Subjects: Syrian refugee intake, UNHCR meetings in Geneva, Milad Atai, CPSU strikes.
Journalist: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, good morning to you.
Peter Dutton: Good morning Ray.
Journalist: Some people trying to come to Australia as part of our Humanitarian Programme have apparently been caught submitting false documents passing themselves off as refugees. It’s reported back in Australian media today that this is a ploy of some people in the Syrian Government.
Can you enlighten us?
Peter Dutton: Well Ray we’ve been pretty clear from day one and that is if we’ve got any suspicions, any doubts about a person’s application then we put it to one side and we’re not going to accept it.
This is as part of the 12,000 refugees we’ve committed to bring in from Syria.
So look we’ve been criticised by the left and by the Labor Party for being slow on processing these applications, but the fact is that the Assad regime has been selling off passports, blank passports. People are using are using false travel documents and pretending to be Syrians.
We’re going through every case methodically and it is going to take time, but we are going to do it properly and we are certainly not going to compromise our national security.
Journalist: Look someone sent me a note. I know you spoke to my colleague Alan Jones this week, as well, from over there, but you also spoke with the ABC.
John says from Victoria, can you clarify the refugee intake? Yesterday on ABC AM it seemed they were talking about 62,000 Syrian refugees, but with Alan he mentioned 12,000.
Is there a mistake being made here somewhere?
Peter Dutton: No. So Ray the figure over the next four years is 62,500 people that we will take in in the normal refugee programmes.
Thirteen thousand seven hundred and fifty this year then it grows to 18,750 per year by 2018-19. In addition to that is the 12,000. So that’s the…
Journalist: …ok so that’s the confusion. It’s only ever 12,000 from Syria and the rest make up our normal intake that was increased by the former Prime Minister before his demise?
Peter Dutton: Well that’s right and even within the 13,750 we still take, an element of that still includes the Syrians and Iraqis.
So look you know I think we’re doing well in picking people who are persecuted minorities, people who can’t go back to their place of residence.
In many cases we’ve got Syrian Christian families living in Australia who have made referrals to people in Syria who are suffering. I think we’ll do the right thing by those people and I think they’ll take the advantage that’s been given to them to start a new life.
Journalist: Given the doubts over Syrian passports, which you’ve enunciated here and other places, would I be suggesting or drawing too long a bow to say that the vast majority of the 12,000 now if you get, you know, references from Syrian Christians living in Australia to bring family members or members of their extended congregation here that the bulk of the 12,000 will be Syrian Christians as was intended in the first place, I think?
Peter Dutton: Well Ray we’ve said all along that we want to help people that are persecuted minorities.
We don’t want to take young men. So we don’t want men of fighting age. We don’t want people bringing their troubles back to Australia.
We’re going to concentrate on families. There are lots of kids that have been displaced.
So look we’re working with lots of groups and those people, particularly Christians, who have been slaughtered – whole populations have been wiped out, we are working with those groups and others who have really suffered at the hands of these terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Many of these people will make a great life in Australia, as they have elsewhere in the world, including in the United States.
But we need to go through each application very carefully and, as I say, if we’ve got any doubt about them posing a security threat or we don’t think their details are correct or they’re telling lies then their application is simply just put to one side.
Journalist: Just on this UN conference. Obviously, I guess, the focus would be on the borders of Europe, particularly those in Belgium and France and Holland.
Did they ask you about, I mean I know we’re far removed from Europe, but about the way they can stem the flow of people who pose to be refugees, but are economic refugees coming into Europe?
Peter Dutton: Well we had a broad discussion in relation to the difference, Ray, and I’ve made very clear that if people can’t make out a protection claim then they should be returned to their place of origin.
There’s no sense in giving people smugglers a leg up.
It’s a different situation of course for Australia because we’re surrounded by water and we don’t have the land borders that Europe has. So it’s a difficult situation, as it is for the US in terms of the southern borders that they need to patrol.
We’re lucky in a sense that we are an island nation and we can turn back boats safely where it’s appropriate and we’ve done that on many occasions.
I think that sends a very clear message that I think we’ve got the policy settings right and I think people across Europe now, whilst they might have been once critical about what Australia’s doing, recognise that this has been an important way to keep the people smugglers out of business.
Journalist: While you’ve been away there’s more about this alleged terror supporter Milad Atai, saying there’s an online fundraiser which has raised more than $3,000 in just two days that was set up by a supporter of this bloke from Melbourne and donations have come from as far as Mexico.
Now obviously the person setting up the fundraiser will be someone that the AFP would wish to talk to, but it is concerning that there are people willing to donate to help out someone accused of financing terrorism?
Peter Dutton: Well of course it is and I think it just underlines some of the difficulties that we’re dealing with.
ASIO has over 400 high-priority investigations and the Australian Federal Police are dealing with these cases every day.
It really is disturbing because you’ve got young people who are being influenced – they’re having their minds poisoned online.
That they would give money to a cause that would seek to do harm to other Australians or people that share our values really is a major concern for us.
Look this problem is going to be with us for decades to come and we need to deal with these individual threats and dispense with them appropriately, but we should never forget that these people seek to destroy our way of life and whilst ever we’re in Government we’ll do whatever we can to make sure we stare that threat down.
Journalist: Ok just before we leave. The Community and Public Sector Union last week called off the strikes leading into Easter at the request of the Prime Minister after the Brussels bombings.
The strikes resumed yesterday, with Border Force, Immigration and Quarantine workers walking off the job at international airports.
They continue to do this until next Thursday, a week from today, with passengers urged to arrive early for flights. They say, the union – the CPSU, national security will not be jeopardised.
Are you happy to agree with that view, given the rolling strikes?
Peter Dutton: Ray we’re monitoring it very closely.
The Union is seeking to disrupt passengers as much as they can, which is really quite disappointing. What they’re doing is having one hour rolling strikes and they’re trying to do that to maximise the inconvenience to the travelling public.
We’ve got additional staff on and the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force is dealing with this issue as best we can.
If we think that there is a compromise or there’s a significant difficulty then there are other options that we can look at, but the Commissioner is dealing with that as best he can.
It’s not just the national security aspect Ray. We’ve got people who are trying to send drugs in through the mail, so across borders, all sorts of contraband comes each day.
Where there’s only a light touch taking place, because people are on strike, it does put detection of those articles at risk and it does pose a greater threat in terms of national security as you say.
We need to work with the unions because I think trying to disrupt the public is unacceptable enough, but where we’ve got people that are seeking to do us harm who are crossing our borders we need every officer available on the frontline to do their job and to not be impeded by the union’s actions.
So look there’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes and we’re sorry to the Australian public for the inconvenience, but this is action that the unions have taken over a period of time. They are doing it at the airports because they think they can cause maximum damage, if you like, to the plans of the traveling public.
We’ll keep an eye on it.
Journalist: Ok. As always, thanks for your time and we’ll talk to you next week back in Australia.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Ray. Take care mate.