Journalist: Peter Dutton's portfolio has been well and truly in the mix this week. Thanks for being there.
Peter Dutton: Thanks Peter.
Journalist: Look there's a lot for us to discuss in terms of policy, also we'll have to talk about some of this leadership speculation as well, luckily we have time to do it here on Australian Agenda, but I want to off the top ask about this so called ‘boomgate' situation that developed with the mic that picked up, the boom mic, that picked up that private conversation between yourself and the Prime Minister on stage.
Now look, I think there's been a lot of over the top commentary about this in criticism, don't get me wrong, but by the same token, isn't it appropriate given the reaction from some of the leaders overseas in the Pacific region just to apologise Mr Dutton and then we can rule a line under it and everyone can move on.
Peter Dutton: Well Peter, obviously it was a private conversation. I should have realised that the mic was there and I didn't – it was directly behind me – but I made a mistake.
I apologise to anyone who has taken offence to it. It was a light hearted discussion with the PM and I didn't mean any offence to anyone. If people have taken offence then they should accept my apology.
I'm disappointed that it allowed for a distraction from what was a very good policy announcement.
I think it demonstrated the Prime Minister's leadership qualities to accept the recommendation of the National Security Committee - and 12,000 people, 12,000 lives that effectively we've saved that will be a significant part of the Australian population into the future - that should have been the story of the week and I'm sorry that I distracted from that.
Journalist: Minister was this your own mistake or do you think the media has to bare some of the blame for broadcasting a private discussion?
Peter Dutton: Paul I'll let the critics and the experts make all of those comments and they can make that decision, from my perspective I wanted the day to be around the leadership discussion that we had.
The people within the room, the 40 people, leaders from the Syrian community, every one of them was full of praise for the Government and the decision that we'd taken.
I didn't want to distract from that, I'm sorry that I did.
I think the fact that we've been able to go to Europe very quickly, talk with the leadership within the EU, within the UNHCR, get a better understanding of what practically we could do and then make a very quick decision back here to provide support to people in a desperate situation I think it demonstrates one of the core values of this Government.
I'm pleased that we took the decision. We need to talk more about it because we are going to make a huge impact, a positive impact, on the lives of those people.
Journalist: OK well let's talk about it. What's your response to the critics who say that your decisions are in fact discriminatory because you will favour Christian refugees?
What's your response to that particular point?
Peter Dutton: Paul I think because people are being persecuted and they're Christians shouldn't exclude them from consideration from our programme. I think it's an absurd proposition.
We've had a non-discriminatory programme, we have provided support to people from the Muslim faith, from the Christian faith coming from the Middle East, people who have been persecuted and we've provided support to them in record numbers under the humanitarian and refugee programme over the course of the last couple of years.
We're obviously going to ramp up that support and my honest judgement is we are going to provide a new life for these people where there was no hope otherwise and we've done it based on the best advice possible and the decision that we've taken I think all Australians can be very proud of.
Journalist: I just want to clarify, is there any change in the policy arrangements relating to this intake of 12,000 compared to our intake of Iraqis and Syrians over the last couple of years or is it on exactly the same basis?
Peter Dutton: Well Paul as you pointed out before, the 12,000 places are additional to the 13,750 that we'll have this year. We grow that number over the next couple of years to 16,250 and then to 18,750. So that's in addition to the 12,000.
The composition within the Refugee and Humanitarian Programme is decided by the Governments from year to year.
All the advice that I received was that the situation in Syria which is very, very bad is going to get a lot worse and I think it will be incumbent upon this Government and the next Abbott Government to make sure that we continue to provide support.
I think that's what Australians want. They do want a dividend from stopping the boats and the refugees places now aren't being filled by new boat arrivals as they were under Labor.
So on a per capita basis, we continue to be the most generous nation in the world when it comes to settling people under Refugee and Humanitarian Programme. That was something acknowledged by the people that I met with and it's something that as a Government, we're very proud of.
Journalist: Minister, I suspect you are right in suggesting that the crisis in Syria is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
This actually goes to another key question about the decision this week on the 12,000 additional refugees from Syria, is this a fixed figure or are you indeed open to increasing that amount if the situation in Syria does get worse as you say it looks likely?
Peter Dutton: Troy, I suppose I can answer it this way. The advice was that we should help in two ways.
