Journalist: Peter Dutton, welcome to RN Breakfast.
Peter Dutton: Thank you Fran.
Journalist: We were speaking with the Churches Refugee Taskforce earlier in the programme. They have urged you to release the full findings of the Moss Inquiry – that is the inquiry into allegations of abuse on Nauru conducted by Philip Moss, you have had it now for a fortnight I understand, will you release it?
Peter Dutton: Well I haven't had the report, the report was commissioned to go back to the Secretary and it is with the Secretary. Over the course of the coming days and over the next couple of weeks, the Secretary will make an announcement of what the next step is. But I have only seen a summary in relation to the matters and really some of these are quite sensitive to ongoing investigations but the report that you mention, done for the Secretary, is under consideration by the Department of Immigration at the moment.
Journalist: Can you tell us what the report finds in that summary? Does it substantiate the reports of sexual abuse we heard last year by groups like Save the Children and the Churches Refugee Taskforce?
Peter Dutton: Well I don't want to comment in relation to the report or specific events but let me make this very important point - I have made it very clear to the Department as well and they are of the same mind, that even one allegation of sexual assault is completely unacceptable and we will put in place whatever measures are necessary to make sure that we can safeguard the rights of people within detention regardless of whether they are children, young women, young men, whatever the case might be.
We will put in place enhanced arrangements to make sure that we can address any of these serious claims. As I say - one suggestion of sexual assault is one too many and we take the situation very, very seriously.
Journalist: Which means it is absolutely urgent and in Estimates this week your Department confirmed that there are 19 reports of sexual assault in Nauru and five of those were assaults on minors. As I say, this is urgent and I am sure you don't want to be waiting to get the full findings of the inquiry. What are you doing or changing to keep the women and children safe on Nauru now.
Peter Dutton: Well in relation to Nauru, which is a regional processing centre operated by the Nauruan Government. They have separate arrangements for single females. They have… [interrupted]
Journalist: And yet these assaults are happening…
Peter Dutton: So this has not been the case since the arrangements started at Nauru. I can say to you also that the Nauruan Government has announced that there would be an open arrangement so that people will be able to exit the regional processing centre on a graduated basis between the hours of 9 and 5. As I am advised they will be free to go into the community and then return back to the centre in the night time.
An important point to make in relation to the children in Nauru is that in detention is that whilst the number peaked at almost 2000 when Labor were in power, as of yesterday morning the number was at 126. It has reduced quite significantly over the course of the last month or so I am doing as much as I can to release more children wherever it is possible to do so.
Journalist: And the Government is to be congratulated on that and yet we also learnt in Estimates this week that it is planning on sending 68 minors, 68 children back to Nauru over to coming weeks and months. Why would you send children back into an environment where you can't guarantee that they can be safe from sexual assault.
Peter Dutton: Well again, I think sometimes people are speaking form ignorance in terms of the way in which Nauru operates their regional processing centre. I spoke with the President and with the Ministers last week. They are very much seized on this issue in making sure that they are providing a safe environment and they have given that undertaking. There is certainly a very high level of professionalism in terms of the staff and the support people on the ground providing support services to people in a difficult situation nobody would doubt that.
This is the legacy load we are dealing with that we inherited from Labor; 50 000 people came on 800 boats and the most important priority, frankly, for us at the moment is not to see positions back filled by new boat arrivals and… [interrupted]
Journalist: Isn't your most important priority right now to make sure that you are not sending children back to a situation in Nauru where they are not safe. At least until you yourself have seen the whole Moss Inquiry and looked at implementing a strategy there. It would be unwise and unsafe to send children back.
Peter Dutton: No, I don't accept that Fran.
Peter Dutton: Well because I have seen the centre and its operation first hand and I have accepted… [interrupted]
Journalist: So it doesn't matter what the Moss inquiry has found?
Peter Dutton: Well I think the Moss Inquiry had a look at the issues at a particular point in time - some grave allegations - and we will be having more to say in relation to that.
But, do I think processes have changed? Yes.
Do I think there are greater security measures in place? Yes.
There is a very high level of professionalism in terms of the providers and my own staff who are overseeing some part of the Nauru operation. And I think also that some of the people that you have referred to; some of the children you have referred to, have come to Australia because there are complicated health needs for the child or with one of the parents and the child is travelling with them.
We have made it very clear that people in the Nauruan processing centre will not be settled in Australian and that remains the case and we have an arrangement where if their complicated health needs can't be met on Nauru then we have arrangements in place for them to come to Australia for a defined period for that medical assistance and then they are returned to the Nauruan processing centre. That is the arrangement that is in place.
