JOURNALIST: The Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton joins me now. Thank you very much for your time Minister.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Gary.
JOURNALIST: In October 2014 when there seemed to be a shift in Labor’s view on the turn-back the boats policy Bill Shorten very quickly shot down his party spokesman Richard Marles and said nothing would change. What do you think has changed for Labor?
PETER DUTTON: I think that they can see an election on the horizon in 12 months time and I think that’s the difficulty here Gary.
Kevin Rudd made the same promise that Bill Shorten is now making back in 2007 and as a result of that lack of resolve in Government we had 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats and 1200 people drown at sea.
The difficulty is that Labor doesn’t have the ability to hold a position even for 12 hours it seems. We have seen the watering down of Mr Shorten’s position from the 7:30 Report last night to the op-ed piece from Richard Marles this morning.
This talk about turn-backs is just an ‘option’ for turn-backs and this is just the sort of language that people smugglers need to hear. We cannot allow the deaths at sea to recommence, we cannot allow the immigration detention centres to be re-opened and refilled.
I think the difficulty for Labor is that they are split down the middle on this policy and I think people need to look at what Labor does, not what they say they will do.
I don’t think that they will hold this position until the election let alone implement it if they are elected at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Alright so you are saying that the words of Bill Shorten yesterday will not get across the line at the national conference?
PETER DUTTON: I think that they will get across the line at the national conference. I don’t think Mr Shorten would be out there talking about it if he wasn’t sure of his numbers.
I think the unions are desperate to keep Bill Shorten in the leadership, they don’t want Tanya Plibersek, and on this issue they are happy to provide some support to him and that may get him through the weekend.
The question is would it get him though the first test of his resolve if he was Prime Minister with Tanya Plibersek as Deputy Prime Minister, who’s fiercely opposed to turn-backs – she’s even opposed to regional processing and people in detention.
That is all just music to the ears of people smugglers.
This Government has spoken and when we talk about the resolve of Operation Sovereign Borders you know it’s not, if or maybe, or we could, or we could look at the possibility of. We have turned the boats back where it’s safe to do so.
We do it on a regular basis and we are absolutely determined to do it going forward because people smugglers monitor every word that I say, what the Prime Minister says and obviously what the Opposition is now saying.
The difficulty we have got is that we have people out here saying to families ‘get on boats, come to Australia’ and I just don’t want to start that trade.
I think the Labor Party is as split as they have ever been when it comes to border protection issues.
JOURNALIST: Just on the point of bipartisanship, wouldn’t it be in your interest to speak to Bill Shorten so that you are almost coming at this with the same voice? Just for that argument of making sure that people smugglers know that the Government and the Opposition are. Would you have a chat to him or would you engage him on this?
PETER DUTTON: Well Gary, a couple of things. We have offered briefings to Mr Shorten to explain to him what happens operationally with turn-backs, he has refused those briefings.
His Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has been briefed on eight occasions, yet in his press release today he is saying that he doesn’t understand what happens with turn-backs but he has been briefed on those occasions.
I have written to Mr Marles saying that it is important to have a bipartisan position on this, but I haven’t heard back from them.
Hopefully we can see a toughening up of their language because the difficulty here is, I think they want you to hear that they are going to adopt turn-backs if they win the next election, but that is not what they are saying.
They are saying that they want an option of turn-backs. It’s that cute set of words that might make the lawyers happy, but it won’t allow them to get their policy through the national conference of the ALP.
It is just not the definite language and it is not a replication of what the Government is doing under Operation Sovereign Borders.
I just don’t think there is an offer of bipartisanship in the language that Mr Shorten is using at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Given some of the language, say last year for example, of the Labor backbenchers that this would happen over their dead body. If it is going to divide the party so much then could it mean the end of Bill Shorten’s leadership?
PETER DUTTON: Well I think he can see the end in sight and I think that Australian’s now know the ways in which Mr Shorten conducts himself and that Tanya Plibersek is just one step behind him.
I mean speak to Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd about the loyalty that he showed them and I think we are seeing this play out again.
This is an issue that has divided the Party for Mr Rudd and, as I say, he promised that turn-backs would be part of the policy.