One is to provide additional financial support and we announced an extra $44 million on top of the $155 million we've already provided to the Syrian humanitarian crisis.
So we've provided a lot of support and that money is to target people within camps in places like Turkey and Jordan because the numbers are overflowing – over four million people have fled Syrian – and are now living in these camps or within communities in neighbouring countries.
They need financial support to pay for education, for food, for housing and to try and help them survive day to day. So there are other ways that we could help obviously though adding people through the refugee intake.
So we've done both of those things. We've acted on that advice. All I can say is that's our firm commitment now and our focus is on making sure we can help the 12,000 get here as quickly as possible.
What future assistance might be provided would depend on the circumstances and the advice from the UNHCR and other players including the Red Cross that I met with in Geneva over the last week.
Journalist: But you are open to it Mr Dutton. It sounds like you would be open to the number of 12,000 increasing depending on circumstances obviously?
Peter Dutton: Well again Peter I think it's very hard to predict what would happen even in 12 months' time. Nobody knows what's going to happen with the Assad regime.
All of the players that I spoke to in Europe want to make sure there's some political outcome at some point so that stability can be returned and people who are displaced within the country either have a safe place to live or that people can return.
But there's a lot of rebuilding that's going to have to take place, basic infrastructure that's been destroyed by ISIS, this will take a long period of time to rebuild so there may be other ways in which we can help in the years to come.
But I think it's hard to speculate on that now without knowing the exact detail of the reconstruction process after there is political stability, how long that will take. This could be a protracted period that we're looking at and I think we need to be mindful of that.
Journalist: Can I ask you about some of the Syrian refugees that have tried to get to Australia by boat that are in detention.
There have been calls in some quarters for them to be allowed to be part of the 12,000.
The Prime Minister has rebuffed that making the point that you don't want to reward people smugglers, but the fact is, it seems from reporting from the Middle East, the people smugglers are partaking in getting refugees out of Syria anyway and that may well be the case for those that we bring from across on the borders of Syria, what's the distinction?
Peter Dutton: Well Peter we've also made it very clear that the people we're going to help, the people we're going to take as part of our additional intake, will come from camps including from Jordan, from Turkey, from Lebanon, from the north of Iraq, they will be the places where we take people from.
We are not going to take people from Europe and we've had the same approach here not to reward people smugglers.
We've had a very tough policy in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders, but we've saved lives and we've also been able to have an orderly migration programme.
People smugglers are laying dormant in Indonesia and elsewhere at the moment.
They are putting ventures together or are attempting to, we continue to disrupt those ventures, we continue to turn boats back where it's safe to do so. The 1200 people who drowned at sea under Labor we're not seeing any loss of life under OSB over the last couple of years.
So we've made it very clear that if people attempt to come to Australia by boat, regardless of the circumstances, they won't settle in our country and we've had arrangements with Cambodia and we're having discussions with other third countries as well, in addition to discussions with UNHCR about what options there might be for people on Nauru and Manus, but we remain absolutely resolute that they're not going to come to Australia.
If they can make out a case for protection then they may have some longer term outcome in Cambodia, perhaps elsewhere if we can provide them assistance to go to another country, but we are not going to reopen the people smuggling trade to our north.
I think it's been a crowning achievement of the Abbott Government and I think there's a lot of speculation around about the Prime Minister at the moment, but I can only report to you the resolute stance that he takes in the National Security Committee when we're talking about issues related to national security, terrorism, boat arrivals, all of that and he demonstrates a very significant capacity to deal with these issues, very complex issues.
I think it's been a key driver for our success and I think people recognise that success and the dividend now comes from being able to offer more places to people who are being persecuted, who do face an uncertain future, we can provide a new life for them and I think all Australians are very proud of that outcome.
Journalist: There have been many reports of Syrian refugees flooding into Europe and talking to the media saying that eventually they would like to go home.
So I think it does make sense of course that the Government is taking the fight against ISIS with other countries and of course this decision this week was attached to a further decision about undertaking, bombing targets, in Syria yet there have been a number of rallies in Australia yesterday where a number of people are concerned that Australia is taking the fight into Syria.
What is your response to people who want a more generous refugee intake, but do not support the fighting in Syria?
