Sunday, 09 April 2017

Interview with Peter Van Onselen and Paul Kelly, Sky Sunday Agenda

Subjects: Manus RPC, Resettlement in third countries, Nauru RPC, Nauru 20 year visa, Newspoll, Syrian-Iraqi intake, Islamist ideology, Queanbeyan murder, housing affordability and immigration, homeland security department.



As mentioned off the top of the programme, our first guest today is the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. He comes to us live from Brisbane.

Thanks very much for being there.

We’ll get to a lot of these issues that have been discussed by Paul Kelly in his editorial, but can I start with Manus and the announcement that we heard from the Prime Minister about the planned closure of that centre.

This has been precipitated, Peter Dutton, by the ruling, the High Court ruling over there in PNG. It’s a slower than expected turnaround time though, before the closure. Can you take us through some of the mechanics, I guess, of how that will occur?


Well good morning Peter and good morning Paul.

It’s been an important visit by the Prime Minister and a successful one. I was speaking to the PM yesterday after he’d met with Prime Minister O’Neill and we’ve got a very good relationship, as you’d expect with PNG, particularly around the resettlement arrangements.

The deal that we operate under at the moment, was the deal brokered by Kevin Rudd when we was Prime Minister.

The big difference of course now is that we don’t have new boat arrivals. We don’t have people drowning at sea and we’ve got control of our borders. So it’s a very different environment now than that which Labor presided over when they were in government. And really the art here, Peter, is to make sure that we don’t do anything that restarts boats, because we have said that we want to close the Manus Detection Centre, the Regional Processing Centre, by the 31st of October and we’ll work with PNG.

Obviously there are officials from the US, both Homeland Security and State Departments looking at each individual case at the moment. And we hope that many of those people can be resettled in the United States.

We’ve said that we will have an enduring need for Nauru, because the threat from people smugglers and boat arrivals will never go away, it will always be a latent threat to us. So we need to have that capacity, but our desire is to close Manus as quickly as possible, and we’re working with our PNG counterparts to ensure that’s a reality, by the latest, 31st of October.


Minister, can you give us any indication at this stage as to how many people from Manus the United States might take?


Well we don’t know the answer to that yet and obviously the officials are working in good faith and we’ve been very encouraged by the approach of the officials, both from the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

They are working through the individual cases, obviously as you’d expect. We’ve been able to work up a package around each of these people and provide that to the US and these people will travel under the existing refugee programme presided over by the US Government. So we think there’s significant scope for a large number of people, but we don’t have an exact number as yet.


Okay, well what happens to the people still left on Manus? I mean clearly the idea is to close this operation. Even given the United States might take a significant number of people, there’ll still be quite a few left there, so what happens to those people?


Well under the agreement struck by Mr Rudd, if people are found to be refugees, given that PNG is itself is a signatory to the convention and to the protocols, PNG has the responsibility to settle those people.

On Nauru, people can go to a third country like Cambodia and some have done that.

Now on PNG, there have been some 36 people or so that have already settled there.

They’ve been found to be refugees and they’ve settled in the PNG community. If people have been found not to be refugees, then the expectation is that they will be returned home.

We are not going to accept those people. We are not taking people from Manus Island or from Nauru to settle permanently in Australia and we’ve been very clear and consistent about that. It’s been a core reason as to why we’ve been able to stop the people smugglers in their tracks and we are not going to retreat on that.

So we’ll work with the PNG Government, but some people will remain in PNG. We’ve been very clear with the PNG Government, that’s the nature of the agreement struck between Prime Ministers O’Neill and Rudd and we will work as hard as we can to get people back to their countries of origin, if they’ve been found not to be owed protection.


But what about those people who have been found to be refugees, who aren’t going to the United States? What practical option do they have?


They’re staying in PNG, that’s the arrangement as it currently stands.

They are not coming to Australia and the advocates can bleat all they want, they can protest all they want. We have been very clear, those people are not going to settle in our country because that would restart the people trade and we are not going to allow women and children to drown at sea again.

I announced on Friday that we have had another boat intercepted and we dealt with that boat and returned 25 people to their country of origin, to Sri Lanka.

We have been made very well aware through the intelligence, that whilst we have the upper hand on the people smugglers at the moment, they are trying to put ventures together and we are not going to allow us to get into a situation that Labor presided over. That’s the reality.


