Peter Dutton: Okay, well I’m happy to take any questions you might have
Journalist: Minister, are you concerned given that the Department has said that there is a small group of convicted criminals that are causing the problem in Christmas Island Detention Centre.
Do you hold concerns for the other people that are now locked in there with them?
Peter Dutton: Well, just for background information, I suppose, but the Department goes through and profiles the risk posed by each individual in detention.
Whether somebody has come by boat, and they’ve demonstrated violent tendencies either on a bridging visa out in the community or within one of the detention centres, that’s what determines the level of risk posed by that person.
If it’s a low risk then they wouldn’t find themselves within a facility like Christmas Island Detention Centre and similarly with people who have had visas cancelled on character grounds, if they have had a past of fraudulent criminal behaviour for example, but no violence the likelihood is that they would go into a lower level of security within one of the detention centres on the mainland.
So the fact is in terms of the population that we’re talking about on Christmas Island; people likely have significant criminal pasts or have demonstrated a tendency toward violence or some activity that would indicate that they are of high risk and that’s why they’ve been put into the detention centre on Christmas Island.
So there’s not a mix, just to deal with that issue. It’s not, sort of, a blend of people just at random.
The population is assessed individually and then they’re placed in one of the detention centres within the network so I’ll just give you that by way of background.
Journalist: Just following on from that, the Greens have called for some people to be evacuated from the centre if they are deemed more low-risk. What would be your response to that?
Peter Dutton: Well, look I just think the Greens play politics with these issues knowing nothing of the facts and the Government wants to make sure that we can provide an orderly migration programme and that’s what we’re doing.
In relation to the detention centre network we’ve closed down 13 of the 17 detention centres and we’ve been able to restore integrity to our borders and if people have committed acts of wilful damage or assault or other criminal acts within detention centres then they’ll face the full force of the law, but for us at the moment the priority is to make sure that we can restore order within the centre and people on the ground are undertaking those activities.
But in terms of the Greens’ constant interjections, I mean, they’re without foundation, they’re more about politics then they are about reasonable outcomes and I’ve got a job to do and Senator Hanson Young can play politics.
Journalist: Was this man a low security risk?
Peter Dutton: Ah, well, look in relation to the individual who escaped, as I’m advised on Saturday; his body was found on Sunday outside of the detention centre and the advice that I’ve received is that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death but I don’t have further information that I can release in relation to this individual.
The Federal Police will conduct an investigation into the circumstances of his death and then that matter will be referred to the Coroner for investigation so I think that’s where it’s best to leave that issue, but those investigations are underway at the moment and obviously the coroner in due course will release the report and we can make judgements at that point.
Journalist: What can you say about how he died?
Peter Dutton: I don’t have any comment to make in relation to how he died. It’s a matter for the police to investigate and it’s a matter for that investigation to then to inform the coroner’s inquiry.
The point that I would make is that we are determined to reduce the number of people in held detention. The numbers on Christmas Island Detention Centre were something like 2500, the number is now down around 200 and we want to reduce it down to zero.
We’ve been able to do that in part because we’ve stopped boats and we don’t want the boats to restart, which is why the Operation Sovereign Borders objective is so paramount and to refill vacancies as people leave detention; we just don’t want that circumstance and I want to do all we can to provide a return of people where it’s appropriate to do so as quickly as possible and that remains the objective.
Journalist: To clarify, prior to today there was no separation or segregation of detainees on Christmas Island?
Peter Dutton: No, that’s been operating for some time. Just in terms of the facility itself on Christmas Island there are a number of compounds, as you would see within a detention facility here in Australia.
There are a number of compounds where people are accommodated and that’s as Christmas Island would or is configured; so I’m happy to get you some information, but that’s how it’s configured.
Journalist: Are they separated in terms of their risk or threat level?
Peter Dutton: Ah, well I’ll let the Commissioner make further comment in due course on the way in which the populations are segregated, but there would be some element of that in the decision making, yes.
Journalist: And are they all now together as a result of the riot?
