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Monday, 14 May 2018
Transcript

Interview with Tom Elliott, Radio 3AW

14 May 2018

Subjects: Terror attacks in Indonesia; Syrian refugees; airport security; Luciano Gandolfo; AAT decisions; English language proficiency.

EO&E...........................................................................................................................................

TOM ELLIOTT:

Joining us live in the studio as promised is the Federal Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. Mr Dutton, good afternoon.

PETER DUTTON:        

Good afternoon Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Thank you for joining us today.

PETER DUTTON:        

Pleasure.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Look, I've got a number of subjects I want to try and get through with you. Firstly, Indonesia. Now, there was a wave of suicide bombings recently that hit churches. They reckon 14 people might have died. Forty were injured. Then in the last 24 hours, from what I read in the media from there, a family of suicide bombers that included young children have struck a number of police stations. What can you tell us about these attacks?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, it's almost too horrific to contemplate, but that's the reality and that's the threat that we face at the moment. So, in Indonesia, they've done very well and we work very closely with the Indonesians, but this is the most significant attack since 2009, when there were attacks at quite a significant scale on hotels up there and it's important for us because we work closely with the Indonesians.   

We have about a million Australians who holiday in Indonesia each year and people remember very clearly the attacks in Bali. So, we need to work very closely, but there have been a series of these suicide attacks and as you say, one family is the focus at the moment, where it seems the children – or the allegation is – the children and the parents have gone off with devices in separate directions and a number of people have lost their lives.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Now, this family is alleged to be from Syria. Now, we of course, under Tony Abbott, agreed to take 12,000 refugees from Syria, a lot of whom, I'm sure, are family groups not dissimilar to this one.

Can we be certain that an Islamic State-inspired family like the one that's allegedly carried out these suicide attacks in Indonesia won't be getting across our borders here in Australia?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well Tom, you'll remember at the time that Bill Shorten was critical of us because we were conducting significant and unprecedented security checks against each of the 12,000, so it took us longer than expected and as I say, we were criticised for that. But we had worked very closely with the Canadians, with the Americans, with the Brits, to look at each individual case and we gave ourselves the best level of assurance in terms of each of those cases.

We didn't take men of fighting age. We looked at family units. We looked at women in particular and we concentrated largely on minorities who were under attack. So, a significant number of Christians came under that program. Obviously, Yazidi women who had been attacked and brutalised in their thousands by ISIL.

So, we provide ourselves, I think, with the best chance of bringing those people in who want to work, who want to settle, educate their kids etc.

TOM ELLIOTT:

But again, these bombers in Indonesia, they were a family group with a husband, a wife and, I think, three little kids. Well, not that little, a couple of them, but they were children. Again, that normally wouldn't raise any flags and yet they ended up getting into Indonesia and it seems setting off these suicide bombs.

So, again, are we absolutely certain that there isn't a family like this which has made it into Australia as a result of the Syrian immigration program?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well Tom, over a long period of time we've had millions of people come into our country.

We have tourists coming in each year. We have big numbers of people crossing our borders each year and obviously it's part of the reason the Government has been really tight in terms of our border protection policy.

So, I think, more so than almost any other Western democracy, we can give ourselves the assurance that we've undertaken tests and checks. Obviously, people can be radicalised online, which is a huge concern for us at the moment, young girls and young boys.

TOM ELLIOTT:

So are we keeping an eye on the Syrian refugees that we have let into Australia already? Are we keeping a close eye on them to make sure they're not being radicalised?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, we're having a look at not just 12,000, but people that we bring in over a long period of time and as I say, the 12,000 were subject to more security checks than I think any cohort have been exposed to ever. Yes, we were criticised at the time, but I think there were a number of people that we excluded from the queue that we didn't want here because we were concerned about the nature of their beliefs, or the possibility that they may be a threat. We haven't brought in anybody that we believe to be a threat.

But as I say, there are many susceptible people from all sorts of backgrounds who are radicalised online, in a matter of weeks in some instances, who either want to go off and fight or they act out domestically. The AFP and ASIO and the other agencies have thwarted about 14 attempted attacks here in Australia.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Okay. Well, now that we've seen the series of attacks in Indonesia, have you lifted or changed Australia's terror rating or terror threat level?

PETER DUTTON:        

We haven't. We don't have any specific advice in relation to the threat to our country at the moment. We work very closely, as I say, with the Indonesians, largely because of the number of foreign fighters coming back.

