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Tuesday, 16 May 2017
Transcript

Interview with David Speers, PM Agenda, Sky News

Subjects: Manus Island; Administrative Appeals Tribunal; Departmental offices; Budget 2017.

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

DAVID SPEERS:    

Peter Dutton, thank you for joining us this afternoon. So tell us, what is the plan now for the closure of the centre there?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well David, the Government's position has been consistent on this for a long period of time; that is we want to see Manus closed, at the latest by the 31st of October and as you'd expect, in the run-up to the end of October, there will be decommissioning of certain parts of the Regional Processing Centre.

But the underlying and most important message here is to people on the island that if they are not refugees, they need now to make plans to return back to their country of origin – and we'll help them do that – we'll help them resettle and re-establish their lives, but it needs to be made very clear to them yet again that they aren't going to be settling in our country. All the words that they've heard from the advocates and the Greens and others that one day they'll come to Australia; that is not going to happen.

So now, as they can see, the Government is definite about the closure date, and we'll work toward that 31st of October date with the PNG authorities and with our own people to make sure that that's a reality.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Does that mean, a progressive closure, does that mean we will see, as has been reported, one of the accommodation blocks demolished within weeks?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well look, that's an issue for our officials to work through with the PNG officials and as I say, there is a desire for the 31st of October to be the hard close date at the latest and authorities will be decommissioning different parts of the Regional Processing Centre in the run-up to that.

So they'll make those decisions, but people that have been found to be refugees under the deal struck between Prime Ministers O'Neill and Mr Rudd, the people will settle in PNG – that's the arrangement that was struck between the two Prime Ministers at the time – and those people that have been found not to be refugees will have to return back to their country of origin.

DAVID SPEERS:    

What are the numbers there? The breakdown on how many are refugees, how many aren't?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, at the moment across Nauru and Manus, and some people who are back here for medical treatment or for legal reasons otherwise, we're looking at just north of 2,000 people in total and we've obviously got the arrangement with the United States where some people will be eligible for that outcome, they will be eligible to be part of the US deal and go to the United States.

So the number that we're left with in the end we're not speculating on because some people already have taken those settlement packages and decided to return back to their country of origin because they're not refugees and we'll see how we go over the next couple of months. But the PNG authorities are doing …

DAVID SPEERS:    

…. the 800 or so at Manus Island, how many of them are refugees?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, the number is roughly about half David, but again we don't know how many people will be eligible ultimately to go to the United States. So I think we're speculating at the moment as to what number will be left there in each category by the end of October, but let's see how we play out over the next couple of months.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Yeah. Any update on when the first might go to the US, when they might take some of those refugees?

PETER DUTTON: 

We don't. I had good meetings in Washington the week before last and they're a great ally, they're good friends. General Kelly, Secretary Kelly that I met with is working hard with his Department and with the Department of State as well.

So we'll see how we go over the next little while, but they are putting no roadblocks in the way, they're working conscientiously in the spirit of the deal and I'm keen to get people off Manus as quickly as possible.

This Government of course didn't put anybody on Manus, but it's our job to clean it up and that's what we're doing. We'll always need Nauru as an enduring capacity for us in terms of the offshore processing need – which is a key element in the success of Operation Sovereign Borders – but we are determined to make sure that Manus Island Regional Processing Centre closes by the end of October.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Will some of those on Manus Island end up on Nauru?

PETER DUTTON: 

We don't envisage that at the moment, but we want to get people back to their country of origin, as I say – that's the best possible outcome for them and for us.

DAVID SPEERS:    

And you've got an incentive package there for them, haven't you? It's about what, $20,000 incentive payment. Is there any deadline on that? Does that remain an offer until the end of October?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, it will remain in place because we want to make sure that we can get people uplifted as quickly as possible.

I'm sorry to say that there are some advocates, members of the Greens and others on the Left who keep holding out this false hope to people that somehow they'll end up in Australia when they're not, and people need to accept these settlement packages, as hundreds before them have done.

If we can help people re-establish their lives then that's in their best interests, but seeing them remain on Manus or lingering in the Regional Processing Centre, it's just not in their best interests and I hope that they now realise that the Government is deadly serious about the fact that people will not be coming to this county under any circumstance.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Alright, but if it's around 400 who have been found to be refugees, presumably they've been found to face some form of persecution back home, and if they're not taken by the US, what's the…is the only option living in PNG, that's it?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well that's it David. So people have, you know, found themselves there when Labor lost control of our borders and the deal that was done by Mr Rudd and Mr O'Neill at the time, provided that if people were found to be refugees, they could settle in PNG.

