Subjects: Department of Home Affairs; keeping Australian's safe; Australia's border protection policies; federal politics.
Well congratulations Peter Dutton. You are now the Minister for Home Affairs. I know this is something that you've long-argued for. Australia is relatively safe, we've been lucky that our agencies and our police are first class. So what is the problem we're trying to fix by creating this now super-portfolio that will bring together ASIO for the first time alongside Customs, Border Protection and of course the Australian Federal Police and Immigration?
Well Peta firstly, thank you very much for having me on the show. It's a great portfolio and you're right, there has been an argument around for many, many years to bring a Home Affairs portfolio about. It provides a coordination to each of the agencies and some others that you mentioned before.
So the idea is that we have a better coordination, a better capacity for those agencies to deal with the threat that exists – and it's not just in the counter-terrorism space – we saw yesterday the 81st person has been charged with a terror-related offence since 2014. So the threat is real, and as we know with foreign fighters returning back from Syria and Iraq, it is going to be with us for a long period of time.
There's also the espionage piece as well. We've seen Sam Dastyari and Bill Shorten caught up in a scandal over the last couple of months and there's a lot of work that ASIO has to do in that space. There's the organised crime. There are a number of areas that we see as a priority within the portfolio and we've taken the best parts of the UK model with the Home Affairs Department there and the Department of Homeland Security out of the United States.
So I think you either act now or you act in the aftermath of some event where you have recommendations from a coroner about the need for agencies to share intelligence or information more effectively than what they have done in the past. We're trying to pre-empt that, we want to keep Australians safe and that's the idea of this portfolio.
So just staying with the issue of terror. We have a high terror threat in this country, or higher than is normal, very much like other Western countries. You gave a speech just recently to a counter-terrorism meeting in Melbourne. You talked about since 2014 Australia having dealt with our agencies having dealt with 35 separate counter-terrorism operations; 81 – you just say – in relation to people charged and 42 of them are before the courts. Five of them are – terrifyingly – are juveniles.
This is a real threat and I know as Australians start to head into Christmas and we gather in groups at the Boxing Day Test and family events, Christmas carols and other things, what confidence can you give people that you've got all the resources you need? Government has given agencies the powers that they need, as well as the money, to keep Australians safe as best they can?
Well Peta, to the credit of Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, $1.5 billion has been invested over recent years into frontline activities. We restored a lot of the funding that Labor had cut out of the agencies. So there's been a concerted effort in terms of the financial commitment, but also the work that's been done by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, the work that's been done by the agencies otherwise. As you're aware, there are now 14 mass-casualty attempts that have been thwarted – so the agencies have done great work – but without a phone call or without that snippet of information, one of those 14 could have become an incident that resulted in the loss of dozens of lives at a church or in a shopping centre, wherever it might be.
So we need to be realistic about the threat and like any Western democracy where you have a place of mass-gathering – whether it's on a bus or at a train station, in an airport, at a school, in a food court in a shopping centre, wherever it might be, at a sporting event – they're the sorts of events that the state police forces, as well as the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, and the other agencies are constantly reviewing, looking at the intelligence, making sure that they can keep people safe.
But this is not a perfect science and the reality is that the threat is greater now than it's ever been and we believe through the construction of the Home Affairs portfolio, it will give us the greatest ability to support those frontline agencies so that we can keep people safe.
So just staying with the issue of terror and obviously the threat of the homegrown terror attack, Australians who are militarised or certainly influenced by the web, groomed online. I was at an event about a week or so ago and talking to a counter-terrorism expert who said around the world there are 10,000 of the foreign fighters who went from a number of Western countries – including sadly Australia – to fight with ISIL in the Middle East. That 10,000-odd group are dispersed around the world – these are the ones we do not know where they are now located.
Of course, if they are dual nationals, under Tony Abbott – I know there are laws and they've passed the Parliament now in order to remove their Australian citizenship, they won't be rendered stateless because they have citizenship of another country – but obviously so much harder if they are Australian only. And we, like many other countries, are signed up to an international convention which prevents us from making them stateless. So they will come home and obviously the resources will be quite extensive to keep them monitored, lock them up or deal with the foreign incursion laws.
What do you think about what the Brits have just moved in the last 12 months to put in place temporary exclusion orders which will say to those that are only British citizens you cannot come back to this country? They don't breach the stateless convention because they're not permanently excluded Mr Dutton, but by temporarily excluding them, they're certainly not going to come back onto the shores of the UK and cause havoc. Would we look at something like that here?
Well Peta a couple of points to make here. The first one is if you're an Australian who's gone over to Syria or Iraq and you fought for ISIL, you're now skilled in the art of bomb-making or terrorist activity; frankly, the best thing that can happen to that person is they're killed in the theatre of war over there so they don't return.
