Subjects: Humanitarian assistance to minority groups in South Africa; coal-fired power; federal politics.
Peter Dutton thank you so much for joining me.
South Africa's Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu has issued a statement saying she has noted and welcomed Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop's retraction of the comments made by you, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, on the South African land redistribution. Have they actually retracted your comments?
No they haven't Andrew. That's very clear and I was with the Prime Minister today. So no that's not been retracted.
The Government's position is as I stated a couple of weeks ago; that is that we have a refugee and humanitarian program, we have an intake through that program. If people are eligible, as farmers from South Africa, they've been persecuted, then we will look at their individual cases and in fact we're having a look at several now.
So no, there was no retraction of the comments and that's certainly not the position of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister confirmed that today.
Well it wouldn't be the first time the Foreign Affairs Minister has undermined you. You're convinced she hasn't done this on this issue?
No Andrew and I've seen the letter that Julie sent to her counterpart in South Africa and it doesn't go to any suggestion for repudiation or retraction of comments and it restates our position in relation to the refugee and humanitarian program. So I'm not sure how it could be interpreted the way the South African Minster's interpreted it. I'm not sure what domestic issues are at play in terms of the politics in South Africa that would bring this comment out, but it's not based on any factual statement by anyone within the Australian Government.
About those considerations over there, the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's approved a motion in Parliament of course allowing for taking farmland without compensation, but since you raised this issue, he has added: we are not going to steal and grab land. Do you take credit for or any comfort from that?
Andrew, I don't have any comment to make in relation to South African matters of state.
From our perspective, we're a great country that has welcomed many South Africans, communities, including in my own electorate in Albany Creek, in Eatons Hill, big ex-pat communities from South Africa – true in Andrew Hastie's electorate and elsewhere right around the country – hundreds of thousands of South Africans have called Australia home and we've welcomed them. They've worked hard and they've made the best of their start in Australia.
So if there are more people that claim protection and they've been violated, they've been assaulted and they have a case to make, we'll look at those individual circumstances and very happy to have a look at some of those, as I say, we're doing now – but in relation to matters in South Africa – that's an issue for others to comment on.
I'll just try one more question about South Africa on you and it's the issue I raised in my editorial. The South African President has praised Winnie Mandela as an inspiration and a champion and an icon. Is that a worry to you given her role in the murder of young black men?
Well Andrew as the Australian Immigration Minister and Home Affairs Minister, I don't want to comment on comments by other world leaders. That's an issue for others to comment on.
From my perspective, I think we've got a great South African community here in Australia. We know that there are many Zimbabwean farmers who have settled here over a period of time, those that were dispossessed or those that were driven from their lands. I don't want to see that take place in any part of the world and from Australia's perspective, if we can help some of those relatives that are still in a desperate situation, then we're very happy to look at those cases and that's my priority.
So we'll go through, have a look at the individual cases. If we can settle people within the parameters of our program, we're happy to do that and I think there will be a number of referrals by people who are living in Australia that have pretty explicit cases for us to have a look at.
You look at the detail of some that have already been sent in, it's unquestionably the case that there are some very difficult circumstances. People have been murdered, people have been assaulted on their own properties etc, that's been well documented and again, the domestic political situation or commentary I'll leave to others.
But from our perspective I want to make sure that we can help those people who are in need and I believe that we can look at some of these cases and determine whether or not those cases meet our criteria and if so, we would offer places to people in that circumstance.
Yes, I just do think though, give some cultural context to the fears that some people may have over there about what's happening in South Africa.
But moving on to domestic politics here. You've got about 20 Coalition MPs who reportedly have joined a new Monash Group and this is a group that wants the Government to consider using taxpayers' money to build a coal fired power station, just like the Government's going to be using even more taxpayer money – $6 billion at least – to build a kind of giant battery, the Snowy 2.0.
Now among those MPs is the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly, who denies this is a get-Turnbull exercise. Here he is.
