Subjects: Immigration, border security, Sydney terror plot; same sex marriage.
Now let's talk today to a bloke who's got a lot to think about on this. He's the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Peter thanks for joining us today.
Tell me, does what you've discovered in the last three days change our immigration thinking and possibly our policies?
Well Leon it's good to be back on the programme so thank you for having me.
Obviously we've had a lot of time over recent days contemplating all the advice and intelligence given to us and I want to pay full tribute to the Prime Minister who I think has shown significant leadership on this issue and the Federal Police, ASIO, all of the agencies, really do us proud and over the course over the last couple of days we've seen the benefits of their professionalism and their working together. So I think firstly we should be very grateful for the leadership that's been shown at a number of levels to avert what would have been a very significant disaster in our country, the loss of significant life and that investigation is ongoing at the moment. So we'll let the Federal Police and the New South Wales Police now do their work.
But look from my perspective, I've sat around the National Security Committee table for a long period of time now and I've had regular briefings and updates about the threats that we face and it just reinforces in my mind that we face a more significant threat now than we ever have. And some commentators who are out there saying ‘well more people are killed on the roads than terrorist incidents each year and you've thwarted these 13 now terrorist plots and therefore there's no need for change or trying to enhance the arrangements by bringing the Home Affairs portfolio together’ just shows how naive their comments are.
So I think there's a message of reassurance for the public out of this as well that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep people safe and that's what people would expect from their government.
Now there is discussion in the media today - and by the way I would suggest to you that some of those comments about, ‘oh well, what's the big deal, we have people killed on the roads’ - I think you might find the majority of Australians do not subscribe to that kind of theory…
…no I agree with you.
But look, is there now contemplation of changing the style of immigration we've got into Australia? Is there any thought given to this? And I think more importantly, do you think that our immigration policies have had any impact on what's been discovered in the last three days?
Well there is a couple of points there. The first point I'd make is that we have been cancelling visas of non-citizens at a record rate. As you know - and we've spoken about it on your programme before - we've ramped that up by about 1200 per cent. So I've been very clear through my time as Immigration and Border Protection Minister that we welcome people and 99 per cent of people do the right thing. We have 40 million, growing to 50 million people coming across our borders each year and the very clear message to those people in a way that it hasn't been given before is that if they commit crimes they can expect to have their visas cancelled and to be deported. And, as I say, we've done that in record number and I'll continue to do that because I think it makes us a safer community.
The second point that I'd make is that we are looking at ways in which we can streamline our visa process, make sure that we recognise that we're not living now in the late 40s, early 50s, or at a time when Australia needed to populate or perish as the rhetoric was at the time. And we are now more nuanced in a way in which we want people to come here with skills, with capital to set up businesses in South Australia and elsewhere, to employ people, we expect people to abide by the rigid conditions of their visas. And ultimately if they are living within the law and they're abiding by Australian values, they're integrating into Australian society, then for many of them they'll have the opportunity to go on to become an Australian citizen.
We've announced in the last couple of days that we are looking at the way in which we can transform our visa system. At the moment there are 99 visas it's blown out to and it's a very complicated process for people to apply, for people to understand and we're suggesting that that needs to be reduced down to 10 visas or 10 visa streams so that it can be a simple process. There are a lot of people that get caught by particular nuances or conditions around speciality visa category and we hope that through a simplification process, people will be able to navigate their way more effectively through it. But it will always be underpinned by our desire to accept people in our country's best interest and where people aren't abiding by our values and by our laws, then as we said with the citizenship changes, we are just not going to allow those people to become Australian citizens and settle here permanently.
Minister have we had a situation in recent times where people have gone away to fight with the enemy and then come back into Australia and then sought to create nothing but trouble?
Yes, most definitely, and that's one of the big concerns that we face now is forces in - the good forces in the Middle East who are dealing with the ISIL threat and caliphate within Syria and north of Iraq etc. That land is being liberated and these fanatics are either returning back to their country of origin, including Australia, or they're going to other places like the southern Philippines.
So there's a lot of work that our agencies do in managing that threat because clearly somebody coming back - having been on the frontline of battle in Syria - they have greater skills when they return and skills that put us at a higher threat level.
So this is part of the reason why it is absolutely essential for us to get the citizenship question right because once somebody becomes an Australian citizen, either by birth in our country or by conferral of citizenship, then they have the same rights and protections as somebody who, you know, is a fifth or sixth or tenth generation Australian. And that's why we need to make sure that where we have a doubt about somebody, where we don't believe that they're abiding by Australian values, they're involved in gang violence, they're involved in criminal activity otherwise; we don't want those people to become Australian citizens.
There are many others who are of good character that want to become Australian citizens and we should be encouraging them over the people who seek to do us harm.
Are we saying we've been too soft?
In some cases clearly we have. There have been mistakes made, there's a lot of human involvement in the process, making judgements about the intent and people's word being taken at face value, people lying about their bona fides and this is why the citizenship changes are incredibly important. It's why frankly I'm still at a loss to understand why Mr Shorten won't support them in Parliament because there will be legislation required in the Senate to toughen it up, to say that we do want a competent level of English language. We do want people to abide by Australian laws and adhere to Australian values and if they don't then clearly we don't want them to become Australian citizens.
