Subjects: Airport security; strengthening citizenship requirements; same-sex marriage.
The Prime Minister flagged there would be an overhaul of airport security after there was that scare at Sydney Airport. There was going to be measures looked at, like ID checks for domestic flights. I caught up with Peter Dutton at Melbourne Airport this morning. This is what he had to say about the progress being made in that area.
Well we're right in the middle of that now Laura. So I'm receiving a briefing today from the operators here at Melbourne Airport – we're at the international airport at the moment – but we have a particular focus on the domestic airport. So we want to make sure that we have the availability of the best technology in terms of screening, number plate recognition, all of those sorts of technologies. We want to make sure that we are at the cutting edge and making sure that we're addressing that threat because, as we know, with the return of foreign fighters, with the prevalence of home-grown radicalisation, these threats are with us, they're very real and we need to be realistic about them.
So I'm doing a body of work, along with the Justice Minister Michael Keenan and with the Minister for Transport Darren Chester to have a look at the settings at our airports right across the country to make sure that we've got the best possible environment for passengers to travel safely.
Obviously there's some less obvious things going on behind the scenes that passengers wouldn't pick up on, but in the near future could we see and could we be required to produce identification for example on domestic flights?
Well that's one of the issues that we're having a look at as part of this review. I think it is anomalous in the 21st century that we can't truly say who has boarded a domestic flight for example and in the United States, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, it's quite a different arrangement. People do need to produce a passport for example or photographic ID. We allow people who aren't travelling to go airside, as you know, in our domestic and international airports, which is quite different from other settings.
So we need to work through how our system operates. We want to make sure that the flow rates continue to be efficient, we want to make sure that we don't have people milling out the front of airports, but we're very much in an open and constructive dialogue with the airport owners and operators and the security operators at the airports right now to look at realistic ways in which we can use technology in particular. There's a lot of technology emerging in facial recognition. The use of that technology to try and push the threat as far away from places of mass gathering as possible, including airports. So we're looking at that and how it operates internationally, but we really want to be ahead of the game here in Australia and that's what we're looking at at the moment.
Okay. The proposed changes to the citizenship test – of which there are 30 new measures – will not pass the Parliament in its current form it would seem. Now Senate Committee Members and some of your own backbench involved in that Committee said that the English language test for example was too stringent. Will you water it down in order to get it through?
Well Laura, just to go back to the basics of what this Bill is about; we want to make sure that people who want to become Australian citizens, they're abiding by Australian law – I think that's a fundamental ask – that they're abiding by Australian values, that people are integrating into Australian society and that in the modern age, for people to be successful in Australian society – if it's at an educational facility, at a school or a university or a TAFE, or if it's in the workplace – people need to have a functional level of English and what we've said is that we want people over a period of time to improve their English, to have a proficiency at a competent level...
…as a functional level of English, level six, was just too high. It was prohibitive for people seeking citizenship. So will you look at that measure? Are you flexible on it?
Well of course we're flexible and we're talking with the crossbench Senators; I've said that publically before, that we're in a constructive discussion at the moment with Senator Xenophon. Some of the other Independent Senators have already indicated in principle their support, so we'll continue to work with them.
What's disappointing out of this is that we don't have a bipartisan position from the Labor Party because Mr Shorten initially supported the proposals that we'd put forward and then obviously there was a disunity within the Labor Party ranks and division that caused Mr Shorten to withdraw his support.
So we're now working with the Independent Senators. I actually think it's a significant Bill that requires bipartisan support and hopefully Labor can reconsider their position.
Minister, as a leading member of the Right and an influential Minister within your own Party, I have to ask you about same-sex marriage. John Howard has accused you, Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann of running dead on the issue. So which way will you be voting and will you be advocating one way or another?
Well I'm not sure that's what John Howard has said, but John Howard is a respected elder of our Party. He's a mentor of mine, a good friend and I have nothing but respect for John Howard.
The decision though that Cabinet's taken is that the Bill will be drafted as a Private Members' Bill after the vote if there is a yes vote.
I've said very clearly for a long period of time that I believe in the traditional form of marriage and that I will be voting no on a personal level in the plebiscite.
If the Bill passes the public test, that is – sorry, if the plebiscite passes a public test, if there is a majority vote for change, then I've been very clear in saying that I will adhere to that democratic outcome and I will vote yes for the Bill in Parliament.
If there is a no vote, if the no vote is successful, then I've been very clear as well not only about my position, but what I think the Government's position should be and that is that this matter is at an end for the Liberal Party, that there will be no change to the existing law.
I've advocated very strongly for our position to be the postal plebiscite – before that the plebiscite proper which had been blocked by the Parliament – but I want millions of Australians to have their say. Whether it's yes or no, I want a respectful debate. I want people to cast their ballot and I want people to have their say on what I think is a very important social change that should be properly considered.
I think it would've been an absurdity had we not gone to the Australian people to ask for their judgement on this issue and that's what we've done, so we should respect that process and respect the outcome.
Well just finally, will religious freedom be a priority issue, as Scott Morrison has said overnight? I guess the problem that some voters see here – and there's been a muddying of the waters on both sides – and some people see this not just as a yes or no vote, they want to know what the legislation contains and what will be presented to the Parliament. So why isn't that legislation forthcoming before the plebiscite?
Well that wasn't possible in this process, bearing in mind that the plebiscite had been knocked back twice by the Senate and the postal plebiscite had been decided upon. That was the process that took place fairly rapidly, to be honest and obviously the matter was then decided by the High Court which has resolved in favour of the Government's position and we'll continue to, as I say, have a discussion which I think is respectful of both views, but there wasn't the ability to…
…but why wasn't it possible? It did take about eight months to draft and at least on the periphery some Government Members have pointed to the Dean Smith Bill as something that would be palatable. So is that close to what the Government might present?
Well just in terms of the Bill and the way in which that process will operate, if there is a yes vote – and that is very clear, that has been stated by the Prime Minister and it was a decision of Cabinet and of our Party Room – that is that there will be a Private Members' Bill that will go before the Parliament and there will be a series of votes on aspects of that Bill. There will be protections that some Members will strongly support and others will strongly oppose.
I believe very strongly in those religious protections because I think there are some people who are hijacking the marriage equality debate at the moment who have no interest in marriage at all, no interest in the institution of marriage either for heterosexual couples or for same-sex couples and we've seen those people because they've been involved in Safe Schools Programmes and other social agendas. Their agenda is much wider than this. There's no question about that. They have no regard for religious institutions in this country and I believe very strongly that people have a right to choose. They have a right to believe in what they believe in. They should have, in a country like ours, the ability to have those religious beliefs one way or the other – they believe in religion or they don't. I respect their right very much, but I'm not going to stand by and allow these fringe elements to attack what is a fundamental aspect of our society.
I've been clear about that process and that's what I will argue if there is a yes vote in terms of the legislation, the Private Members' Bill that would be brought before the House of Representatives.
So that's my view and I strongly endorse the comments of Scott Morrison and others in the last couple of days in relation to this debate, but that is the process that will happen if there is a yes vote, if the yes vote gets up by November.
Minister Peter Dutton, thank you for your time.