Journalist: The Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton joins us now.
Minister, welcome to the programme.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Fran.
Journalist: Well, Saeed is starving himself to death because he doesn’t want to go back to Iran. Is there nothing that you can do to prevent this death from occurring?
Peter Dutton: Let’s deal with the most important issue first and that is in relation to his health.
I am advised that overnight Saeed has accepted medical assistance and is on some path to recovery, obviously he has a long way to go, but the advice that I have is that he has decided to take fluids and food and he is speaking to his case manager and his medical team at the Royal Perth Hospital on that basis.
His situation in terms of his medical diagnosis looks on the up. Obviously there is a long way to come back from - the position that he was in. That is a positive in terms of the decision that he has made to accept fluids and food and that is an issue now for his doctors to manage and that process will hopefully see him recovering more quickly from the position he was in before which obviously was a perilous position and a serious one. It is a very emotive issue and I am very confident that the doctors will be able to work with him and the case manager from the Department to see him recover from his position at the moment.
Journalist: That is great news and obviously that was a very perilous position - 44 days on a hunger strike. It’s more than an emotive issue. It is an issue of life and death. He was obviously scared enough to face death, scared enough to not go back to Iran. Have you looked at his grounds for his fears of persecution? Do you believe that there are no grounds?
Peter Dutton: Fran, a couple of points here. One is that we settle in our country on a per capita basis the greatest number of refugees, not only refugees but also through the humanitarian programme, than almost any other country in the world.
That is something that we are proud of and we provide significant support to people in trouble.
If people have been deemed to be a refugee then we provide them with the support they need. We are legally and morally obliged to do this and we do. We provide support to many of the refugees regardless of how they have come. We have always done that and we will always do that.
In cases where people have been found not to be refugees and they have gone through review processes - individual applications have been looked at and thoroughly assessed and reviewed by independent reviewers - in those cases where people are found not to be refugees they are not going to stay in Australia.
That has been the long standing position of this Government, of the previous Government and governments before that.
Now it is, as I say, a very difficult situation because people in their millions want to come to Australia. Saeed is no different to that. He wants a better life and I can fully understand it, but the difficulty is that if we allow people to self-harm or to refuse food and fluids and that this would somehow twist my arm and that I would issue a visa with work rights which is what he is after, and completely understandably.
If I was to succumb to that pressure, the strong advice from my department, and I have no doubt in accepting their advice at all, is that I would have hundreds if not thousands of people on hunger strike tomorrow.
That is not a situation that we are going to tolerate, Fran, and we can’t.
Journalist: I accept that it is very difficult, but what kind of situation are we in if we allow someone to die in our detention centres? To starve themselves to death.
Peter Dutton: The situation for this young man is that he wants to be in Australia and I can fully understand. Fourteen million plus people want to be in the same situation. We have, through the humanitarian programme which I pointed out before, something in this country that we can be very proud of… [interrupted]
Journalist: I understand that Minister, but there is also Ministerial discretion within this system, have you personally, given this dramatic action by this young man and we know that Iran will only take people back if they go voluntarily, have you taken it upon yourself to review his case?
We have heard suggestion that he is a Christian convert and that his situation is even more dangerous for him now. Victoria believes that a mistake has been made. Have you taken it upon yourself to take a look, personally, at his situation?
Peter Dutton: Of course I have Fran. I am thoroughly convinced that the decision that has been made is the right one. I am not going to go into the situation about the claims that have been made. Obviously on privacy grounds I am not going to go into the fine details of cases, but the reviewers have a look at these cases on a regular basis.
If we do deem someone to be a refugee then we provide them with the support that legally and morally we should and we do it every day. But in situations where we deem that it is not a risk for that person to return to their own country of origin then that is the decision taken and that’s what we follow.
Journalist: But how cruel is our system Minister? We have a young man in hospital who is so sick from hunger strike and his brother who he is so close to, rather than allowing his brother to visit him they sent him to Christmas Island. He wasn’t allowed to even visit his brother and they are known to be close. That’s just cruel isn’t it? For no end.
Peter Dutton: Fran that is an emotive statement and it is based on what has been reported to you… [interrupted] …Well you haven’t verified those facts with me or with my office.
Journalist: Well has his brother been allowed to visit?
Peter Dutton: He has been given the offer to visit. The initial advice that I had was that Saeed didn’t want to see his brother or to speak to his brother. That was the advice that I received. That is obviously in contention to the advice that you have received from the refugee advocates.
I just think that before we embark on what is a very emotive issue that we, and we want to deal with it sensibly and sensitively, but I want to deal with the facts.
We allowed contact to be made with the family in Iran. We made offers in relation to medical assistance, to psychological support and the whole ambit of support has been provided to this man in what is a very difficult circumstance.
But in the end he wants an outcome to stay in Australia. The determination has been made that he is not owed refugee status and he will not stay in Australia.
Journalist: But he will stay in Australia if Iran won’t take him. I mean he has got no choice.
