Subjects: High Court judgment; tax reform.
JOURNALIST: I’m joined in the studio by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Peter Dutton, welcome to the programme.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Michael.
JOURNALIST: First of all, the High Court has ruled that the offshore detention regime is lawful. So, just to be clear, you will be sending those asylum seekers back and the children back to Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: Michael, the same principle will apply into the future as it has in the past – and that is that if people have acute medical needs and they come to Australia then those needs will be met.
We’ll provide the medical support – as you would expect from a compassionate country like Australia – and that at the end of that medical support when the doctors and the Department deem that it’s appropriate for that person to return to Nauru, that will be the policy continuing and I think it’s very important to send a very clear message, that is that we’re not going to put children into harm’s way, we’re going to work individually through each of the cases.
I think the most important point out of this too is that of the 250-plus people, many of those people have come down with family members that have required medical assistance. For example, a mother who has a complication in terms of her pregnancy, requires specialist obstetric services, could have that baby delivered in Australia, but we would bring the family members down with that person.
So amongst the 267, there are many family members that haven’t required medical assistance, but nonetheless have accompanied somebody that does.
JOURNALIST: Ok, let’s talk about the children because that’s where the focus clearly is – the focus of much of the opposition to this clearly is. This report written by doctors working for the Human Rights Commission that will be released today says the children – as I said – are among the most traumatised we’ve ever seen in our 50 years of combined professional experience. That’s a pretty extraordinary statement, isn’t it?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Michael, I’ve made it my business from day one to get kids out of detention and I’ve said – and I repeat again today – that I want to be the Minister that gets children out of detention. There were 8,000 children who were in detention when Labor was in power. The number peaked at any one time at 2,000 and the number today is less than 80.
JOURNALIST: But the fact is you are going to send these kids back to Nauru when these children apparently – according to this report – talk openly of self-harm and suicide. They have “palpable anticipatory trauma at the mention of return to Nauru”. Surely there’s a better way. Yes, you don’t want people drowning at sea but it’s simply cruel isn’t to send these traumatised kids back to Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: Michael, the arrangements that we have in place, as I said to you before, is to look at the individual cases. If there are exceptional circumstances in the individual cases, then we’re happy to look at that – and that’s always been the case.
We’ve brought people from Nauru, if there is additional medical support needed and we’ve provided that to them. So that will continue.
But I just make this point, there were 1,200 people who drowned at sea, including women and children, the voices of whom have never been heard. We’re seeing in Europe at the moment the same outcome and millions of people flowing across borders. When I talk about getting children out of detention in Australia and trying to provide medical support in a first world country like ours, people smugglers in Indonesia are messaging out that if you have children, get on a boat now because you will settle if Australia and Dutton will release you out into the community.
So, we have to be compassionate on the one hand but we have to be realistic about the threat from people smugglers and we’re going to continue our vigilance against people smugglers whilst providing compassion to those that have been traded in this evil people smuggling organised criminal syndicate.
JOURNALIST: It must be difficult for you, clearly, I mean you’ve got doctors, health professionals, church leaders, now the Human Rights Commission, all of them urging you not to return these very traumatised children. The UN Human Rights Commission in a separate statement that’s also come out this morning – I’m sure you’ve seen it – sending these children to Nauru could contravene Australia’s obligations under the convention of the rights of the child, we remind Australia that children, regardless of their legal status, have the right to be treated as children first and foremost and urge Australia to ensure that the principle of the best interests of the child takes precedents over migration management or administrative considerations.
PETER DUTTON: Michael, we’re acting in the best interest, not only of these children but children that would follow them – and that’s the issue. I don’t want to reopen the open border policy and many of the advocates that you speak of are completely opposed to any border protection measures at all. They want a free arrangement where people could come to our country at any time but the Government is not going to…
JOURNALIST: …but they’re also clearly motivated the welfare of these children?
PETER DUTTON:…and I’ve addressed that because I’m not going to put children into harm’s way. I’ve said that. I’ve said that we’ll provide medical attention, as we have in the past, to those children that are in need. But I also think there is a lot of hype and scare in this campaign in relation to what’s actually happening on Nauru. The fact that it is a very different situation on Nauru than when Labor was in government, because there is no detention on Nauru, there is a 24/7 open centre arrangement. Some families decide to stay within the centre because there are meals provided, medical support, education.
