Journalist: Our Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton is on the line, hopefully, Minister are you there?
Peter Dutton: Yes I am John. How are you?
Journalist: I'm ok, Peter, you?
Peter Dutton: Very well thank you.
Journalist: Good. The law was introduced before this bloke entered Syria. Does that give him a free pass? Or what's the situation?
Peter Dutton: Well John obviously the matter is being investigated at the moment by the Australian Federal Police and other agencies, so it's hard for me to provide a comment.
But obviously the Australian Government doesn't want to do anything to even – regardless of how well intentioned somebody might be – to provide an incentive or an excuse or an opportunity for people to go into a war zone, it potentially puts our own personnel at risk and because we're active in that part of the world – where we have our Australian air force, the Royal Australian Air Force working with the United States and France and many other countries in the coalition, conducting air strikes and the rest of it – we just don't want anybody in that region, however well- intentioned they might be.
The difficulty is that, my sense, is that this is a very good family. His mum and dad obviously love him very much and it is an emotional issue, but we have to recognise that this is a theatre of war and people going off to role play in whatever side that they might see fit, is just not acceptable under Australian law.
Journalist: What are the possible penalties?
Peter Dutton: The way in which the law has been set up is that there are a number of areas that have been prescribed – that is areas which are no go zones depending on….there are some reasonable excuses that can be put forward to negate that – but I just don't have the full facts in relation to this case and obviously if people are involved in fighting for foreign armies, that is in certain circumstances, an offence against our law.
Journalist: Well its treachery.
Peter Dutton: If you have a look at the biggest threat here John, that is the young people who are online and they're being influenced by these barbaric types in ISIL, we have to stare it down and if they think that we're going to cower or that we're going to somehow give into their message, I just think they completely underestimate how strong and resolute the Australian spirit is. We will stare it down and not allow it to interrupt our way of life.
Journalist: Well, that's well said and I believe that we should keep saying it, that we're not going to be cowered by these people at all and we should keep saying it loudly and clearly, but we should also be, very, very observant about what's going on around us, should we not?
Peter Dutton: I think we should John and I think we're living in an age where, as people have seen in the United States, in terms of killings there recently, in the last 48 hours, the attack at the underground in United Kingdom, if people see suspicious activity they need to contact the police immediately because we do have a significant threat – like any western democracy – people running around who would seek to do us harm and our police and our intelligence agencies are amongst the best in the world and they do a great job every day, but they can only do it with the assistance from the public of pertinent information.
So if people do see something peculiar, particularly over the Christmas period, they should contact the police.
But the message of absolute reassurance, from the Prime Minister, from myself, from everybody involved in this very important area; we do have some of the most highly skilled and trained officers in the world and we will deal with this threat and we will, I think as a Government, stare it down, but it will take some time.
Journalist: And we must remain vigilant.
Peter Dutton: We absolutely must and as we've seen in recent events, it does necessarily involve the support of the public and people within every community. It doesn't matter where you live in Australia, if you see suspicious activity, if there's somebody at your workplace or somebody within your family group or sphere of influence otherwise, that you think is acting in a strange way, that may have been exposed to this evil message of ISIL, please engage with the authorities and the smallest piece of information might add up to a bigger picture that's already being built.
We do have a lot of extra resources as well going into the intelligence agencies. We've been very serious about increasing the number of Counter Terrorism Unit officers that we have at our international airports – not just for outbound but importantly now I think for inbound passengers as well – and that's been the real focus of Australian Border Force.
So they're doing a lot of work with the Australian Federal Police and ASIO and others and these are fantastic people, amazing dedicated officers that are working each day to keep us safe.
Journalist: Just in relation to border protection, there are 11 children currently in detention, you've got to reduce that number haven't you?
Peter Dutton: I want to reduce it down to zero John, but we've got a big task because there were 50,000 people who came on 800 boats during the Rudd-Gillard- Rudd years and at the peak of it they had 1,992 children in detention. Now we've worked that number down to 11 and we want to get to zero.
Journalist: Wow. How many did you say when the Gillard Government was in? How many were in detention?
