JOURNALIST: Now a 10-year-old autistic boy in Queensland has written to the Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, requesting that he and his family not be deported to the Philippines. Tyrone's mother has been working as a Queensland nurse, but her application to renew a skilled provisional work visa was rejected because Tyrone's health would be a significant cost to the Australian community. Today Minister Dutton's office received a petition containing more than 122,000 signatures calling for Tyrone Sevilla's family to be allowed to stay.
The Immigration Minister joins us now to discuss this and many other issues. Welcome to Drive.
PETER DUTTON: Patricia, thanks for having me.
JOURNALIST: Now, you've raised the possibility of permanent residence for the Sevilla family today, Minister. How likely is that outcome?
PETER DUTTON: Well the process obviously is that the family makes an application through the department and then they can make an appeal to the Tribunal if they're not happy with the department's decision.
The Tribunal in this instance held up the decision of the Department. And in that case, they can then apply for ministerial discretion. So, that's the process as it is at the moment and I'm waiting for the case to come up to my office and I'll have a look at it.
Look, I think in many of these cases, we want to try and provide support to families who are in a very difficult situation. We have to weigh up all of the circumstances and the particulars of the relevant case. We can do that and I hope that we can provide the good outcome for this family that I think they deserve.
JOURNALIST: This issue has raised a huge community response, hasn't it? I mean, the idea of deporting a family because a child has autism has been seen as really unacceptable to many people in the community.
PETER DUTTON: Well I think that's the reason we have ministerial discretion, so that we can apply a level of common sense.
The process that the Department goes through means that they have to abide by the law, obviously, and that's been a longstanding law. The Tribunal has the same law to abide by and the way in which is works is that the Department will look at the individual circumstances and it may be - without talking about this particular case, but it may mean that in some families, because of the educational and health needs of a complicated medical case, it may mean that that requires in some cases millions of dollars of taxpayer support to try and provide support to that individual.
Now we would have thousands of those cases each year and obviously many people would want to come to Australia to avail themselves of the world class health system, education and welfare systems that we have in this country. So, there needs to be support wherever we can provide it, but a realisation that we can't provide assistance to every child with a medical condition that would seek to make that application.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that some people would see it as a precedent that the government is there to support children with issues and that families would try to come to Australia to try and use some of this support that we provide?
PETER DUTTON: Well there's some aspect of that to it and if I was a parent overseas in a country that wasn't able to take care of my child that had special needs, then I would look to whatever country or whatever mechanism I could find to try and provide that support. So, you can understand that.
And we do provide a lot of support through programs and through issuing of visas to families that just don't make it to the media each day and I think we've got a lot within the Immigration portfolio that we can be very proud of in this country.
We've got one of the highest intakes of humanitarian refugee applicants in the world, on a per capita basis. There's a lot that we provide by way of support to people that want seek a different and a new life. We do that, as I say, on a yearly basis in increasing numbers. And in these cases, I think we can provide support to those families.
I need to have a look at the particular facts in relation to this case, but on the details that's been made known to me at the moment, I think this is a case where we would be able to help the family.
JOURNALIST: Minister, last week you were accused of torturing another child, an Iranian girl who's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of her experiences in detention. Is this girl and her family still in Darwin?
PETER DUTTON: Well in relation to the claim - which I thought was a pretty outrageous one, actually, by Senator Hanson-Young, and I think she's got a history of making these sort of claims - it was emotive, obviously, and I think quite disappointing that she would stoop to such a level.
Now we provide a lot of support to families across the immigration network. As we've pointed out on many occasions, there were 2000 children in detention when Labor was in power. We've got that number down closer to 100. And we provide a lot of medical support to people within the Australian network, but also those who are in regional processing centres. If their health needs are too complicated for the Nauruan health system, for example, and we provide support in the Australian health system for those people. And in this case, it was that the father needed support for an operation and we bring the mother and children of that family to Australia at the same time.
But we've been very clear, on the one hand, to say that those families will remain in Australia whilst ever that medical support is required. But at the end of that, they will return to Nauru…
JOURNALIST: [Speaking over] … but Minister, when you've got a five-year-old with a condition like this, surely, surely - you're a father, surely you'd be concerned about a child in that predicament?
PETER DUTTON: Yeah, and I say, if you put to one side the emotional nonsense and the misleading statements of the Greens Senator, we provide medical support to this child and to the family, or to anybody else in this situation, until doctors give that person the clearance to go back to Nauru. Now, that's going to apply in this case, as it would any other case, the child, or the father, or whoever it might be, won't go back to Nauru until the doctors give that clearance. And I think that's perfectly reasonable and we rely on that medical advice so that we can provide the medical attention that's required.
