Subjects: Syrian repatriation proposal; Prime Minister’s comments before and after the election on the importance of legislated tax cuts; Labor’s crab walking away from legislated tax cuts; National Anti-Corruption Commission.
Every Thursday I speak to the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, and he’s back in a rain-soaked Sydney today. Mr Dutton, good morning to you.
Good morning, Ray.
Now, I know you can’t tell us about the conversation you had with the ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess, but you emerged from the meeting – in relation to the 16 women and 42 children – with grave concerns about the repatriation. What are your most grave concerns?
Well, Ray, I was grateful for the briefing and obviously the government announced this on Monday, but we still haven’t heard from the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister or the Home Affairs Minister about exactly what’s being proposed.
I’d obviously had briefings on many of these cases as the Home Affairs Minister and in the National Security Committee, and I’m not going to go into the discussion I had with the Director-General of ASIO yesterday, but all I can say is that I don’t believe that these people should come to our country. I think the circumstances of seeing kids is terrible, but that’s been a family decision – they’ve done the wrong thing by their children and the concern I’ve got is about the Australian children here who would suffer if a terrorist attack was committed upon their return.
I was looking at some of the evidence that the Australian Federal Police Commissioner gave to Senate Estimates, only in the last year or so, where he was talking about – unrelated to this – but looking at a serious case in relation to a suspected terrorist offender, he said this – I think it’s really important to understand this – he said, “I won’t say the name but for one recently released offender we were required to deploy, with the state police, close to 300 police over a period of two weeks at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of about $3.8 million over one year, on one individual. The reason we do that is that we know that they represent an enduring threat to the community.” So, I think the government really needs to reconsider their position here.
I don’t know why the Prime Minister is refusing to come out. He was on FM radio yesterday talking about Botox but won’t talk about what I think is the most important issue. We don’t want to be complacent about terrorist attacks. We want to do the right thing by Australian citizens and understand that responsibility that we have, but these men and these women decided to go into the theatre of war and if you’ve had kids of 10, 11, 12, 13 years of age, who have been living in a camp, next door to somebody in the camp or socialising with people in that camp who have either committed terrorist attacks, telling them how much they hate Australia, telling them that they’re planning on committing terrorist attacks, and then we’re bringing those people back into society here. I think that is a grave error and the government really needs to properly explain what it is they’re proposing.
But I came away, I’ve got to say, from the briefing, more convinced that it is not in the national interest of our country to repatriate these people back here. The decision that they made to leave here and fight is a decision that they need to live with, unfortunately, and you need to make tough calls, but this is the reality as I see it.
Well, people are saying, and rightly so I guess, the youngest child is two, born in one of these camps, who the father is we don’t know because, according to reports, all 16 fathers of the children have been killed, leaving the 16 women there. What they say is that when a boy child gets to 12, he’s transported away from his mother. They’re saying the only people over the age of 12 are girls – teenage girls, but then Reece Kershaw said to me this week in our monthly interview that his officers would be perhaps arresting and questioning a number of women about their connections with terrorist organisations. Then it morphed into all the women are likely to be incarcerated upon return. So, the people wanting to bring the children home, where do the children go to? I mean, if the 16 women are incarcerated, you can’t incarcerate the children, they’re all under the age of 18 and the bulk of them are under the age of eight. I mean, what happens to them, where do they go?
The other thing people are saying to me, Peter, we currently have in Sydney, women and children escaping domestic violence and living in a car, which isn’t very pleasant at the best of times, and when you add flooding into the equation and all the rest of it, you’ve got the same thing in Brisbane, you’ve got the same thing in Melbourne and yet, no doubt you mentioned $3.8 million to shadow one bloke for one year. The cost would be insurmountable to accommodate the 42 children and even the women. They need housing – if they’re not in jail, they need to be looked after, they’ll need health checks, they’ll need a whole range of other things that aren’t being afforded.
We’ve got ramping at hospitals in Sydney and Brisbane. There’s a story today about the ED in a Sydney hospital where people are waiting 36 hours to be treated after being conveyed there by an ambulance. I mean, we’re in crisis and yet there are people – and I’ve read all the letters to the editors overnight and this morning – falling over themselves to say, ‘oh where’s your compassion?’ Well, my compassion is like yours, it’s attached to the people that are actually here, not those who travelled to another part of the world to involve themselves in the horrors of war.
