Peter Dutton: I want to confirm that on the 15th of November this year a French national was detected at Melbourne International Airport. Upon intervention by the Australian Border Force (ABF) officers including the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) officers the man was found to have failed to declare three cans of Mace which is classified as a prohibited weapon.
The ABF cancelled the visa of the individual and he was detained pending removal.
The national was detained at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre and he was subsequently removed from Australia on 16th of November. There was contact made with French authorities and they became aware of this person.
We're not aware of any connection to the Paris attacks and obviously there is a lot of interaction that's taken place between the Australian Border Force officers, other agencies and the French authorities.
That's the only information that I can provide to you at this stage.
By way of information otherwise, the ABF obviously screens all inbound and outbound passengers. We issue about seven million visas a year, including 2.2 million electronic travel authorities – so there's a significant amount of movement across the borders – and in the 2014-15 financial year the CTU officers at our eight international airports assisted in 336 passenger offloads, in the 2015-16 financial year – that is up to 16 December – the CTU has assisted in 273 passenger offloads and conducted 82,500 real-time assessments.
We've increased the number of Counter Terrorism Unit officers at the Melbourne and Sydney Airports – so in total we now have 100 officers who work across the eight international airports.
I want to provide a reassurance to all Australians that we are providing every resource available to our front-line agencies, including the Australian Border Force who do amazing work, as this case demonstrates.
We have Airport Liaison Officers at international airports so that we can detect threats before people actually hop on to planes to come to our country.
Obviously there's activity that's been undertaken by the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police and other authorities in Sydney today and I think the reassurance that we provide to the Australian public is that we have professional front-line officers who are doing everything humanly possible to keep the Australian public safe and the CTU officers in this case have detected this man coming in from France he was in possession of mace and prohibited items otherwise.
Obviously we liaised with the French authorities. The man was detained overnight at Maribyrnong and he was returned to France the next day.
We don't have any information, as I say to link it to the Paris attacks, but it is a reminder to all of us that there are people out there that would seek to do us harm and the public should be assured, particularly at this time of year, that we are putting everything possible to our front-line officers to provide them with support to stare down this threat and that's the only information I can provide to you in relation to this particular matter.
I'm happy to take any questions.
Journalist: Minister, can you clarify whether he was detected because of the items in his luggage or because of his risk profile before he encountered officers?
Peter Dutton: I can't provide that detail, but obviously as a result of a search, the items were detected and there was action that was taken from that point.
Journalist: Is it suggested then that he's got through the passport checks, but then has been picked up at the barrier checks?
Peter Dutton: He was detected by the CTU officers. Obviously there was a reason for the detection – although I do want to praise the ABF officers in this case because, as I say we have millions of people moving across our borders each year, both inbound and outbound, and the fact that they were able to detect this person early on in his arrival process I think is impressive – but I don't want to go into the way in which the CTU officers conduct their checks or the way in which they do their work; suffice to say I think the ABF officers have done an amazing job in this instance and I think full praise to them and to the CTU officers around the country.
Journalist: Are you aware of any other EU passport holders that have been stopped in such a way, for example before the Paris attacks?
Peter Dutton: I don't have any detail specifically, but there are people as I said before who are off-loaded, there are inbound threats that we're able to detect and there would have been other cases, but I haven't got that detail.
Journalist: Any indication what he would have done if he would have got through?
Peter Dutton: We don't have any information in relation to….nothing that I can provide to you publicly in relation to the reason for his travel or the way in which he may have posed a threat.
Obviously the work of the officers within my department is to make sure that we can scrutinise these arrivals, in many cases before they even get on a plane, and the fact that we've stood up additional Counter Terrorism Unit officers at Sydney and Melbourne, in particular to supplement the 80 officers that we have working at airports now, I think indicates how serious we take the threat and how we are countering that threat.
But I do make the point that there are millions of movements inbound and outbound each year and we've put additional resources into the ABF, into other agencies, but this is a significant issue for us to deal with every day and the officers do it well at the airports.
Journalist: Can you say whether he'd been granted any sort of visa?
Peter Dutton: The normal process would be that as a holder of a passport within the EU he could gain access to an electronic travel authority and travel on that – so that's the way in which many tourists would come in from Europe or other parts of world – so that would have been the circumstance and the visa obviously was subsequently cancelled.
Journalist: After the Paris attacks is there…and what has happened now, is there more scrutiny on European passport holders, particularly French and Belgian?
Peter Dutton: Obviously the work of the CTU is to try and identify people that raise red flags and that may be their country of origin, it may be their background, it may be based on intelligence holdings that we have otherwise, exchange of information with intelligence partners.
There are a number of ways in which people can be detected or come to the attention of the CTU officers and obviously they will scrutinise people who are coming into our country, and in this case they've done a great job.
Journalist: Minister, there's been an issue of late about the ASIO Chief contacting Liberal MPs to talk about the language they use in terms of Islam. What's your view on that, do you think it's appropriate for a man of his position?
Peter Dutton: Sean I dealt with this the other day and I don't have any further to comment on in relation to that issue.