Peter Dutton: Ah, no well some people have, some of the detainees have taken a decision that they don’t want any part of some of the activities and they’ve decided to pull back from those activities which is a welcome thing.
There is one detainee, as I’m advised, who this afternoon or today at least sought medical attention. That medical attention has been provided to that person and that’s the only update that I have this afternoon.
Journalist: So was that medical attention in relation to the man that died?
Peter Dutton: No it was medical attention of one of the people within the detention centre.
I don’t know the circumstances of his request. I don’t believe that the injuries are of a serious nature, but none-the-less he’s sought that medical attention and that’s been provided to him.
Journalist: Can you tell us about the standoff. What are the negotiations? What is involved in the negotiations and what is the dispute over?
Peter Dutton: Well, look discussions are obviously ongoing so I don’t want to make any further comment in relation to it.
Suffice to say that, as would always be the case, there is a discussion and negotiation period that is undertaken and that’s the process that we’re going through at the moment, but the issues will be resolved hopefully by negotiation, without the use of force but that’s an issue for the professionals on the ground, the officers in charge on the ground both with the Australian Border Force with the Australian Federal Police and Serco to make those decisions and then that will restore order; one way or the other at the appropriate time.
Journalist: On the issue of force; we’ve been told that detainees are kitting themselves up. They’ve got cricket pads and cricket bats. Are you concerned about your Department or officers being injured if they do have to go in and use force?
Peter Dutton: Well look I haven’t seen any of those reports, but of course I’d want to make sure that our officers are protected and I want to make sure that no harm comes to the officers.
I want to make sure that no harm comes to the detainees.
There are people with some serious criminal histories, with some significant criminal backgrounds housed within the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island and those people are waiting to be returned to their countries of origin.
We want to provide an environment, a safe environment for those people until they can be returned to their country of origin.
But if people are seeking to cause damage they will face the full force of the Australian law if they’ve wilfully damaged Australian Government property.
So we’ll deal with the issues on the ground and obviously the officers in charge will make those judgements and make that decision at the appropriate time.
Journalist: What about the number of staff that have been taken out of the centre? I understand a number have been removed for safety. So how many staff are actually still within the centre?
Peter Dutton: Well there would be a number of staff who were evacuated at the time that the officers made the decision that they couldn’t contain the situation.
So those officers would have been withdrawn for their own safety, which would have been part of the plans as it was actioned on the ground.
In terms of numbers, I don’t have any comment to make in relation to the numbers or operational matters beyond that.
Journalist: But are the staff levels still lower than usual? The latest release from the Border Force it appears that staff levels aren’t at the usual levels.
Peter Dutton: There are significant staff numbers on the ground.
Obviously Serco is the contracted provider that provides the workforce on Christmas Island for the IDC.
There’s also a surge capacity that they have as well, that is the emergency response staff that they have that can respond to incidents.
But there’s only so much that they can do and particularly in terms of some of the bikies that are accommodated on the island – they’re significant threats and they obviously have decided that they’re going to cause trouble.
We’ll investigate the matters properly, but that’s the information I can provide you with at the moment.
Journalist: Do you think it was appropriate that staff were removed, given that it’s not what would happen in a state prison? And, also, do you think there’s a chance or a likelihood that we could see police sent to Christmas Island, like we did in 2011?
Peter Dutton: Well just to deal with the premise of the question. If the staff are at risk, whether it was in detention centre or a jail here in Australia operated by a private provider working for the Queensland Labor Government, for example, their procedure would be to evacuate staff if the staff were at risk.
So there would be nothing different in the approach in this circumstance and all of those protocols and those operational plans would have been followed.
So the officers on the ground, who know the situation best, make judgements about when to advance, when to withdraw and I have full confidence in them that they have made the appropriate decisions, but obviously there will be an investigation at the appropriate time to judge the response and what’s taken place.
Once that happens then we can make further comment from there.
Journalist: Just on another matter, on an Iraqi interpreter who was given a safe haven in Australia and then returned to Iraq. What’s your view about whether he has been sent back to danger?
