Subjects: Senate Estimates; offshore processing; Nauru; Minister Robert; retirement of Philip Ruddock.
JOURNALIST: Mr Dutton good morning to you.
PETER DUTTON: Good morning Jon.
JOURNALIST: Mr Pezullo who is the head of Australian Border Force yesterday at Senate Estimates took aim at the ABC over what he said was ‘advocacy.’
Well it sort of misses the point doesn’t it? Whether a child is five or 11, it doesn’t matter if they’re being sexually abused; it’s still a grave concern, surely?
PETER DUTTON: I think the point that Mr Pezullo was making yesterday, and that I’ve made repeatedly Jon, is that we want to get kids out of detention. We don’t want new arrivals filling up vacancies and we want to treat people compassionately and that’s been the approach.
But I think the point he was making yesterday was that it is difficult when people are reporting cases, which don’t exist or are factually incorrect, and the ABC has issued an apology for that. That’s fine. These are very emotional issues and no doubt the journalist that filed the report was caught up in the emotion of it as well and I can understand that.
We need to work through each of the cases to make sure that we can provide the best possible outcome for each child, each family.
Most importantly we need to make sure that we just don’t return to a day where boats are arriving in great number and we’re seeing the stresses on European nations at the moment….
JOURNALIST: Yes we certainly are, but back to Mr Pezullo. Did he overstep the mark? He’s supposed to be an independent public servant. He ventured into political activism himself yesterday, did he not?
PETER DUTTON: No not at all and I think the point really that he made very well is that the staff within the Department are under great pressure and they’re trying to do the best possible job and his job is to defend the organisation, his staff, from false allegations and accusations. I think he was right to point out that there has been a lot of reporting which essentially has been advocacy.
If we stick to the facts in these matters, I think we get a better outcome, a quicker outcome and I think we can deal with matters in a rational way and I think he highlighted that yesterday in his contribution and I thought it was entirely appropriate.
JOURNALIST: If we’re being rational and sticking to facts, the facts are that you now have almost every state leader, except for West Australia’s, saying that they’re uncomfortable with your policies.
This morning – you may not be aware – but the Liberal Opposition Leader in Victoria Matthew Guy said he supported the open letter that Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, wrote to your leader Malcolm Turnbull offering Victoria as a sanctuary.
So even within the Liberal Party you now have senior figures expressing disquiet. Does it sway you or change your mind in any way?
PETER DUTTON: Jon it doesn’t because I’ve, as I said before, seen the pictures of children in many situations and I don’t want to see pictures again of children who have gone to the bottom of the ocean.
Labor apologised at their conference last year for the policies which had resulted in 1,200 people drowning at sea, including women and children and I want to be the Minister that gets kids out of detention.
I do want to make sure that we continue to stop the boats, but we are up against a very significant force in these people smugglers and they’re trying…
JOURNALIST: …well if you want to get children out of detention Minister, at the stroke of a pen you can do so.
PETER DUTTON: I can, at the same time, with that action though Jon, to be fair – and there are a lot of cheap seats in this debate – but I have to make the decisions that I think are not only in the best interests of the children now, but also the children that would be on fresh boats recommencing…
JOURNALIST: …and you don’t think you can disconnect the two because many other people are of the opinion that you can?
PETER DUTTON: Well the experts are of the opinion that we can’t and as I say…
JOURNALIST: …which experts are they? The ones you choose to listen too or the full body of opinion?
PETER DUTTON: It depends if you’re discounting the advice that I receive from ASIO, from ASIS, from the General who is in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders, from the Australian Federal Police, from our Posts in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Vietnam. If you’re discounting them as professionals, then that’s a case for you to make, but I take the advice that I receive from them very seriously.
I see these social media posts, for example, that people smugglers put up that Dutton says he wants to be the Minister to get kids out of detention, and if you have children and your family pay the money, hop on a boat and you’ll come to Australia.
There are other reasons for it as well. There are women and children who are left on Nauru at the moment that we are very keen to try and return to their countries of origin because they’ve been found not to be refugees. At the moment they’re saying, well, ‘why can’t I go to Australia if the people that I know have gone there for medical attention and now the medical attention has been provided, why aren’t they coming back? Why are their children being treated differently than mine?’
So, there are a number of reasons why we must take the expert advice and, as I say, 8,000 children were in detention when Labor was in power. I’ve got that number down now to 75 and I desperately want to get it to zero, and I will, but we’re necessarily dealing with the hardest cases.
What I don’t want is for new arrivals to refill detention centres – and as Mr Shorten himself has pointed out – there is a position of bipartisanship in relation to regional processing and in relation to turning back boats where it is safe to do so because Labor lived the experience of changing policies that were working and it resulted in people dying.
