Journalist: Minister thanks for joining us.
Peter Dutton: Good afternoon Raf.
Journalist: Look, I’d love to ask about the 12,000 refugee intake in a moment, but just a brief comment on the Prime Minister’s statement today – which is no change in military strategy – are you happy with that?
Peter Dutton: I am and I think it’s very important for people to hear the message from the Prime Minister today and that is that yes, we are all angry and upset by what we’ve seen Paris, in Lebanon, in Mali and elsewhere and we need to recognise that there has to be an appropriate response.
Our responsibility as leaders of the nation is to make sure that we have clear-eyed view of what responses are available to us and to make sure that we make those decisions in the sober light of day.
We’ll work with the French Government, with other western allies and in fact the Middle Eastern countries to provide an appropriate response.
But the Government wants to provide reassurance to the Australian public that we have in place some significant mechanisms, through the intelligence and policing agencies, to keep our community as safe as possible.
So the Government is not going to have a knee-jerk reaction. It’s going to be a considered response and I think that’s what people would expect.
Journalist: The former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there’d be no sniping and undermining. Is he doing that and is Kevin Andrews doing that when they call for a tougher military response?
Peter Dutton: No they’re not. I think Members of Parliament from time-to-time provide their perspectives on issues and particularly if people are on the backbench they can provide all sorts of alternative views.
Journalist: It’s making some in the Party Room angry though?
Peter Dutton: I think the responsibility of those of us in Cabinet and at a leadership level is to make sure that we listen to all the views but in the end do what we believe to be right by our country.
This extra money that we’ve put into the intelligence agencies, the extra work that we’re doing with the Islamic community, all of the messages that you’re hearing from the Government at the moment is that we have provided an appropriate response – our response is more significant than any other nation in Europe, across Asia or anywhere else in the world expect for the United States – so we’re serious about defeating this very considerable threat that’s coming out of ISIS now and it’s reaching out into countries like ours and the threat is very real.
So I think this is a debate worthy of many views but in the end the Government makes the decisions that we think are in the best interests of our nation.
Journalist: Last week, the Treasurer Scott Morrison, who used to be Immigration Minister of course, he said that a majority of the 12,000 people coming from Syria, he expects will be Christian. Is that right? That a majority will be?
Peter Dutton: I think the point that Scott was making last week Raf was that for Christians, in particular – and they’re obviously included in the persecuted minorities– that it is very difficult for those people to return home and the Government has been clear – both under Prime Minister Abbott and under Prime Minister Turnbull – that we want to prioritise women and children, in particular, but in particular those persecuted minorities that don’t have the ability to go back to their….
Journalist: But there are very many Muslims who won’t be able to go back because they live in the wrong area and are from the wrong sect as well?
Peter Dutton:…and we’ve been clear about the fact that we’ll look at each of the applications that we receive. We’re not basing our judgement on somebody’s religion but on their circumstances and….
Journalist: So that majority of Christian is incorrect?
Peter Dutton:…the point that I would make is that we will have a look at the individual applications – and there will be many thousands, there are already 2,800 under consideration at the moment – but the most important aspect for us is to make sure that our national security needs are met.
So if we have somebody – regardless of their religious background – but if we have somebody of a background that might pose a potential security threat to our nation, they won’t be coming through this programme. If we have a doubt, then we will be rejecting that application because our responsibility is to ensure our national security and then to try and provide a new home for many people – regardless of their religious background – that will be fleeing the same sort of terrorists that we’ve seen inflict carnage in Paris.
These people are suffering at the hands of ISIS within Syria or indeed at the hands of the Assad regime. These are decent people who are seeking a new life and want as much as any of us to be free from these terrorists and their activities.
Journalist: Is it possible for you actually to increase the scrutiny of people coming here? I sort of imagine that despite what’s happened in Paris, everything that can be done to security check someone has already happened, you can’t increase that level of scrutiny can you?
Peter Dutton: There’s a lot of work that we can do behind the scenes to further investigate intelligence holdings – which obviously is not something that we talk about publicly – but we do a lot of work with our Five Eyes partners to look at applicants. So we take biometrics, we take fingerprints and we run a lot of that information through the network of contacts that we have and at a time like this, we do spend more time scrutinising, not just that detail, but also having our expert document examiners go through the papers that people present to make sure that they aren’t fraudulent.
We have a lot of information available to us that’s come out of the region as well and we test against all of that and obviously our own intelligence agencies have holdings.
So there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes and I just want to provide that assurance that we are not going to compromise on national security. We want to do the right thing and bring 12,000 people in through this humanitarian programme but we are not going to sacrifice our national security in doing that.
Journalist: Peter Dutton a quick immigration question: is it not a little ludicrous to have a boat be filmed near Christmas Island yet not confirm that it came close and that it exists, last week?
Peter Dutton: Raf, if you are talking about recent media reports; I just don’t have any comment to make in relation to operational matters. Part of the reason that we have been able to stop the drownings at sea and stop the people smugglers model is that we haven’t commented day-to-day on some speculation.
Obviously there’s a lot of illegal fishing boats and other vessels in the area and I just don’t comment in relation to it because I can tell you the people smugglers that we’re dealing with in Indonesia and elsewhere, are very sophisticated organised criminals.
They watch every word the Prime Minister and I have to say. They monitor media. They look at all of the intelligence that they can gather and they twist that and turn it into an opportunity for people to pay money to them, and to get onto these boats and I’m just not going to be a party to allowing that trade to restart; because the dividend of having stopped the drownings at sea and stopped the boats, is that we can bring these 12,000 in, and many others – including the 13,750 through the humanitarian programme this year alone – which makes us on a per capita basis, the most generous nation in the world.
Journalist: Minister, thank you for your time.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Raf. Thank you