JOURNALIST: We started with me asking the Minister for his reaction to the death of Don Randall.
PETER DUTTON: Of course Peter, at 62 - just a shocking reminder to all of us to key an eye on your health and make sure that you visit the doctor regularly. All of those messages come home to lots of families around the country now.
I remember doing a walk with Don Randall in his electorate raising money for juvenile diabetes with him and his daughter Tess. He was a great family man, he enjoyed very much the company of his children and it’s a sad day for the Parliament because lots of people believe we should have more characters in Parliament and he was truly one of those characters.
He was a hard working local member and we really mourn his loss and send our sympathy to his wife and to his broader family.
JOURNALIST: In your portfolio of Immigration there’s been a lot of discussion about this boat arrival in the north-west of Australia – the Prime Minister and others refusing to confirm the detail – it’s a bit silly isn’t it, given that we do have helicopter footage of the said boat?
PETER DUTTON: Peter, I think people need to understand that these are quasi-military operations that are underway and particularly when you’re at sea it’s very, very difficult scenario.
We have previous examples where sailors and border protection staff have gone into the water.
It is a very, very precarious situation and we have defence and naval assets, we have Border Force assets to try to make sure that everybody is safe in relation to particular ventures and keeping a cloak over that is important for a period of time until we know what is going on and we understand the threats that might be posed to the Border Force staff as well as to people on boats.
Once we work through all of that detail and matters are finalised then we talk about the detail of the operations, but there are very good reasons for not broadcasting these.
JOURNALIST: I can understand not providing operational details now, but surely just acknowledging ‘there’s been a boat, it’s been spotted, there are now operational approaches to deal with it and we will give those further details in due course’ – that’s not unreasonable surely?
PETER DUTTON: No and that’s exactly what we’ve said. We said we don’t comment in relation to operational matters and we’ve been very consistent about that and it is part of the reason we’ve been able to stop the boats.
The other part of this, of course, that people don’t see day-to-day, is the sophistication of the people smuggling networks.
They are monitoring every word that I say, every word the Government says, in relation to the boats.
They, for example, try to twist my words when I say that we’ve reduced the number of children in detention from 2000 down to less than 100 that somehow that is a message to people to bring your kids and jump on a rickety boat and come to Australia.
So we need to be careful about the way in which we use our language and the way in which that can be twisted and contorted for people smugglers’ advantage and I think people really need to comprehend the sophistication of the criminal network that is behind these ventures.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you though, is it the case that the number of boats that are actually coming to Australia have been stopped or substantially reduced or is it more just a case of because of a line of sight we don’t know about the details, because of the operational matters that keep it out of view?
PETER DUTTON: Well there were no boats that arrived for a period of time and when John Howard lost Government in 2007 there were four people in detention. So the Howard Government had it right.
We’ve cleaned up Labor’s mess now and I think the fact that when Kevin Rudd came to Government there were only four people in detention and then you end up with 2000 kids in detention shows that the boats are there.
JOURNALIST: Now I’d agree that the Government in terms of the outcomes has achieved its goal in this policy space, but I guess what I’m wondering about is whether or not there’s actually been a reduction in the number of people that are leaving to come here by boat, or it’s just a case that we don’t know the details about how many are being turned back and it’s that turn-back that is obviously resulting in the reduced numbers in terms of outcomes?
PETER DUTTON: Well a couple of points. The reason that I say they started off a low base and had 50,000 arrive on 821 boats is that there was no end in sight.
It’s not as if that number had plateaued, the number was increasing, that was all of the advice that we had and you see this now in the Mediterranean.
There are millions of people who are potential customers for these people smugglers, there is no end in sight and the fact that we do do turn-backs, we do have disruption activities, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that people don’t see in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders that has resulted in us being able to stop the boats.
My very strong belief, backed up by the best advice we have available to us, is that if you undo some of that, if you turn back the turn-back policy, it will be a disaster and the boats will start again and the deaths at sea will recommence.
JOURNALIST: Now I’ve seen some reports about a man on Nauru – an asylum seeker or an illegal as you call it – who has got health complications, he needs treatment on the mainland.
We’re literally talking about something that could be a life or death decision, what can you tell us about what’s going on in that case?
PETER DUTTON: We have hundreds of people that we bring from Nauru to the mainland for medical assistance each year.
We have a decision that’s made by the medical staff in individual cases about whether people can receive the treatment in Nauru or indeed in Manus or if they need to come to Australia or indeed to another country within the region that has the appropriate facilities.
That’s an operational decision that the medical staff will make and we take that advice, but we provide a significant amount of taxpayers’ funding to have a humane response to the health needs of people.
