Nauru – where we’ve as taxpayers put in millions of dollars to build a new hospital – is as good as I’ve seen in some regional areas – not only the hospital, but educational facilities.
We’ve got Catholic education, delivering education on the island – so a bus picks up kids each morning and they’re being provided with an education. There are classrooms up there where the staff ratio was one to 12 children and there’s an open centre arrangement – so there’s no detention there at all.
Now people don’t want to live on Nauru because they want to come to Australia, that’s their objective, that’s the reason they pay thousands of dollars to a people smuggler.
We’ve said ‘well look, we’re not going to take people who come by boat’. We will increase dramatically the number of people that we take through the refugee programme with the United Nations and the Special Humanitarian programme.
On a per capita basis we take more people in this country than any other country in the world, including the 12,000 Syrians that we committed to last year and we’re working to bring those people out now.
But if we allow the people smugglers to get back into business – on the intelligence available to me, there are a about 13,500 people now who would hop on a boat tomorrow in Indonesia and come to Australia, and part of the reason it’s difficult to put out photos and information about the services and the level of service available on Nauru, again, is that you’ll have people smugglers using those photos to say to people; ‘you know go to Nauru, it’s better than what you’re experiencing in the village here or the difficulties that you face in your country of origin; kids will get free education and free medical’ – this is the situation that we face because these people smugglers are evil people.
JOURNALIST: Just finally Peter Dutton, we spoke to the PM on Friday and asked him about the status of the 12,000 people from Syria and Iraq who are destined to come to Australia in that humanitarian intake and sought a reassurance from him that we’d be checking all their bona fides in the troubled times that we live in to make sure that they’re all good people. How is that process going? When do you expect that these people are going to start arriving?
PETER DUTTON: Well it’s a slow process Pembo because we want to make sure that we know who is coming.
As we’ve seen in Europe there are people who are dressing themselves up to be refugees and saying they’re from Syria and they’re not.
We’re lucky as an island nation that we can take our time in processing the applications and we’ve already screened in several thousand people. But we’re doing security checks on all those people at the moment and we’ve got about 100 people who have arrived already – but as I say we’re have several thousand more that can arrive once the security checks are finalised.
I’ve said before that we’re not going to rush that process because we’re just not going to put at risk our own security arrangements and ultimately my first responsibility is to the safety and protection of the Australian community.
So we will bring in good people who are deserving of support, but it is a long drawn out process to take the biometrics, to check the backgrounds, to make sure the stories add up and if we can do that we’ll get the right people because otherwise if we take people who aren’t refugees, the second risk is that we then displace somebody who is more worthy and who is ultimately potentially going to lose their life in a place like Syria or Iraq, so we displace them, those people who are legitimate refugees.
We need to get it right for a number of reasons and we’re working through that right now.
JOURNALIST: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thank you for your time this morning.