Subjects: Five Country Ministerial Meetings in Washington DC; IMA children; Syrian refugees; Hamzah Tzortzis.
Journalist: Peter Dutton, good morning to you.
Peter Dutton: Good morning Ray.
Journalist: You’re there with the Attorney General for global security talks. Tell us about what’s happening.
Peter Dutton: Ray, it’s a meeting that’s held each year and I’m here with George Brandis. So it’s the Attorneys General and also the Immigration and Border Protection and Homeland Security Ministers from our closest allies. That includes obviously the US, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
We’ve spoken about what’s happening in terms of the Europe situation, with people flowing across borders and what they’re expecting over the next 12 months. We’ve obviously spoken about the migration issues in the US as well.
We’ve signed an agreement with the US Homeland Security Department for the Australian Border Force to work more closely with them so we can exchange information and try and stop people that might want to do us harm from coming into our country.
Journalist: You’d no doubt be aware that we’ve had at least 28 people killed in a deadly blast that’s been confirmed by Turkish authorities as a suicide bomber.
Twenty-eight people dead, dozens of others injured. A car loaded with explosives detonated near government buildings, including defence force buildings, and a bus was targeted with defence force personnel on board. Twenty-eight dead.
Peter Dutton: Just horrific mate. It just goes to show that these people are absolutely determined to target innocent people and we need to recognise that the threat faced by all Western countries is going to be with us for a long time to come.
So part of the discussion here is in relation to exchanging information about foreign fighters, looking at criminal histories of people moving across borders, people who might try and pass themselves off as refugees, but are actually trying to move across borders in the name of terrorism.
It’s obviously a terrible situation in Turkey that follows, not too long ago, by the dreadful attacks in Paris. So this is going to be with us for a long time to come.
Journalist: Now to domestic matters. Your constituents in Queensland are most interested in this one, as we are nationally.
They’re holding a rally outside Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane aiming to pressure you to let this child stay in Australia instead of returning to Nauru. We’re told that baby Asha and her parents are actually from Nepal. She suffered burns from boiling water while in detention in Nauru. Apparently that was an accident that happened, no one to blame for that.
You said detainees including Asha’s family will be given 72 hours’ notice before returning to Nauru.
These protestors don’t understand that message. What are you going to do get the message through to them?
Peter Dutton: Well Ray the Government has been absolutely consistent and I’m not going to be pressured into changing our position because I’m not going to allow women and children to drown at sea again. We’re not going to allow the boats to recommence.
The intelligence that I receive, and it’s only been reinforced by the visit to Washington here to speak to the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others and that is that people do want to come to countries like Australia and people smugglers do want to recommence their business. So we’re just not going to allow that to happen.
I’ve been very clear and consistent in saying that we’ll have a look at each case independently.
If people have received medical assistance and the assistance is no longer required, if they’ve recovered from their medical condition, then they’ll be returned to Nauru.
We’ll have a look at each case and go through the individual circumstances and we’ll have a look compassionately at individual cases.
We’ve still got a number of families, many children still on Nauru, and I don’t want them self-harming to get to Australia so that they can try and stay here.
Obviously people have paid thousands of dollars to people smugglers and they want to live in our country, but we’ve been very clear about the fact that if people have arrived illegally by boat they are not going to settle in our country.
Nobody is going to bring pressure to bear or try and influence us to a different position. That’s been the long-held position and it will remain the case.
Journalist: If the people are Nepalese, why aren’t they returned to Nepal? It would be obvious to everyone that they’re economic refugees. Why are they not returned to their place of origin?
Peter Dutton: Ray in some cases it will be because they haven’t had their cases properly heard. In some cases they won’t have been determined to be refugees or not and that may be because they’ve travelled without documents, it may be that we haven’t been able to substantiate their claim.
So obviously the investigations take some time to have a look at these cases to see whether or not people are refugees or whether they’re economic refugees and they’re looking for a better place to live, which you can understand.
The refugees we take we take through the United Nations or the Special Humanitarian Programme that we run. We’re doing that with the Syrians and others, but we’re not going to allow people who have arrived by boat to stay in this country.
Journalist: Just touching on that, I see that the Opposition Spokesman countering you, Richard Marles, is calling for you to explain why we’ve only resettled 26 of the 12,000 Syrian refugees whereas Canada say they’ve flown in more than 20,000.
Given the fact that you’re in the United States of America and meeting with Canadian officials, why only 26 of 12,000 and do the Canadians have lesser checks than we have in place to bring people from those areas to Canada?
Peter Dutton: Well one of the issues that we’ve got, Ray, is that we are in the queue in terms of trying to get the security checks done, in particular with the United States. They’ve got the most significant intelligence holdings and databases so it takes time to run through that process.
If Richard Marles believes that people should come in without the proper screening and without those security checks being done, well he should make that clear.
I’ve been very clear that we are not going to compromise in any case, not in any circumstance, our national security.
My responsibility is to keep Australians safe and we will continue to be very generous in the number of people that we bring in, but we are going to screen people, as I’ve said before, do the biometrics and conduct all the tests.
There are several thousand people who have been screened in, but we haven’t yet had the security checks returned.
As I say, I’m happy to be criticised for delaying brining people in, but I’m absolutely determined to make sure that we can keep our country safe.
Turkey just demonstrates again that we need to make sure that we know who’s coming to our country and we’re not going to be pressured into compromising on security checks or cutting corners.
We’re going to do it right and if we can do that then we’ll get the right people, they’ll be able to settle properly and we won’t face the risk that other countries do. That’s the approach that I’ve taken.
Journalist: Ok, I think you’d be across this despite the fact you’re on the other side of the world.
I spoke yesterday about a radical Islamic speaker from the UK who apparently wants to come back here to address a Muslim youth and community conference in May at Homebush at Sydney Olympic Park. His name is Hamzah Tzortzis. He’s previously said that anyone who fights against Muslims should be beheaded. On a previous visit he condoned child rape.
Are you across whether he has applied for a visa and will be preventing him from travelling to Australia in May?
Peter Dutton: Ray I had a quick briefing on that this morning. I’m told that there has been no application as yet.
Obviously I’ve been fairly hard line; the Department has been hard line, in relation to some of these visa applications.
Again, we don’t want hate preachers, we don’t want people who are preaching to young and impressionable minds that somehow violence against women is ok, somehow that beheadings are ok.
So we’ll have a look at the application if it is made.
The balance in all of these things is to make sure that we’re impinging on people’s rights to free speech and the rest of it, but the environment in which we live in now is very different than it was even a couple of years ago.
The fact is that people are leaving our shores to go off and fight. People are returning. There are record numbers of cases that ASIO has under investigation. We need to be serious about the threat.
I think it’s obvious to people that a lot of information, in any case, can be downloaded and videos played over the internet, but if we’ve got a case where we don’t believe somebody is acting in our national interest then we’ll have a look at the case and it’s very unlikely that that person will travel to our country.
Journalist: Well let’s hope in case of this bloke that’s right. Enjoy your visit to Washington. We’ll see you when you get back.
Peter Dutton: Thanks, Ray. Take care.