Friday, 25 November 2016

Interview with Leon Byner, Radio FIVEaa, Adelaide

Subjects: Migration to Australia under the Fraser Government; restoring integrity in the 457 visa programme.



Peter Dutton good morning.


Good morning Leon. Good to be with you.


Now this issue that you referred to that's had a lot of people criticise you; what was the purpose in raising this? And in doing so, what is it you'd like to do?


Well Leon I was asked a question about the Sudanese gang violence, the Apex gangs running riot in Melbourne at the moment and the simple point that I made is that we sometimes allow the minority within a particular ethnic group to define the vast majority of good people within that ethnic group. It is well acknowledged and historical fact that there were difficulties in bringing people out under the Lebanese concession and we had difficulties in parts of the country that it seems can't be spoken about.

As you point out before, the Greens were calling me a racist and bigot on Tuesday and then saying no no what he is saying is accurate and acceptable, but we just can't talk about it – this is what they were saying yesterday.

So I think we need to be honest. We can't allow good people to be defined by the bad people within that community and we also need to learn from the mistakes of history. We are bringing in some wonderful people from Syria now and I want to bring in the right people, people who are in most need of protection, the people that are facing persecution in a war-torn country and I want those people to work when they get here, I want them to be provided with assistance, I want them to educate their children, I want them to allow their family members, including girls and adults within that family group to go and learn English language lessons, I want them to play sport, to be part of a great Australian society and I want them to have the new life that they seek. I think that's what all Australians want. We want people to come here, not to do us harm, not to bring their troubles with them, to bring their problems with them, but to take the opportunity given to them in moving into a country like Australia. And that's what the great majority, the vast majority of migrants do when they come to our country.

I was criticised by Labor when we said we were going to have additional security checks on bringing the 12,000 Syrians in. They said no, you're dragging your feet, they should be here now, you should have brought them sooner; well as it turns out we've identified 22 people within the applicants that we do have security concerns about. We don't want to disrupt the Australian way of life. We don't want people to come here and cause us harm and that's why we have to do the right thing by the migrants that have moved here already, by the Australians that want a safe society. I am not going to cower from that. I am not going to step back and the tragic part of the debate this week has been that Bill Shorten has tried to turn this into a political opportunity by mangling and misrepresenting my words and he's done it for a cheap political attack.

He's tried to upset the Lebanese community and to cause anger by misrepresenting my words, but the trouble is for Bill Shorten is that he's been found out. In fact in the last two Question Times in Parliament on Thursday and Wednesday, he didn't ask a single question of either the Prime Minister or myself on this topic because he knows that he went too far, that he got found out and I think Australians want an honest debate. They don't want this phoney elite sort of tricky language that Mr Shorten wants to use.

People want to talk honestly about these matters and if we don't we won't learn from the mistakes that we have made and I think it's incumbent upon all of us to do the right thing in having the proper screening, the proper planning for bringing migrants into this country. If we do that, we'll continue to grow this great country.


I need to clarify something here. So are you really saying that, alright, you're beefing up security, but then again every country is doing that so that's not necessarily unusual. Is it because that you've named a particular group of individuals that are going to be checked and double checked, is that regarded as racist or politically incorrect? Is that the problem or in fact are you signalling that there is going to be a modification of the way we look at immigration?


In terms of the people that we are bringing in through the refugee and humanitarian programme there are two reasons we want to conduct security checks. One is that we don't want to bring people that are going to cause harm – and we're seeing in Belgium, in Paris and in other movements of people around the world now that we do have people that want to commit terrorist acts and we do have people that aren't going to these countries for the right reasons – that's the first reason. The second reason is that I don't want to displace somebody, a refugee, who is facing genuine persecution, whose family might be under imminent attack, I don't want to displace that person from the queue with somebody who is not a legitimate refugee. I think this is the basics of getting the migration programme right. 

But what has happened this week is that Mr Shorten sought to turn this into political advantage for himself, but there is not one word that I have used or quoted [inaudible] that he has quoted to back up the outrageous claims that he has made.

Now I just think people have seen through that now and I honestly believe that Australians want an honest debate and if we have problems within our community we need to talk about it, work it out and have an honest discussion about it otherwise people I think just tune out and frankly I think it's one of the problems that we have in the modern day political discourse and public debate and I think it is very unfortunate.


Stay on the line, somebody you know well, the Federal Member for Deakin Michael Sukkar. Michael thanks for joining us today. You agree with Peter Dutton, tell us why?


Good to be on Leon. I agree with Peter because he was basically using facts that nobody has disagreed with and the facts are that one particular cohort, Lebanese Muslims, are drastically over represented in terrorism related offences. Now that's not a particularly easy fact to point out. For some people it is quite inconvenient. For the Greens they think even though it is a fact we shouldn't say it, we should sweep it under the rug, but I think it is refreshing and I think the Australian public sees or finds it refreshing that a Minister, in prosecuting a very difficult portfolio, is willing to say things that are difficult but true.

Now the corollary for the point that the Minister made – and he did make this very clearly – is that the vast majority of Lebanese Muslims, indeed the vast majority of Lebanese Australians are wonderful citizens, but at the same time we have to find ways of explaining and understanding why 22 of the last 33 people charged with terrorism related offences were from one ethnic background. And if we don't learn that lesson, as Bill Shorten seems not to want to learn, then the risk is that a future government – probably a future Labor government – decides to revert back to the Fraser era policies which was basically a family reunion based immigration programme rather than a skills based immigration programme. That's the risk for our country.

