Subjects: Baby Asha; the Coalition Government’s border protection policy.
PETER DUTTON: I just wanted to provide an update in relation to the baby at Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane. Obviously we’ve received a number of media enquiries, so I’m pleased to provide you with an update in relation to the matter.
As many of you are aware there were 8,000 children who went into detention when Labor was in government and we’ve reduced that number down significantly because we’ve been able to stop the boats. So the Government’s first priority is to make sure that we don’t allow the boats to restart and the vacancies in detention at the moment to be refilled by new arrivals.
I’ve also informed the media on many occasions that we have been determined to get the number of children in detention down to zero, and indeed I’ve made the point on many occasions, that I want to be the Minister to get kids out of detention. Yes, I want to be the Minister to make sure that we keep the boats stopped, but I do want to be the Minister that gets kids out of detention.
That’s why, again, on a number of occasions, repeated this very important point that we will look at cases individually and we’ll look at matters on their merit to individually assess the circumstances of each person.
Because of that approach we have been able to reduce the number of children in detention on the mainland, children that have arrived off boats, down to less than 80 – from 8,000 down to less than 80 – and part of the reason that we’ve been able to do that is that we have people living out in community detention or out in houses with support in the community.
So already off Nauru, out of the people that have come off Nauru and living in Australia, including those that have been subject to the recent High Court case or have been a party to that case, many of those people already are living in what’s called community detention or an APOD, an Alternative Place of Detention and that is what we have proposed in relation to Asha and her family.
So the situation is as it has been for other families that once the medical assistance has been provided to the particular patient, in this case a young baby, then the doctors allow the baby to be released or the patient to be released, then arrangements are made for accommodation, either in a detention facility here in Australia or out in the community.
Already in Australia we have 83 people that are here from Nauru, including women and children who are living out in the community, in community detention and that is exactly what we are proposing to do for baby Asha and her family.
I know there’s a lot of misreporting. I’ve seen some reporting in the press again today, making some assumptions, listening to some advocates who ultimately want to see an opening of our borders and boats to restart and that as I say is just something the Government is not going to allow.
We are proposing that baby Asha will come from Lady Cilento and will go into community detention, as have as I say the 83 others who are living in the community who are in Australia for medical assistance and their family members who are here to support those for medical assistance. It will be a continuation of that policy.
The Government’s position is perfectly clear and that is at some point if people don’t have a protection claim then they will be returned to their country of origin or back to Nauru. We are not going to renege on that position. We’ve been very firm in relation to it and it’s been part of the reason that we’ve been able to stop boats.
I’ve been in the United States over the course of the last few days receiving security briefings there. People are still worried about the refugee situation obviously in Europe and the United Nation reports that 58 million people would seek to call Australia or places like Australia their home – and you can understand that.
So we have a very important policy to continue: that’s stopping the boats, making sure that we deal with cases compassionately but if people are suggesting to you that somehow there’s been a change in the policy or that we’re going to allow special treatment in baby Asha’s case, then that is not the case. We’re going to provide exactly the same approach as we provided for the 83 others, including some that I’ve released since they’ve been in Australia, and that’s the reason that we’ve actually got that number down to less than 80, around about 75.
So that’s been the approach that I’ve taken when I’ve looked at these individual cases. The advice I’ve received is that the doctors from the hospital have said that the baby’s treatment has now concluded and that they would be happy for the baby to go out into community detention.
As I say that’s what we’ve proposed all along but at some point if people have matters finalised in Australia then they will be returning to Nauru – and that’s exactly the same treatment that we’ve applied equally and I also think it’s an important message to send to those people with children who are living on Nauru at the moment, that there is a continuation of the Government’s policy.
JOURNALIST: The baby was always going to go into community detention and then offshore detention, why was this not made clear [inaudible] started?
PETER DUTTON: It’s been made very clear. I think what’s happened is you’ve been hijacked by some of the advocates. I just don’t think they’re interested in much more than their own media profile, I’m just not sure that they’re interested in the best interests of the child and I am.
I want to make sure that we look at each individual case. I want to make sure that people can go into community detention. I’ve said to you before that I want to get the number of children in detention down to zero and the reason I’ve been able to get it down to 75 so far, is that we have people on the mainland, including some who are here temporarily from Nauru that we have released into community detention, but when their matters are finalised – because there’s not only medical but also legal matters – once they are finalised, particularly if people aren’t found to be refugees, then we will make arrangements for them to return to their country of origin – if that’s not possible and they don’t wish to return to their country of origin, then to go to Nauru.
That’s been the consistent approach. It’s been the case all the way through. But I think there are some who are trying to hijack this particular case because they want to see a conclusion of the Government’s policy of keeping our borders strong and secure – I think that’s their agenda more so than this case.
JOURNALIST: So just to be clear; detention doesn’t prevent the likelihood or the chance that this baby or her family may still be deported if you don’t see that they have a genuine refugee claim?
PETER DUTTON: As I said, we will apply the same treatment to this family as we have to other families and I think that’s fair. What we’re saying is that if people have had their medical attention in Australia, the doctors are saying they no longer require the medical attention, then we will work with those families to remain in Australia whilst their medical and legal matters are finalised and then they will go back to their country of origin.
We’ve provided financial assistance for people to return to their country of origin because they’re not refugees and if people then don’t want to go back to their country of origin, they go back to Nauru and then there’s the possibility of going to Cambodia or other third country options – and we’re happy to work through each of those cases.
