Journalist: The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton joins us this morning. Minister, thank you for joining us.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Fran.
Journalist: The final children were released from Darwin’s Point Wickham Centre on Friday. This is terrific news.
Would this have happened if Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister?
Peter Dutton: I believe that it would have. Operation Sovereign Borders obviously was designed to stop the boats but also to get children out of detention.
Scott Morrison worked hard on this, I have worked hard on it from day one and I have always said that I wanted to be the Minister to, not only to keep the boats stopped, but to get kids out of detention – so I have worked on it from day one.
But certainly it was a priority of the Prime Minister when he came into Office. We have certainly had a number of discussions about difficult cases and alternative arrangements that we can put in place and he has been very supportive of the direction that we have taken and I think, like everybody, is proud of the fact that we have been able to get children out of detention.
Journalist: Why did it take so long? If we could do it on Friday why couldn’t we do it six months ago?
Peter Dutton: Because there are some identity issues, particularly with fathers. The problems obviously aren’t around the children, but in some cases there are families where there is an adverse ASIO assessment against the father or against a brother and…
Journalist: …so what’s happened in those cases now?
Peter Dutton: Well, in those cases we have been able to either resolve the issues with ASIO or in some families they have decided that the mother will take the children out into the community and we will have increased visitation to the father who remains in held detention – and that’s as you would expect because some of these people pose security threats and we need to work through each of those cases and that’s what takes time – as well as identity issues, dynamics within families as well – so lots of different issues – and particularly as you get down to the last couple of hundred, I suppose, it is very difficult because there are peculiarities to each case and we need to look at individually how we are going to respond and provide the best possible outcome for the kids in those circumstances.
Journalist: Now there are reports that you have achieved this claim of no children in detention buy reclassifying parts of some detention centres. I have had lots of calls this morning when we told people we were interviewing you this morning, a lot of people have rung in to say that the family compound at Villawood, people are still in there, it’s just really a slight of hand.
Can you tell us exactly the case for the children that were in Villawood, are all children now living in the community or are some still behind fences?
Peter Dutton: Just to go to this red herring that there’s one particular, frankly discredited online newspaper that runs this allegation…
Journalist: …never mind about that. What is the situation?
Peter Dutton: …well just to give you the background of where this information has come from.
Fran, there is one family that they refer to – and I don’t want to go into individual circumstances of the family because I think they are easily identified given it is just one family – now this family has a difficulty in relation to one member of the family and we have security concerns around that person, but nonetheless we’ve been able to put in arrangements where people can live adjacent to Villawood, if you like, in a townhouse type arrangement.
They have the same ability to come and go from that facility. The definitions remain exactly the same as they were under the Labor Party. We’ve allowed the flexibility of children to be able to come and go, as I say, to have increased access to see the particular family member.
This is a very, very difficult case and I’m hardly going to accept the argument that we haven’t got all children out of detention because we have got one family where the circumstances are difficult and if people believe that we should be compromising our national security, then I’d like to have that argument publicly with them because it is a nonsense.
Journalist: Ok, so let me just say with what’s been reported…
Peter Dutton: …sure.
Journalist: We have been told that some families inside Villawood were sent a letter by your Department on Friday advising them that their detention was now classified as community detention, even though that they haven’t been moved anywhere. Is that the truth? Is that what has happened?
Peter Dutton: No, it’s not Fran and again there are lots of different aspects to this which I’m not going to comment on publicly, and particularly because, as I say, we’re talking about one family…
Journalist: …so it’s only one family that’s been reclassified?
Peter Dutton: …there are issues under the Privacy Act because it is one family where a small number of children is involved and we’ve been able to, as I say, make a modification to the arrangement, which means that children aren’t detained and they can have friends over, they can go out into the community…
Journalist: …they don’t have guards with them? They go to school on their own? They come home on their own?
Peter Dutton: Correct. So again…
Journalist: …have they been moved to a different place or are they still living in the same place?
Peter Dutton: They had at one stage been moved to a different place and we’ve been able to; the main focus was for them being able to have access to this particular family member, a male within the family.
We don’t stop them from going to school, they don’t have a guard present, they can bring friends over, they can go out – exactly the same features as you would expect from community detention or people living out in the community.
So this is a red herring which is designed to try and spoil what is I think a very significant achievement. These same people of course were saying nothing when 8,500 children went through detention under Labor…
Journalist: …well I don’t think that’s true Minister. I remember having some rip roaring interviews with Labor Immigration Ministers – but I think it is a terrific achievement.
Peter Dutton: Not a reflection on you, but the source of this of course, these people had nothing to say when Labor locked up kids and we’ve been able to release them.
I’m proud of it and I want to make sure that we can keep the boats stopped so that we don’t refill those positions.
Journalist: What about the 72 children who are part of that failed High Court challenge in February? At the time you said everybody will be going back. Are they still under threat of being removed to Nauru, including baby Asha?
Peter Dutton: The Government’s policy hasn’t changed and it won’t change Fran and that is that if people have sought to come to Australia by boat then they won’t settle permanently in our country.
At the same time we are taking a record number of refugees through the UN and Humanitarian Programmes…
Journalist: …but these 72 children, they are all still living in community detention?
