PETER DUTTON: …I want to say a couple of words today in relation to a couple of matters.
It is obvious to all Australians now that Bill Shorten has lost control of the Labor Party when it comes to the issue of stopping the boats.
The administrations of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had completely allowed the breakdown in borders and that has now been replicated by Bill Shorten.
We have seen clearly over the last couple of weeks, a number of opportunities for Mr Shorten to come clean about what the Labor Party would do if they were elected to Government, bearing in mind that we are halfway through this term and the Labor Party still cannot decide on what their policy would be.
Now Bill Shorten has got be on side with the Australian public on the issue of boats or he has to be on side with the Greens and the Left of the Labor Party. It seems to me that he is siding with the Left and the Greens over the Australian public.
When Labor was last in power 50,000 people arrived on 821 boats: Labor clearly does not have the answer.
Over the course of the last 18 months or so, the Coalition has put in place a suite of measures that has stopped the boats. We have stopped a repeat of the 1200 people that drowned under Labor - nobody wants that - 2000 in detention centres and we now have that number down closer to 100. But it only works if you turn the boats back where it is safe to do so. You have Temporary Protection Visas and a hard policy: on the one hand to stop people arriving illegally by boat and at the same time being able to increase the number of refugees that we take into our country which we are doing over the course of the next three or four years.
So Mr Shorten needs to decide whether or not he wants to stop the boats. At the moment he is demonstrating to all Australians that he just doesn’t have the ability or skill to be the Prime Minister of this country and I think people should call him out for it.
It is very clear that the Labor Party is completely divided on this issue of border security and the fact that the Labor Party will not stand up to the Greens and to the Left really means that people smugglers who are running around in the shadows now will be rubbing their hands together if Mr Shorten is elected at the next election.
PETER DUTTON: Just to deal in the facts: We provide significant funding to the UNHCR in Indonesia. We provide significant funding to the IOM operating in Indonesia, but also elsewhere – we are a significant donor to the IOM.
We are probably the first or second most generous country in the world on a per capita basis when it comes to the number of refugees that we resettle in our country. The number is 13,750 and it will go to 18,750 in 2018. That is a very significant programme in our region the most significant supplier of opportunity for new lives for people to start new lives in our country if they seek to do so, so there is a lot to be proud of.
But depending on whose figures you take on board, there are over 20 million people who are displaced around the world who would seek to come and find a new home.
I want to work with our partners in our region. We provide significant humanitarian support to Indonesia, to other countries within region, but we cannot be in a situation, having the most generous humanitarian programme in the world, to then say, or to pretend cruelly to people, that we can somehow take millions of people from regions around the world who would be displaced. We just can’t do that.
We have a lot to be very proud of in terms of the numbers that we take in this country, but pretending somehow that we are placed to take every displaced person around our region is a complete misrepresentation of reality.
We will work with our partners to do what we can in a humanitarian sense to make sure that we can provide support to people who are in need. We do that in a very responsible way and that will continue.
PETER DUTTON: Well, we provide the most significant funding to the UNHCR in Indonesia; we provide funding to IOM in Indonesia, that allows them to provide food, accommodation, support services otherwise. 18,750 is the most significant number on a per capita basis in the world, of refugees, that we would settle in this country and people should recognise that. There is no sense listening to the Left and to the Labor Party on this issue because they are conflicted when it comes to this issue… [interrupted]
PETER DUTTON: Again, I would just point you to the facts and the fact is, and I think you will see further information come out from the Embassy in Jakarta and no doubt that Minister Bishop will have comments to make. But the fact is that we provide, by way of donor support, the largest amount of money to the IOM and to the UNHCR in Indonesia, the region, and we provide significant support to the settlement of refugees in this country and I think that people should deal in the facts.
JOURNALIST: So nothing specific in response to this immediate problem of the 7,000 refugees in the Andaman Sea?
PETER DUTTON: I am just not sure if people grasp all of the facts here with respect.
We are providing support to countries, including Indonesia, we provide support across South-East Asia otherwise. We provide humanitarian support otherwise and Minister Bishop has already announced more humanitarian support.