JOURNALIST: But they can’t leave Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: They can leave the centre, so they’re not detained there and there’s accommodation provided for them on island. But the important point here is, Michael, that for the families that have been found not to be refugees, we have offered generous settlement packages to return to the country of origin, because through the legal process it’s been deemed that they are not refugees to whom Nauru owes protection or to whom, in other cases, Australia owes protection and in that circumstance, we provide support to people to return to their country of origin.
And, frankly, some people who are offering out false hope to say that this could be successfully challenged in the court or the Government is going to change its position, they are prolonging the situation of many of these families and it’s not helping the families and it’s not helping the general approach to these issues, which is to try and sort matters out quickly. If people are owed protection that’s fine, if they’re not then we want to provide them with support to go back to their country of origin.
JOURNALIST: Ok. You keep saying, you know, you won’t send anyone back to harmful situations. But this is a situation where we simply have to trust you on this, don’t we? Because, I mean, there are the claims, as you know, of sexual assaults every 13 days.
PETER DUTTON: Well, I addressed that yesterday on the ABC so I’m sorry that you repeat it again today because it’s a false claim.
JOURNALIST: Ok. But can you understand that the public might be a bit sceptical about this because there’s very little information really about what’s going on there.
PETER DUTTON: I can understand that if people are led to believe things that aren’t true then that is a different situation.
JOURNALIST: At one point the Government, for instance, publicly claimed it had received information that the Save the Children charity workers were coaching asylum seekers to self-harm and then it turned out that the Human Rights Commission says there was no evidence that this happened.
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, that’s a report that came out some weeks ago. I think the issue, the issue today which…
JOURNALIST:…I know it came out some weeks ago, but this is about a matter of trust and about the Government saying that these people are not going to be sent into harm’s way and that you do have their best interests. So, I’m just trying to underline that perhaps people are sceptical about that because we don’t know very much about what’s been going on there.
PETER DUTTON: Michael, the only point that I would make is that in relation to that particular issue which has been investigated happened before my time in this portfolio. It was a very different situation on Nauru some years ago when there were a thousand people a week arriving on boats and Labor had tents set up in a very difficult situation where it was open for people to be assaulted, for there to be a lack of order within the centres and Labor admits that. They admit that they got it wrong and what we’ve been able to do is, as I say, reduce the number of children down to less than 80 in detention.
I want to make sure that that number can get to zero, but I don’t want the 13 of the 17 detention centres that we’ve closed that Labor had reopened to be needed again.
I don’t want the boats to start and all of the intelligence to me suggests that people smugglers are trying again to get people onto boats and we’re not going to allow that situation to arise.
JOURNALIST: Ok. Just quickly on another matter, on the GST issue which is around this morning. Reports are emerging that many of your colleagues are getting a bit nervous about this. Pretty clear that some are worried, particularly marginal seat holders. Is it time to put some concrete proposals on the table and stop this bleeding?
PETER DUTTON: Michael, I think what the Government is doing through Treasurer Morrison, who I think’s doing a very good job, is explaining what the Government wants to do and that is to relieve the tax burden from middle Australians who are working hard, who are trying to provide for their families. If there is a way in which we could deliver tangible tax cuts to those people then I think that’s the debate that’s underway and these things will be fleshed out in due course and that’s a matter for the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. But the Government’s made no ultimate decision or…
JOURNALIST:….I think this is part of the problem for some of them though, isn’t it?
PETER DUTTON: I think it’s important, as the Treasurer’s pointed out, that we need to precede the debate with some information about what the Government’s motive is. And that is, that we want to provide support to families who are working harder and paying more tax. We want to relieve that burden so that they’ve got more money to support their families and we want to provide stimulus to small business so that they can employ more people and help grow the economy.
The Government’s adamant about that approach and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer no doubt, when a decision is made, will provide more detail. But we have committed to tax reform going into this election and no doubt the detail will be provided as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Ok. Peter Dutton, thanks for joining us.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Michael.