JOURNALIST: There are so many different opinions. You sighted a list of authorities whose advice you’ve selected. I could equally match it with a list of organisations locally and overseas all night….
PETER DUTTON: …well please do Jon….
JOURNALIST: …but let’s not toss up the experts. Well United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Human Rights Watch, every NGO that you can imagine that’s worked in the field, people who run refugee camps, people who work with asylum seekers in Australia and overseas, offshore, onshore, the list is as long as your arm or mine, on both sides of the debate and….
PETER DUTTON: …and some of these people are advising in Europe as well and you’re seeing people drown on the Mediterranean…
JOURNALIST: …sure and there are people who change their minds about [inaudible] but that’s a zero sum game – we don’t get anywhere with it Peter Dutton.
There are other things to argue about though and they are still very active. Today’s revelations that there are people who are terminally ill who are to be sent back to Nauru. They can’t get the treatment they need on Nauru. They can’t get the treatment they need from the Australian run and financed and controlled detention centres there.
PETER DUTTON: Just in terms of your categorisation, if I can just deal with that to start with because again that’s an emotively charged statement that you make.
The High Court has determined in relation to Regional Processing Centres, who’s running and who’s providing support there, so if your authority is higher than the High Court then you have to provide the grounds for that.
JOURNALIST: No the High Court ruled on an amendment to the legislation which went through the Parliament.
PETER DUTTON: No it didn’t Jon. The Justices there, six to one, found in favour of the Government’s position and they ruled in relation to who had control of the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. That was the case of M68 and it would be worth reading the judgement because that is counter to the advice that you’ve just given.
So as I say, if we discount the emotion from it and just deal with the facts, if there are people who are in need of medical attention, then as we’ve done in the past, as we will do in the future, we’ll provide that medical attention in Australia if they can’t receive it on Nauru, bearing in mind that we have provided millions of dollars for additional medical services on Nauru.
We’ve provided support in terms of specialists that now visit Nauru. There is an arrangement with the international hospital on PNG where people can go to.
What we don’t want is a situation where people are self-harming to come to Australia, because understandably, and ultimately, what they want to do is settle in Australia. That’s what they’ve paid people smugglers to do and that’s the outcome they desire and I can understand that, but we are welcoming record numbers of refugees, but we do it through processes with the UN and through the Special Humanitarian Programme.
JOURNALIST: The processes by which people do or don’t arrive in Australia have been much debated over a very long period of time, but the bottom line, surely the bottom line, is that public opinion is deeply divided over this issue. It’s as deeply divided as it’s ever been.
Is there not something to be said for trying to heal some of the ever-deepening wounds in Australia, within the Australian electorate, over this issue? It’s the most divisive issue I’ve seen in years.
PETER DUTTON: Well Jon, I think one of the starting points will be for well-respected journalists to be able to contribute to the debate in a dispassionate way and to provide the facts and allow people to look at the fact that there is two sides to this debate.
The Government obviously was elected in the 2013 election….
JOURNALIST: …sorry, with respect Minister, that’s coming from a Department and a Minister that has controlled information in a way we have not seen in contemporary Australia in any other sphere except terrorism.
You want us to talk about facts? Then open up the detention centres for independent scrutiny, open up the documents, open up the information so we can independently assess it, rather than being control freaks.
PETER DUTTON: Well again, I’ll just try and stick to the facts Jon, instead of….
JOURNALIST: …well that’s a fact, isn’t it?
PETER DUTTON: …well no, it’s not.
JOURANLIST: I can’t go to Nauru and see for myself, you won’t let me.
PETER DUTTON: Of course you can go to Nauru.
JOURNALIST: No I can’t.
PETER DUTTON: Well, what is stopping you Jon?
JOURNALIST: What’s stopping me is a prohibitive regime of a process of visa restrictions and a process of secrecy within the facilities that you control.
PETER DUTTON: Well again Jon, I mean you are a highly respected journalist, but speaking from a position of complete ignorance I’m sorry to say. I’m happy to work through all of these issues with you, but I’ll just need to finish the sentence first….
JOURNALIST: …well, will you facilitate me visiting Nauru? Because I’ll go, I’ll pay my own fare, I’ll go if you allow it.
PETER DUTTON: I’m more than happy to do whatever we can from an Australian Government perspective to help you visit Nauru, but ultimately, as it is for Australia….
JOURNALIST: …sorry, can we confirm that, you’ll facilitate my visit to Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: I will do whatever the Australian Government can do to help facilitate a visit to wherever you want Jon.
JOURNALIST: I’ll pack my bag this afternoon.