Many Australians who have left our shores to go and fight in the Middle East have been killed, and frankly, for the security and safety of our country and for the rest of the world, that is a good outcome. So that's the reality, the fate that has met those people.
Now, as you point out, we signed up as a country to a convention many years ago – in the seventies I think it was from memory – which didn't allow our governments to take decisions to render people stateless. Now, a number of passports have been cancelled by the Foreign Minister and that prevents people from travelling or from coming back to Australia. There are a number of ways that we can do it, and as you point out, under Prime Minister Abbott we were able to pass legislation that allowed me to take the citizenship away from a dual national and we've done that in one case so far.
We're doing a lot of work with countries around our region because we're worried about Australians holidaying in Bali or in the Philippines or wherever else it might be in South East Asia. So there's a lot of work that is going on at a number of levels, but to answer your question directly, yes, we are very keen to look at additional ways in which we can keep Australians safe.
We will abide by the law and by our constitution, of course, but we really should be doing anything and everything within the law to make sure that we can keep people safe because if you've been over there fighting and you've been trained in these vicious ways, in these barbaric ways, you come back as a significant threat to Australians and in the cases like Khaled Sharrouf, where you're taking your own children across there, not only do you destroy their lives, but there's a potential for those kids or for that person to come back and cause all sorts of serious events, catastrophic events back here in Australia.
So we're very willing to look at any sensible measures.
Well I think that this is one that I think Australians would give you great support for. I know the other thing that Australians have been pleased to see you do – and in fact you've copped a lot of criticism from the Labor Party and some sections of the media – is you've cancelled over 3,000 visas, as I understand, of foreigners in Australia for 240-odd cases of child sex offences or child pornography; there's been bikie gang members that have been thrown out of this country. I saw a statistic in one of your recent speeches that your record in this area of cancellations is up over 1,000 per cent on where it was under the Labor Party.
Now, I think most Australians watching this at home tonight would say that's fair enough and good on Peter Dutton, but a tough line in this area has caused you some grief and I guess I worry about the return of the Labor Party, whether they'd go soft on the issue of deportations again, or whether the activists – and we've seen their work – take this through the courts to try and overturn your decisions. I mean how real is that threat?
It's real because there's plenty of evidence of it being the case when Labor was in government, not just under Rudd and Gillard, but back to the Hawke-Keating years as well. So there are a number of people – I think 33 – who have been stripped of their citizenship, people that have been convicted of serious offences and there's a provision within the Citizenship Act that that they can lose their citizenship if they've committed that offence, but haven't been convicted in certain circumstances, but limited circumstances. You can't render that person stateless, but 33 people have lost their citizenship since the Act commenced in the late forties and we've been able to do 17 of that 33 in the course of the last few years. But we're talking about people who are serious sexual offenders, people that have violated against multiple children, raped women and frankly we just don't want them in our country.
And they're not Australians, are they Minister? They're not Australians, they're just here on visas.
Look Peta, 99 per cent of people who come to our country as visitors, as workers, coming to repatriate with families, are good people, are decent people, they do the right thing, but the one per cent who commit serious offences against our people; they can't expect to stay and so I think we're just applying the law. We're doing it in a sensible fashion. The 160 motorcycle gang members, the outlaw motorcycle gang members that we've cancelled the visas of, these are people that have been involved in distribution of ice and drugs, breaking limbs of small business owners when they won't pay the extortion payments. I just think you get a head nod, as I go around the country, from people who just say, you know, good on you, kick them out, we don't want those people here.
We want to celebrate the people that come and be a part of our country. If it's on a permanent basis or a temporary basis it doesn't matter. But like anyone, if you're a guest into somebody's house, you abide by the rules, you respect that house, you respect the people inside the house; if not, you can expect to get thrown out and the policy is no different for us and that's why we have really concentrated on cancelling the visas of sexual predators who have preyed on young girls and boys. We don't want those people here and I think we've saved countless victims that would fall to the hands of these people in years to come.
But when you look back at Labor's record, a handful of people – I mean they were issuing visas and citizenship to people that had been involved in serious and organised crime, in paedophilia, people that had been involved in people smuggling and the like – and Labor, even in their time, in the Rudd-Gillard years, introduced effectively no changes, no toughening up of the national security laws.
So Labor wants people to believe that on border security, on national security or community security, that there's no difference from the Liberal Party. The fact is they are dominated by the Left, they're dominated by the civil libertarians and the labour lawyers and you'll always get a softer approach to law and order issues under Bill Shorten than you will under a Liberal Government led by Malcolm Turnbull.
He goes even harder when we talk about the Labor leadership very shortly. Coming up after the break, I'll come back with more from Peter Dutton.