That is what we are doing as you would expect from a country like Australia. We are providing support to the UNHCR that provides this support in Indonesia for Rohingyas and others. We are providing support to IOM who provide settlement services and provide support for displaced people within the region. We do that more generously than any other country in our region. That is the support that we are already supplying.
This difficulty, this tragedy with the Rohingyas has not happened this week; this is a matter that has been going on for years and years.
The Burmese have significant issues in relation to this particular difficulty. Obviously Thailand has had its role to play as do many other countries, but we are providing support in partnership with Indonesia, the shared chairing of the Bali process.
There is a lot of work that we do within our region. I don’t think people are aware of all the work we do, but the significance of the situation that is playing out at the moment in relation to the Rohingyas has been going on for years and there is a lot of work that the Burmese need to do to recognise the Rohingyas and to provide them with safety.
We also need to close down the people smuggling business, wherever that is possible, and not provide a pull factor which is what the Labor Party did when they were in Government and that is what resulted in 1200 people drowning at sea on their way to Australia. I am not going to allow that situation to restart.
JOURNALIST: Indonesia has effectively asked for more support which is why it is criticising us, so are you saying that you won’t be put off providing anything in excess of the measure we are already funding?
PETER DUTTON: There is an Indonesian based individual who has provided some comment, these comments that you make in relation to the Indonesian Government, that is not what the Indonesian Government has said.
Now we have pointed out this to the individual, the facts in relation to this matter and I suspect that when this individual gets all of the facts they may well retreat from their position because the support we provide is the most significant in the region. I think when you look at the facts you will see that this is not a comment by the Indonesian Government. It is a comment by an individual and we have answered those comments today.
PETER DUTTON: The Prime Minister in his February speech on national security made it very clear that we were going to look at refreshing or modernising the Citizenship Act, which was created in 1949.
We want to have a conversation about how that can take place, so I think it is particularly important in the current context …[inaudible]… face a greater threat from terrorism than we have faced before.
We do have a home grown problem here today, there is no point denying that fact, it is no different to what the Canadians face or the Brits or the US or the French, there are many countries that face this threat and we need to deal with it and deal with it in a way that provides us with the maximum protection to our citizens. In some cases that may mean that we take citizenship away from people, only in the circumstance where we can say that that person won’t be rendered stateless. That is the important point in all of this and a starting point for the Government and we will have more to say about this in the coming weeks.
It is an important conversation for our country because I get stopped regularly at airports, on the streets, right around the country with people saying to me that some Australians take a pledge of loyalty and allegiance to our country, and why is there no consequence for people for that, when people seek to do harm to our people or to our interests and I think that is a very reasonable conversation for us as a country, for us to be part of?
PETER DUTTON: The situation that you are referring to is the way in which this operated in the United Kingdom. In the UK there have been 27 people who have had their citizenship stripped from them on the advice available to me. Now that is both for people with dual citizenship and also those who have the ability to avail themselves of a second citizenship even if they themselves only, at that point in time, have UK citizenship. That is a model that we are examining and we are having a look at other models as well.
It operates sparingly, obviously, given the population of the UK and it has only been exercised on 27 occasions and I think it is a model that we need to examine and, as I say, I think most Australians would support us in refreshing the Citizenship Act.
There are powers, under section 35 of that Act, where I can revoke citizenship now, but they essentially related to fraud - where someone has made an application for citizenship - or, of course when it would have been the case when the Act was put together in 1949, where an Australian citizen fights for a foreign country that Australia is at war with. Effectively that is where we are in relation to ISIL at the moment and terrorism, but it is just not a declared state like Germany or Japan were in World War II… [inaudible]… modernised, and that is what the Government is doing at the moment.
PETER DUTTON: Well the first point is that if there are changes to be made, the only people who would be captured by the changes are people undertaking terrorist acts, those who are involved in financing of terrorism and those who are training those to be terrorists or indeed, those who would seek to counsel and to coerce and ultimately drive young people, in particular, into acts of terrorism.