Peter Dutton: They had 2,000 children in detention, essentially, at the peak of it.
See John, people forget that of the 800 boats that arrived, there are still 30,000 people that we're dealing with in the community – so they've either got matters before the courts that they're contesting our decision that they're not a refugee, they're trying to fight it – in many cases through layers of the court – and this is costing the taxpayers a lot of money and I just don't want the boats to restart – which is why the Government has been consistently strong on our message around making sure the people smugglers don't get back into business – because if we allow the boats to restart and those numbers of children in detention will go up again and the 1,200 people that drowned at sea [inaudible] repeat of that disgraceful outcome.
So we've not had a successful people smuggling venture now in over 18 months and we need to continue that work, but we stare it down every day because these organised criminals, these people smugglers are trying to put ventures together every day.
Journalist: A lot of people have expressed their concern to me about the refugees who are coming in from the Middle East. I know that they undergo fairly rigorous testing, but are the checks good enough?
Peter Dutton: John, I think they are. I think in terms of the biometrics and fingerprint testing that we do, there are very few others that come to our country that go through that rigorous testing.
So, if people are coming from the United States or the United Kingdom for example, they would apply for, in many cases, an Electronic Travel Authority, and as we would do if we went to the United States or to Europe for a holiday, there are many people
who come to our country that wouldn't have the same rigorous testing that we do in terms of the refugees or the 12,000 Syrians that we want to bring to our country, and we need to understand that and that's why it's important to have all of the background checks going on, the surveillance and all of the work of the Australian Border Force officers – both here and our airport liaison officers in many posts around the world – and that is a significant threat.
Obviously as ASIO has pointed out, there are many people here, domestically – given that they are investigating over 400 high priority cases right now – many people domestically who pose a threat and we've seen that in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
The difference for us, compared to Europe John, is that we're an island nation and it provides us with some protection, where in Europe people can cross land borders relatively easily and in recent months we've seen hundreds of thousands of people that have done that. So we can deal with much of the threat offshore before people seek to come to our country.
Journalist: We are disadvantaged somewhat by the large coastline that we have, are we not?
Peter Dutton: Well we are in the sense that if we give into the people smugglers and allow these boats to recommence, then essentially we hand control of our borders across to people smugglers and that's what happened when Labor were in power.
Bizarrely they've got this pact with the Greens at the moment, talking about dismantling regional processing and talking about releasing people within 30 days, regardless of whether security and health checks are being conducted and my very strong view John is that this would result in the boats recommencing and I just don't think the Australian public wants that.
The Prime Minister has been absolute and determined in his resolve, as was Prime Minister Abbott, to make sure that having stopped the boats we don't allow them to recommence.
Journalist: Well, I think that's very, very important and I know the majority of Australians would absolutely agree with that, we've got to be very, very vigilant.
Peter Dutton: We do because these people are making money out it. They're either shifting drugs around or they're involved in sexual servitude or they're involved in other criminal activities and this is just one business line for them.
So the thought that the people smugglers have disappeared and gone out of business is completely false. They are there trying to cajole people to pay money now and if we do turn back boats, where it is safe to do so – we don't talk much publicly about it because we don't talk about the techniques that we use and the way in which we do deal with the boat arrivals – but we don't allow them to successfully land and we send a very clear message when the boats are turned back and if Mr
Shorten wanted to undo that policy, it would spell an absolute disaster for the fact that we would again lose control of our borders.
Journalist: Peter, don't worry about it, I think it's highly unlikely that Mr Shorten is going to get an opportunity to do anything the way he's going.
Peter Dutton: Well I think the trade unions are shoring that up for him. I think the fact that he hasn't been able to deal with them John is just a sign of weakness and I think people see that.
But anyway, a week is a long time in politics and we've just got to make sure we do what is in the best interests of our country and make sure, in particular in our space, that I and other Minister's do whatever is humanly possible to keep Australians safe.
Journalist: Well said. I hope that you and your family have a good Christmas Peter.
Peter Dutton: Thank you John. To you and your family as well and to all of your listeners.