Subjects: Baby Asha; the Coalition Government's border protection policy.
The Minister joins me on the line now, Peter Dutton, good afternoon.
Good afternoon Ben.
The allegations levelled at you. Did you leak or did your office leak the information to the papers today about the police investigation into baby Asha’s Mum?
No we didn’t and I was asked a question yesterday on the Today Show about the investigation and it is not for me to comment on an investigation by the Queensland Police or by Queensland Children Services. Their investigations are a matter for them to conduct and to comment on.
From my perspective we’re interested in making sure that we can deal with people compassionately, have a look at their cases individually, but ultimately the Government’s position is very clear and that is as we said at the last election, we’re not going to allow people smugglers to get back into business and we’re not going to allow people, including children, to drown at sea again.
I think we’ve got a tough but fair approach and we have been able to stare down people smugglers and they are looking at every word spoken – by people like Premier Palaszczuk – and they are trying to twist that into a message that it’s ok to get onto a boat because you’ll settle in Australia.
It’s unfair to those people as well because they’re paying their money and they expect to get an outcome by living in Australia and we’re just not going to allow that to happen.
Your stance on this hasn’t changed, yet some see what’s happened, going into community detention, as a backflip.
Again there’s a lot of propaganda being put around Ben, particularly through social media by some of these advocates. Now, a lot of these advocates don’t believe what I believe and what I think many of your listeners would support, that is, that we should have secure borders.
Now, Labor lost control of our borders. There were 50,000 people who arrived on 800 boats and there are people, including many of these advocates, who think we should have open borders, that we should allow people to come in at their free will.
I don’t want a situation like we’re seeing in Europe at the moment or where people are drowning on the Mediterranean. I want an orderly migration programme. We offer refuge to people who are genuine refugees – not to economic refugees, not to people that want a better way of life, as much as I can understand that.
I have a fundamental difference with the advocates; they want free borders, I want secure borders.
I think there’s a lot of misinformation that’s being pushed out at the moment but the decision to release the baby into the community detention arrangement is exactly what we’ve done for 83 other people, including women and children in family units, into community housing, until their matters are finalised and they can be returned to Nauru.
So we have treated this family no different to the ones that have come before this family and we will treat the families that follow no differently.
For the advocates to try and paint that as something different, shows how desperate they are to undo the Government’s measures around securing our borders and I just won’t accept it.
Part of their argument is that we are dealing with human lives here and we need to show compassion. Personally, I agree with the stance the Government has made and you’ve got to make sure our borders are protected. But I can see it from their point of view where they’re saying we are dealing with humans here.
And that’s what I’ve said today; enough is enough, let’s just get this process finished and nailed so that we can move on because we are dealing with humans and they are looking for a future – wherever that may be – they’re just stuck in limbo right now.
We’re trying to find them a home Ben. So we’re saying to people; if you aren’t found to be a refugee then we’ll provide you with support to go back to your country of origin – in this case Nepal – and if people don’t want to do that then the option is for them to go to Nauru – and we’ve got arrangements where we can send people to a third country, in this case Cambodia – but we can talk with people about other arrangements that we might be able to sort out where they can go back to another country.
But we’ve been very clear. We will take record numbers of people through the front door and in an orderly way but we are not going to take people who pay people smugglers to get here. People smugglers watch every word that I say, that Premier Palaszczuk and others say and if they think there is a change in policy….there are 14,000 people who are waiting in Indonesia at the moment to get onto boats and there are many millions more potentially who would want to get into Europe, but can’t and would be happy to make their way up through Malaysia into Indonesia onto boats to come to our country.
We need to be compassionate – not just for the faces that we see on our TV but for the 1,200 that drowned when Labor lost control of our borders – and the people who would drown again if the people smugglers were back in control putting these leaky boats onto the water and we’ve been able to stare that down.
We’re dealing with possible ventures regularly and we turned back a boat again recently and just because the boat arrivals aren’t making the news each night, it doesn’t mean that this threat has gone away.
It will be with us for a long time because Australia has a generous attitude….
Minister where did that boat come from that you said that you just turned around recently?
The boat recently that we turned around came from Sri Lanka and we had the ability to send those people back.
How recently? In the last couple of weeks since the baby Asha….
…over the last couple of weeks Ben. We determined that those people aren’t refugees and then they go back to their country of origin. We’ve got a good relationship with Sri Lanka, as we do with Indonesia, but the point that I would make is that we are a very attractive country because we’ve got a good health system, we’ve got a good social welfare system and people want to come.
There’s no doubt about that, the attraction is there and that’s why we do need to keep a hard stance on this. Minister can I just ask you, because I know time is precious, community detention; what exactly does that involve? What are they, and Asha’s family and the parents, what are they seeing, doing, how free are they or how tightly locked down are they?
So it will either be a unit or a house type accommodation and there will be somebody from the Department or a guard that is present. There’s not free movement, people don’t come and go as they wish, but if there are medical appointments that need to be attended or there needs to be contact with legal counsel or whatever the case might be, then we accommodate that.
I think people need to put into perspective frankly Ben how generous we are to a lot of people. People work hard for their taxes, they pay their taxes and we spend a lot of money on helping people who have come by boat or people who are legitimate refugees and the advocates would want you to believe something very different.
Even on Nauru the situation that people paint here is very different to the reality. We spent $11 million on a hospital in Nauru where we provide services. There are classrooms with modern technologies in them. Kids go to school each day. We provide education as I say as well as housing and food.
These people ultimately though, because they paid their money to a people smuggler, want to come to Australia. We’re saying that is not going to happen and we aren’t helped frankly by people like Premier Palaszczuk – who I think still has her P-plates on when it comes to these sorts of issues – because giving a green light to boats that start up again is a disaster for our country and Premier Palaszczuk I think needs to be a little bit more responsible and start acting like a Premier instead of a protester, because that is no way to run the state.
I think it’s very clear that Queenslanders support a strong border policy while still being compassionate and I think that’s what most of your listeners, I hope, would support but certainly what we’ll be taking to the next election.
Minister it has been over 10 days now, it’s been almost two weeks since baby Asha and that whole case sort of started, the protest, everything like that. How far are we down the track until we get a resolution to their case? Is it close?
Ben, the difficulty of course is that the other side of this discussion is that there are a lot of big legal firms around town who are involved in pro bono work in this area.
But the Government’s investigation, finding out their status, that’s what you have to do, verify their situation and then when to return, how far down the track are we with that?
We can’t return people until their medical attention has been resolved and that is the advice that I’ve got in relation to baby Asha, that the doctors are happy that she’s received the medical attention, but there’s a second issue and that is in relation to the legal impediments we have.
So these lawyers take out injunctions, we spend millions and millions of dollars each year defending these actions and I think we will be tied up in a legal process for many of these families for a period of time to come.
Again, we’re using taxpayers money to defend these actions – even when the High Court itself has found that regional processing is both constitutional and legal in our country and for our country to enter into those arrangements and it may be some time before people can depart because of the legal process that’s involved – which to me is a great frustration because Nauru has a policy where they will suspend the application consideration around the refugee claim until a person returns back to Nauru.
But even in cases like baby Asha’s, and I’m advised on that case that there was at least on the initial pass, a refusal of the refugee claim that was being made, but it can’t be finalised until people return to Nauru and as I say this is part of the legal stalling practice that some of the big law firms fund.
It’s a frustration and it is sad too because we are dealing with humans and we’ve got to remember that but we know that the laws are laws, rules are rules and they’re there to be enforced. Minister, I appreciate your time this afternoon.