CRAIG KELLY: That's all nonsense. We really have some problems in this country. Now the cost of the Renewable Energy Target this year, which gets added onto consumers' electricity bills, will blow out by $1 billion. The Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has done a good job on this. Where we're up to now is getting the parameters of that policy correct and that is what will be very important.
[end of excerpt]
Peter Dutton, are you against using taxpayer money to build a coal fired power generator?
Andrew I'm not against coal at all. I mean instinctively, as a conservative, I'm not much into expending taxpayers money to invest in projects or pick winners, but the point I'd make is that we're in a situation where we do have market failure, where we're paying very high electricity prices – largely because of the actions of state governments, as we've seen in South Australia and Victoria – there's a stability issue around the supply and for small businesses, people who need to run refrigeration within small businesses, there are significant issues.
So I think it's right that my colleagues are looking at ways in which we can provide support – particularly around pricing and stability – I think they're the two most important issues.
I was talking to a butcher in my electorate the other day and his bill now is up over $5,000 a month; so before he pays a dollar of rent or a dollar in wages, he's now paying over $60,000 in electricity costs.
So I'm really into the energy source that's going to deliver stability, that is, continuity of supply and that has the greatest possibility of bringing prices down or stabilising prices, because under what Bill Shorten and the Labor state governments are proposing at the moment, people's electricity bills will skyrocket and lights will go out in circumstances where we don't have an assurance around that dispatchable power such as coal.
The Greens can scream all they like about coal, but the reality is that the technology is not there at the moment to store energy when the sun's not shining or the wind's not blowing and we need to be realistic about the continued use of coal.
As Craig and others have pointed out, if that can be used in such a way that it's energy efficient, it's new generation, then I don't see why we wouldn't explore those options.
Now you said as a conservative you're not in favour, in principle, of using taxpayers' money on projects, but why then is the Government using even more taxpayer money – north of $6 billion – on this Snowy scheme, which is only a battery. Why not use it … a much cheaper coal fired generator instead?
Well Andrew, the Snowy Hydro scheme obviously has been in both state and federal government ownership for a long period of time, so there is a difference between that which is already a government asset and wading into a market.
Now there are pros and cons for that and then question marks around whether that ultimately brings down the price of electricity. I mean, as I say, there are all sorts of distortions – I think there was gouging taking place in terms of gas prices and we've seen state governments that have stripped many of the electricity generators and providers of dividends and they've driven up costs to the end user – to consumers both domestic and those in a business context.
So there are lots of elements at play. It is a complicated mess and as Craig pointed out, I think Josh is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances, particularly where you've got Labor-Green state governments or territory governments that want to jack up the prices.
I think Australians are already paying too much for their electricity and people don't want their lights going out. So there's a lot that we can do by way of response and I think it's appropriate that – as the Prime Minister has said, as Craig has said – that we explore every possible option because I don't want to see electricity prices going up for the butchers and for families that are already struggling to pay their bills.
Well because you've got Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce now part of this group, it's been written off as a challenge to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. Do you see it that way?
Well Craig Kelly has said, as you say, in his comments today that that's not what it's designed to do and I think my colleagues have a genuine interest in, as I say, trying to deliver affordable power and making sure that it's reliable.
We can't in the 21st century in our country go back to diesel generators as the only option for back-up power, as Jay Weatherill was proposing – there's an absurdity around that when he's arguing at the same time that we need to reduce emissions.
So we do need to recognise that Australia has high prices by international standards. We don't want businesses offshoring, taking jobs offshore, because they can't afford to run their factories in places like Brendale in my electorate or in industrial communities, in business parks around the country.
So we've got to be realistic and I think it's right for people to test ideas, to look at ways in which we can ensure that pricing is as low as it possibly can be and that we've got reliability in the network.
But it is inevitable isn't it that such a move – even though I've been calling for this sort of thing for a while – I mean it is nevertheless seen by many commentators as a challenge to Turnbull. It's inevitable isn't it given he is in such poll hell? I mean he's coming up to his 30th losing Newspoll in a row. How much trouble is this bloke in?