Well Ray, I think that’s spot-on, and I think they’re reasonable questions to ask and the Prime Minister is the person with the ability to answer them. I mean, he hasn’t done a press conference since last Friday. There are certainly serious issues to be dealt with and the government needs to be very transparent about how all of these problems are going to be resolved and how you can provide a guarantee. In terms of your compassion, well, I don’t want to see a terrorist attack in our country because that is not an act of compassion and many families, including children, suffer or lose their lives as a result of it. So that’s the business that we’re dealing in. It’s unpleasant, but you need to make tough decisions as a leader.
As the Home Affairs Minister, I wasn’t in favor of bringing people back in that circumstance. There were some orphans that we brought back who were minors and there was a package of support wrapped around them, but it was done in a managed way.
As you point out Ray, the difficulty is, if you’ve got a family unit, for example, where the father has been killed because he’s been a fighter for or a terrorist fighting for ISIL and the mother is left with the children and now the span of the children – there may well be children who are four or five or eight years of age – and, of course, your heart goes out for them, it’s a horrible thing that the kids have been put in that situation. But there might also be older kids within the family unit and so the decision then is, well, do you take just the younger kids and the mother and leave the 12 year old boy behind, or can they only come over as a family unit?
Again, these are all questions that the Prime Minister needs to answer. I suspect the government’s view is that they’re not going to split families up in that circumstance, so you take the whole family but I think it’s very hard, frankly, to buy this argument that women have gone there mistakenly, they didn’t know what was happening. That’s not what the intelligence indicates and the Australian Federal Police wouldn’t be looking at some of these people to charge them with criminal offences if they were innocent bystanders, hopping on a plane, going to a place that they didn’t know there was a war going on, dragging their kids out of school here.
All of the formative years for many of these kids has now been spent in a terrorist camp mixing with terrorists and that is a terrible situation that their parents have put them into. But, you know, I need to consider, I mean, we as a country, we need to consider, the safety of children and families and women here in Australia – as you point out. So, it’s a vexed issue, like most of these issues, there’s no clear-cut answer. In some cases, maybe you can provide support, in others, I think we definitely don’t.
The final point, I suppose, Ray, is that the reality is that if some of the women come back and they’re charged with offenses, they’re probably going to get bail to go into the community straight away and in some cases where they plead guilty or they’re found guilty, we know that the sentences will be quite light, because the offences probably relate to being in a particular area that was a declared area that they shouldn’t have gone into and I suspect the courts won’t impose a heavy penalty for that. So, the thought that people are going to hop off the plane, be taken to jail, they pose no threat, and they’ll rehabilitate in jail, and everything will be okay, well, if that’s the fantasy land that the Prime Minister’s living in, then pity help us.
Okay, I want to play some audio. This is back in May – the 18th of May – it’s the man in opposition, now the Prime Minister:
I want people to have the certainty of knowing what their income will be, which is why I argued for, and Labor, Labor supported, supported – we had amendments there but once they were not successful, we voted for the legislation of the tax cuts and we said clearly and explicitly, we would keep those legislated tax cuts because people deserve that certainty going forward.
Yeah, that’s Anthony Albanese – the 18th of May in opposition. The day before the federal election:
We’re not going to relitigate all of the issues that have occurred at previous elections and we’re going to ensure that there’s certainty going forward about what the tax system looks like.
That was in opposition. Now we fast forward to the 29th of August as Prime Minister:
We inherited it and I’ve said that we haven’t changed our position.
Well, Peter Dutton, on the back of the Treasurer Jim Chalmers wavering on his promise to implement stage three tax cuts by 2024, it will be a strange old world if the promise has been broken that was made by the Prime Minister in opposition.
Well, Ray, this is exactly what Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard did, they promised one thing before the election and then they betrayed people after the election. Australians don’t forget or forgive easily when that happens, when their leaders look them in the face and lie to them – and that’s exactly what is happening here.
The Prime Minister was absolutely clear, I mean, there was no wriggle room, there was no qualification, no asterisk with the small print, in what he just said, and there are a dozen other quotes that I can read to you where he states exactly the same thing as the audio you just played. Their position couldn’t be any clearer and there are lots of workers who will have taken out home loans over the last couple of years knowing that ‘look, interest rates are low, there’s a likelihood that they’re going to bump up and I know that I’m going to get a tax cut in 2024 and this will help me meet my mortgage repayments’, and they’ve made investment decisions on that basis because of the certainty provided by the Prime Minister’s own words.