I think the great success we've had over the last 25 years is the fact that we do have the most rigorous screening and vetting processes for migrants and we have reaped the benefits of that and I say this Leon as a proud person with Lebanese heritage.

So I absolutely endorse Peter's comments. I think it's refreshing to see and the really scary thing here is that the alternative prime minister of this country would so crudely and in such a nasty way try to ferment discord in the community. I think that's really scary and I think it says a lot about his trickiness and his sneakiness.


Alright Michael Sukkar, thank you. Now Peter Dutton, I've got a couple of other questions. Pauline Hanson, if she got her way, would have you ban the burka. Has that even been considered?


No it hasn't Leon. We want to work with communities. I mean it's very important that we work with communities. There will be cultural differences. I don't want to see any religious dress banned. I don't want to see that outcome – that's my honest reaction.

The Governments concern is to make sure – certainly from my perspective as Immigration Minister – firstly; that we keep our borders secure which we've done. I mean we have stopped boats, we've got kids out of detention, we've restored integrity to the programme and I want Australians to have confidence in our migration programme and we can only do that, if we have these frank discussions, call out problems where they exist and celebrate the great success that Michael Sukkar talked about before and in fact is a living example of migrant parents who have come here, taken the opportunity, educated their children and their family makes a great contribution to our country – that is the majority story and I don't want it to be defined by other issues.

I want us to be able to provide a new life to people. We've done that for 850-odd thousand people since the Second World War and this country is great today because of the diversity that we have and all of that which many, many cultures have bought to our county and we celebrate that, but I am going to call out the people who are doing the wrong thing. The people who are going off as foreign fighters and if we have a particular concentration within a community – and I have pointed it out in this regard as Michael reminded you before in the Lebanese Muslim community – we need to call it out. We need to be honest about it and frankly most of the leaders within the community want that same frankness because they don't want to be defined, they don't want to be besmirched, they don't want the vast majority of good people to be besmirched by this small element.

At the moment it seems to me that you can't have conversations in this country, even if it's factually correct and that is not a position that I will accept in a country like Australia where we value free speech. People can agree with me or disagree vehemently against me, but I'm not going to be silenced and particularly when we are arguing factual recall of history – that's the reality of what we face and we are going to deal with it.


Four five seven visas, there are some issues and some serious ones. Joanna Howe wrote a fantastic paper on it and I know you have read it and I know the Government wants to make some changes. What will happen and when?


So a couple of things have already happened. Firstly to point out that the number of 457 visas has actually dropped. We have created about 500,000 jobs since we came to Government, but there are 13,000 less 457 holders today – in fact the number peaked when Bill Shorten was the Employment Minister. So there are a number of factors.

We need to work with communities, particularly regional communities, where they are finding it hard to get workers and they have to properly engage to try and employ Australian workers. The whole idea of the programme is that there's an obligation on employers to do their best to employ an Australian. If they can't then we don't want their businesses just to close. We don't want them to put off the other staff because they can't keep the doors open. They can employ somebody with the appropriate skills at the minimum wage with the same conditions that are provided for under the 457 visa programme.

But we do think it needs tightening. For example, under Labor's list or the categories of occupation, they had for example goat herder – there were 650 different categories – now I have asked for that to be reviewed and that work will come back shortly and I think needs to be tightened.

One of the things that happened during the Gillard years was that after somebody had finished work under a 457 visa they were allowed to continue to work for…they pushed it from 28 days out to 90. I've reduced that back to 60 and so some of the contributions that Dr Howe's made we agree with strongly.

We want to employ Australians first and if the job is not able to be filled by an Australian then, as I say, we don't want that business to suffer and we don't want the other employees within that business to suffer.

So that's the whole basis, the whole genesis and being for the 457 programme. I hope it continues, but I do want to tighten it up and I think there would be broad community support for that.


I know there is a proposal by the Xenophon team and I believe the Treasurer said we'll do it if it gets passed and that is that if you do work on the harvest trail, which is pretty much from right now, you will still be able to keep your unemployment benefits.


Well look, I haven't seen all of the detail of what the Treasurer has said Leon. I mean there is an issue obviously in relation to the Backpackers Tax, which is a separate issue to the 457 issue, but the reality that we are dealing with in this space is that we are competing with international competitors and the proposal that the Treasurer's put forward, I think keeps us internationally competitive, but it also [inaudible] confer an advantage on the overseas workers, over the Australian worker and this is the crazy irony of Labor joining up with Jacqui Lambie on this because the proposal is to confer a tax advantage on foreign workers over Australian workers that would go out and do this work of picking fruit etc… and again I think that that is a strange position for the Labor Party to adopt. It's obviously an opportunistic one because they think that they can just frustrate us in the Senate.

But I think there will be agreement with the crossbench Senators on the sensible measure that the Treasurer has put forward. If we can do that we help the farmers because at the moment the thought of food rotting on vines or on trees is a terrible thing because it takes away from the profitability from those farms, but it takes away from the productivity of our economy and that's the last thing that we want.  


Peter thank you for joining us.


Thanks Leon. Really appreciate it mate.

Thank you.