The Philippines is a hotbed, in parts, for some of these returning foreign fighters. But Indonesia has done very well in staring down that threat, as I say, back to 2009.           

But we exchange information, intelligence, we provide training, we obviously have a big effort in terms of forensics, so off the back of the Bali bombings …

TOM ELLIOTT:

…you say the Indonesians have done well, but I mean, they're clearly, well I hope, haven't done as well as us because they have let through a family of militant suicide bombers.

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, if you look at the situation in the United Kingdom Tom, over the course of the last 10 years, for example, over that same period, there have been more successful attacks there than we've seen in Indonesia…

TOM ELLIOTT:

…but again in Australia, I mean, that's what I'm mainly concerned with …

PETER DUTTON:        

Of course.

TOM ELLIOTT:

You're confident that we're not going to have an attack like this occur on our, inside our borders?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, in terms of the information, the intelligence that we get, the support that we get from the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, we give ourselves the best chance.

But we are – if you look at the individual 14 cases – there are some where there's been great police work, great gathering of intelligence and that's thwarted the attempt. In others, frankly, we've been lucky. There was a bomb that was designed to blow up an A380 out of Sydney in July last year that got very close to going onto that plane.

We need to be realistic about the threat that we face and a Western democracy like ours, like the United Kingdom, like Canada, like the United States, we do live with that threat every day.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Okay. Could I turn your attention to these 19 Commonwealth Games athletes who have gone missing since the end of the Commonwealth Games? Eight of them were from the African country of Cameroon.

Now, I know their visas expire I think, tomorrow evening. Assuming they haven't turned up at an airport and left the country, will you or your Department go and try and track them down?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, for the visas that have been issued for the Commonwealth Games, they – for the participants, as you say, they expire at midnight tomorrow night. So, there will be some hard partying I suspect in the next 24 hours, but there will be some who seek to overstay. We will start enforcement action almost straight away in relation to some of those if we believe that…

TOM ELLIOTT:

….do you know where they are, but you just can't do anything until their visas expire?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, obviously we've got resources within the Australian Border Force in terms of surveillance, in terms of looking at people's movements and whatnot. So, all of that work will be done, but people are here lawfully at the moment.

And as I said at the time in fact, before the Games, I'd encouraged people to abide by the conditions of their visa because in a country like ours it is relatively easy to track down some of these people. Some may make claims of protection and we will have to assess those claims. But ultimately, if people are here illegally, then they will be taken into immigration detention and deported.

TOM ELLIOTT:

I recall that after the Melbourne Commonwealth Games back in 2006, a similar number of athletes went missing. I think some of them were allowed to stay and in fact I think one or two of them have now ended up competing for Australia.

Is this becoming a well-trodden path? If we have a Comm Games here, we end up with athletes who turn into refugees, who end up becoming Australian?

PETER DUTTON:        

Look Tom, I mean, I suspect any country gets it. No doubt Glasgow had an issue after their Commonwealth Games. I think it's fair to say you get these sorts of claims being made – even after big conferences of a couple of thousand people who come here from around the world to a conference in Melbourne, or Sydney, or wherever it might be – people make a claim. If they have a legitimate claim to make then we have obligations under international law and under our own law. But in the majority of those cases, those people will be taken into Immigration Detention and deported.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Now, I gather you're in Melbourne here today to visit Tullamarine Airport. What are you doing there?

PETER DUTTON:        

We're going to have a look at the new technology that we've mandated around our domestic airports.

So, off the back of that near explosion, or the attempted hijacking if you like, of that plane last year, we had a look at the domestic security settings at our airports. We believe that, in many cases, they were underdone. So, in the Budget, we've provided just under $300 million for particularly regional airports to beef up their security settings, but at an airport like Tullamarine, they've already started to trial some of the new technology, CT x-ray, because…

TOM ELLIOTT:

…so they're the full-on body scanners that you walk into?

PETER DUTTON:        

It'll be full-on body scanner, not dissimilar to what you see at international airports now.

But we're worried about different devices going through the scanner that wouldn't be picked up at the moment.

TOM ELLIOTT:

So, you said for international airports. Does this mean you're going to be going through the CT-X scanners for domestic flights?

PETER DUTTON:        

Correct, yes.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Really?

PETER DUTTON:        

So, that will happen because we're worried about gels. We're worried about noxious gases, all sorts of things which potentially don't get picked up...

