JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton Thank you for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks David.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says Europe needs to take some very strong policies to stop the boats; have there been any approaches from Europe to Australia to look at what we are doing?
PETER DUTTON: Not that I am aware of within Border Protection; there may well have been to Foreign Affairs. Obviously this is a tragedy that really is indescribable and the fact is that more boats will follow and as people are desperate to get out of Africa, parts of Asia in regards to our own situation here, and across the Middle East.
It is a very difficult situation for Europeans to deal with, as it has been for a number of years for our country, but there are sensible measures that can be put in place and I have no doubt that the European Union is examining all of that now.
JOURNALIST: The tough measures that Australia has in place turning back the boats, in processing offshore – in our case on a tiny Pacific island, Temporary Protection Visas: Europe isn’t doing any of those things.
PETER DUTTON: The two most significant things that we are doing in my mind are the turn backs, when it is safe to do so, and the Temporary Protection Visas. I think they are the two elements which are at the heart of the success of us having stopped the boats.
Don’t forget it wasn’t too many years ago where people were drowning at sea in transit from Indonesia and elsewhere. Twelve hundred people died at sea - over the last 17 months we have had no reported deaths at sea and we have been able to turn back 15 or 16 boats.
It has been quite significant and it sends a very clear message to people smugglers that we are serious about stopping them on the sea and turning them around when it is safe to do so.
I don’t think we should under estimate the power of that message when it goes back to these syndicates.
JOURNALIST: I want to come back to what Australia is doing, but just on turn backs specifically; do you accept that it is a different proposition turning back a boat to Indonesia or somewhere in our region, to turning back to Libya where ISIS is murdering Christians, where there has been a civil war raging for some time, it is difficult to turn back boats there?
PETER DUTTON: I think for the European Union it is a very difficult issue, there is no question about that, there is no question about that. But there will be some destinations where these boats are headed to that they have taken a decision not to head elsewhere. There will be reasons for that as well; these are the famous push-pull factors. There will be determinations that people smugglers make about their likely success of getting people on boats and landing them at a particular destination.
JOURNALIST: You couldn’t send them back to Libya?
PETER DUTTON: That is the difficulty, of course, in relation to the most recent example, but the focus rightly now, is on the rescues and on trying to save those lives and trying to stop new ventures wherever possible… [interrupted]
JOURNALIST: But long term they will need to find somewhere to send them that denies them the chance to get into Europe.
PETER DUTTON: David, the broader issue here is, as you look across the world when people say to Australia – well you should be taking more people under your humanitarian programme. We take about 13,750 people a year under the programme and it grows by about 50 per cent over the next four or five years - America do well, the United Kingdom do well, Canada does well, but really you are talking about tens of millions of people.
Now we have to take people through the humanitarian programme; we should and we do. On a per capita basis we take an amazing number, but really when you see what we are doing in Iraq at the moment and in Mosul, training up soldiers there to take back Mosul and defend the Iraqi people. It has to be a lot of action by the United Nations and by other players to render safe the areas, so that people can live without the threat of these massacres taking place because they will flee if it is not a safe environment.
I completely understand that. But it is not the case that we can increase our numbers by millions tomorrow and somehow that will resolve the issues. This is what the European Union is grappling with at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Just before I leave that though; are you saying that there needs to be a destination that you can take the people fleeing Libya that denies them entry to Europe?
PETER DUTTON: I think that the immediate priority is to take care of those people at sea. That is their obvious priority.
JOURNALIST: But long term?
PETER DUTTON: Long term should be to try and find an outcome for Libya, an outcome in Syria, an outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq… [interrupted]
JOURNALIST: And that will stop people wanting to leave?
PETER DUTTON: It will stem the flows for those who believe that they are facing imminent death or persecution for religious reasons, so that will help.
We have seen the numbers reduce from Iraq, for example, as we have seen from other parts of the world.
If you go back over the decades to look at particular countries including Vietnam then you’ve got a situation that is very different over a course or period of time and that will reduce the flow of people out of those countries.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned Vietnam; are you able to confirm whether Australia has sent back asylum seekers there?
