The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton joins us from Brisbane. Minister, thank you for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Firstly on the turn-back policy itself – Richard Marles just explained to us that they will largely keep in place what you are doing. Yes some concerns though about some aspects of it, but they want to have the option. Do you welcome that?
PETER DUTTON: Well it’s a smoke and mirrors game David and it may as well be called for what it is. As Kieran pointed out before it’s a big sop to the left.
Ultimately though for Mr Shorten this is all about a deal not about policy and the people smugglers would be sitting back in their armchairs this afternoon watching Sky News rubbing their hands together and toasting a drink to Bill Shorten and hoping for an election of a Labor Government.
I think it’s a disaster for boat policy and for border protection policy in this country.
JOURNALIST: But you and the Coalition have had a significant victory here. You have finally seen Labor capitulate and back down and agree to your policy because you have proven it works. You don’t welcome that at all?
PETER DUTTON: David, I just call it for what it is. Yes, I absolutely want a bipartisan position and the Government has got a policy that works, but that’s not what Labor has agreed to.
They want people to hear that they have somehow adopted a carbon copy version of what the Liberal Party has done with Operation Sovereign Borders and the success in stopping those drownings at sea, but that is not what they are putting to the conference floor.
This is about some sort of an idea and some sort of a reservation. Joel Fitzgibbon gave the game up yesterday when he said he’s happy to agree to this position as long as they never have to use it.
I mean this is where the Labor Party is to try and get some dodgy deal done, but a dodgy deal doesn’t amount to good policy and a dodgy deal by the Labor Party and Bill Shorten doesn’t amount to stopping the boats.
The boats will recommence and all of this goes up as a neon light to people smugglers that if Labor is elected to come on down because the thousands of people that arrived on Labor’s watch last time – that trade will recommence and the deaths at sea will recommence.
That would be a national tragedy and I just don’t want a repeat of that.
We may as well call this dodgy deal for what it is and it’s not a substantive policy and it’s not an endorsement of what the Coalition has achieved under Operation Sovereign Borders.
JOURNALIST: A few specifics. When it comes to boats coming from Sri Lanka or Vietnam, from source countries, rather than from a transit country like Indonesia – Richard Marles says that he is ok with having on-water assessments, but he wants UNHCR oversight of the process like what happens in the United States.
Would you have a problem with that?
PETER DUTTON: David, I have a problem with Labor trying to pick the eyes out of Operation Sovereign Borders which is what they are trying to do. Not because they want a better policy, it’s because they want Bill Shorten to be able to survive by the skin of his teeth this conference process.
Let’s recognise where Mr Shorten is. He is in a position of weakness.
He’s now saying that the success of Operation Sovereign Borders shouldn’t be adopted by the Labor Party there should be some sort of a deal cobbled together of bits and pieces which he thinks will be palatable to Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese.
Bill Shorten is not acting in the interests of the Australian people here.
He is acting in his own self-interest and in the interest of trying to get through this dodgy conference arrangement. That’s what’s happening here and people should rightly be critical.
Now Richard Marles says that he doesn’t understand how Operation Sovereign Borders works. Richard Marles has had eight confidential briefings by the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders. Bill Shorten was offered a briefing and turned it down.
Mr Shorten said in his opening remarks that there is a number of views here on the conference floor, but there is a number of different views that Mr Shorten has represented.
He says that he deeply holds this position now - well it’s the complete opposite from what he argued only a few weeks ago.
I think people see this as a dodgy deal that’s been stitched together by union mates – not in the national interest, but in the union and Labor Party’s interest – and people should dismiss it as such.
JOURNALIST: But beyond your view of that simply on the surface of this being a deal done to get Shorten through.
Is there anything specifically in this policy that you have seen that you think undermines Operation Sovereign Borders?
PETER DUTTON: Well Kieran, there is a billion dollar a year commitment, so a $10 billion unfunded commitment by the Labor Party to double the number of refugees coming into our county.
That will place us as the most generous nation on earth and that will be a neon light and a come on down symbol to the people smugglers.
People will hear that message that Labor is in Government and that Labor has opened the back doors up to people smugglers. This is a terrible, terrible development by the Labor Party and it’s unfunded.
We are, as I say, meeting our international obligations now. We have a generous Humanitarian Programme, but it’s within reason. It’s not completely over the top because we are trying to placate those on the far Left of our party.
The Government has a solution when it comes to Operation Sovereign Borders and Bill Shorten has done its best to un-pick all of that success.
I think it’s a real concern because 1200 people drowned at sea on Bill Shorten’s watch when he was last in Government with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats.
We do not want a return of that failure. We have got a policy that works.
JOURNALIST: But, increasing the refugee intake. How does that relate to boats arriving given that Labor has said that they won’t resettle those who arrive by boat in Australia?
They are two separate streams aren’t they? They are talking about 27,000 brought from refugee camps around the world through the UNHCR.
PETER DUTTON: Kieran you have to understand how these people smugglers work. They are organised criminal syndicates. They are not some backyard operation that cobble together a couple of people and throw them on a boat, these are sophisticated organised criminals.
What they will do is, they will Shorten’s weakness and they will turn that into a marketing tool for people to get onto boats.
They will say Australia has now become more generous than the United States, than Canada, than United Kingdom or anybody in Europe, in fact anywhere in the world and they will say that this is a sign of a weak Government and this is now an opportunity to pay your money to get onto your boat to come to Australia.
That is the message that they will pitch to those poor and desperate people that would seek to pay money to get onto a boat.