As a Coalition, we implemented the three stages of tax cuts because it was responsible, it was allowing stimulus within the economy, and it gave people back more of their own money. What we’re talking about, Ray, don’t forget, in terms of the stage three tax cuts is people on incomes between $45,000 and $200,000, the 32.5 per cent tax bracket goes down to 30 and the 37 tax bracket is abolished. So, it means 95 per cent of Australians are paying no more than 30 cents in the dollar.
Now, the Treasurer is out there trying to draw a comparison between what we’re proposing or what is law now, with the tax cuts for the people on incomes of $45,000 to $200,000. In the UK you’re talking about people on £150,000-plus and the Prime Minister there, Liz Truss, was proposing to abolish the top marginal tax rate. So, the equivalent of that is, £150,000, that’s 261,000 Australian dollars, abolishing the top tax rate – that is not what we’re talking about here and Jim Chalmers drawing some comparison is him grasping at straws or justification for walking away from the tax cuts.
They don’t come in until 2024, so they’re not inflationary and they’re probably going to come in at a time where you want people spending money in the economy as we come out of a pretty rough patch, as it’s predicted next year.
Labor always makes the wrong calls when it comes to the economy and they’re killing confidence at the moment with the uncertainty and what they’re presiding over. It’s exactly what Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard did, and we shouldn’t repeat those mistakes.
The Prime Minister should come out and clean this up, pull Jim Chalmers in the line. Don’t forget Jim Chalmers – he did his doctorate studying Paul Keating and he was the Chief of Staff to Wayne Swan. I mean are alarm bells ringing loud enough now?…
…Well, hang on, hang on, Wayne Swan was voted the ‘World’s Greatest Treasurer.’ How dare you assert that Mr Swan wasn’t the ‘World’s Greatest Treasurer’, I mean he beat a Melbourne Cup field!
Well, I mean Kevin Rudd was the greatest Prime Minister, so I guess it stands true of the Treasurer…
…No, no, no, that was self-proclaimed, the other one was actually official.
Now just one final thing, you in-principle support the National Anti-Corruption Commission, but now they’re saying unions will be exempt and the other thing I noticed today, the Attorney-General saying, is legal funding for those people who do appear, there’s no clear pathway there. I mean, and so one would imagine, whether it’s a government you lead or a government that’s being led by Anthony Albanese at the moment, you may take a kinder view, or they may take a kinder view to one of their own being supported with funding – legal funding – for high-powered KCs and Senior Counsel, as opposed to someone from the other side of the tracks. So, there are many things to work through with this National Anti-Corruption Commission, obviously.
There certainly is and I mean, they’ve got a very tight reporting time on this, for the committee that’s looking at it, of only sort of a week or so which is pretty remarkable, I’ve got to say, but nonetheless, I absolutely support a body that’s going to weed out corruption, Ray.
I don’t have any tolerance for people committing criminal offences and I’ve been consistent on that my whole life. So, yes, I support it, but I don’t want to see show trials. I don’t want to see happen to others what’s happened to Gladys Berejiklian. I think, in some cases, people are cleared of offenses, they’re not even informed of that being the case. They go to a hearing, they’ve got reams of paper dumped on them on that morning, the lawyers haven’t had a chance to have a look at it, people should have proper legal representation. So, lock up the crooks, but don’t lock up the innocent people and the government has to get a balance right here and frankly, there are a lot of people within Labor, behind the scenes, who are privately saying that they want some better balance then what’s being provided at the moment, and I think that evidence will come out in the committee.
You know, you saw that police officer in South Australia commit suicide because he’d been wrongly accused, and his reputation trashed, but never convicted of anything and if somebody’s going to be charged with a criminal offence, well, that’s the time that you make it public, and they’re treated as everybody else is. But if you’re destroying people’s reputations and you’re sending them broke because of legal fees they’ve got to pay then that’s not something I support. That’s not the intention of a Corruption Commission. The Corruption Commission is there to weed out the crooks and to deal with them according to law and that’s the principle that we should adhere to.
Okay, we’ll talk next week. Thanks for your time, as always.
Thanks, Ray. See ya, mate.