So that is the threshold test, if somebody is involved in terrorism then you need to meet that test before any other consideration is given. That’s how it operates in the UK and the US and in New Zealand and indeed other countries and I know that other European countries are looking at this particular issue right now as well. But the Government, as I say, has an open mind and will have conversation about it.
My view is that there is strong support in the Australian community for this change and we will listen to those voices and make announcements in due course.
JOURNALIST: Minister, will more than four people be going from Nauru to Cambodia?
PETER DUTTON: Well, in time that is certainly the Government’s aim. We have had a small first group that we have been working with to send across to Cambodia, I welcome very much the partnership that we have with the Cambodian Government.
I travelled to Cambodia recently and hosted the Deputy Prime Minister when he came to Canberra a short time ago and our officials on the ground, at an embassy level, and also within my department have been working very closely on the agreement that has been signed with Minister Morrison last year.
So we want to show success with these first four that travel. Obviously we are working with IOM and with NGOs on the ground to provide support around accommodation, around employment, transport, education and I think when we demonstrate that can be a success then we will see other people follow from Nauru - follow to start to a new life in Cambodia.
We have been very clear, and it has been part of the reason that we have been able to stop the deaths at sea and stop the boats, if people come illegally by boat they will not be settled in this country and that is true of those on Nauru and on Manus Island.
The people smugglers - from this government - will hear a very clear and consistent message - that they are not welcome to restart their people smuggling business.
Now the difficulty that we have got at the moment is that the Government’s message on boats is being undermined by Bill Shorten because the people smugglers are hearing Bill Shorten equivocate, dancing this funny dance, but he is not saying that he will adopt the strong policies of the Abbott Government. That is undermining the Government’s success at the moment to be honest.
We are seeing people smugglers right now trying to fill boats in South East Asia and we are turning around boats where it is safe to do so and we will continue to do so. The question is whether Mr Shorten has the mettle to do what we are.
JOURNALIST: It is four people at the moment for $40million; how do you justify such a high expense per person - $10million each for resettlement?
PETER DUTTON: There are a lot of factors when you look at this particular issue. There are costs of holding people in detention, and in Regional Processing Centres which runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
There are costs associated with having the significant assets at sea, like we do, to stop the boats and if we have that start up again with the 50,000 people that arrived under Labor, there are still 31,500 of that caseload that we have to deal with both here and within the Regional Processing Centres. So Labor has created a mess… [interrupted]
JOURNALIST: … I asked specifically about the resettlement.
PETER DUTTON: The question is what options you have. Labor created a massive mess when it comes to boats and it is going to take time and taxpayers money, I’m sorry to day, to clean up Labor’s mess.
Now we don’t want the mess to start up again so we have been very clear that we won’t allow people from Nauru to settle in Australia and I repeat that today so people on Nauru can hear that message very clearly from the Government – you will not be settled in our country, we will provide support to you in the Nauruan community and in Cambodia, but you will not be coming to Australia.
Now that is part of the reason that we have been able to stop the boats, the other reason is that we have been able to turn back boats where is has been safe to do so.
But it all costs money, both in the detention network in Australia and within the region to help settle people offshore otherwise.
Don’t forget that in this Budget we handed back over $500million because we have been able to close down 13 of the detention centres that Labor reopened.
We have reduced the number of children from almost 2000 down to around 100, which is not only a significant human saving, but also a significant financial saving. So all of this needs to be put into perspective.
But if the boats start up then it will restart the deaths at sea and refill the detention centres and that is why Mr Shorten needs to come out and please explain, clearly and succinctly, to the Australian people why you won’t keep the policies that work, why you will go back to the Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard’s failed policies.
Mr Rudd said, before the 2007 election that he would be as tough as John Howard was on boats but he wasn’t.\
Bill Shorten has said that he will be as tough as Tony Abbott on boats, but let me promise you - if he wins the next election then he will be overtaken by the Left and the Greens on this issue - the boats will start, the detention centres will fill and the deaths at sea will tragically recommence.
JOURNALIST: Are you expecting, given the budget responsibility, are you expecting more criticism on the overall cost of this resettlement?