PETER DUTTON: If you want to go to Nauru or to PNG, we’ll help you do whatever we can. Ultimately though, as you well know, without the sarcasm, as you well know issuance of visas is an issue for the country of origin.
JOURNALIST: Will you, Peter Dutton, ask the Nauruan’s to issue a visa to allow me to visit the facility or not?
PETER DUTTON: I have no problem with that Jon, but as you point out, and as I say best without the sarcasm, the issue is one for the Nauru Government as to whether they issue a visa as it is a case for us. When somebody wants to come here to visit Australia, we make a decision about whether we issue that person with a visa and that’s a sovereign right of any nation so there’s no secrecy in relation to any of that.
There are people who visit Nauru, people who visit PNG from United Nations and from Red Cross and others….
JOURNALIST: …they’re required to swear documents and sign up to absolute secrecy. People are sacked for speaking to the media about what they’ve seen and observed…
PETER DUTTON: But again Jon, that is just, I mean again with respect that is just not right.
JOURNALIST: Which bit?
PETER DUTTON: In relation to the visiting for example of the Red Cross. We don’t hold out to them that they sign documentation and that they’ll be prosecuted, it’s just false.
JOURNALIST: I’m sorry Minister, it’s not, I have friends who have been required to sign these documents and we can sit down for dinner and they’re not allowed to talk to me about what they’ve been doing over there….
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, I’m happy to go through the facts….
JOURNALIST: Well those are facts. Those are facts that are in my personal knowledge and experience in recent times.
PETER DUTTON: Well, if you can present them to me, I’d be very happy to have a look into them. There is legislation in relation to employees about unlawful disclosures and I think that’s what you’re referring to, but not in relation to….
JOURNALIST: It’s a strict condition of the funding that the agencies receive that their staff absolutely don’t speak about, publicly speak about, what they do, what they’ve seen and what they’ve observed.
PETER DUTTON: Well, as I say Jon, I’m happy to spend a whole programme, have dinner with you, whatever you like to go through the detail and the facts.
I just think in the end we can concentrate on all of these issues, but we lose sight of what’s most important and that is helping the human beings that are involved and not only those that are involved in our vision at the moment, but those who would seek to come.
I know from intelligence reporting, we’ve got well over 13,000 people in Indonesia, just by way of one example, who are prepared to hop on a boat tomorrow and come to Australia and I don’t want to see those deaths at sea. I want to make sure that we can get the number of children down to zero and I think that’s what we need to focus on, as opposed to the issues on the sidelines.
JOURNALIST: Federal Minister, your colleague Stuart Robert, Minister for Human Services is under fire for a breach of ministerial standards.
Anyone ever offered you a $15,000 or $20,000 gold watch or similar gift for managing to make it to a swearing ceremony or a signing of documents ceremony Minister?
PETER DUTTON: No is the answer and I just don’t know the facts in relation to Mr Robert. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, the Head of his Department, Dr Parkinson has been asked to investigate the matter and no doubt he will.
There’s a ministerial code of conduct that we’re all expected to adhere too and that will be an investigation undertaken and no doubt recommendations provided to the Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Have you ever taken leave from your job so that you can go to represent a company in which you’re a shareholder, which is owned by a top donor to the Liberal Party whilst your hosts are, well, trading on the fact that you’re a Minister in the Government whilst not officially being there on government business? I mean it just doesn’t pass the pub test does it?
PETER DUTTON: Well again in relation to the facts around Mr Robert, I mean they’re being tested at the moment, so I don’t have any comment to make in relation to that.
But to answer your question in relation to my activities, the answer is no.
JOURNALIST: No, no because dare I say it, you’re somewhat sharper than that.
PETER DUTTON: Well its kind that you’ve said something positive about me Jon.
JOURNALIST: I’ve only just begun.
Just finally, a predecessor of yours, a former Minister for Immigration, is to be appointed by the Government as an Australian Human Rights Ambassador abroad, Philip Ruddock. We should pay tribute to his long service, but some eyebrows being raised about his appointment as a Human Rights Ambassador.
PETER DUTTON: Well again Jon, I think if you stick to the facts of what Philip Ruddock has done by way of contribution, I think he has a lot to be very proud of in a public life.
Four decades of service is a significant contribution and he has been very keen to observe international conventions and to make sure that Australia has been one of the great success stories of immigration over a long period of time.
I think he deserves much kudos for that and internationally now, he can contribute on behalf of Australia and I think that’s a positive move.
JOURNALIST: I shall forward my application for a visa for Nauru forthwith as soon as I finish the programme today and I look forward to you facilitating its progress.
PETER DUTTON: I look forward to catching up and speaking to you again Jon, take care.