Can I just check something?  By way of clarity, Minister, on this. So if they’re genuine refugees on Manus, but not accepted by the United States – I understand your point, they don’t come here, they stay in PNG – if they refuse, practically speaking, to stay in PNG when the Manus camp gets closed down, how does that work?

They just simply stay there, or then they remain our issue and they go to Nauru?


No, we’ll be withdrawing the assets from Manus Island.

I mean we are not going to have a detention centre there for other use. We’re not going to have facilities being used or repurposed. The centre will be dismantled. We’ve been very clear about that.

There is a facility at East Lorengau close by where some people are currently residing, those people that have been found to be refugees who are transitioning into PNG society.

So there are facilities available and there’ll be resources available to provide people with settlement options.

But we’ve been very clear, clear from day one that they are not coming to Australia and we’re just not going to allow the people smugglers to be out there again saying look, if you wait, you’ll eventually get to Australia. That’s not what we’re going to allow in this circumstance and we’ve been very clear and open and honest about that.

The Labor Party can’t complain about that because we’re only operating under the deal that was struck by the Rudd Government at the time.


Now, what’s the situation as far as Nauru is concerned, Minister?


Well a different situation in Nauru, Paul, because we are going to continue that relationship. We do need to have that capacity on Nauru. At the moment, we’ve got people that are being interviewed by the US officials and people who have been found to be refugees and are eligible to go to the United States are being considered by the US at the moment.

And again, we hope that a large number of those can settle permanently in the United States. But equally, our resolve remains that those people otherwise, will not be coming to Australia.

Those people that have been found not to be refugees, we have an arrangement that I’ve brokered with the Nauruan Government that is for a 20 year visa. Those people will remain on a 20 year visa if they wish to stay on Nauru.

But there is no prospect at all for them to come to Australia and we’ll help them with third country settlements otherwise, including to Cambodia.

It’s important to recognise also of course, that there are hundreds of people, both from Manus and Nauru, that have been found, or they’ve had their claims determined, they have returned home.

There are a number of people that have been found not to be refugees off Manus Island, who in recent months have decided to return home, because they realise that they are not coming to Australia.

So our resolve remains with Nauru, but Nauru will be an ongoing necessary relationship with Australia and we value very much the friendship that we have with the Nauruan Government.


How does the 20 year visa work, Minister? So if they accept that, that they weren’t genuine refugees, they don’t get to come here, Nauru will give them a 20 year visa.

Does that mean they, what, can’t leave Nauru over those 20 years? Or presumably certainly couldn’t, for example, come on a holiday to Australia. That would be a fair thing to assume, wouldn’t it?


No they can return back to their country of origin, Peter, because people have been found not to be refugees. And as the UN points out, there are 65 million people around the world who are displaced or would seek to come to a country like ours tomorrow. You cannot conduct a migration program where people smugglers and people found not to be refugees, determine what country they go to …


Minister, I’m not challenging the validity of it. If they haven’t been found to be refugees, I don’t disagree with you about that. It’s as simple as that, they’re not refugees. But then why allow them a 20 year visa, as opposed to just sending them back home? They are not genuine refugees.


Because in some cases, for example Iranians, they can’t be sent back against their will. That’s the determination of the Iranian Government and others, as opposed to countries like Sri Lanka or Vietnam, for example, or any of our partners otherwise.

Over-stayers from the US, people who commit crimes that are here on visas from the UK, those people can be forcibly returned back to their country of origin.

Where you’ve got a situation where people won’t volunteer to return, then that’s the difficulty. We offer settlement packages, we’ll pay for return flights. Ultimately it’s cheaper for the Australian taxpayer to do that. But in a circumstance where people refuse to go, we can’t get travel documents out of that country of origin, it makes it very difficult and we need to deal with those individual circumstances.


Now Minister, as you know, the refugee lobby is agitating for the Government to send these people back to Australia and to have final settlement in Australia. What would be the consequences, as far as you’re concerned and as far as the Government is concerned, if that occurred?


Well Paul, it’s not going to occur, because the difficulty that even some well-intentioned advocates have and other advocates who are just trying to cause trouble, they are prolonging the difficulty for these individuals, for these families. They are promising false hope and they are trading in human misery, just like the people smuggles are. People smugglers once they take the money, don’t care whether these people go to the bottom of the ocean or not.

Now Operation Sovereign Borders means that we’ve had just over 980 days, since a successful people smuggling venture. We’ve not had one reported death at sea. And so we’ve got all of the children out of detention, we’ve closed 17 detention centres on the mainland. But this problem has not gone away.