So there is a lot of effort that goes on behind the scenes with officers in my department and other agencies looking at individual applications, but by definition you can't get every application right. But with the changes we're proposing, I think we give ourselves the best chance of keeping Australia safe and protecting the values that we all believe to be important and fundamental to not only our civilisation today, but our society for tomorrow as well.
Are we able to deport….there were media reports of some 80 - it was more than 80 - 80 people who had committed some very serious offences that had gone to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and they were allowed to stay. Are you going to throw them out, or is that not possible?
Well Leon it depends on the individual case obviously.
So just speaking in general terms, there's the ability for somebody to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal the decision made by an officer within my department, for example, where they're taken a decision to cancel a visa. Now the AAT can look at the decision made and they can substitute a new decision - that is that they can re-instate the visa.
I have the ability to overturn that, depending on the facts of the case and in many cases I have done that. Now people then still have the right to go to the Federal Court, before Federal Court, ultimately to the High Court and we are I think very generous in terms of the appeal mechanisms. The Australian taxpayer pays tens of millions of dollars each year to defend these matters and it is a very costly business. But, as I say, I have taken a firm approach to say that we're operating within the law while we're cancelling those visas of people that commit crimes.
So the other aspect to it as well is that there's been a new President appointed to the AAT and there have been a number of people that haven't had their appointments renewed and new people have come into the AAT. And bearing in mind that many of the Gillard Government appointments to the AAT were for between five and seven years and frankly some of those people have come to an end in their term and they haven't been renewed and they’re people that were appointed by the Gillard Government that wouldn't be appointed by the Turnbull Government. So that gives you an idea of some of the dynamic within the AAT.
Just quickly, you'd be aware of the case of a 96 year old woman that got deported. I guess the public would look at this and say this is crazy when we've got malcontents here who have broken the law that we can't get rid of.
Well we're incredibly compassionate in terms of the numbers of cases where we do intervene; sick children, elderly parents, people who are dependent on somebody living here, a child living in Australia, a parent that's been ripped off. I haven't got the particular facts before me I'm sorry and it may have been dealt with by my Assistant Minister in this portfolio. So I just have to have a look at the detail Leon…
…but we try, whenever these cases are brought to our attention, and as to the officers within the Department, but on some occasions that there’s - not saying that about this case - but in some cases you look at there's a lot more information available that wasn't available to the public, maybe over a long, long period of time, attempted engagement for people to leave voluntarily.
In the end, there are 65 million people in the world today who are displaced and want to live in our country and we do need to have an orderly migration programme and we do need to have people abiding by the conditions of their visa that they accept it when they entered our country.
But, as I say, particularly where elderly people are involved or children, we do have a very compassionate approach and we generally look at those cases sympathetically.
Minister, just quickly, our national newsroom is chafing at the bit on this, but we seem to have a group of Liberal MPs pushing for a conscience vote on same sex marriage. What's your advice to these colleagues?
Well I think it's an issue now best discussed within the Party Room and I think that should continue to be the case.
I know people have got strong views either side. The Liberal Party's position at the last election Leon was to go to the people and say that we wanted a plebiscite as our policy; they supported that position and there is no argument to deviate from that.
So I accept the passion of this issue, but it needs to be dealt with behind closed doors. And I think now is the time for people to - having had their say frankly - to contain their comments until they get back to the Party Room. That's where the Liberal Party has our best discussions and our best debates and I think that's the case in relation to this matter.
Yeah. News Corp is reporting across the country that Malcolm Turnbull's leadership is on the line unless he can stop this - if you like - lack of discipline within the wets.
But I guess the suggestion is that if Mr Turnbull is dumped that you'd be endorsed as a leader and Greg Hunt would be your deputy. How accurate is this?
Well Leon I've seen those reports this morning and let me be very clear, as I've been clear in the past, I’m a Cabinet Minister in Malcolm Turnbull's Government and I've accepted that commission. I said to Malcolm at the time that I would be completely loyal to him; I have been and I remain so.
So the media reports aren't accurate and I'll do whatever I can to make sure that we defeat Bill Shorten at the next election because as we've seen with the destruction of economies around the country by CFMEU-inspired Labor governments, it’s a disaster for families, for small businesses and it destroys confidence. So the talk of increased taxes that Bill Shorten's been on about this side of the election - Bill Shorten is not the genuine product and people see through that.
Like Kevin Rudd, where he was promising one thing on boats before the election, did the complete opposite after the election. Frankly Bill Shorten shares the same qualities as Kevin Rudd. He's as trustworthy as Kevin Rudd and if you believe that Bill Shorten would be a good prime minister to this country, then you really don't have a full comprehension of what he was like when he was a minister in the Rudd Government.
So our absolute determination is to make sure that we can defeat Bill Shorten and that's what I'm absolutely dedicated to doing because I don't want to see boats restarting, I don't want to see kids back in detention or deaths at sea and frankly I just don't trust Labor when it comes to national security and the sort of issues that we're dealing with right now.
Alright. Peter Dutton, thank you for joining us today. That's the Immigration Minister.