Peter Dutton: Troy all I can say is I respect their views, but I disagree vehemently.
If you look at the reach now of ISIL, I mean in the Second World War and in the run-up to the Second World War, the run-up to the first World War there was propaganda that was spread, but never in our history has it been spread in the way that it is being spread now by social media.
There are some reports that some young people have been radicalised within a matter of two or three weeks – young, vulnerable minds in Australia and the West elsewhere are accepting the message of ISIL, trying to travel across to fight, to behead people, to conduct terrorist activities and if they're Australian citizens ultimately to come back here with all of those skills to inflict the same sort of carnage on the Australian public.
The thought that we should approach this in some sort of appeasement model, that we should somehow try and broker a reasonable outcome with these barbaric, murderous thugs is just naïve.
I think Australians recognise that this is a very, very real threat to our country.
The advice that we get in the NSC from the agency heads, the Chief of Defence, the Head of the AFP, the head of our intelligence agencies tells us that all of these people are significant threats and we need to manage their return.
Obviously the Allegiance Bill where we can strip dual citizens of their Australian citizenship to stop them from returning to our country will be the latest tool in trying to keep people safe.
I think we have to realise the significance of the threat and by attacking and destroying them in Iraq or across a porous border into Syria, I think people recognise that is a significant way to strike a blow against these people who are poisoning the minds of young Australians, Brits, people across the world otherwise, that are buying this dreadful message and ultimately seeking to inflict damage and carnage on their own populations. We just can't accept that.
Journalist: Just a quick follow up point Minister. Are you making the argument the Syrian refugees that are fleeing that country would actually be supportive of the idea of the Coalition forces taking the fight up to Islamic State because that is not a view expressed among many in Australia including particularly in the Green Party?
Peter Dutton: I think certainly commonsense would dictate to you, but the advice out of discussions that I had with the Red Cross for argument's sake, the IOM, as well as UNHCR, is that people desire stability in Syria and it's a statement of the obvious. Of course they would.
People want to return to their country. They want to help rebuild their country. They love their country and they want to make sure they can be a part of its future.
But at the moment to keep their children safe, to make sure they're not going to be the next one beheaded or slaughtered by ISIS they've taken a decision - as you or I would as a responsible parent - to leave the country to make sure you can try to find some sort of safe haven.
So what all of us want is a safe region, a safe country in Syria and at some point we should be part of making that a reality, to make sure that if there are safe haven camps, if we can help people to return that's what Syrians want.
I think if you look at the support that we've given to Iraq in terms of the bombings of ISIS there, as well as now in Syrian, I think we provide some stability, but there's still a significant question mark of course over the Assad regime and what happens there.
Everybody that I've spoken to wants to see political stability and reconstruction take place so that people can return to their country of origin and that's, I think, a statement of the obvious.
People who deny that or would question that I just don't think they have any logic to their argument to be frank.
Journalist: Mr Dutton, I've got to ask you about this leadership speculation which is more than bubbling I think would be fair to say after the writings in the papers yesterday coupled with what's in the Sunday papers today.
Ministers are apparently saying that there's an inevitability about a showdown on the leadership.
Do you accept that?
Peter Dutton: I think the focus is on the Canning by-election, I think we've got a great candidate in Andrew Hastie there and that has to be the focus of all of us at a senior level.
Across the party otherwise we need to make sure Andrew Hastie wins.
By-elections are always difficult for governments.
I was - in the run-up to the 2001 election – watching the Ryan by-election that John Howard lost and it's never an easy situation for governments to retain seats in by-elections, different circumstances in relation to this one, but nonetheless it will still be tough, but I think we'll get there and well, but not if we're talking about ourselves.
Journalist: But this is in a sense my point, here we are less than a week out from the Canning by-election which will be a tough one.
The Liberal Party's expected to win it, but it looks like there'll be a sizeable swing against it, yet despite that there is already ruminating about the leadership.
It makes you wonder how much worse it can get if they're willing to do that now in the leader up to the by-election?
Peter Dutton: Peter, from my perspective I think we have to concentrate on the positives and we need to get that message out.
The fact is that we have against all odds stopped boats, in this portfolio we've been able to deport record numbers of people including sex offenders, people who are involved in distribution of ice and amphetamines and who are detracting from our society otherwise.