Journalist: That is the Government's rule, I understand that. But it is a problem with black and white rules. Last week for instance we now know a 16 year old girl jumped from the roof of a Darwin detention centre reportedly because she could be sent back to Nauru, where she claimed she had previously been sexually assaulted. Something is very wrong in this situation. That is a desperate action and yet the Government has said that this a black and white rule.
Peter Dutton: Well Fran, as you say, these are terrible situations and nobody would deny that. These are the situations that I need to deal with on a daily basis. But I can assure you that the worst possible outcome would be for us to have thousands of people camped out in tent-like arrangements, which is what happened under Labor.
Journalist: That would not be the worst possible outcome for that 16 year old girl, potentially.
Peter Dutton: For many other 16 year old girls it has the potential to be because we know that many of the circumstances raised in the report by Professor Triggs reflected a point in time that really was chaos within the system and that was what Labor presided over. This is the simple fact in relation to this matter, as we reduce the numbers in held detention, as we do every day. We are trying to process people as quickly as possible but we have a case load of 30 000 people to deal with.
Now nobody would suggest that allowing people into our community without security checks would be possible and it's not something that I am going to preside over. There are difficulties in some cases where I would want to release children into the community but there is an adverse security assessment against one or both of the adults in the family.
It may be that we have approached the families and made an offer for mum and the children to go into the community but that has been rejected by the family unit and I respect that. That is a decision for the family but there are some circumstances where some of these adults will not be permitted into the community because of security or other risks.
That is the issue that we manage and it becomes more and more difficult as this number becomes lower but bear in mind that when Labor came to power in 2007 there were no children in detention and there were 1300-odd… [interrupted]
Peter Dutton: Well I think it is worth repeating Fran because if the boats start again then these detention centres will fill up again and that will be a tragedy that we are not going to preside over.
Journalist: You mentioned the Human Right Commission President, Gillian Triggs earlier. Her report into children in detention claimed that children in detention were at risk of assault and trauma leading to mental illness. The Government's response to that report has been to shoot the messenger. Have you read Triggs' report?
Peter Dutton: I have and I think there are two issues here: one is in relation to Professor Triggs and the way in which she has conducted herself in that position, that is an issue for the Attorney-General to comment on; I am more concerned in relation to my portfolio about those allegations which touch my area in relation to children in detention specifically. That is the issue that I have canvassed with you this morning.
I am determined wherever possible to reduce the number of children within detention but I just make that point that I am coming to some very, very difficult cases and we would want to provide support to get those children out into the community we do it on a regular basis now. I think we have a lot more that we can achieve and there is a lot more that I can do in the system to try and keep kids and young girls and young boys safe. I make this point Fran… [interrupted]
Journalist: Can I just interrupt there, because that was exactly the point that some of your colleagues were making yesterday in the Party Room, I'm sure you were present when they were urging the Prime Minister to take a less combative approach to Gillian Triggs and her position at the Commission, rather instead to focus instead on your story there about the Government getting children out of detention. Is that good advice to the PM?
Peter Dutton: Again, I don't comment on Party Room discussions, Fran, but I can tell you that the mood of the Party Room is overwhelming support for the Prime Minister when he stated the Government's position in relation to this issue. There has been reasonable criticism levelled at Professor Triggs, as I say that is an issue for the Attorney-General to comment on.
My concern is to make sure that we provide a safe environment for people, both adults and children until we can process their claims. If they are refugees then we can make the appropriate arrangements and if they are not then we need to provide a quick pathway back to their country of origin.
At the same time I need to make sure that we do not allow the boats to start up again and all the intelligence tells us that the people smugglers are out there touting for more business and I will not allow that trade to restart.
Journalist: Minister can I just ask you finally about the ALP, and we will be joined by the Senator Penny Wong in a moment, but Labor has asked the Federal Police to investigate claims that the Government tried to get Gillian Triggs to quit her post by offering her another job. What is your response to that?
Peter Dutton: Well this wouldn't be the first time that Mark Dreyfus has played politics on these issues and I suspect you'll hear some of that rhetoric from Penny Wong now. If they are referring a claim off to the police that is fine, there is nothing in it. I think it will be an unsubstantiated political letter that Mr Dreyfus will wave around for his own political benefit. It is without foundation.
I think Senator Brandis has acted entirely appropriately. It is a very difficult issue and the Government has responded appropriately and in particular to point out that under Labor there were 2000 children in detention and the number is now getting much closer to less than 100.
Journalist: Peter Dutton, thank you very much for joining us.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Fran.