Subjects: US resettlement of refugees from Nauru and PNG; Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill.
The Immigration Minister Peter Dutton joins me now from Melbourne. Minister, thanks so much for your time, I know it's been a busy couple of days.
Now, I know you've been working on this deal for quite some time. This is a shift away from the solution that was always seen to be third world countries. Why is the US the best solution?
Laura it's good to be on your show. Look a couple of points. One is that in any arrangement we need to have a voluntary offering if you like. People need to voluntarily move to a third country, we can't forcibly remove people. We can put different options on the table and ultimately though we are in a position of strength because we have been able now for well over two years to stop boats.
We have turned around 29 boats and we have put additional assets at sea. We’ve got additional efforts in our near neighbours, working with authorities there to make sure that we can scuttle ventures before they start. So there has been an enormous amount of planning that's gone into this operation and the announcement on Sunday of the deal with the US was just another milestone in Operation Sovereign Borders.
This issue is going to be with us for a long, long time to come so we need to accept the fact people smugglers haven't gone away, but that we do want to get people off Manus and Nauru and this was the most realistic way that we could do that.
So the recognition there, as you said at the beginning of your answer, that this needs to be voluntary and simply Cambodia resettlement, long term in PNG and Nauru, it just wasn't happening. So people weren't voluntarily doing that under, you know, volunteering to resettle. So that's the long term solution, isn't it? People need to willingly want go.
Well that's right, but it's a combination of things. So we've already had 650 people who have returned home voluntarily with assistance packages, with support from us to help them re-establish, to help them get on with their lives – so that's quite a significant number.
As you pointed out in your introduction, there are efforts, and I have had an operation underway for a number of months now looking at individual cases, providing encouragement and we have sent people back to a number of countries over the course of the last couple of months and we'll continue that effort because there are some people who, for example the Greens, who spoke against every option available, were adamant that people should come to Australia and now even Mr McKim, from the Greens has said that people, you know, shouldn't be forced to go to America.
Well it just shows how stupid the Greens are in their approach to this model and I think why most Australians reject their position in this debate because it's not a mature position and it doesn't reflect the realities that we have to deal with as a Government.
I think people need to recognise this is a good deal, we need to make it work and that's what the Government is working toward.
Minister it does seem that you have recognised in being Minister for Immigration that not one policy works for all of time. So it seems there has been a shift under your leadership and Malcolm Turnbull's leadership. Is that accurate?
Laura I think there has been a consistency of effort from day one. I think the first priority was to stop boats, to stop drownings at sea – we did that – Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison did a great job in the first phase of Operation Sovereign Borders.
I remember General Campbell who is now the Chief of the Army saying to me when I came into this portfolio – he was the then head of Operation Sovereign Borders – that relatively speaking the easy part was stopping boats and of course that was no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, but getting people of Nauru and Manus was the hard job and we have continued the good work of Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison.
It's true to say though that the Prime Minister was adamant that we wanted to explore every opportunity, look at every possibility to get people off Nauru and Manus as quickly as possible and we have done that since the first day of his Prime Ministership and I think we should be very proud of the outcome…
…and that could only happen with a first world country option on the table, couldn't it, because all other opportunities had been exhausted? I mean when you are offering people $25,000 to return home and they're not, a first world country was the only next step, wasn't it?
Well it becomes frustrating too when you have got advocates here, including some Members of Parliament on the Left of the Labor Party saying, along with advocates that, look, these people should come to Australia, there's no sense in accepting packages, just outlast the Australian authorities and you'll end up in Australia. Well that is just a green light for people smugglers to put new ventures together.
We have resisted that and I think we have come up with the realistic option in the circumstances and we now need to send a clear message to people smugglers that we are not going to allow them to get back in to business because the greatest tragedy would be to return to the days of 50,000 arriving on 800 boats which was Labor's legacy and 17 detention centres opened and 2,000 kids at its peak ended up in detention. We got those children out of detention, we've closed those detention centres and I’ve said the next priority for us was to get family units off Nauru and Manus in a way that wasn't going to restart boats and that is what we're doing.