Well as the Prime Minister's said – and he's made comments about Newspoll – that it is what is. I mean all of us if you're behind in the polls want to see your team – whether you're in Government or Opposition – ahead in the polls. There's no question about that.
So the Government needs to continue to prosecute our key messages. We are doing very well in keeping borders secure, we're obviously doing a lot in relation to cancellation of visas where people have committed crimes in Australia. There's a huge investment that we're putting into child exploitation prevention. We're looking at ways in which we can provide more support to ASIO and the Australian Federal Police.
So from my perspective, for my portfolio responsibility, we just need to keep doing what it is we've been elected to do and similarly in the other portfolios, we'll continue to do that.
I think we can push hard the argument because it's a credible argument, that Bill Shorten would be a disaster for this country – hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of new taxes because they've got a spending problem. People will hear more about that in the run up to the next election.
From my perspective that's what I want to concentrate on and making sure that we can continue to deliver in the key portfolios, one of which obviously is Home Affairs.
Well nevertheless you've got people like Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald conceding that Malcolm Turnbull is indeed a loser and promoting Julie Bishop as what he says the most plausible alternative. That of the Liberal leadership contenders, he writes, she is the only one who could credibly improve the Coalition's vote and win an election. Well we can guess where that briefing came from.
But I'm just wondering; should that ever become open, the leadership, would you rule out putting your hand up?
Andrew look, my words around this haven't changed from when I was asked this question – I think on your program but others, you know, months and months ago – and that is that I only accepted the offer to serve in the Prime Minister's Cabinet because I could give my loyalty to the leader, exactly the same formula I applied when Tony Abbott offered a position within his Cabinet.
I believe very strongly that if you don't have that loyalty, then you resign from the Cabinet. I'm serving in the Cabinet as a loyal Minister within the Turnbull Government. I want to defeat Bill Shorten at the next election. I don't want our country to be run by a Shorten-led, but CFMEU-inspired government. It would be a disaster for families and small businesses.
I'll just give you some free feedback from listeners to my 2GB and 3AW show and they're saying: go Dutton.
Look, just finally, you've been likened to a Nazi SS officer by celebrity human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, you've been attacked as a fascist and a neo-Nazi by the Greens. Now you've said that such critics are dead to you and you take no notice, but Peter, that can't be right, can it? I mean you're also a husband, you're a Dad. These things have really got to affect anyone with a heart. I mean what's the penalty you're paying for this kind of abuse?
Well Andrew, you know, your kids and wife in these cases always feel that blow back, the abuse that comes and it's only natural that the people around you who love you and know you best are impacted by it.
But from my perspective; obviously the Greens are unhappy with me because of the border protection policies that we've got, because we haven't allowed people to come by boat or drown at sea. I've got every child out of detention, but nonetheless they will always hate me as they hate any immigration minister from our side of politics. That's the reality. So I just think we need to keep focused on what's important.
They can throw all these claims out. Look some of the mud does stick and I don't like that because that's not the person I am and what matters to me is knowing the decisions I'm making are in our country's best interests. I'm not going to be straying off course because the Greens and the Labor Party throw mud or somebody as insignificant as Mr Burnside, who's interested only in his own self-promotion over those that he seeks to represent.
I'm just not going to let it influence me because I know that the vast majority of Australians support the work that we're doing in keeping our borders secure, keeping our country safe, making sure that we don't allow the wrong people into our country and so I'm just not going to allow them to impact on me more than what it naturally humanly does, as you point out. I guess that's the obvious reaction.
I'm convinced we're doing the right thing and there's a lot more for us to do. It would be a disaster to have boats restart, which is what would happen under a Labor government, under a Shorten government and I'm working every day to make sure we don't get that outcome.
Peter Dutton, thank you so much for your time.
Thanks Andrew, appreciate it mate, thank you.