I remember sitting around the National Security Committee table in those first few months of Government and after the boats were stopped there was a comment, round of applause, a lot of back-slapping from the officials sitting around the table, how proud they were to have done the job – and rightly so – but as I walked out of the room I remember saying to the then-Prime Minister, isn't it funny; you know sitting around that table in all their same seats are all the people today congratulating themselves for having stopped the boats and they're all the same people who, two or three months ago under another regime, couldn't stop the boats, and I wondered what the difference was. He said the difference was a change of government and, I have to add, resolve.
But this is a hard fought thing and it hasn't gone away, has it? The threat of illegal incursions of people smugglers, activity to our north, none of that has actually gone away and at the last election there were a lot of Labor candidates who were particularly soft on the issue of turning boats around. That's a still a risk, isn't it?
Peta, it's there. As you know, only a week or so ago we turned a boat back to Sri Lanka; 29 people on board, that's the 32nd boat that we've turned back since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced. This threat is there. The intelligence at the moment is very clear. They're watching all of what we say here in Australia. They're trying to market that New Zealand will be a destination, that you know, go to Manus or to Nauru for a couple years, it's not as bad as people make out and then you'll be in Australia and you'll enjoy the welfare system and the health system and education and housing and all the rest of the generosity that goes with it.
So these people smugglers trade in human beings, the same as they do in any other commodity – whether they're moving drugs, whether they're moving tobacco, prostitutes, people smuggling ventures otherwise – these people are just after money. They don't care whether people, having paid their money, hop on the boat and go to the bottom of the ocean or make it to our country or somewhere else.
And you're right, the same great public servants, the Chiefs of our Defences Forces and of our national security and intelligence agencies sit around the table. They served the Rudd and Gillard years in that government and the fact is that if you don't have the political resolve, if the public servants don't see the resolve and the determination from the Prime Minister and of the Minister, then it's very hard for them to follow through – that's been my experience – I know as you say, it was your experience and it's full credit sincerely to Tony Abbott and to Scott Morrison and to yourself and others sitting around that table because the decisions wouldn't have been executed if the proper strict direction hadn't been given for this outcome. Equally, to Malcolm Turnbull's credit and to our team, we've been able to work with the same resolve.
They're tough issues that you need to deal with when you're talking about people at sea. We've got our own personnel that are at risk, we've got decisions about sending people back, there are screening arrangements that take place, you've got lawyers here who work on a pro bono basis who will injunct on any basis. So it's a very complex issue and the last thing Australians should believe is that the boats have gone away, that this issue somehow is resolved. The boats would start in their dozens again tomorrow if the political resolve was lost.
It's interesting that Bill Shorten at the last election said that there was no difference between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party when it came to border protection policy. The reality now is that they have walked away from Temporary Protection Visas, which was a key element to making Operation Sovereign Borders work. They've walked away from the Regional Processing Centres, because they're now saying that people should come from Manus to Australia – it might be via New Zealand – but Bill Shorten went up to PNG on a secret trip last week or the week before, went to New Zealand in the same trip as well and clearly he's putting together a different policy now.
The intelligence tells us that the boats are being marketed as heading to New Zealand or Australia, they don't care, and I think that there is now a big difference between Liberal and Labor on border protection policy and Bill Shorten has decided to take up Kevin Rudd's policy as opposed to Liberal Party policy. I think at the next election people need to understand that if Bill Shorten was elected Prime Minister, I'm absolutely certain that the boats would restart.
Well just on that point, Peter Dutton, I mean there's a disturbing report in The Daily Telegraph today that Bill Shorten and acolytes around Bill Shorten are involved in some sort of secret deal-making with the industrial Left of the unions and the Left of the Labor Party to guarantee – in order to shore up Bill Shorten's leadership – to guarantee the industrial Left unions designated seats in the Parliament for the Labor Party. So it means that rank and file Labor members won't have any say in electing people to represent them locally, it will be dictated to by some of the most militant unions in the country. This has just come to light. I guess this is further evidence of how owned Bill Shorten is by the labour movement…union movement.
So if we know that, and that's out in the press today, why is it then that there hasn't been enough of a movement in the polls to put the Coalition in a competitive position? Because for 18 months the polls have been all Labor's way. I mean a straight 25 Newspolls. We know we talk about that a lot, but you've had that seven per cent swing against the LNP in Queensland, a five per cent swing in Bennelong – great result to hold Bennelong – but your own seat's one point six per cent.
So on any of those measures, Peter Dutton's no longer with us, and viewers can see tonight how much you're needed in this portfolio, if not elsewhere. So, how can you get these messages out about the risks that Labor pose and try and turn around some of the problems you've had in the polls this year?
Well look Peta it's a good question. There are a number of areas where the Government needs to talk up some of our achievements more effectively than we have done over the last 12 months. There's been a lot that's been achieved, but it's been drowned out through the debate about citizenship or same-sex marriage.