Just to put into perspective the facts around it: we are trying to bring in 12,000 people from Syria. There are about seven million people, including many children in Syria at the moment who are desperate to come to a country like Australia – they are genuine refugees because they’re in a war torn country, they’ve had family members killed, abducted, murdered, raped – they’re the refugees that we see as a high priority, they’re the ones that we want to help and that’s why we need to look at each of the individual cases. But where somebody is not a refugee – understandably they’re seeking a better economic life for their family, which again you can fully understand – then we look at those cases. If we don’t owe protection to a particular individual then we’re very clear about the arrangements.
JOURNALIST: When is she moving?
PETER DUTTON: That’s an operational issue between the Queensland Police service and the Australian Border Force and that’s an issue for the officers on the ground. I don’t have any comment to make in relation to that.
JOURNALIST: When have you previously announced that she’d be moving back into community detention?
PETER DUTTON: I haven’t previously announced anything other than that there would be a return to Nauru ultimately when people’s matters are finalised and that’s the continuation.
So again I think there are others that are running their own agendas here and their agenda is that they are opposed to the Government’s successful policy in regional processing centres and turning back boats where it is safe to do so. Some people in this debate want to see our borders open and I’m not going to allow a repeat of the 1,200 people who drowned at sea, including many children; I’m not going to allow the sort of scenes that we’re seeing on the Mediterranean, I’m not going to allow the chaos that we’re seeing in parts of Europe and I’m not going to allow these people smugglers to get back into business.
We have been thoroughly consistent in relation to our approach – as I say that’s the reason that we’ve got the number down to 75. I’ve spoken, reported in the Parliament before, I’ve spoken at these press conferences before about the fact that we’ve been able to get numbers down.
Why have we been able to do that? Because we’ve been able to release people out into the community, still a form of detention because depending on the circumstances there’s still a presence of the officers, but that’s the way in which it’s worked in the past and it will be no different for this family.
JOURNALIST: In the past you’ve worked hard to resettle families, have you spoken with baby Asha’s family directly?
PETER DUTTON: I haven’t spoken with them directly and obviously 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats and I’m not dealing with each family individually.
JOURNALIST: But this is bigger than your average case…
PETER DUTTON: No, no, the issue is no different for this family than it is for the next family in the line and the tens of millions of families behind them offshore that would want to come to our country. I’m not going to allow a situation where we have people harmed to come to our country to receive medical assistance and then they think there’s a formula for them to be released into the community. That is not going to happen.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the doctor’s tactics here, the strong arm tactics that they’ve put on the Government to [inaudible]?
PETER DUTTON: There are lots of advocates in this space. They can make their cases. What I’m interested in is getting kids out of detention. Making sure that the boats don’t recommence and that requires a consistency in approach from the Government which is what you get from the Turnbull Government. Mr Rudd thought he could tweak the policy, he could scrap regional processing, look in the end, 1,200 people drowned, including children and 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats – I’m not going to allow that to recommence.
JOURNALIST: If it was always the case that the baby was going to go into community detention, why were the doctors refusing to release her until suitable accommodation could be found?
PETER DUTTON: Again, the advocates can speak for themselves. There are people I’ve seen reported who have commented on this case that say they don’t want any children in detention, no children to go back to Nauru, people to be settled in our country. If you look at what they’re arguing, that’s what they’re arguing.
But ultimately if you look at the comments of many of these people, they are vehemently opposed to the Turnbull Government’s approach to stopping the boats and Labor apologised last year because they said they were responsible for those 1,200 people who drowned and that they were going to adopt the policies of the Turnbull Government.
Now, they understand the error of their ways and yes, people strongly hold the belief that we should allow boats to come freely and we should process people, allow them to live in our community, but there are good reasons as to why regional processing works, there are good reasons why turning back boats works and that’s the approach that we’ve adopted and we’re not going to steer away from that cause.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] encourage other medical professionals in other states to take a similar strong stance and they’ll view it as a back down from the Government?
PETER DUTTON: As I say I’ve stated very clearly what our position is. People can interpret that in whatever way they want. As I say there are many advocates in this space who are more interested in their own media profile than they are in this baby and I think that’s very sad.
My desire is to make sure that we keep the boats stopped, that we get kids out of detention and we’re not going to deviate from that course. There’s no special treatment. No different treatment for this family. There wasn’t for the family before them and there won’t be for the family after them. We are going to have a consistency of approach here because I can tell you that intelligence out of Indonesia recently was that people smugglers were reporting the comments of Premiers, including Palaszczuk and Andrews and others no doubt, to say that there was going to be a change in the policy.
People had prepaid deposits and all sorts of things to get on boats. We know there are about 14,000 people in Indonesia today who would get on boats tomorrow and so I need to deal with all of that, to weigh up all of those considerations and doing so I’m absolutely determined to make sure that we treat these families with the respect they deserve, to make sure we have a compassionate approach to provide medical assistance where it’s required and I’ve been consistent in that since day one.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us, the transfer, will it be days, weeks, can you give us a rough timeframe of how long she might still be in the hospital?
PETER DUTTON: I don’t have any comment to make in relation to the operational side of it but as I say I’m advised that there has been agreement from the doctors in relation to the movement of the baby and when it’s appropriate to do so, sooner than later, that will take place.
JOURNALIST: Why are the doctors agreeing now to release her when they weren’t agreeing before if nothing has changed?
PETER DUTTON: That’s a question for them but I understand there are some pressures at the hospital in terms of bed space and the rest of it but that is an issue for the Queensland Government.