JOURNALIST: With me is the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. What can you tell us this morning? What are the circumstances there now?
PETER DUTTON: Well Kieran, there’s an operation underway at the moment. So the Australian Federal Police, supporting the Serco guards, will be in an attempt right now to restore order across the detention centre.
I think it’s important for people to recognise that the Christmas Island Detention Centre now has a pretty hardened criminal element to its population – so Australian Border Force risk assesses each of the detainees, whether you’ve arrived by boat and committed an offence whilst in Australia whether you have been a bikie that’s had your visa cancelled on character grounds, Border Force makes a decision on each of those cases and for the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island, it is now largely housing people who are a high risk and obviously the Australian Government has been very clear about the fact….
JOURNALIST: So it’s not a regulation group of asylum seekers, they’ve had a breach of some sort to be there?
PETER DUTTON: It will be based on the individual risk assessment for each of those people.
So generally speaking people who come in by boat or if they are an overstayer of if they’ve had their visa cancelled, if they pose no risk or a low risk, but nonetheless they are in detention, they will be moved to a lower security environment – perhaps a detention centre on the mainland – but Christmas Island has been an hardened facility over recent times and it is designed to accommodate those people that pose a high risk because of their own conduct.
It may be that they have assaulted somebody in custody or that they’ve been out on a bridging visa and assaulted somebody or committed a crime, nonetheless the Australian Government has been very clear about the fact that we are not going to tolerate damage to commonwealth property and we want order restored to the centre as quickly as possible and that’s a task obviously that the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force officers are undertaking in relation to this operation right now.
JOURNALIST: Is there a problem with elements, some criminal elements as you say, hardened criminals as you put it, being alongside those that might have made minor breaches, asylum seekers who through a stressful situation might not have conducted themselves as they should have or their record might not pass muster. But the situation has been worsened for them being alongside criminals?
PETER DUTTON: Well Kieran the officers obviously make professional judgements about the individual cases and they will look at whether or not for example somebody off a boat has sexually assaulted somebody out in the community and that person would be treated then the same as anybody else who may have committed that sexual assault or grievous bodily harm or whatever the nature of the crime may have been.
They will make a judgement in relation to those individual cases and the point is that the population of the Christmas Island Detention Centre is now made up of those people that have been deemed to be of a high or medium risk, depending on their situation, that’s how they end up in that centre and I think it’s important to bear that in mind because we’ve got a number of bikies for example that have had their…Well they’ve failed the character test, they’ve had their visas cancelled on that basis.
So we’ll have a look at the situation. There will be an investigation after this incident and obviously we’re not going to tolerate criminal behaviour in the community or in the centres.
JOURNALIST: Are any of those there though awaiting resettlement? Are any of the cohort likely to be resettled in Australia and they’re simply there in terms of….
PETER DUTTON: The population is made up of about 200 people – so I don’t have the individual circumstances in my mind of each of the people there – but as I say the general principle is that those people that are there will have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, will be awaiting a return to their country….
JOURNALIST: So the bulk of them would be in that situation…
PETER DUTTON: Of course, yes.
JOURNALIST: Alright. In terms of the mental health issues for those that are in that facility, there was a report last night of one individual who needed medication, a paranoid schizophrenic, we saw a plea from his family in relation to that…that’s obviously a problematic situation if he’s not getting the necessary medication?
PETER DUTTON: And that’s why we’ve responded accordingly for the police to go into the centre to restore order so that meals can be provided, so that people can receive their medications, so that we can restore order and deal with the situation as it presents.
So obviously officers can’t enter a compound if there is a threat to those officers and to the safety of those officers and the operational commanders on the ground will be making judgements…
JOURNALIST: Has forced been used to this point?
PETER DUTTON: Look, the early advice that I received this morning was that the officers had been met with no physical resistance. But there was one compound in particular where people had barricaded themselves into and that might be a different situation, but that operation is underway at the moment and obviously the response always is to try and negotiate first and that’s an operational decision for officers on the ground.
They’ll make that decision and we can restore order as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: And just finally on that detail, those that have barricaded themselves, are they bikies? Are they the element that you referred to before?
PETER DUTTON: I think all of that will become apparent in due course. But I think you can be safe to assume that there’s a pretty hard element in there and I suspect that that will deal…we’ll find that many of those people have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, but we’ll wait to see what happens in due course.
JOURNALIST: Alright we’ll await that update. And finally on the Newspoll, you’d be encouraged by that? Obviously you were a strong supporter of the previous Prime Minister but under Malcolm Turnbull it’s been quite a turnaround.
PETER DUTTON: I’ve been very clear in saying publicly and privately to my colleagues, to members of the public, there’s only one game in town and that is to make sure that Malcolm Turnbull wins the next election and wins it well.
We can’t afford to have the CFMEU and the other union leaders pulling the strings and Bill Shorten lead government – it wouldn’t be good for jobs, it wouldn’t be good for growth in the economy and I think people see a strong leader in Malcolm Turnbull.
They see in Malcolm Turnbull a person that has a vision for this country and I think that’s why people are supporting him.
JOURNALIST: As a former member of the finance portfolios, do you think that people, when it comes to the GST, that the poll reflects a more willingness to be discussing this sort of issue?
PETER DUTTON: I think what people realise in their own lives is that we’re living in the 21st century and we need to have a 21st century tax system which rewards effort,
which says to people if you work hard you’re not going to quickly slip into the second top tax bracket which is what will happen to people on middle incomes and as people earn a bit more each year they’re going up into the next bracket.
I think people recognise that we need a modern tax system and I think that’s why a debate is healthy and the Government is not ruling in or out particular measures.
I think the Prime Minister wants to have a look at all of them and I think that’s the honest way to conduct the debate and in the end we can make a decision on what we believe is the right thing for the country and the right thing for jobs and growth and then we can take that to an election if that’s what is deemed appropriate at the time.
JOURNALIST: Minister Dutton, appreciate it.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Kieran, thank you.