Peter Dutton: Look, I don’t have any comment to make in relation to individual matters.
The Government obviously takes a decision on individuals about whether or not we issue visas in certain circumstances and people then make their own judgements about whether they return to any country.
People would go with the advice from the Department, they would, if they’re going back on a voluntary basis, make a decision about what is best and appropriate for them.
When I was in Jordan last week I received information from the United Nations that a number of people within the camps or living within Jordan otherwise have taken a decision to return to Syria and in some cases against advice, nonetheless on a voluntary basis because of what they deem to be the right decision for them.
It just depends on the circumstances of individual cases, but I don’t have any comment to make in relation to an individual case of that nature.
Journalist: Can the Department ever rule out that returning someone to Iraq or Syria, for example, will put them at harm? Can the Department ever rule that out?
Peter Dutton: Well, the question you asked is in relation to an individual and I just don’t have any comment to make in relation to that individual circumstance.
Journalist: What about the general waiver that people are asked to sign?
Peter Dutton: Well, in terms of the general approach, whether it’s to Iraq, for example, or another country, the Department will work with the individual to, if the person was not owed protection, so this is quite a potentially different scenario than the one you’re talking about, the individual case.
But if there was a protection claim that was rejected, for example, and no protection was owed to that person, the Department would make a judgement on that basis, would discuss with that person a voluntary return and, to some countries, but not all, there may be an involuntary return.
Again, it depends on the circumstances, the in-country advice, which part of the country the person intends to return to, the circumstances surrounding the individual’s case and the threat or no threat posed to that person.
They’re all decisions that the decision makers would make, depending on the individual circumstances.
Journalist: How do you feel after returning from Jordan? Do you feel a little bit shell shocked after seeing how these people are treated over there?
Peter Dutton: Yeah, well look, I made the point when I was in Jordan that when you go into the camps, a very different scenario than what we see in detention centres or in regional processing centres here where there’s open sewerage, where there’s no electricity grid of an organised nature to provide the basic facilities to people.
The United Nations and the Jordanian authorities do an amazing job given they are overwhelmed in terms of the numbers, not just within the camp, but living within the community as well.
The confronting thing is that the situation in Syria is likely to get worse before it gets better.
It was a very emotional time to issue the travel documents to the four families, in particular to the young children, because you could see in their faces the fact that they were optimistic for the first time in a long time.
Many of them have had relatives killed, many of them have had people in their own villages slaughtered. That’s the population that we’re dealing with.
I come back very proud of the fact that we have an orderly migration programme that allows us to afford an opportunity to 12,000 Syrians that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to offer.
That was my experience and I think it’s an experience that would stay with you for a long period of time.
Journalist: The Department has specified that a number of the people involved in damaging the property are criminals that are having their visas revoked. Will those people then need to go into tighter security as a result of this incident?
Peter Dutton: Well I think those judgements will be made once we can establish the damage that’s been incurred.
We can make a judgement about it once we know the involvement of individuals, but at the moment the priority is for those negotiations to continue and the matter will be resolved in due course.
Then we can make decisions about where people are accommodated after that.
Journalist: In regards to the stand-off. Can you give us an idea about how many detainees are involved and confirm reports about local authorities not being able to access the centre?
Peter Dutton: Well just to go back to the earlier statement that I made and that is that there have been a number of people that have left and come away from these activities and I welcome that and I encourage more people to do exactly that.
In terms of the numbers that are involved in the disturbance at the moment, I just don’t have any firm advice in relation to the numbers as at this point in time.
We’ll release further information as we’re able to, but obviously there will be people who are agitators and ring-leaders and the police will negotiate and deal with those people.
We will restore order and if people have committed damage to Australian Government property, to taxpayers’ property, then they will face the full force of the law in relation to that.
The Government’s resolve in relation to offshore processing, in relation to processing on Christmas Island, does not diminish at all.
We want to make sure that where people fail the character test and their visas are cancelled, particularly if they’re serious criminals, then they’ll be returned to their country of origin as quickly as possible.
That remains the Government’s absolute determination.
Thanks very much.