Subjects: Labor’s watering down of Operation Sovereign Borders; National Apology to the Stolen Generations; Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The Federal Opposition Leader is Peter Dutton. He joins me every Thursday. He’s on the line right now.
Mr Dutton, good morning to you.
Good morning Ray.
Now, I think I had a text conversation with you probably a month ago when I first came back at the end of January about naval families contacting me and saying something is going on. Our families are being recalled, they’re on vessels bound – even though they’re not being told – for the northern waters. Do you know anything about boats arriving? So I text you and said ‘have you heard any whispers’ and you said, ‘well, there’s always the usual whispers’, but now it’s official. It’s official that the Operation Sovereign Borders Commander has asked the Navy to get vessels to northern Australia because the TPVs are gone and they think that, you know, all of a sudden Operation Sovereign Borders without TPVs will be back in practice. Is that what you’re hearing as well?
We are certainly hearing that Ray, and obviously the Senate Estimates process is on at the moment where questions can be asked of the heads of departments, and it’s been confirmed that the Defence Force has sent assets up into the northern approaches because they’re obviously anticipating boats, either on the water, or the potential of boats to start up again out of Sri Lanka and out of South-East Asia and elsewhere, people perhaps coming from the Middle East as happened last time.
I just think the government’s playing a very dangerous game here. The Prime Minister went to the last election promising that he would keep our borders strong, and they’re now making decisions to keep and offer permanent residency and citizenship to tens of thousands of people who came when Labor lost control of the borders last time. The message that that will send back that, you know, ‘come to Australia for a few years, it’ll be uncomfortable, but eventually you’ll end up with Australian citizenship’. I mean that message will just reverberate through the communities and if the government loses control of our borders again, I can promise it will be very hard to get it back under control.
So, I really worry about what the Prime Minister is doing here, it just seems that he’s not across the detail and just can’t make the tough decisions. If they allow the people smugglers back into business, then there are, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of people who would want to come here overnight.
It’s not just the TPVs that are being revoked for these 19,000 people. It’s also family reunions back on the table. So, Uncle Fred, Aunty Cynthia and the rest of the family – Nan and Pop, anyone else will be repatriated to Australia via family reunion.
Well, that’s right and you just can’t allow the people smugglers to use that for their own propaganda. As we’ve discussed over the years, they watch every word that’s said by the Prime Minister or by the Minister in charge of the Australian Border Force and the Defence Minister.
In this day and age, they send out little videos and small packages of comments that they put up in an ad or they’ll message to their Facebook group to say, ‘look, you know, now’s the time to go to Australia and there’s a new government. They’ve gone weak on border protection and now’s the time to pay your money and get back on the boat’.
We’d stopped that. I mean, we got all the kids out of detention that Labor put in. There were no people drowning at sea and why you would want to upset that and incentivise people smugglers to get people back on boats is beyond me. But the Prime Minister obviously is, you know, as people know, has been on the hard left of the Labor Party since he joined as a student activist, and he’s always been against Operation Sovereign Borders.
Under Anthony Albanese, as we know, I mean Operation Sovereign Borders, OSB has been turned into Operation Sloppy Borders and Anthony Albanese will have a lot to answer for if people get back on these boats and Defence and the Australian Border Force are again pulling people out of the water. I just frankly hope and pray that it doesn’t come to that.
If it does come back, you’ll hear this:
[Incoming Boat Sound]
Which I was playing at varying stages twice a day as the vessels were spotted coming into Australia under the previous Labor Government. Now, just because you’re at the coalface of all this in government, and with Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Jim Molan, yourself, you changed it all and we stopped the boats.
Without TPVs, just portray what – they say, we’ve got turnbacks, we’ve got offshore processing, although there was a problem with Nauru – which hopefully has been fixed by now. What happens when a boat lands? What happens specifically without TPVs? What will the government – given that they’ve still got the training wheels on, what will they physically do? How will it impact on us?