But in the end, we sent a very clear message that people who have arrived by boat onto Nauru won't be settled long-term in Australia.
So, we provide lots of support and hundreds of people have already taken up the offer of support to return to their country of origin where we owe a permanent outcome to that person that support is provided if they can establish their refugee claim, that's a very different scenario.
So, I just think, you know, when you look at the facts, we do provide a lot of support in relation to medical or educational - to people who are in a difficult circumstance. These people obviously are desperate to be settled in Australia…
JOURNALIST: [Speaking over] …but this case, minister, is attracting international attention, coverage in Britain and the US and it's indicating that there's widespread concern about the girl's condition. I think perhaps most worrying is the report saying she's displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour as a consequence of experiences that she has either seen or experienced directly or indirectly in Nauru. You must be very concerned about reports like that. I find them absolutely staggering that we would have a child under our care at that age in this situation.
PETER DUTTON: And just to point, again, to the facts Patricia, so what we're saying is that that child won't return to Nauru until the doctor gives clearance to do so, until these issues have been addressed. We've been very clear about that, we're not saying that the child is going to go back to Nauru today with the issues not resolved and that - that's the situation that the doctors face every day.
They need to provide us with that advice about what the best course of action would be for a particular patient and I rely on the doctor's advice and I think that's more than reasonable and I think if people look at the circumstances, taking the advice not of politicians but of doctors, about when people are ready to travel, when they're in a medical position to be able to travel or if they need to stay in a particular hospital or within a particular medical setting. I mean, that's all the advice that we take from the experts, so I think we're meeting exactly what it is that you're asking us to do.
JOURNALIST: Last month, the Moss Review reported on claims of sexual abuse and made 19 recommendations to overhaul the way abuse claims are handled. Can you give us any specific details about what is changing to make the situation safer on Nauru?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there are 19 recommendations that Mr Moss handed down and the Department's accepted each of those recommendations and they're being acted upon as we speak.
So, there's more support for argument's sake in Nauru in relation to the police and the response that they would have to a complaint of sexual assault. I've made it very clear, very clear indeed, that I wouldn't accept one case of sexual abuse. So, not to a child, not to a woman, not to man and I want to make sure that we've got in place the mechanisms a) to prevent such instances but b) to be able to respond appropriately if there is an allegation of sexual assault and we can do that obviously in Australia through our established networks with the State Police and the response that they would provide but also…
JOURNALIST: [Speaking over] …have you considered whether we need royal commission into institutional abuse in detention centres? Is that something that you're willing to still consider?
PETER DUTTON: I've taken the advice of Mr Moss who I think has examined this quite comprehensively to be honest. He's made the recommendations to the Department.
The Department's accepted all of the recommendations. They're being implemented, I think, if people are critical of the process thereafter then I think people can make calls for commissions of inquiry or further examinations but I think the Department should be given an opportunity to act on the recommendations that have been made.
It was an independent inquiry. Mr Moss is a person of the highest standing within the legal community and he's made these recommendations independently. They've been accepted and I think the Department now should be given the opportunity to implement them.
JOURNALIST: And Minister, one last question - and this comes from one of our listeners, Joe in Bega, he says please challenge Mr Dutton on the numbers of refugees we accept. Australia took 20,000 in 2012 while Germany took 90,000 and South Africa took 230,000. We do not take a higher per capita number. What's your response to the international comparison?
PETER DUTTON: Well, overall we do. We will take, in the program, the humanitarian refugee program, this year about 13,750. The number grows to almost 19,000 within three years. And when you look at the fact that we're a population of 24 million people, we punch above our weight and we provide significant support. We're providing support to people coming out of Syria. In particular, at the moment, we're looking at what extra support we can provide to people coming out of Africa.
In the end, what we want to do is make sure that we stop the boats because 1200 people drowned at sea when Labor was in power and we just don't want to return to that disorderly process.
We want to accept people and accept them in the program that we have done for many, many years. If we do that in an orderly way we can provide extra assistance which is what we're doing but if you have a complete breakdown of border security in our country and people are arriving - 50,000 arrived on 821 boats during that six year period.
We just don't want to return to that because I don't want to see people drowning at sea and I want to see us at the same time reaping the dividend out of saving money through response otherwise to stopping the boats to allow more people to come in the right way and that's the balance that we've struck. I think it's a reasonable one and I think we should be very proud of the numbers that we're able to accept each year.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton, thanks so much for coming on RN Drive, you're first time this year with me and I hope you come back again.
PETER DUTTON: Be very happy to, thank you.
JOURNALIST: And that's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.