Now, we've dealt with those issues. We've tried to put them to one side so that we can get clear air about some of the achievements the Government's been able to rack up and there are issues that we need to work on, policies that we need to improve over the course of the next 12 months, but the issues that are most important to our country now – as we say, national security before – there's no question, and there can be no question in the minds of Australians that the Liberal Party, the Coalition, is better at managing national security and keeping Australians safe than the Labor Party. There is just no question about that and the evidence is before people to see that – both on borders and in terms of the decisions that we've made about keeping our communities safe that we just spoke about.
On the economy as well. I mean Labor racks up hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of debt. It's always tough coming in after a Labor Government because you need to take decisions – as you recall well – where you need to get the budget back into balance so that you can deal with the next rainy day.
On energy, we need to do more on energy to reduce electricity prices and make it more affordable for families, for small businesses. If we do that, we can get the economy pumping.
Labor proposes to put a tax on housing, they're proposing to put a tax on electricity and they really are going to make it harder for families and businesses.
So I think we'll talk a lot more about this in the run-up to the next election. The next election is still 18 months away. One of the things that we need to do is really shine the light more on who Bill Shorten is. The public have a real hesitation around Bill Shorten…
…that's right, they do and it's in the polls. Even though Labor is ahead, you're right Minister, that's in the polls.
And if you look at Bennelong, I think you know Kristina Keneally belled the cat. I mean you could see on her face that she…you know, it was almost sort of cringing that Bill Shorten would turn up again and you could just see Kristina Keneally saying, please, not again, because the more people Bill Shorten meets in our country, the better that is for the Liberal Party because to meet Bill Shorten is to know that there's just something that's shifty and shonky there. All of these backroom deals with the CFMEU, who are involved in criminal activity with outlaw motorcycle gangs and all sorts of deals on building sites, they're not above board and the fact that Mr Shorten is doing deals behind closed doors, out of the public eye, I think the public sense that and the Australians can pick a fake – they did it with Mark Latham, eventually people did it with Kevin Rudd – and I think the penny really has dropped with people in relation to Bill Shorten.
Let me make this prediction over the course of the next 12 months. Anthony Albanese is biting at the bit to take the leadership of the Labor Party. I think the polls will tighten over the course of the next 12 months and I think there will be leadership pressure on Bill Shorten. I think we will see that because the Australian public just know that there's something that's shonky or shady about Mr Shorten. I always say there are good and bad people on both sides of politics. The fact is that Mr Shorten has a shady past in the union movement. You don't get to become the number one ticket holder of the union movement in Australia if you're squeaky clean and you're above board. He's got there because he's done deals all of his life with these business leaders, with billionaires, on secret deals in terms of rights and taking rights away from workers. There's a whole sordid past there and I can promise you we're going to concentrate a lot more on that over the course of the next 12 months and beyond.
It sounds like the Government's got to let you off the leash occasionally Peter Dutton to talk broadly about some of these things because in that one grab there you've given us all the arguments against Bill Shorten and I think that have not been made for much of the year.
If I can be tough on the Government, I think there's certainly some good effort this year. I really commend MYEFO the other day, but you need to lift your game when it comes to communicating those wins.
Just quickly before we go, you've been in public life now for 16 years. Most people would know your face, but not know much about you. I tell people that you're a former policeman, you worked in the drug squad, the National Crime Authority, you're a Dad with three children…I want to say young kids, but gosh, I've been out for a while, they're probably close to teenagers now. What are you going to do over the Christmas break?
Fifteen, thirteen and twelve.
There you go Dad, that's the worst time, that's the toughest time. What are you going to do over the break and how are you going to get some time to unwind with your family?
Well we'll go to the beach and just try to ignore the phone for a little while. I think the kids have got me lined up to go to the movies tomorrow, which I'll do.
I've said to our kids from a very young age that family is the most important thing and always take care of each other and of your family. I'm married to a wonderful wife who allows me to indulge in this crazy lifestyle of politics. You're away a lot and you need to prioritise though, as you know Peta, you need to put time in the diary to go to the kids' sporting events and the things that are important to them. If you don't get that balance right, then I don't think you perform professionally throughout the year.
So Christmas, hopefully – although in this portfolio there are a few issues that I have to deal with over the next week or so – but it is a time to reconnect with family, it's time to spend some time with the kids, they like that, and throwing on a pair of shorts, going down to the beach, trying to keep a low profile, that'll be my objective over the course of the next couple of weeks. Watching a bit of cricket and a bit of sport otherwise. So yeah, hopefully a bit of down time and recharge the batteries. We'll be back into it soon enough.
Well thank you for your time Minster. Enjoy a lovely break with your family. I hope you've got a good portfolio of outcomes and wins next year, but on the terror front and other things I hope that you're not as busy as we fear you might be. Thanks for your time tonight.
Thanks Peta. Have a great Christmas. Thank you very much.