And one of the biggest stick approaches now that you have is this proposed lifetime ban on any asylum seekers that try to get here by boat. We have seen Labor express concerns about that; Bill Shorten calling it a ridiculous policy. We now know it is not contingent on this US deal. So Minister, will you take a pragmatic approach to this? Why not put a lifetime ban on anyone that arrives by boat or attempts to arrive by boat from now? Why does it have to apply to those on Nauru and Manus Island that most will end up in the United States?
Laura this is a very, very important point. The Labor Party had 26 people from their own ranks, Members of Parliament, coming out in opposition to this Bill before Bill Shorten could open his mouth. So what it demonstrates to you is that the Left of the Labor Party is in control of this issue.
Mr Shorten was only able to stitch up a dodgy policy on boats in the run up to the last election with the assistance of the CFMEU bosses at the Labor Conference. So we know that Labor is still divided on this issue. That is the first very important point to make.
The second point to make is that we want to get people off Manus and Nauru including those that have been found not to be refugees. So this deal doesn't apply to those people that aren't refugees. For example people from Iran who will say to us, ‘well look the Iranian Government won't take us back because we can't be forced to return there, they will take us back voluntarily and so we are not going to the US we are going to stay here until we can get to Australia’…
…but Minister you know that the people smugglers…
…this policy sends a very clear message to them that they will not come here.
Ok. You know that the people smugglers, whilst you don't get this legislation passed, will use that to sell their product. So don't you risk, having some kind of sugar in the table, aren’t able to get this legislation through…why not strike a deal with Labor? Are you willing to give any ground or no?
Laura we have said very clearly we have thought through this legislation. It doesn't apply to children. There is a ministerial discretion that will allow people to come into our country at a future time.
Mr Shorten says that he opposes the Bill because he is worried about people coming here as tourists in 40 years’ time. Well the problem that we have got now is over the next three or four weeks, over the next three or four months. If Mr Shorten gets in to government at the next election or in three years beyond that and the problem is resolved, there are no boats coming and he believes that there is no risk in abolishing this legislation, then do that, but we’re dealing with the problem here and now and he is providing these red herrings in saying that oh well he is worried about what happens in 40 years, it’s not a requirement of the US. Well why would it be a requirement of the US? The US is not dictating to us, nor any other country what our policy will be.
We have determined that the best way to stand down people smugglers is to have this legislation passed by the Parliament and Mr Shorten weakens that position. The people smugglers will be trading on his weakness.
And you're right, he does put out an incentive for new boat arrivals and he puts us in a very difficult position – not because he is adopting any principled stance – because he has got 26 Members at least of his own Party who are supporting the position of Albanese and Plibersek – the two would be leaders of the Labor Party.
So there is a whole internal dynamic to this for the ALP and Mr Shorten running red herrings about what the US wants or doesn't want or what will happen in 40 years' time; I mean people can see through that. It is a nonsense.
He needs to support the legislation, to stare down the crazies within his own Party because at the moment, frankly, he is looking weaker than Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd and that is a very worrying sign.
Minister, finally and quickly, I just have to ask you about Donald Trump. The Government must have been alive to this issue that…well Donald Trump stated…at least campaign policies on immigration. But are you taking a bet here that you know Donald Trump if he does look at immigration programmes, this possibly 1,600 is just a drop in the ocean and he is not likely to pick a fight with Australia over that?
Laura, I can assure you that the Prime Minister and I, the Chiefs of our Defence Force, Operation Sovereign Borders, my own Department, we worked through every possible scenario over the last several months and we are confident that we can work with a Trump Administration.
You are right, our relationship is deep. It spans many decades. There are many aspects to our relationship, including the military component, the exchange of information, the work that we do through our Customs and Border Force agencies exchanging information on a daily basis. This is a very close, tight relationship, not only today, but into the future. It spans Administrations and Governments on both sides.
We will work with the incoming Administration. We respect President-Elect Trump. We will work with the leadership within his Administration because we think this issue is important to both sides and we think the Trump Administration will respect the fact that this is a very important issue to the Australian people and to the Australian Government.
Minister once again thanks for your time on The Latest. We will speak to you again soon.
Thanks Laura. Thank you.