There have been huge achievements in relation to the environment, in relation to communications, other areas.
We need to prosecute that argument, the thought that Bill Shorten who is like a bad gambler with the union movement he owes debts everywhere to these union leaders and union bosses particularly the CMFEU.
The thought that a CMFEU dominated government could be in power after the next election is inconceivable and we shouldn't allow that to happen.
I think if we can get back on to our core messages, allow people to judge our record, then I think we can win the next election.
Journalist: Minister the fact is you're not on your core message; you're not on message at all.
This past week should have been a very good week for the Government; it wasn't because the media story is about the leadership.
So I ask you in all seriousness, how do you think the Government can tackle this issue and try and restore stability?
What should the Government do to try and restore discipline to its own ranks?
Peter Dutton: Well Paul, you've been around just a couple more years than I have, but I've been in politics for 14 years, I've been under four leaders serving on the frontbench for the last 11 years. I've seen highs and lows in politics.
I believe that Tony Abbott is a better man than Bill Shorten. I think he is a more intelligent person. I think he has a greater capacity to lead and to make tough decisions in tough times.
I've seen lots of speculation around leadership over the years that I've been in politics, but I do believe that in the run-up to an election people will not vote for a government dominated by the CMFEU and other union bosses, I do believe people see better character traits in Tony Abbott than they do in Bill Shorten.
Journalist: OK now just on that point…
Peter Dutton: …when you get into an election context, I think when people start to focus on the alternative, which is what election campaigns are about, I believe we can defeat Labor.
I think we can do it successfully if we are able to focus on the wins that we have and on the strengths of our Prime Minister.
I do believe that we can defeat Bill Shorten who's not trusted in his own ranks and I think we can win the next election for the sake of the country that's what needs to happen and that's what we need to focus on.
Journalist: OK you've offered there very strong support for Tony Abbott Minister, what's your judgement about the numbers in the parliamentary Liberal Party. Does Abbott still have at this point majority support?
Peter Dutton: Look Paul I'm not going to speculate on partyroom activities. The only thing I would say is that the Prime Minister has the strong support of the party.
He does that because he's a better man than Bill Shorten, he does have support because people don't believe that the CMFEU-run Labor Government would be good for small business, good for families.
Bill Shorten would be repaying debts to the Labor movement, to the union bosses, for the whole term he was in The Lodge.
I think people realise that if you're repaying debts to the CMFEU built up over a number of years; you are going to make those promises and policy changes that aren't going to benefit the Australian public, that will not benefit small business or jobs in this country.
I believe when we get into an election context we can defeat Labor and I believe the Prime Minister has the strong support of the partyroom.
Journalist: But Mr Dutton does that mean that you expect to be trailing in the polls right up to the calling of the election.
I mean that was the case in 04 and John Howard still defeated Mark Latham, but are you in a sense signalling to your colleagues that it's your expectation that you may well trail in the polls, but once the election is called that's when you think things might turn around?
Peter Dutton: Peter in the run-up to the 2001 election, at the beginning of 2001 -the election was in November of 2001 - John Howard was gone for all money, no question about it and he came back, came back strongly and we defeated Kim Beazley.
In the run-up to the 2004 election Mark Latham was climbing his ladder of opportunity and John Howard was well and truly behind. We defeated Labor in 2004.
We lost the 2007 election, we had six years of dysfunction and we had a tough first Budget to try and address the dysfunction and the debt that they ran up.
We had to make tough decisions which cost us in the polls, but I believe that when people look back in hindsight and the fact that we've been able to try and trim the debt to make sure we aren't going to have generations burdened with Labor-debt, when people realise that we have made decisions, tough decisions, to stop boats, tough decisions in relation to national security to keep the public safe – as safe as we possibly can – I think the contrast will become quite stark between Labor and the Liberal Party and I think we can win the election.
So I think it will be a tight race all the way up to election day, but I do believe very strongly that we can defeat the Labor Party and I believe that we will and when we start to focus on that after the Canning by-election once we are successful there. As I say by-elections are always difficult, there will be a swing, but we will win Canning with a very good candidate and we will continue I think to build momentum from there until the next election.
If we do that then we can defeat Labor.
Journalist: Minister the Government, of course, has been behind in almost every single opinion poll since late 2013 so the omens are not good, but you did mention a little of political history there and of course one of the lessons of political history in Australia is that a change of leader can in fact restore a political party's fortunes and take them to victory.