But as I say, there's no sense in looking at the numbers as they are now because we don't know how many of those found to be refugees will be going to the United States. We hope a significant number and we'll wait to see how that plays out. So the final number …

DAVID SPEERS:    

…yeah sure, but presumably some will have…..

PETER DUTTON: 

… need not be speculated on at the moment.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Yeah. Some will have to [inaudible] PNG.

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, there may be a small number, but I just don't think it's worth speculating on until we know how many people that are being assessed at the moment that have been found to be refugees will be eligible for the US deal. So I think until we get that advice out of the US, it's just not helpful to speculate on how many people might be the subject of a settlement within PNG.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Presumably you're pretty keen to find out soon because you're telling these refugees and asylum seekers to make up their minds quickly, get on with it, but they don't know what's going to happen with the US deal, do they? They don't know if they're a chance of going there?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well if they've been found not to be refugees, they're not subject to the US deal, so they won't be going to the US, they won't be coming to Australia and they find themselves illegally in PNG. They've sought to come by boat and we aren't going to settle people who come via that transport means and they need to go back to their country of origin. If they've not been found to be refugees …

DAVID SPEERS:    

…will they be forced back? If they're illegally in PNG, will they be forced back to Iran and Iraq?

PETER DUTTON: 

As we do every day David now, we voluntarily return people. We do forcible returns for people back to a range of countries. In some countries though, including Iran, it's not possible to return those people forcibly because the Iranians won't issue travel documents for those people. So you can't just turn up with a planeload of people.

DAVID SPEERS:    

So what do you do with them?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, those people will have to go back voluntarily with the package, but they are not coming here.

DAVID SPEERS:    

If they don't, if they say no thanks…

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, they remain in PNG and that's an issue for the PNG Government and the immigration authorities to deal with in PNG. That's the arrangement.

DAVID SPEERS:    

I can't imagine they'd be thrilled about that. They'd probably prefer them come here to Australia, wouldn't they?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, their first preference is for them to go back home. There are 65 million people in the world today David, many of them economic refugees – like some of those that find themselves on Manus – and if we allow boats to restart by saying, you know, oh well people smugglers, now you can say spend two or three years on Manus or Nauru and you'll end up in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne – that will restart boats.

I know that the intelligence reports are very clear. People smugglers are there, they're waiting, they're looking for weakness, they'd clap and applaud the election of a Shorten government because in their minds that would see the boats restarting and their trade recommencing, the profits being realised again and this Government is not going to allow boats to restart. We've turned back 30 boats during the time of Operation Sovereign Borders. We've now had just over 1,000 days where we haven't had a successful people smuggling venture arrive. If the 30 boats had have got through I believe hundreds of boats would have followed and we'd be back in the same predicament that Labor found themselves in.

There are three reasons why we've stopped boats: one is, the Regional Processing Centre arrangements; secondly, turning back boats where it's safe to do so; and thirdly, this element Labor doesn't support at all – whilst they pretend to support the other two, they've confirmed they don't support this element – which is the Temporary Protection Visas, and those three [inaudible] have been what's underpinned the success of Operation Sovereign Borders to date.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Can I…just before we leave Manus Island, this Amnesty International finding, it's talked about this week that during that Good Friday incident, bullets were actually fired into the centre, not just in the air. I see the local Police Commander on Manus, David Yapu, is now reportedly admitting that's happened too. What's your understanding now?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well David, there's an investigation…two investigations as I understand it underway at the moment; one by the PNG Defence Force and the other by the PNG Police Force. I think we should wait for the outcomes of those two enquiries.

I said at the time it's completely and utterly unacceptable for people, regardless of who they are, to be discharging weapons. It's not acceptable in any circumstance. If it's weapons discharged unlawfully then that's an issue for the PNG Police Force and/or Defence Force to deal with. That is an issue for them and I don't want to comment on their investigation which is underway.

I think people can speculate online, they can tweet what they like, The Guardian can write what they see fit – listening to rumours and the rest of it – but I think we're better off to wait for the investigations to take their course.

DAVID SPEERS:    

But hang on Minister – and fair enough, you're quite right, wait for the investigation to take its course – a lot of people would say well a few weeks ago you were weighing in with a theory about the kid being taken into the centre.

PETER DUTTON: 

No, you asked me about the shots being fired and as I said, I repeat exactly what I said at the time, that it's inappropriate for weapons to be discharged and that is the subject of investigation. It should be allowed to run its due course and if there's action to be taken, then that's an issue for the PNG authorities.