Peter Dutton: As I say, we are able to repatriate people back to their country of origin including Iran and… [interrupted]
Journalist: But not to Iran unless they go voluntarily.
Peter Dutton: Correct and that is the offer that we have got on the table for this, young man and the determination has been made.
I have relied upon the reviewers advice, I have looked at the case and I have offered to provide whatever support we can and I looked through the courts to see if there was any provision to force feed him and provide fluids to a person against their will.
The very clear advice to me is that can’t happen. If someone refuses and has given directions to the doctors if they don’t want medical attention or to be given food or fluids then they can’t be given it.
It would be common assault in Western Australia if that were to take place.
I have looked at every option in relation to this case Fran and, as I say, we settle people who are deemed to be refugees on a daily basis; a record number each year and it grows outwards every year - the 13,750 this year to over 18,000 per year within a couple of years. There is a lot of support we provide. But in some cases where people want, understandably as I say, to live in our country if we don’t owe them refugee status we can’t provide that support to them.
I can’t allow myself to be put in a position or the Government to be put in a position where we are emotionally put in a position to grant a visa and then see hundreds, if not thousands, of people on hunger strikes to achieve the same outcome in the following days.
There are no easy decisions in this portfolio Fran. When John Howard left Government there were four people in detention. We have now had 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats and we are working through them. I have a case load of almost 31,000 people and… [interrupted]
Journalist: Minister I am just going to interrupt you there as time is tight and we are just about to go to the news. I have a lot to ask you as I have been keen to get you on the programme for a while now. I am very keen to get your response to the Moss Review which was released almost three weeks ago. It found evidence of rape and the sexual assault of minors inside the Regional Processing Centre inside Nauru.
Are you confident that women and children are now safe inside the detention centre on Nauru and that the sixty children that the Government is planning to send back to Nauru will be safe?
Peter Dutton: Well I provided a lot of comment to the ABC at the time Fran which, no doubt you would’ve been able to use. In that comment I said that I won’t tolerate one person being sexually assaulted: not a child, woman, man, nobody. I won’t tolerate... [interrupted]
Journalist: I know you won’t. Of course you won’t. But can you guarantee, right now, as things stand in Nauru that can’t or won’t happen?
Peter Dutton: Well I can’t give that guarantee for anybody in the Australian society Fran so let’s deal with a reasonable scenario.
I have instructed the Department to do whatever they possibly can, both domestically within the detention network here and with our partners in the Regional Processing Centres, to make sure that the standard of care is as high as it possibly can be.
The Department accepted the 19 recommendations. They are putting those recommendations in place. The Nauruan President, the Ministers all of them have given me assurances about the processes that they have put in place.
Mistakes were made, yes, because thousands of people flowed in. Fifty thousand people on 800 boats during Labor’s time in government and there were lots of pressures on the detention network, but …[interrupted]
Journalist: Sure and we can only deal with the here and now
Peter Dutton: … and we are mopping up that mess.
Journalist: As you mop up that mess and while you implement all of those 19 of the recommendation from the Moss Review, will you make sure that all those are implemented before you send those 60 children back to Nauru.
Peter Dutton: I have reduced the number of children in detention across the network. There were 1,992 children in detention under Labor… [interrupted]
Journalist: No, this is a specific question about the 60 children currently on the mainland who you have said will be sent back to Nauru.
Peter Dutton: Sure and I will come to that part in a second Fran, but my response is that there were almost 2,000 children in detention under Labor, but the number is now closer to 100.
Now the children in relation to Nauru who are here probably because mum might be having a baby and the kids have come down from Nauru with mum, or they may need medical attention here; those children, those families will be going back to Nauru.
That is the clear and stated policy that hasn’t changed.
The people who are holding out false hope are telling some of the people on Nauru or in Manus or in the detention network here - any of the advocates saying to those people that if you just wait it out then you will outlast the Government - we are not going to change our policy in relation to this matter… [interrupted]
Journalist: That is not my question. I was wondering if you will hold off before you do implement those recommendations, which is your position?
Peter Dutton: Well, as I say, the implementation is underway. But there are changes already that have taken place obviously over the last few months in relation to security and in relation to surveillance, in relation to the way in which people are monitored and supported including within the detention network, in the Regional Processing Network in Nauru, both the local employed staff and the contract staff.
So there are lots of changes that have already taken place and it was a big mess to clean up. Scott Morrison has started that clean up and I continue it.
I want to make sure that we have a safe environment for people because we have been very clear that we do not want the boats to start again because I don’t want the detention places to be filled with new arrivals.
The people smugglers are trying to fill boats right now across Asia and we are not going to tolerate that situation starting again, because if we do then we will end up in the same position that Labor was and that is not something that is conducive to a good arrangement within the Regional Processing Centres or here on the mainland.
So if people are to be determined to be refugees and if we owe them that obligation then we will meet that obligation. If people are determined not to be refugees then they will not be settled in Australia.
Journalist: Peter Dutton, thanks so much for joining us on Breakfast.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Fran.