Peter Dutton: All subject to go back to Nauru once the medical support has been provided and we have been very clear about that.
We are happy to make third party, third country arrangements. We offer settlement packages and we talk individually with the families. Unfortunately some well- intentioned, but nonetheless misguided advocates here in Australia tell these people not to accept packages, not to go back like the thousands before them have and they are subject to going back to Nauru. So hopefully we can negotiate with them to go somewhere else.
Journalist: Well Minister, I don’t know you say it’s misguided to say don’t go back to the country which you fled if you are suffering from persecution.
Peter Dutton: Nobody is arguing that Fran but we look at the individual cases and we make a determination where they can go back…
Journalist: …so what third country options are you offering them because we can’t see any that’s the problem.
Peter Dutton: Well we are offering them Cambodia…
Journalist: …Cambodia is not working. I mean the government spokesperson for Cambodia himself says the plan has failed as an option. It hasn’t worked.
Peter Dutton: The difficultly with Cambodia is getting people on a voluntary basis to go because that’s the arrangement – that people must go on a voluntary basis – and the difficulty is that people express interest but then are quickly told to dismiss any interest by these advocates.
Now, as I say, that’s completely legal, it’s within their rights to do it. They are told by the advocates to hold out, don’t accept the package, you will stay in Australia and eventually you will outlast the Government.
Well, we’ve been very clear that people who have received the medical attention or are here supporting a family member who has received that medical attention that they will go back to Nauru.
We don’t want new boat arrivals and we don’t want kids drowning at sea like they did under Labor and if we relax the policy settings, I can promise you the people smugglers will have people on boats here tomorrow and I’m not going to allow that to re-emerge.
Journalist: So you would send them to Cambodia even though Cambodia itself says it’s failed, it says we don’t really have that much money to support people, we don’t have the sort of social services to support refugees?
Peter Dutton: Fran again, I just think we need to deal with the facts…
Journalist: …and I don’t know why they don’t have the money to support them because we have given them $55 million for five people.
Peter Dutton: Well again, just if I can make this point: if we can deal with the facts and not the emotion, then I think we can deal successfully with…
Journalist: …well they’re facts.
Peter Dutton: Well it’s not Fran. Nobody has been paid $55 million…
Journalist: …well they have Minister – what $40 million to sign the agreement and $15 million for the IOM to take care of the refugees, haven’t they?
Peter Dutton: Again Fran, that is incorrect and I have pointed that out I think to the ABC on a number of occasions, yet the ABC still runs that.
Now, there is an arrangement where we do want to send people to Cambodia from Nauru or support that arrangement and the difficulty is that people are encouraged not to go.
There is support offered around education, around housing, around financial support on an ongoing basis, purchase a motor vehicle – all of that is provided – and we pay as people go across to Cambodia and that’s the arrangement.
So the talk of $55 million being paid is nonsense.
Journalist: So how much money has the Australian Government given Nauru since that hand shake with Scott Morrison?
Peter Dutton: I haven’t got the exact figure but…
Journalist: …oh Minister you must if you can tell us it’s not $55 million you must know how much it is?
Peter Dutton: …it’s in the low millions of dollars that we pay to try and set up the infrastructure and we are keen to get people to go across Fran.
But as I say people are encouraged not to go, which is regrettable because I think that is a better option. In the end this is the Government’s policy.
The Government’s policy is that we will settle record numbers of refugees out of Syria, out of Iraq, out of other places in the world, including Africa, those that are in desperate need that have seen their families slaughtered – we are not taking economic refugees and we are not allowing people to recommence the terrible trade from Indonesia, from Sri Lanka, from Vietnam to Australia – we have stopped that and we intend to make sure it doesn’t restart.
Journalist: Minister just a final question because we are out of time. We have 900 detainees on Manus Island in PNG. There have been reports growing for the last week or so that tensions are rising inside that compound.
Have you been advised by the Papua New Guinean Government it wants to close the Manus Island detention centre by the 30th of June and if so what do you plan to do with those 900 people?
Peter Dutton: No, as I understand the difficulty in Manus at the moment is that there are a number of people that have been approved to go out into East Lorengau, which is to leave detention and to go into the transit centre, and they are refusing to go because, well for whatever reason they are refusing to go and that’s the difficulty that I have been made aware of…
Journalist: …do the Papua New Guineans want to close the centre by June?
Peter Dutton: No I think they want to see the people that have been processed and found to be owed protection for those people to go out into East Lorengau, the transit centre before they migrate into the community.
But again there is a lot of misinformation being peddled to these people by well- meaning advocates, but nonetheless people who I think who are providing information that’s not in the best interests of these individuals.
So we will work through, as I’ve committed to publicly and certainly privately on many occasions, I want to get people off Nauru and Manus, but I don’t want new arrivals and I don’t want people smugglers to be out there with the 14,000 people who are waiting to get onto boats in Indonesia now because we will go back to the dysfunction of Labor’s days where they had 8,500 children in detention and I’m not going to tolerate a rerun of that nor the deaths at sea.
So I think we have something to be very proud of in terms of getting kids out of detention Fran and I want to work to get other people out of detention, but we just need to recognise the fact that this threat from people smugglers is still there as large as it’s ever been.
Journalist: Minister, thank you very much for joining us.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Fran, a pleasure.