The point that I made otherwise at the time, to which you now refer, was in relation to the tension that was building up on the island. The intelligence reports and the advice that was given to me, is consistent and I don't resile from anything I said at the time. There was a tension that built up over a period of time which culminated in the incident that you referred to in relation to the discharging of the weapon; that's the matter that's being investigated at the moment.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Can I just turn to this story in The Herald Sun today about six Iranian refugees. They came before your time in Government. They came on a boat, they were given Protection visas in Australia; apparently they faced persecution, even death if they went back to Iran, but now The Herald Sun reporting that they have made holidays back to Iran. A number of holidays, trips; one's gone back for a wedding and then come back to Australia. You've tried to cancel their visas, but the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has stopped you from deporting them. What happens to this now?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well David, I don't want to comment specifically on the six cases because I might be a decision-maker in relation to those cases, but just to comment more generally; Australians are angry when they hear these sorts of facts and they're rightly angry. I mean taxpayers spend tens of millions of dollars each year defending legal actions all the way to the High Court. As Minister for Immigration – and as has been the case for my predecessors – we're the most litigated department portfolio in the Commonwealth. There's a lot of administrative law, visa cancellations, deportations, all of that, which is properly tested through the courts, but where people are taking Australian taxpayers or the Australian public for a ride, then I think people get very angry.

We are a very generous nation. We provide safety and refuge to people who are facing persecution, but people who are coming here to abuse the welfare system or abuse the entitlements that they might receive when they get here, and circumstances where they're telling one story, but it turns out to be a fabrication, Australians won't cop that and nor should they – and as Minister, I've been very clear about cancelling visas where I believe that people don't have a legitimate reason to be here, where they've committed offences, where they've committed crimes, where their stories don't work out – but in the end this is the legacy of Labor having lost our borders.

We've still got 30,000 of 50,000 people who are being processed and we've tried to get legislation through the Parliament to tighten up the situation. We're blocked in the Senate – knocked back by the Greens and the Labor Party as they vote as a block in the Senate – it is frustrating, but that's the reality and we deal with it and we deal with it as best we can.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Minister, before I let you go, just on the Budget. You know, you've heard the criticism there's not enough belt-tightening from the Government in this Budget. Your own Department looks like it's going to get a big office upgrade of $256 million office fit-out for the Immigration Department – apparently the most expensive in Federal Government history. How can we afford that, given the Budget situation?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, this has come out of a House Committee, as I understand it, and you wouldn't believe it, but the Labor and Greens Members of Parliament are dead against my Department – just as they're against you know, securing borders and stopping boats – they've got an ideological fixation against my Department.

Now, my Department has done work with the Department of Finance to look at the best possible option. They consolidate sites where we've got staff working across multiple sites down to a smaller number of sites and the advice that I've got on the work done between my Department and Finance is that this saves a couple hundred million dollars over the out years and that's the best value for money.

It costs money to house and accommodate staff. We have for example, the watch floor, we've got CCTV and operations running on our ports, we've got millions of people moving across borders, shipping containers, parcels coming in and out, all of that is run from the one location with the General in charge of…or the Admiral in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders and the Air Vice Marshal, as it now is. All of those teams come together and we provide accommodation for them.

So look, the glib lines out of Labor and the Greens at the moment just underscore the fact that Labor still is soft when it comes to border protection and their silly games that they're playing in this Committee I think just highlight yet again, and I think Australians see through it.

DAVID SPEERS:    

A final one for you, on the Budget generally. Not everyone I see in the Queensland LNP or State branch is thrilled with the Budget. The former Premier Campbell Newman has said it was a bad Budget and you now need a new leader. What do you say to Campbell Newman?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well look, there are lots of critics, commentators. I'll leave comment to them. Look my perspective is this: we have a tough situation. We had spending locked in through legislation that we inherited from the Labor Party; we've been blocked in the Senate from trying to cut back on the growth of some of that spending. Labor inherited no debt from John Howard; we inherited a couple hundred billion dollars from Labor and we need to deal with that reality. We want to pay that debt down. We want to properly fund hospitals, and schools, and our intelligence agencies – all of that – and we want to get back to surplus by 2020-21 so that we can start to pay down Labor's debt.

So there's no magic pudding as Labor would want you to believe. We don't want to apply taxes to anybody, but the reality is that we've been left with an enormous debt from Labor. We've got expenses in important areas like health and education, we need to meet all of that expenditure and we need to deal with reality. Tthere are lots of people who can comment, that's fine, but that's the perspective that I bring to it and I think that's the reality that we face.

DAVID SPEERS:    

Alright. Peter Dutton Immigration Minister. I appreciate your time this afternoon, thank you very much, we'll catch up soon.

PETER DUTTON: 

Thanks, David.

[ends]