Subjects: Operation Sovereign Borders; Labor's border failures; 2018-19 Budget.
The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is on the line. Mr Dutton good afternoon.
Good afternoon Ben.
What can you tell me about this attempted voyage to either New Zealand or Australia Minister?
Well Ben it was on the biggest vessel that we've seen really during the whole time of Operation Sovereign Borders. The size of the vessel meant that they had 131 passengers on board and they were destined, by some accounts, either to New Zealand or to Australia.
So it's a reminder that so far we've turned back 32 boats and that this problem hasn't gone away. People are now marketing New Zealand as a destination – probably with no intent of getting there – but if they arrive on Christmas Island or on the west coast of Australia, then that will be the outcome that people have paid for and they'll be happy to do that.
Why now? Why are they revving things up now? I know there are some things that happen that the public doesn't know about it, but it seems like this is a bit of increased interest in people smugglers taking a shot at getting to our region. Why now?
A couple of reasons Ben. One is that people have heard Labor talking about New Zealand as a destination. So that's why the people smugglers are now putting out there that if you pay your money – okay you don't believe that you'll get to Australia, but we can get you to New Zealand and people know that New Zealand is a backdoor entry into our country.
So there's that reason and the other reason – as you point out – is that it's just not been in the public's eye. So we haven't had the carnage that we saw with the 1,200 people drowning at sea or the 8,000 kids in detention that Labor presided over; so people think the issue's gone away, but the fact is that if Labor had have been in power over the course of the last six years, if those 32 boats had of got through, there would have been 300 boats, 500 boats behind it that would have got through.
So the problem hasn't gone away. There are still people drowning on the Mediterranean, still huge movements illegally of people around the world and we know that we've got at least 14,000 people just in Indonesia ready to get onto boats tomorrow and we've got huge issues in Sri Lanka, in Vietnam, obviously Malaysia as well.
So the problem hasn't gone away, but part of the drama is that Bill Shorten is now crab-walking back from a position of supporting Operation Sovereign Borders and he and Shayne Neumann – the person that would be the immigration minister in a Shorten government – has now put out these words saying essentially that they'll dismantle Operation Sovereign Borders and that they're happy for the boats to restart.
What is it that the Labor Party has said about New Zealand that allows you to say that you think that some of their comments about New Zealand might have peaked the interest of some of these people smugglers?
Well New Zealand's offered 150 places a year for people off boats to be settled and we haven't taken up that option because New Zealand's unique compared to any other country in the world. So if you're flying out here from the United Kingdom or comparable Western democracies like the United States, Canada, wherever it might be, you have to get a visa before you hop on the plane and come to our country. If you're living in Wellington or Auckland, you can hop on a plane, come to our country and you get a visa on arrival. That's because of the relationship with New Zealand and our argument is that if people are able to market New Zealand and people can get to New Zealand, they can very quickly then make it to Australia and that's the outcome that they want.
Basically Bill Shorten has been out there saying that they would take the 150 places, but as we see today, I mean that's the equivalent of one boat and if you've got 32 boats or 500 boats, as arrived under Labor, then New Zealand's not going to be able to take the numbers and people will end up back on our shores and you end up with those deaths at sea, you end up with people in detention.
Labor's crazy policy of the 90-day rule is basically just a green light for people to get into our country because Iran won't take people back unless they voluntarily go there. They won't issue travel documents so those people will just say oh well; we're just going to sit out the 90 days and then we'll be living in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, wherever it might be and it would be a complete disaster.
It's not just Peter Dutton warning about Labor's policy today. The Operation Sovereign Borders Commander Stephen Osborne was asked whether or not he'd be concerned about Labor changing the policy. He said if we make changes I would have some concerns.
I'm told this afternoon that Labor is privately complaining about Stephen Osborne's comments this afternoon. They think that those comments might be out of order. Do you think they're out of order?
No they're not and Stephen Osborne is a man who's an Air Vice-Marshal within the RAAF. He's a man that's served his country. He's a distinguished public servant and he should be treated with respect and for Labor to go around shooting the messenger is really beyond belief.
So the fact that Labor is tearing itself apart once again on issues around Operation Sovereign Borders and boats and detention centres etc. is no surprise to anyone. We now know that the majority of the Labor caucus is opposed to offshore processing. We know that they bring people here.
What happens if somebody doesn't have identity documents or they pose a biosecurity risk? If after 90 days they haven't produced the documents or we can't verify who that person is, Labor releasing that person into the community is a disaster.
We're still cleaning up this mess of Rudd and Gillard and the fact that Bill Shorten is essentially duplicating the Rudd and Gillard disaster is not the fault of Vice-Marshal Osborne or anyone else. This is a Labor problem and to criticise somebody of the Air Vice-Marshal's standing is…I actually think they should apologise. I think it's a disgrace.
Tell me, ahead of tomorrow night's Budget, Scott Morrison handing down his third Budget tomorrow night. Debt and deficit; it wasn't so long ago that that was a feature of what the Coalition speaking about – Budget emergencies. Well our net debt back then was $175 billion and it's now $340 billion, but we're being told today that we will be back in surplus earlier than expected.
Is this the kind of message we need to be getting out to people at the moment that we're going to be back on track? There is going to be a time, not too far down the track hopefully, when we're going to be back in surplus? But there'd be a lot of Aussies thinking how. How do we do that while we're handing out tax cuts and the like at the same time?
Well Ben, obviously we've had a few tough years where we've had to make cuts, where we have had to put in Budget savings and there's now a recurrent save that's built into the Budget because of those decisions that we've made. So we've made decisions which have helped our economy grow.
Liberal Governments always get elected to clean up Labor's disasters – not just on the borders, but in the economy as well – so yes, we inherited an enormous amount of debt, but because of the fact that the economy is growing strongly, I think you'll see a Budget where you've got more jobs and the essential services – Medicare and the rest – that people want guaranteed. I think we'll provide those guarantees and the Government's also got to live within its means.
So we, as a Liberal Government, we always want to tax people less. The retirees tax that Bill Shorten's proposing and the electricity tax would hit families and retirees right between the eyes and small businesses as well. So we want to make sure that we can manage the Budget well. I think that's what Mathias Cormann and the Treasurer Scott Morrison have done and I think…wait to see the numbers tomorrow night, but there's a lot of hard work that's gone into the Budget and we want to make sure that we can deliver for families and provide that tax relief and we will spend extra on schools and hospitals and Medicare and making sure that we can keep our country safe as well. They'll all be key themes.
Great to catch up. Thank you for coming on.
Thanks Ben. See you mate.