My very firm intent is, firstly, that we don’t backfill the places within detention that we’ve been able to empty and now we’ve closed 13 of 17 detention centres that Labor opened, but in addition to that I want to make sure that we have a humane environment in which people are kept until they can be returned to their country of origin.
We’ve been very firm and consistent about that and I don’t want to see people assaulted, I don’t want to see people hurt, I want to see medical advice provided to people and medical assistance given to those people who are in need, but at the same time we are not going to allow the boats to recommence.
JOURNALIST: What do you say to the doctors and nurses who feel that because of changes to the Border Force legislation there are issues or things that they see that they really feel it is their duty, their fiduciary duty to go public on?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I’ve seen lots of the scare campaign around this, frankly some people are using this issue for their own political ends, the Greens have really exaggerated the true scenario in relation to this picture and the true scenario is that whistleblower legislation and protection has been and always will be there and if people see the wrong thing they can report that.
But the intention of our legislation is to say that we do receive sensitive intelligence reports and information from trusted agencies including intelligence agencies here, but abroad as well, and if people release that information or if they are dealing with sensitive information in a way that is not professional then people face consequences.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re medical staff or whether they’re guards at the detention centres here on the mainland, people have a responsibility to keep that information in confidence; that’s the way in which it’s been provided to us and the condition on which it’s been provided to us, but if people see actions within the workplace, those people have the same rights under the legislation that anybody else in a workplace would have to report that information without fear or retribution that’s the way in which the legislation operates.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the citizenship laws that you have carriage of, debate will start up again in earnest obviously at the end of the winter recess in this respect; now of course there is this committee that Philip Ruddock is presiding over, that will be factored in to what ultimately happens and to who is or isn’t caught up in this legislation what can you tell us about that?
PETER DUTTON: It’s a good and a necessary process because we do face a bigger threat from terrorism than we’ve ever faced before.
We know that since September of last year 23 Australians have been charged with terrorism related offences and we know that that’s the same number that have been charged between 2001 and 2014 so the threat really has ramped up.
We need to recognise that.
The United Kingdom has since 2006 under its citizenship law changes taken citizenship away from 27 people, so it’s been used sparingly, as it will be here, but if people are going to pose a threat to the Australian public we will act against them.
We don’t want to render people stateless and it also has to mean something when people swear allegiance to our country that if you’re swearing allegiance on day one and going out trying to blow people up on the second day then there needs to be a consequence for that.
So Philip Ruddock’s process is having a look at what citizenship means in our country, the values, what it might mean in terms of language requirements, whether we should be looking, as a Government, at suspending some citizenship privileges for people that would conduct themselves in support of terrorism or conduct a terrorist act themselves if they’re an Australian citizen.
So there are a number of angles that they’re looking at and they will come back to us and we can make an announcement from there.
JOURNALIST: Just finally if I can in the area of health, your former portfolio before this one, there’s a lot of discussion about that at the moment publicly, yesterday we saw NSW Liberal Premier Mike Baird talk about upping the GST to 15 per cent as a way of covering spending in areas like health for example, Anastasia Palaszczuk - the Queensland, your home state, Labor Premier - she says she prefers the Medicare levy go up what’s your view on this whole debate?
PETER DUTTON: Look, I think Sussan Ley is doing a great job in the health portfolio so it’s not for me to comment on it.
I think in terms of a broader question about government expenditure, I think all people, all Australians, who work hard and pay their taxes want to see an efficient expenditure of their tax dollars and if you’re looking to a country like New Zealand, for example, they have comparable health outcomes to Australia, but they don’t have the sorts of increases that we do here.
The Prime Minister’s effort in relation to the Federation White Paper I think is important here because, particularly in the areas of health and education, people don’t want to see duplicity from states who are trying to dud the Commonwealth and vice-versa, people don’t want to see duplication of effort and waste of taxpayer’s money.
JOURNALIST: Do you get the impression though Peter Dutton, in this debate the quantum of the spend is what becomes the point of the discussion rather than the quality of that said spend?
PETER DUTTON: The focus can never be on the quantum it needs to be on the outcome and if it costs a dollar to get the right outcome so be it.
If it’s going to cost 90 cents in five years’ time because of technological changes to get the outcome that you want well that’s is great, but it doesn’t need to be a dollar twenty in five years’ time to get the same outcome.
We need to look at the outcomes that we are trying to provide and this applies across all of our portfolios and all of us in Government, in the Cabinet, have the responsibility to make sure that it is not a discussion about the quantum, it is about the health outcome or the education outcome or it’s about the outcome in relation to immigration; that needs to be the focus not just a cash grab to try to keep union mates happy.
I think most Australians who are working hard today, paying their dollars to the taxman they want to know that it is going to be spent responsibly to get the proper outcome in the most efficient way possible.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton thanks very much for joining us on Newsday.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Peter.