TOM ELLIOTT:

…will every passenger go through one of the scanners?

PETER DUTTON:        

Once the technology is upgraded in these scanners at a domestic airport yes that will be the case. So what we've got to try and do is use that technology at the airports. The technology that we're using at the moment is okay to a certain point, but there is new technology, the CT x-ray, that will allow people to go through the scanning process easily, but it will have a greater capacity to pick up devices and detect things that might be used to harm people on flights.

TOM ELLIOTT:

I don't know if it's exactly the same technology, but about a year and a half ago we had a family holiday and we visited the United States and we went through those full-body scanners. You go into a glass sort of tube that opens up – it's a bit like a revolving door – then you get scanned and you go out. But it takes a lot longer to get on a domestic flight as a result. Is this what the future holds for domestic flights here?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, the whole idea of the use of the technology is that we can move people even more quickly through the airports. So, what we don't want is people building up into the forecourts, onto the roadside of airports. We want to move people through that point as quickly as possible, but we are a huge country and people rely on air travel.

Had that A380 been blown out of the sky, not only would hundreds of people have been killed, but there would have been a massive impact on our tourism economy, on people's desire to travel domestically.

So we need to make sure that we're using the best technology and the technology to which you refer, I think there's another generation beyond that now, so it will be able to pick up both in terms of cabin luggage or carry-on different items that wouldn't be picked up now through the scanning process and similarly, if people had, for example ceramic knives, there are elements to, components to, a device that may not be picked up at the moment.

So, there are reasons, very good reasons, why the new technology needs to be embraced and we'll roll that out over the next couple of years.

[News break]

TOM ELLIOTT:

Now Mr Dutton I wanted to ask you as well we spoke to the chef in Geelong here on 3AW about a week ago. His name was Luciano Gandolfo. He's been, I think, here in Australia for about eight years, well-loved in the local community. Pretty good chef by all accounts, one of our callers Dennis Walter eats with him regularly. It looks he might lose his visa because he failed the English test.

Now his spoken English is pretty good, I can't vouch for his written English. But it worries me that a bloke who's got a job here, whose employer wants him to stay, his only great failing is that he might have failed an English test is being booted out. But yet we read about dozens of serious criminals who are here on foreign, or here on Australian visas, they've got foreign passports who courtesy of the Administrative of Appeals Tribunal are allowed to stay. Have we got our priorities round the wrong way?

PETER DUTTON:        

Tom, I don't think we have. I think there's a bit more to this case so I've asked for some information around it because as I understand it, at least as I'm advised, the gentleman involved hasn't applied for permanent residency as yet. Now I don't know why that is. He may or may not be eligible, but there are conditions that he needs to meet when the visa was issued. He needs to be in employment, he needs to be able to pass the tests.

We have – look, there is something like 60 million people around the world who are displaced and want to come to a country like ours tomorrow. The question for us is: what do you have in place by way of standards, conditions of visas etc?

Now, as I say, I think there's more to this case than meets the eye, but let me have a look at it. As you say, the principle is that we want people to work when they come here. We want them to abide by the law and we've cancelled a record number of visas of people that have committed criminal offences. I do think there is more to this case and I'm happy to have a look at it.

TOM ELLIOTT:

You're saying that Luciano Gandolfo hasn't actually applied for a visa?

PETER DUTTON:        

That's the advice that I have, yes.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Right. If he does he will have to sit some sort of English test?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, at some point he'll have to pass the conditions of the test. And as I say, there are millions of people that want to come into a country like ours tomorrow. English language is a requirement. Some people would say it's set too low and I'd need to have a look at the individual circumstances because as I say it just doesn't add up to me at the moment.

TOM ELLIOTT:

If you could look at that and we might get back to you.

PETER DUTTON:        

Yeah, very happy to.

TOM ELLIOTT:

In a week or two that'd be great.

By the way just speaking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, it seems you do battle with it every day. Again we read down here of people who have got foreign passports committing all sorts of crimes. You try and deport them and the Tribunal says: no, no, no underneath all this criminal activity so-and-so is a good person and should be allowed to stay. Do you find that personally frustrating?

PETER DUTTON:        

It is frustrating in some cases particularly where you've got an instance where that person goes on to commit another offence especially if that's an offence against a child.

We've now cancelled well over 3000, almost 4000 visas. When you go through the individual cases there are some pretty horrific cases, people that have committed multiple crimes, multiple offences. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend the logic in some of these decisions being overturned.