PETER DUTTON: I am not in a position to comment on what are operational matters. Obviously, as I have said before, at the heart of the Government’s success in stopping the boats, is to turn boats around where it is safe to do so.
We have been able to, on a number of occasions, on a bilateral basis; deal with countries to get them a good outcome to meet our international obligations in screening people.
We don’t send people back to a country where we think they will be persecuted. We rely on intelligence and the advice that is available to us and these are tough decision to take, but the last outcome that I want is for the boats to restart.
It has been a long standing practise of this Government that we don’t comment in relation to operational matters and when we can say something publicly then we will.
In relation to ongoing matters or the speculation around at the moment, I just can’t provide you with any further comment.
JOURNALIST: But if they have been returned already is that still an operational matter? What’s the risk in making that public?
PETER DUTTON: Well as I say, there are many aspects to this including the bilateral relationship which is very strong with Vietnam, very strong with other countries within the region and we respect those friendships and relationships very much.
We are working with a number of countries and in relation to this specific issue that there has been some press speculation and I just don’t have any comment to make on it.
JOURNALIST: You did mention earlier that there has been 15 or 16 turn backs. Have they all had the cooperation of the country that they have been turned back to?
PETER DUTTON: Not in all cases. Minister Morrison spoke about some of those as I have and we have to work as best we can with some of the transit countries and countries of origin for people otherwise.
We also rely on an intelligence network and resources within Posts and around the world, but in particular across Asia and in the Middle East to make determinations on a case by case basis.
But 1200 people drowned at sea when 50,000 people arrived on 821 boats under Labor. We have had one successful boat arrival since December 2013 and I am doing everything possible to stare down this threat.
JOURNALIST: One of the concerns around the turn backs is how you can listen to the claims of people seeking asylum. They are processed presumably at sea, but they aren’t able to access any sort of legal representation or right of appeal?
PETER DUTTON: We have legal advice in relation to the obligations that we have under the convention and we exercise our obligations. That is a proper thing for a country like ours to do and we meet those obligations.
These matters have been tested in courts and courts have found in favour of the situation that the Government finds itself in to address these issues and we can repatriate people back.
Now, it does stop people drowning at sea, it does mean that our detention centres aren’t filled with kids. Under Labor 2000 children were in detention and the number today is closer to 100 and hopefully going south.
JOURNALIST: Now you want to get that down further. Let me finally ask you about Cambodia. Are you able to say yet when the first group of asylum seekers in Nauru will go to Cambodia?
PETER DUTTON: I’m not going to give you the day on which this will happen, but it will happen. And it will happen because we have a good arrangement with the Cambodians. We are having a lot of interference run at the moment by some of the ringleaders on Nauru who have been telling their fellow travellers there not to accept the deal and they are being spurred on by refugee advocates in Australia.
Now let me make this very important point – there are only two outcomes here. One is that there is long term detention in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru or these people return to their country of origin or to Cambodia. They are the two outcomes.
These people are not coming to Australia, and if refugee advocates in Australia believe it’s smart to tell these people in Nauru to not accept the deal then they are prolonging the difficulties for these people who are on Nauru.
JOURNALIST: Is Cambodia ready though? I mean a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman was quoted saying that they were a bit confused about when the arrivals may take place.
PETER DUTTON: I had a good two meetings, in fact, I visited Cambodia only a few weeks ago and the Deputy Prime Minister Sar Keng was here only here a fortnight ago. We have had good bilateral discussions. Officials from Cambodia have travelled to Nauru on two occasions now for bilateral discussions and to provide advice and support to the asylum seekers there.
We will work out logistics for people travelling, but people have committed within the Nauruan population of those arrivals to go to Cambodia.
JOURNALIST: In Cambodia, is the housing and other services that they are going to require all in place?
PETER DUTTON: Yes there is.
JOURNALIST: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, thank you.
PETER DUTTON: Thank you