PETER DUTTON: People are amazed still at the failure under Labor and the fact that 52,000 people came on 821 boats is an amazing, amazing failure, both in human terms and financial terms. Bear this in mind that when Kevin Rudd came to Government in 2007 there were four people in detention – no children, no children at all.
I have the difficulty at the moment to work with the 31,500 that remain. We have assisted some people to send them back home and they were provided in many cases with financial assistance to return back home.
If we have people settling in our community, if they are on social welfare for a long period of time, if there are health matters that need to be addressed in our country - these cost millions of dollars. That’s the situation that we have.
We are spending money on the refugee program which increases from 13,750 this year to 18,750 and if we do that we can bring people in the right way and can stop the illegal movement and stop deaths a sea.
That’s been proven to be a success and that’s what the Government is intent on doing.
JOURNALIST: If you were to compare elements of what you just described with the cost effectiveness of 40 million dollars to resettle four people …[inaudible].
PETER DUTTON: Well again just to deal in the facts. There was an $11 billion blow out in this area of public policy under Labor. When you have naval assets when you have border protection assets at sea pulling people out of the water or when you have naval assets commuting people from offshore to Christmas Island and back – this costs billions of dollars.
So let’s again deal with the facts. It is an expensive business to deal with Labor’s legacy. We will deal with it, we will make sure the boats stop and that is the success of the Abbott Government, but it’s being undermined by Bill Shorten’s complete failure at this point in time.
JOURNALIST: Since you have been in this portfolio how many boats have you intercepted?
PETER DUTTON: Well we have commented publicly on some of those and we will release detail in due course when I make that announcement with General Bottrell.
We released information recently about a return to Vietnam. There were 46 people on that particular venture that we were able to bilaterally speak, very successfully, with the Vietnamese and we ensured the safe return of those people.
There are other ventures that we haven’t spoken about publicly but we will speak about that in due course.
PETER DUTTON: No, well if someone is a dual citizen for argument sake, and holds nationality of both Australia and a second country, if they are stripped of their citizenship, their Australia citizenship, they have the ability to return to their country of origin if you like, their country of birth or the country for where they hold citizenship otherwise.
JOURNALIST: Not just people with dual citizenship, just Australians.
PETER DUTTON: Well I think that you are two steps ahead of where we are. There is as I say discussions that we are having at the moment and the Government is giving this consideration.
If you are asking about the UK model – the way in which it works there – the UK satisfies themselves, as I understand it, they satisfy themselves as to whether or not that person could avail themselves of citizenship because of birth right for example of their parents or reasons otherwise. So it depends on a case by case basis, but the underlying principle in the UK and the underlying principle for the Australian Government is that we wouldn’t render people stateless. I think that’s an important principle therefore they return to the country where they have citizenship.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly on this Cambodia deal. When do the four fly from Darwin to Cambodia and what kind of accommodation is in place. Where will they be staying?
PETER DUTTON: I’m not commenting in relation to specific movements – that’s an operational matter for General Bottrell.
The accommodation in Cambodia has been organised with the assistance of the agencies there. There will be temporary accommodation for a period of time and permanent arrangement will be put in place. All of that detail has been sorted out and we will publicly comment on that in due course.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that the financial support for these four won’t be siphoned off by corrupt Cambodian officials?
PETER DUTTON: Well we have got arrangements in place which will see support for these people on the ground so they can start a new life.
It’s important because we can send a very clear message back to Nauru then that other people will follow. People have indicated that they want to see the success of these four and then I believe others will take up the offer because they are not coming to Australia.
I have already spoken to Minister Adeang in Nauru and we have already committed to starting discussions on a ten year agreement with Nauru so if people think that they are going to outlast the Australian Government they have got it wrong.
I know that some people are waiting for next election; they are hoping that Bill Shorten gets elected and he will go weak at the knees when it comes to the boats and border policy and that people will be settled in Australia.
If you do that, if you surrender the principle that we have adhered to so strictly over the course of the past 18 months let me promise you this….the boats will restart, kids and adults will drown at sea and Labor will return to the failure that they presided over under Julia Gillard and Keven Rudd.
That will not be happening under our watch.