I’ll just take it back a step Ray. So, if you’re in Indonesia at the moment, you’re in a camp and you want to come to Australia, they haven’t paid their money over the last few years when the Coalition was in government because they didn’t believe they could pay the money and get to Australia, so they were going to lose their money or drown at sea tragically. Now, the people smugglers will be saying, ‘look, you can go because the government’s changed the policy and it means that you’ll be able to stay in Australia and after a few years your family will be able to come and repatriate with you, you’ll get permanent residency or Australian citizenship. There’s a welfare system, there’s free housing, there’ll be all sorts of support for you and your family, for your children, etc..’ And people are vulnerable because they want to come to our country, for those and many other reasons, understandably.
As the Indonesians described it many years ago, and many of your listeners will remember this from the Howard Government years, that the Indonesians spoke about the sugar on the table. If you put the sugar on the table, well people will be attracted to it. We took the sugar off the table and that was if you came by boat, even if you arrived, you were not going to be permanently settled in Australia. You would be afforded temporary protection until the civil war in Sri Lanka – which is what it was at the time – until that was resolved, and you could then go back safely.
The government now is offering a permanent arrangement, which means that they’re here forever. It doesn’t matter whether civil war comes to an end, and obviously the Civil War was long finished in Sri Lanka, but if you’re afforded protection, it’s only on a temporary basis and that way people knew that even if they paid the money and they got here, they weren’t going to get the outcome that they sought – that is Australian citizenship.
Now, the government’s put bags and bags of sugar on the table and if the boats restart, then I honestly – having worked very closely and understanding this space intimately – I find it very hard to see a pathway for the government to get it back under control.
Now, earlier this week you apologised for boycotting the National Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008. That’s a long time since that happened –15 years – but you sought to look at that again. You’ve given reasons and I think you’ve said, I’m not putting words in your mouth, that you were wrong not to have apologised back then or be part of the process. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s true. I think at the time I failed to understand the hurt and the pain of the Stolen Generation and people who had been forcibly separated from their parents and, you know, part of my thinking at the time was influenced by my own experiences and that was, you know, going to many domestic violence incidents, particularly in Indigenous communities. I worked in Townsville, I remember bringing a body of a woman back from Palm Island back to Townsville for a postmortem and she was a victim of domestic violence being hurled off a cliff.
I thought, for me, it was very difficult to make an apology when I knew that that violence was still continuing that very day, and that if you were going to apologise, it would have more meaning when these issues had been addressed and when you saw a significant reduction in the violence toward women and children.
But, you know, they’re separate issues and I think the desire of most Australians is to see a better outcome and that all of the money that’s being spent, you want to see a better life and future for those kids in Alice Springs and other communities that this very day are being sexually abused or physically abused, women who are being bashed, and it’s atrocious, it’s unacceptable and I hope that we can see an end to it.
Okay. One final thing; the Prime Minister is now changing his tone when it comes to the Voice. It’s sort of like a mea culpa, what people would say, a ‘Julia Gillard moment’. He’s going to be more transparent, but I think he needs to be almost totally transparent, not more transparent to get across the line. What’s your view?
Well Ray, the problem is that the Prime Minister’s out there saying to Australians, and I think literally millions of Australians, you know, ‘you’re hardhearted if you don’t support the Voice, you don’t care for Indigenous people if you don’t support the Voice’, and it’s a complete nonsense.
People want the detail so that they can make an informed judgement and if the Prime Minister is prepared to give the detail, then people can make an informed judgement. If not, then they’ll draw their own conclusions. There’d be many Australians, as you point out, that want a better outcome for Indigenous Australians, but they don’t want another layer of bureaucracy, they don’t want another ATSIC set up.
If there’s a model that the Prime Minister’s thinking is going to deliver those practical improvements, reduce the violence, get people into housing and into work and leading a functional life, then detail it, provide the detail and trust people instead of the arrogance of it when the government says, you know, vote on the Saturday for the Voice and we’ll give you the detail on the Monday. Well, people are smarter than that, and I think that’s why Australians are seeing through what is, you know, I think a political stance by the Prime Minister at the moment, regrettably, because it’s a very important issue. I think his approach to it so far has led to more questions than he’s able to answer.
Okay, We’ll talk next week. Thanks for your time.
Thanks Ray. See you mate.