Bear in mind that when the Howard Government lost in 2007 there were only four people in detention, none of them children, and yet under the Labor Government when they were in power there were almost 2,000 children in detention. I just don’t want to see a return to those days.
Unfortunately we have members of Mr Shorten’s Party out even this morning, repeating those claims that this will not happen, that they will vote against it, that they don’t support the leader and I don’t think that Labor can be trusted.
They make these claims before an election or when there is an election in sight, but once they get into Government they do the complete opposite.
JOURNALIST: Obviously Mr Shorten is tempering some of his comments by saying that the turn back the boats policy is a factor, but the regional solutions that he says Labor was responsible for, in many respects, is the reason for the real cause of the boats stopping. Do you accept any of that?
PETER DUTTON: Well there are two reasons that the boats have stopped in my judgement Gary. The first one is turn-backs and there is no question that you can map the boats that arrived. Once the turn-back policy was watered down by Rudd, the boats took off and the numbers really just headed north really until we took Government and introduced two things: one was turn-backs and the second is Temporary Protection Visas.
People need to know that if they have a circumstance that changes and means that they don’t have a legitimate claim to refugee status then they won’t be coming to here settle permanently.
There needs to be a removal of that expectation, that permanent protection arrangement, which was at the heart of what Labor did when they were in Government and they haven’t changed their policy.
As I say, these people smugglers are sophisticated organised criminal syndicates. They watch our words, they monitor our words and they twist our words to use as some sort of pitch to get people to get onto boats if you talk about an option to turn-back boats.
Joel Fitzgibbon, who sits on the frontbench, was out there this morning saying that he doesn’t think that it is needed. Well it is needed on a regular basis.
If they are split right down the middle then I just think that none of this has been resolved from when they were last in Government. I don’t think they have learnt their lessons and I think all of these mealy mouth words at the moment just aren’t going to be good enough for Mr Shorten to have any credibility when it comes to boats.
JOURNALIST: Is it the case that the boat that has recently arrived off our shores has been turned back?
PETER DUTTON: Well Gary, as you know we just don’t comment in relation to operational matters, but the Government’s position is well known.
If we have a boat then we will screen people to make sure that they are not owed protection. If they have just sought to just get a better position in life, you can understand, that doesn’t give them grounds for being refugees fleeing persecution if they are after an economic outcome.
There are millions of people across the world, tens of millions of people who would seek to do that, come to our country and we just can’t give up that border security.
We do turn-back boats and we do have good relations on a bilateral basis with our partners. We have been able to do that in the past and, as I say, the turn-back policy is alive right now for our country every day.
We look at threats on the horizon from people smugglers who are trying to fill boats. If people believe that this threat has gone away and that the boats couldn’t recommence, they just don’t understand the history and the threat that we face.
We have a very sophisticated operation in Operation Sovereign Borders and part of the reason that we have been so successful is that we brief at an appropriate time about ventures, not when they are underway and I certainly don’t put at risk the safety of my own officers who are on the front line. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the successful stopping of these boats.
A leader that just can’t get the support of his Party or can’t even hold the same position for 12 hours is not somebody who is going to be a good Prime Minister of this country or have any capacity to stop these boats from recommencing.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to be in a position fairly soon to discuss the outcome of that recent incursion, if you like?
PETER DUTTON: Well again Gary, we provide updates on a monthly basis and we will stick to that timeline. If there is any information that we can provide before then we provide it.
People should be reassured that the Abbott Government is as strong as it has ever been and we say to people that if you seek to come illegally by boat then you will not be successful in that venture.
We have been very determined at the same time to make sure that we offer extra support to refugees and people coming through the Humanitarian Programme, so those coming through the front door - we welcome them in record numbers. We are amongst the three most generous countries in the world in terms of the number of refugees that we settle each year. We provide that support to those people through the front door, or through the right channels – through the United Nations, through the screening processes of people at risk in Syria for example at the moment who are likely to face persecution.
We are providing a new home for those people, but we aren’t going to have those places taken up by economic migrants who would seek to hop on a boat and come to Australia, because understandably but not reasonably, they want to start a new life here and take a place away from somebody who is waiting in the queue.
JOURNALIST: Minister, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
PETER DUTTON: Pleasure, thanks Gary.