Journalist: Labor has come out and demanded you explain why you're not granting a visa to the mother and brother of Hassan Asif who's dying in Melbourne. What is your response to that?
Peter Dutton: Yesterday I asked the Post in Islamabad to have a look at this issue and to request an additional application from the mother and from the brother.
The decision maker in relation to this matter made the right decision on the information that I have available to me.
As Labor ministers, who have formerly been in this portfolio would know, there's not the ability for ministerial intervention in these matters.
The individual decision maker has the task of looking at the facts and then making a decision and the appropriate decision was made in relation to this matter. But I think with further information and a subsequent application, I think that can be dealt with fairly quickly and hopefully the mother and brother can come to Australia sooner rather than later.
I just want to put into context these issues though. What the decision maker has to weigh up, is whether or not somebody who is coming to our country is likely to make a claim for protection or stay in Australia otherwise and in some cases that can result in millions of dollars of expense to the taxpayer, it may mean that somebody is here on welfare for an extended period of time – so the consideration has to be in the national interest – and there are many emotive issues and this young man is in a terrible circumstance and the decision maker has to weigh up, not only the personal circumstances, but also obviously what is in the national interest.
If people believe that, or the decision makers believe that people aren't going to return to their country of origin after they've been here to see a loved one, then obviously, as I say, that can result in huge expenditure over many years to the Australian taxpayer.
All of those facts are only known to the individual decision maker. But as I say I've asked for further information to be provided and I think on the basis of that information it's likely that the mother and brother can travel to see their son and their brother here in Australia.
Journalist: Is that why they were denied because there were thoughts they may stay?
Peter Dutton: It's hard for me to comment on an individual case, but what I would say is that they will look at the background of individuals, what ties they have to their country – in this case it was Pakistan – they might look at the likelihood of somebody once they've arrived in Australia, then not returning back to their country of origin.
So the difficulty is to try and do the right thing by the individual, in this case, a young man who is suffering from terminal cancer and to act in the national interest – and it's not in the national interest to have people who arrive and then overstay or refuse to return – because as I say that can result in millions of dollars of expense to the taxpayer, and I think the view of the Australian public would be that, yes, we want to do the right thing in a compassionate way wherever we can, but we also want to make sure that we're issuing visas to people that will return after they've been here for their stated purpose and not want to overstay.
Journalist: Given the time constraints of this one, is it likely that they'll be able to get one quite quickly?
Peter Dutton: I hope that even though the Post, as I understand it is closing for six days or so over Christmas that the matter will be dealt with fairly quickly.
Journalist: Just on another matter, it's now 100 days since the new Turnbull Government, how do you think the PM's going?
Peter Dutton: I think the PM, firstly, has connected very well with the Australian public. I think that's a great thing and I think people see a vision in the Government and they see competence in the Government, as well.
That's a stark contrast to what Mr Shorten's proposing.
We're coming into an election year and people are starting to weigh up who they think will be able to act in this country's best interests and Mr Shorten I think is found wanting, because ultimately Mr Shorten will be wanting to act in the best interests of the union bosses and that's not in the best interests of our country.
The Prime Minister has set out a vision for the 21st Century. I think he's set out a vision for jobs and growth and for those of us in important portfolios across Government, we have to deliver.
I think in this portfolio we continue to stare down the people smugglers. We know that there is a threat from people who would seek to come across our borders and we're staring that threat down and I think the Australian public have a sense of reassurance from the Turnbull Government that they can, with their families, enjoy Christmas and go into a bright, prosperous, healthy New Year and I think on all of those counts, people then reach a conclusion that they want to support the Government. I hope that continues into next year.
Journalist: Just one last one going back to the French national, do we know what happens to him now that he goes back to France?
Peter Dutton: Obviously the authorities will have that discussion at an official level. I don't have any further information in relation to that.
Journalist: Given the recent terrorism raids in Indonesia, has there been any consideration of changing procedures or tightening the protocols there?
Peter Dutton: Obviously in terms of firstly travel warnings; travel warnings are issued and people particularly those who are going to travel overseas at this time of year should go to the DFAT website to get the latest information in relation to the country to which they intend to travel. That's the first point.
The second point is that we have a very good exchange of information with the Indonesians and with many other partners in our region.
We do know that people would seek to harm Australians because of the fact we allow young girls to be educated, to go to school, to vote, to drive cars and to be equals within our society, and there are other ways for them to express their views - through violence is not the answer and we'll work with partners to stare that threat down.
Other Western democracies have the same concerns that we have and it's a time for good people across the world to come together from all sorts of religious backgrounds, all sorts of social backgrounds otherwise to make sure we stare down this serious threat.
But all Australians should know that every effort from the Prime Minister down in this Government is aimed toward keeping our society safe.
The work of the Counter Terrorism Unit officers across Christmas, across the New Year, those people are working to keep us safe.
I know that Australians will be sparing a thought for the Defence Force personnel who'll be working overseas away from their families this year.
I'd also ask them please to spare a thought for the Australian Border Force staff who are working to keep our borders safe and secure and working to keep our community safe, as well.
They'll be working away from their families and sacrificing a lot to keep us safe this Christmas and I think we should be very grateful for that.
Thank you very much.