I'm thinking John Howard over Alexander Downer, Bob Hawke over Bill Hayden, Paul Keating over Bob Hawke – those are lessons of history – do you accept that perhaps a new leader might in fact re-invigorate the Government and see its stocks increase in the voters' minds?
Peter Dutton: Troy you are an expert on Labor Party history and I thought the reference you were going to make there was to Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd.
Journalist: There's an exception to every rule Minister.
Peter Dutton: …the recent history, I was just wondering where Troy was going with his point.
But I think Australians want stability. They voted for the Prime Minister at the last election.
They'll make a judgement at the next election and that's the right of Australians.
I think, as I say, Tony Abbott is a better person than Bill Shorten, he's a stronger leader than Bill Shorten, he doesn't owe debts to the thugs within the CMFEU that would drive policies that would be detrimental to small business and families in this country and we have a good policy record. …[inaudible]…
Journalist: One of the other lessons is that the better person does not always lead their party to victory. But we won't go into that.
Can I ask you about the Canning by-election what sort of a test is this going to be for the Government?
Obviously if the Government loses the by-election then its failed that test, but what kind of win do you think would see the Liberal Party walk away from that and claim a victory of some kind.
I mean there is expectation there will be a swing against the Government in the seat, but at what point does the swing against still become a good result?
Peter Dutton: Look Troy I'll leave that to your analysis. My view is that with Andrew Hastie we've got an excellent candidate. The Prime Minister obviously has visited the seat on a number of occasions. There'll be local issues at play out there. There'll be the fact that it's a by-election mid-term for a government.
All of those issues will play out. In the end a win is a win. We will win Canning with a good candidate and I believe we can build momentum from there and that'll be the test that I apply.
We need to get through the Canning by-election, get Andrew Hastie into Parliament, he will make a great contribution and I think from there we can continue to build momentum in the run-up to the election.
Journalist: I just want to take you up the point you made about Rudd and Gillard.
Is what you're saying Minister that the Government needs to beware of turning itself into the rabble that was the former Labor Government by indulging in the sort of leadership changes that they indulged in? Is that your point?
Peter Dutton: Paul the point that I'd make is that I've served four Liberal leaders loyally and I believe very strongly in the fact that we are the Liberal Party not the Labor Party and therefore we accept the judgement of the Australian people.
People made a judgement at the last election. They voted this Government in for a period of three years. We'll seek an extension of that term for another three years and hopefully for terms beyond that when the next election is due at the end of next year.
We have a good story to tell. We have the ability to defeat a bad person in Bill Shorten who owes a lot to the CMFEU and other union leaders and would be bad for this country.
I believe that we have a person of strong character, of very strong intellect, a very strong leadership and I think that Tony Abbott can defeat Bill Shorten at the next election and that is what I will be prosecuting in the run-up to the next election.
Not to pass judgement on anybody else, we've got fine talent within our ranks, we‘ve got good strong colleagues who are performing well. But people have made a judgement in electing this Government to lead, that's what we're doing and we will lead for the good times and bad.
Ultimately we will make decisions that are in the best interests of our nation whether they are popular or not, sometimes it makes it difficult, but we will make tough decisions as we've done in relation to boats, as we've done in relation to national security and elsewhere because that's what we've been elected to do.
And we'll do that in the run-up to the next election and I believe very strongly that we can defeat Bill Shorten at the time of the next election and defeat him well so that we can continue to make the right decisions for this country into the terms ahead.
Journalist: Mr Dutton it sounds like you have a very strong view that there shouldn't be a change of Liberal Leader and Prime Minister in this your first term in Government.
Does that mean that if your colleagues don't agree you would refuse to serve on the frontbench of an alternative who didn't take your very strong advice on this?
Peter Dutton: Peter I think we need to talk about issues of the day. Let's talk about the fact that we've made a decision to bring 12,000 people here many of whom would have faced death or persecution otherwise let's talk about those issues.
Journalist: OK let's talk about issues of the day. Let's talk about the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.
What is the trend at the moment in terms of 457 visas? The unions are saying this is a threat to Australian jobs so how much does a 457 visa cost an employer and to what extent has there been a fall away in the number of 457 visas being issued?