But I think it's important that people have their fair day in court. I think at the moment the process is costly to the taxpayer because we have to defend all of these matters. I think once people have had an independent look at their case by a court then I think, frankly, people should abide by the outcome.

TOM ELLIOTT:

But is the court being too soft?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, in some cases, in my judgement, the AAT is making decisions that don't align with public interests.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Could you restructure it or get rid of it?

PETER DUTTON:        

We can have a look at ways in which things can change. It's important to recognise that there are some appointments that are coming to an end now made by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard that were appointed for seven years. They're statutory appointments, I can't do anything about that. But in a number of those cases we haven't renewed those terms and we've put new people in place at the AAT. I think you'll see some change in the approach to some of these matters.

TOM ELLIOTT:

A bit of breaking news, the boss of the United Fire Fighters Union Peter Marshall has just been re-elected in a vote which was counted today. He's told us off-air and I quote: 'it was an honour to be re-elected to head up the union.' He said he was humbled by the level of support he'd received. The vote count was 1728 votes to Mr Peter Marshall and just 451 to his challenger Lyndon Clarke. So Peter Marshall it seems has won 80 per cent of the total vote. We're going to try and get him on the program before six o'clock this evening.

Max, good evening.

CALLER: 

I've got, I was just wondering, I had a couple of questions about the criteria of the Tribunal.

The first is that what is exactly a good person, what's the precedent behind this? If these people have committed crimes and are getting through I was just wondering what the Tribunal sees as a good person?

TOM ELLIOTT:

Well that's a good question because I would have thought if you'd committed a serious crime by definition you are probably not a good person. Is being a good person one of the criteria that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal looks at when deciding whether people should stay or be forced to go?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well Max they'll have a look at the character and the individual circumstances. There may be a case where somebody's committed a crime, but they've got young children, maybe a child with a disability, there may be some mitigating factor. In some cases they may just say that they don't believe that the crime is serious enough for the person to go and that they should be given another opportunity.

The AAT can't overturn a decision that I make personally as Minister, but the delegates within the Department who make decisions on my behalf, their decisions can be overturned.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Why don't you just make the decisions yourself and be done with it?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, we're talking about tens of thousands of decisions.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Start first thing in the morning and go, go, go, go…

PETER DUTTON:        

I pretty much do that now Tom, I've got to say, that's why I look old and weary, but I have the decision then to overturn that decision of the AAT. It can then go to the Federal Court, it can go all the way to the High Court in some circumstances and that's why I say I think the process needs to be condensed.

I think a minister, he or she, has a say, makes a determination. The person can have it judicially reviewable, but from there frankly I think the matters at an end and the person can abide by the decision and depart if that's the decision.

TOM ELLIOTT:

You said [indistinct] at the moment, first though Eileen go ahead.

CALLER EILEEN:         

Good afternoon. I'm just still wondering about the people that are already Australian citizens and can't speak English at all.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Yes. I've encountered people like that that have been here for, well, decades in some cases and still can't speak English. Should we insist upon some level of English fluency?

PETER DUTTON:        

Well, in the modern age people need to function in our society – whether it's in employment, whether it's at school, wherever it might be – and people do need to have an English language proficiency which allows them to communicate in the workplace, to complete their banking online or whatever it might be.

All of the indicators show that if people have a greater and improving efficiency of the English language, or proficiency of English language, then they can go on to get a better job or to do better at their schooling etc. So we want to encourage that.

We've said – although we're blocked in the Senate at the moment – last year, that we want to try and improve the level of English language required before somebody can become an Australian citizen.

Now there are countless examples of people who have come to our country over a long period of time, people who came out of Europe following the Second World War, who didn't speak a word of English, or very little, have gone on to do extremely well, are wonderful Australians, have brought kids and grandkids, great grandkids into the world. We're as proud of them as we are of anyone.

But in the modern age you need to recognise that English language is a necessary ingredient and we want to encourage it because particularly for women who might be in a situation at home where there's domestic violence or they're not allowed to go out and get a licence or work in their local community it's important for them to be empowered through English language as well. So there are a number of reasons why it makes sense.

TOM ELLIOTT:

We'll leave it there. Peter Dutton, Home Affairs Minister, thank you so much for your time.

PETER DUTTON:        

Thanks very much Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT:

Peter Dutton there and we've got a promise that the case of Geelong chef Luciano Gandolfo will at least be looked into.

[ends]