If people smugglers are able to say in Indonesia or Sri Lanka or Malaysia, wherever it might be, that look, if you wait for a couple of years on Nauru, eventually you’ll get the prize that you’ve paid for – you’ll settle in the Australian community. We have taken that currency away from people smugglers and by doing that, we’ve returned order to our borders.

In doing that, we’re able to bring those refugees, like Yazidis, for example, that have demonstrated their value in our society and demonstrated their story. They were found to be owed protection. We’ve only got a limited number of places, like any country in the world, in terms of the number of refugees that we can take.

We can’t take economic refugees, we’re not going to and the position of this Government has been very clear.

Interestingly, Bill Shorten’s got this sort of cobbled together policy, which is barely holding together, because half of his party would do away with regional processing, do away with boat turn-backs and certainly do away with Temporary Protection Visas, which have been at heart of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders.

So there is a very big difference now between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party in relation to border protection.


Mr Dutton, can I just ask you before we get back to areas more broadly in your portfolio, some comments that you made during the week about Newspoll, they’re self-evident I suppose, the polling has to improve.

But Malcolm Turnbull and the polling, these two things are tied in a way that we may not like, whether he likes it or not, aren’t they?

Courtesy of the way that he used Newspoll to talk about the need for Tony Abbott to be moved on. He highlighted 30 consecutive bad polls as not being good enough. He’s up to 10, with 20 to go. You don’t just have to get the polls in order for the sake of winning an election when it counts, you also really need to get the momentum to avoid that comparison.


Well Peter, you’re the commentator that writes about Newspoll each fortnight in The Australian, so nice plug for Newspoll, but I’ll leave the commentary to you.

The point I made in that interview was that I was pre-selected in 2001 in January, John Howard was gone for all money in January of 2001. Kim Beazley was going to be Prime Minister of our country and in November, by the time of the election only 10 months later, we won a very significant majority.

In 2004, John Howard was way behind Mark Latham and by the time of the election, John Howard was able to trump Mark Latham.

Now, my judgement is that with two years to go, we have the ability to turn the polls around, to win the election well under Malcolm Turnbull. That’s my judgement and I stand by that.

I think Bill Shorten, as each day goes by, people’s doubts about him grow and grow and grow. And I think people see the claws of the CFMEU and other union bosses very deep into the soul of Bill Shorten. I think people doubt whether or not this man has the independence and the ability, the integrity to be Prime Minister of this country.

I think for a number of reasons otherwise – on policy fronts including national security and border security, as well as economic security and energy security – this Government can win the next election and win it well. That’s what we intend to do. That’s the task of all of us and Newspoll will report each fortnight, but for us it is about pointing out the highlights and differences between what the two governments would mean for the future of this country.

I believe that Australians, particularly families and small businesses, have a vested interest in making sure that this Government’s voted in at the next election.


But you’d at least agree though, wouldn’t you, that it’d be a bad look for Malcolm Turnbull to emulate the 30 consecutive polls, having used it as the trigger in September 2015?


Well Peter, when you ask those questions, then I reply by saying I just refer you back to my previous answer, because I just don’t want to get into the commentary of polling. There’s a long way to go until the next election. I believe we can win the next election and win it well.

But two years is a very, very long time in politics. So let’s continue to work hard and make sure that we put a very good case to the Australian people to be elected, which I believe we deserve to be re-elected and we’ll demonstrate that over the course of the next two years.


Minister, going back to your portfolio, I wanted to ask you about the intake of the 12,000 Syrians to this country that you’ve had responsibility for.

Can you tell us the proportion of that intake which is of a Christian background and what was the criteria the Government used in selecting these people?

And what’s your response to criticism of the selection basis and the claim that the Government’s actually being discriminatory in terms of this intake?


Well I just think the facts bare out the reality here. There are some people – critics of the Government, critics of mine – who say we’ve taken in too many persecuted minorities, too many Christians in the 12,000. But they need to look at the reality on the ground.

The reality is that people of Christian belief are being massacred and we saw in the pages of The Australian, only a couple of weeks ago, the details about the Yazidi women that we were able to bring out, who had been tortured and raped. People who had come from a part of the world where frankly they’d been targeted in a way that hadn’t been seen, at least in many decades, if not in centuries.

The reality is that we have bought people out who are persecuted minorities – priority of women and children – and we were very clear about that when we announced the programme.