Peter Dutton: Paul, just for the uninitiated – so if there is a skilled job within a firm and they can't fill it having advertised the vacancy within the Australian market, if they can't fill it with an Australian worker, in certain circumstances they can bring somebody in to fill that position.
It happens with engineering projects for example and other skilled areas where there may be a vacancy that can be filled by a worker here.
The irony is that the numbers have dropped under this Government compared to 457 applications under Labor.
You didn't hear one word from the union movement when Labor was in power in relation to the increased numbers of applicants under the 457 category.
Numbers have dropped, without the figures in front of me, by about six per cent the numbers have dropped and the union movement is calling blue murder.
So it shows that they are more interested in the politics than they are in the worker and this is the problem that Bill Shorten's got. He's not interested in the worker; he's interested in the union bosses.
This is the cancer that's striking at Labor's current party structure, its future party structure and its why people like Beazley, Crean, Rudd – all of their leaders – want to see the influence of the unions diminished because Bill Shorten getting into the leadership by backstabbing two Prime Ministers demonstrates that the union movement at its upper levels now is more about self-interest than it is the interest of the worker.
Journalist: Minister why haven't you been involved in this debate. This is a debate essentially about 457 visas, but you've been missing in action. Why is that?
Peter Dutton: Paul, we've got two Ministers in this portfolio. Michaelia Cash deals with this area and I think she's been at the forefront of the conversation and debate. She's prosecuted the argument very well particularly from a West Australian perspective.
As a Government we should talk more about it. Obviously my focus in terms of the portfolio in recent times has been about making sure we can stop boats because we deal with that on a daily basis, people who think people smugglers and boats have gone away don't understand the amount of activity and the hard work behind the scenes.
Obviously the work that we have done with the Allegiance Bill with taking citizenship away has been a main focus.
We've also been focusing on 501, the character cancellations, for bikies and people who are distributing ice to make sure we can keep our community a safer place. So we've been focussing on many areas within the portfolio.
But I think Michaelia, Andrew Robb, others have been doing a lot in this area and no doubt will continue to prosecute that message.
But the fact is that more 457 visas were issued under Labor than they have been under a Liberal Government and the facts speak for themselves.
So I think Bill Shorten should come out and explain that fact, he was Employment Minister at the time.
Journalist: Minister, can I ask you about Border Force which has been in the news recently regarding the plan to check papers on the streets of Melbourne.
Was this a beat up in social media or does it identify a problem in the agency itself?
Peter Dutton: Just to come back to the facts of this issue. Border Force was one of eight agencies joining the Victorian Police. They had a taskforce set up to try and target anti-social behaviour.
As part of that the police were going to check licences they were worried about some people who were working, but didn't have rights to work, I thought the union movement would have been supporting that particular work where a foreign worker was taking the job away from an Australian worker if they were acting outside of their visa conditions and that's what the Border Force activity included.
So the ABF is a force full of capable men and women, people who have worked in Australian Customs for a long period of time.
I think there are some sections of the community who don't like what the Government's done in relation to stopping the boats and therefore has this anti-ABF view.
There's nothing we can do about that, I think we can demonstrate through the great success of the ABF that they are really working very hard…
Journalist: But there was clearly a lot of controversy about this and Border Force walked away from it. It was front page news in a number of newspapers, was it a beat-up?
Peter Dutton: Again I'll allow commentators to make their judgements on that. All I can point you to Troy is the facts in relation to this matter.
Australian Border Force are intercepting people at our borders each day including terrorists, they are making sure that people who are here on visas and don't have work rights or have limited work rights aren't taking jobs of Australians, they're making sure that they can deal with significant threats within the visa programme so where we have integrity issues, where we have people who are dealing drugs if they are here on a visa we seek to cancel those visas, so the work of the ABF each day speaks for itself.
The success of it, the professionalism of the organisation, the Commissioner who is a person of outstanding background and quality; I think people have a good judgement to make in relation to ABF.
But as I say others have a different axe to grind and I think they're conflating issues and really making statements to serve their own purposes. I think if you look at the facts of the work of the ABF and the professional officers therein I think there is a lot for us to be very proud of.
Journalist: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton you've been generous with your time as always. Thanks very much for joining us this morning on Australian Agenda.