We have been able to have a generous, but not an outrageously generous policy when it comes to refugees.
These are people who want to come through the front door and we have turned that into success because we have stopped the drownings at sea and we have stopped people coming illegally by boat.
Labor when it was last in Government had 50,000 come and there will be hundreds of thousands come under Bill Shorten though this dodgy deal that he has put together to please his union mates and Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek.
This is not a deal, this is certainly not a policy, which is in the national interest.
JOURNALIST: Can I turn to the situation at Manus Island and Nauru. We have seen various allegations and incidents there.
What Labor is now suggesting is that there be independent oversight of that with representatives from the Australian and PNG or Nauru Government. That currently exists doesn’t it?
Richard Marles was suggesting that we would have more public reporting of what goes on there. What are your thoughts on that idea?
PETER DUTTON: Well David, my view is that if Labor want to completely trash bilateral relationships with Nauru and Papua New Guinea and therefore collapse the Regional Processing Centre arrangement that’s even taking policy back further to the dark ages than when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister.
If they want to trash those relationships through these popular sort of statements, then let them do that. That’s an issue for them, but why are they doing it? Why are they putting these dodgy deals together?
They are doing it to try and hold Bill Shorten’s leadership together. These sort of dodgy deals don’t add up to policy.
We want to get people out of Manus and back to their country of origin if they’re not refugees and that’s our absolute determination.
Can I tell you this? When I was up in Manus not too long ago I said to the guard there ‘what do these people say – the ones that are found not to be refugees – why won’t they return to their country of origin?’
Their single statement to me was ‘Minister, their view is that they are waiting for Labor to be re-elected because if that happens they believe that they are coming to Australia’…now if that is the case…..
JOURNALIST: …and what about those who are found to be refugees? Labor is particularly critical of the situation that they’re in that there is still no deal done to resettle them anywhere.
PETER DUTTON: Well we have transferred people to Cambodia and we are working with the Cambodian Government to have more people follow the initial trial of those people. We have arrangements in place…
JOURNALIST: …that’s four though at this stage though isn’t it?
PETER DUTTON: Well it is a small number of four and we have got more people we hope will follow because the Cambodians want to make sure that it works, we want to make sure it works and obviously those who seek a new life there want to make sure it works and we are demonstrating that thus far.
The other aspect is obviously the work with the Papua New Guinean’s and with our bilateral partners otherwise to see where we can provide settlement arrangements because we have been very clear that these people will not be settling in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Weren’t they meant to be settled in Papua New Guinea? Wasn’t that the original idea?
PETER DUTTON: For people off Manus that is the arrangement that is still in place and that is the agreement that is still in place.
JOURNALIST: So why hasn’t that happened?
PETER DUTTON: Because there is a policy for the Papua New Guinea Government to go through - to go through that screening and to have cultural training in place, to have education and housing support, to have employment opportunities - they are working though that and we are working with them.
But if the Labor Party is setting up a white flag to say that if you come to Nauru or to PNG that you will end up in Australia, David, I can tell you now that 50,000 on 800 boats will look like some sort of Sunday afternoon …[inaudible]…
JOURNALIST: …well they’re specifically saying that’s something they will not do….
PETER DUTTON: …..to the hundreds of thousands that will arrive.
JOURNALIST: They’re saying they will not take any that have been processed, even found to be refugees there. What about taking a greater proportion of our refugee intake from the region, is that a good idea?
PETER DUTTON: Well David there are a couple of things….[inaudible]….
The first and foremost is to stop the drownings, to stop people drowning at sea. We’ve done that through OSB and we don’t want a return to those 1200 that drowned under Labor.
We have a regional responsibility. We provide a lot of support to Indonesia, we provide support through the Bali process, we do have good bilateral relationships with a number of countries in our region so that is an important role for us to play.
But for the Labor Party to be out there saying they are going to be a more generous nation than even a population - you know ten times the size of ours plus - of the United States or elsewhere - to have more intake than that, than a country of that size, I think it just demonstrates to people that they cannot get the policy right when it comes to border protection.
That’s what I think we need to stare down because we have the policy parameters right in relation to OSB.
The fact that Labor would seek to undo that through this dodgy deal just says to the Australian public that Bill Shorten is not fit to be Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Finally Minister, in relation to this idea of greater oversight of Manus and Nauru - the facilities there.
If you can secure and arrangement where there is agreement between the two countries and you can get the PNG and Nauruan Governments on board why not do that?
Wouldn’t taxpayers welcome a greater oversight of these Australian funded facilities?
PETER DUTTON: Look Kieran, can I just call this for what it is. This is a red herring from the Labor Party. This is a sop to the left to use your own words if I may. This was about trying to balance up the Left of the Labor Party.
There is oversight, there is a professional operation being run in relation to Manus, to Nauru, to the operations there. But ultimately PNG and Nauru are sovereign nations. The Labor Party has put this out as some sort of red meat for the Left of the party and the trouble is they are just not going to accept it.
The fact is if you allow turn-backs to fall by the way, if you are not really interested in regional processing, if you’re going to send up some sort of significant message in lights to people smugglers that the Labor Party’s back in Government and you can start refilling the boats.
That is a disaster at a humanitarian level and it is a disaster at a regional level and we shouldn’t allow it to happen.
I think the fact that Mr Shorten has put this dodgy deal together and is not acting in the national interest demonstrates that he just cannot lead his party to unity when it comes to the very important issue – the crucial issue – of keeping our people safe, by keeping our borders secure.
JOURNALIST: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thank you for joining us this afternoon.