Prime Minister Abbott was very clear when he announced it. Prime Minister Turnbull has been equally determined to make sure that we bring out those people who are most in need, those people that were facing persecution, those people who had lost family members, those people that had been targeted by Islamic extremists and the terrorists within that part of the world.

I think we should be very proud of the fact that we have scrutinised each application to make sure that the people are not going to pose a security threat to us and to make sure that the people we’re bringing are genuine refugees, so that we’re not displacing those people most in need from the queue.

So people can make all sorts of ideological attacks against us. We have based our decisions on the facts on the ground. We have taken some referrals from the United Nations. We’ve taken other referrals by family groups, church groups and other community groups here in Australia.

And in doing so, I think we’ve given ourselves the best chance for those people to make a positive contribution to Australia and in doing that we’ve lived up to our …


…..Is the decision purely who’s being persecuted though, or is it also a decision about, if you like, assimilation or fitting into the construct of the Australian society?


I do want people to fit into Australian society. There is a big discussion here across the programme about Australian values and making sure that people who come to our country, regardless of what programme they come under – whether it’s a working programme visa, or whether it’s a humanitarian and refugee programme, family reunion, whatever it might be – I want people when they come to our country, to take the opportunities that we’re putting on the table.

We’ve rescued people from terrible circumstances. We don’t want people to bring the problems of their old country to our country. We want people to respect and honour their heritage. We want them to be proud of that heritage, but we want them to abide by Australian laws. We want people to embrace Australian culture and we want people to work hard, to educate their children, because that’s been the history of migration in this country.

The best migrants who come to our country, are those that work hard, that provide for their families, that educate their children. We’ve seen generations of migrants who have made this country what it is today, because they’ve embraced those values.

I don’t want people coming here, if they’re of working age, have the ability to work, the capacity to work, to end up on welfare. I don’t want their kids to be involved in gang violence. I don’t want their sisters to be involved in any sort of crime. I want them all to be properly engaged in Australian society.

I think, when we do that, we have maximum support from the broader community, to bring people in on a continuing basis through the refugee and humanitarian programs.


Now Minister, we do have a problem in this country with Islamist violence. Some of that is home-grown, of course. Some of it relates to people who come here. But we’ve got an associated problem and that is of extremist Islamist ideology, which is not necessarily violent.

How concerned are you about this form of extremist ideology and what can the Government do in terms of addressing this, when it comes to the refugee and migrant intake?


Paul, the best thing that we can do is make sure that if people are of school age, then they’re at school. If they’re of working age and they have a capacity to work, then they need to be working. That’s the best thing.

If you’ve got young 16-year-olds, sitting at home on computers all day, in families where nobody’s working where communities are congregating together. They’re not taking up English language lessons. They’re not involved in community or sporting groups, then we will see problems. And we’ve seen problems in the past, we’re seeing them today. Not just here, but in the United States and the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

And so all of our intelligence agencies, our law enforcement agencies, are working to identify those threats. The young minds of people are being invaded online. They are being penetrated with messages of hate and we can’t tolerate that. We are a peaceful society. We want to contribute to making our world a better place. But we’re not going to do that by importing problems from overseas, or allowing them to propagate here within communities around the country.

We want to work with those communities. The vast majority of the Muslim population within our country, who are law abiding, hardworking, doing the right thing.

We want to stamp out, as quickly as we can, the minority element, that is radicalised or has a potential to radicalise, or would seek to radicalise others. If we can do that, we make our society a better place because as we’re seeing on our television screens at the moment, Australia is a target, just like those countries, just like we’ve seen in Sweden and elsewhere.

We need to make sure that we are bringing the best people into our country, so that we can save them from – in the case of some that we’ve bought through the Humanitarian and Refugee programme – certain death otherwise.

In exchange, we expect people to work hard, take the opportunity of a great health system, a good education system and an environment where if you work hard, you can get ahead and you can set up future generations of your family because that is the lived experience of people that have come from the four corners of the world to live in our country and we should be very proud of that.

In the 21st Century, we are a country that welcomes people, they work hard, they make a difference and that’s what our country should embrace.


Now in the last couple of days, we’ve seen this attack at Queanbeyan. I wonder whether you can give us any further details about that?


Well I don’t have any further details to provide this morning. I’ve had a briefing in relation to the matter and obviously the Federal Police as well as the New South Wales Police continue their investigations.

They’re looking at allegations in relation to the particular matter, but I don’t think it helps for any of us to speculate on what might have happened there. What we do know is that a young man tragically lost his life and the circumstances of that are being investigated at the moment.

But it’s an opportunity to heap praise on all of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They are working 24/7 at the moment to keep us safe and it is an uncertain world and there are people that would seek to do mass hurt and extremist type activities in our country, just as we’ve seen elsewhere.

So we need to be vigilant. We need to pay due homage to those people that work very hard day and night, to keep us safe. It is a big task that they’ve got and these people are determined, it seems, around the world to do harm to our country  and we’ll wait to see what circumstances come out of the Queanbeyan incident and what the police have to say in relation to that matter.


Now we’ve got a very fierce debate in this country at the moment about housing affordability and one of the themes which has emerged in this discussion, is the notion that reducing the annual immigration intake might be one way of addressing this issue.

As Immigration Minister, does this particular notion have any appeal to you or for the Government?


Well Paul, our migration intake should be driven by what’s in our national interest.

Now when John Howard was Prime Minister, he changed the Labor way in which the mix worked, that is to say that we bought in about two thirds of people who came here to work and about a third through the family reunion programme. Now we continue with that same setting today.

The numbers will fluctuate because the economy fluctuates and the demand for foreign labour will wax and wane. So we’re alive to that and we will do what’s in our country’s best interest.

There’s a lot of work that we’ve done between my department, Treasury and Finance to have a look at the economic input of people, particularly if they’re going to settle in Sydney and Melbourne. What that means for those cities. What it means in terms of infrastructure and housing supply, as you say. And there are ways that we are looking at, that we might be able to provide support to people, to choose a regional city for example, if there’s work there.


Would that be in the Budget, Minister, do you think? Is this something that we can expect to hear about, come that Tuesday in May?


Well I think, wait for the Budget. But just a general point about the migration programme. The idea of putting people out into communities is good for that community, good for that family. There are plenty of examples around the country at the moment, where they can’t, companies can’t ,engage local workers, abattoirs that are completely reliant on workers from overseas, from 457 visas, or other student visas, whatever the case might be. And so those communities are great to raise families in as well.

So if we can look at ways in which we can encourage those families to go and live, beyond just the city limits, then there may be a good outcome on a number of fronts. Not just in terms of the migration outcomes or the settlement integration arrangements of those families. So there can be good economic benefits as well.

So there are different aspects to this argument, Paul, but it is a whole of government effort, because we need to look at where we’re bringing people in, where they’re settling. Generally people will settle where they’ve got family or expat communities to provide support.

But again, there are many examples where we have seen families go out into regional and remote areas. They’ve made a great start and they love the environment in which they live. So if we can encourage more of that, moving people away from capital cities, then I think that’s something that we can embrace.


So it sounds like something that Bob Carr had been saying from his time as New South Wales Premier. He always had an issue with high immigration into Sydney in particular, because of things like housing affordability.

It sounds like the Government has developed a sympathy for that in some of those large centres, would that be fair?


I just think the numbers are a reality and that is that most people are going to capital cities. As I say, for good reasons, because they’re either chasing work, or they’ve got family, or an expat community there.

The argument is how could we marry them up with regional communities, where there is a supply of work, where there is an ability to send kids to school and to be a part of community.

Living in regional towns is a great way to raise a family, great way to be involved more intimately in the life of that community and housing and cost of living otherwise has the potential to be much cheaper than living in a capital city.

As we know, there are migrants who have made great starts in regional areas for a long period of time. So it’s a question of marrying up those communities that have a demand and a need for that labour force and those people that are prepared to travel.

PAUL KELLY:        

Minister, is the question of a new mega department of homeland security still on the table, or is that now off the table?


Well there’s been a lot of speculation, Paul, but ultimately I think the Prime Minister has rightly said that machinery of government changes are dealt with in the normal course of events. The Prime Minister, I presume, would make a decision solely based – well not presume, I know – he’d make a decision solely based on what’s in our national interest.

If it’s deemed that changes need to be made and that’s in our national interest, then that’s an issue for the Prime Minister to decide on.

But what need to do is to make sure that there is a proper sharing of information across agencies. The Australian Border Force, for example now has counter-terrorism unit officers at each of our international airports. We work very closely with the AFP, with ASIO, ASIS and other agencies.

We will do though, in the end, what’s in the best interests of our country. But all those machinery of government changes really is an issue for the Prime Minister. I think what the public wants to know and what they understand very clearly is that we are all working well together to make sure that we can keep our community safe.


Alright, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, you’ve been generous with your time, we appreciate you joining us on Agenda. Thanks very much.


Thank you.