Subjects: Visit to the United States; federal agencies; US resettlement of refugees from Nauru and PNG; Manus Island; changing population within detention centres.
Every Thursday we attempt to speak to the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. He's just touched down in the last couple of hours in Washington DC. The Immigration Minister's on the line. Minister, good morning.
Good morning, Ray.
You're there meeting with your US counterpart, Secretary for Homeland Security John Kelly. What will the discussion be all about?
Well there is a lot to discuss and I had the chance to meet General Kelly, as he then was, in Canberra in December. There's a lot of information that we exchange; as you know at the borders foreign fighters coming back from overseas, lots of information to share and we're doing a lot of work within the counter-terrorism space.
So I'm looking forward to the meeting and it will be a good chance to talk about our new citizenship arrangements, what we're proposing there and I think the US has got an interest in how we've been able to pull that together, what we've been doing in terms of border crossings and it's a pretty important relationship in this current environment. We've got no better partner than the United States.
Now given that you're talking to the Secretary for Homeland Security, the equivalent to the Minister for Homeland Security, there's reports today that you are likely to be the first person appointed to that position in the federal ministry. Have you got a comment on that?
Ray look, there's been lots of speculation around for a long period of time. As I’ve said before, all of that machinery of government stuff is an issue for the Prime Minister, but obviously the Government’s keen to do whatever we can to make sure that we continue to stare down the threat. The agencies have done a great job in thwarting a number of attempts to cause death and mass casualty and as a country we should be very grateful for all of the agencies. They all work well together.
Those sorts of issues, in terms of the workings of government, how those ministries work, as you know, is really an issue for the PM.
Okay. Last week we had the Vice President Mike Pence here saying he would honour that deal that had been put in place by the Obama Administration to transfer those people from Nauru and from Manus to the United States of America. Will that be also part of what you'll discuss this week, how that will progress?
It's not the main focus because the deal's been done to President Trump and Vice President Pence's credit. They’ve said that they'll honour the deal that was struck between Prime Minister Turnbull and then President Obama. So it's all going well. Officers from the Department of Homeland Security and State from the US have been on both Nauru and Manus. So those interviews continue and we're confident that there'll be no hold up, it will all work well and the sooner we can get people off the islands the better.
Now Manus Island; this happened from the time I went away on that Good Friday into Easter Monday and you may or may not be aware of the words of Andrew Bolt on Sky News last night where he described your discussions as being a little loose with the truth. However, he condemned your opponents as liars.
You've said PNG officers fired shots into the detention centre because they were concerned about the welfare of a five year old who was allegedly led into the centre. The ABC reported comments by the local Police Commander which suggest that the boy was in fact older and there was no concern for his welfare.
Now, Andrew Bolt said last night that you have seen vision that others have not seen and that's why you criticised the ABC Insider host Barrie Cassidy in questioning you. Are you still standing by what you said to Barrie Cassidy on that day?
One hundred per cent Ray and what I've said is that; certainly over a long period of time there have been a series of events – and the Commissioner for Australian Border Force has made some comment in relation to this today – we have seen reports, we are concerned about some allegations of sexual behaviour by the asylum seekers toward girls and women on Manus.
Just to get the geography in people's minds, Manus Island is a naval base, so there's naval housing there with naval families, their kids running around, there's obviously the village and the regional processing centre is part of that community. So with an open centre arrangement, where the asylum seekers can come and go from the Manus Island facility, they walk to the markets, they walk around the island and obviously the housing for the naval staff is part of that.
So I was very clear in what I’ve said and I stand by it 100 per cent. I haven't deviated from it at all and I won't because I know what I've said to be factually true. So that's the reality.
Now, if the ABC and Fairfax want to take particular stances and take the word of other people, who I think are discredited, over the word of an Australian Government Minister, then that's really an issue for the ABC, for the national broadcaster.
I think the ABC's frankly demonstrated their capacity again in relation to one of their paid staff and their comments around Anzac Day and the ABC can answer for themselves, but I think most Australians are pretty fed up with the attitude of some of the ABC commentators. If they want to be politicians run for politics, run for a seat at the next election, but don't prosecute your political disposition through the taxpayer funded ABC. It's a frustration, but anyway, that's what we have to deal with and they'll answer for themselves.
See I don't want to talk about this woman in detail – and you've had your say on it both here this morning and yesterday in the media – but this social media posting by the 26 year old woman; her parents chose our country as a safe haven from their native Sudan. Now, I don't know whether the comments were borne out of attention deficit syndrome where she seeks attention or just sheer stupidity, but I would have thought any income she derives from the Federal Government or any statutory authority should cease immediately.
Now, it was revealed to me yesterday, because I in some way said perhaps she doesn't know the significance of Anzac Day. I was contacted by a fellow student from a high school in your home state where she attended and said she was well aware of Anzac Day when I attended school with her. She then was on a committee to celebrate the centenary of the Anzacs which was put together in 2014 and of course and we got to 2015 and she knew the significance of Anzac Day. She's now apologised and withdrawn from it.
But it's also reported that she's on the stipend of some committee put together by Julie Bishop. I mean so if we're going to talk to the ABC about, you know, taking some action, what about your own Government taking some action in relation to the stipend she receives for any work she may do for them?
Well Ray, I mean to go back to your first point…did she not know about Anzac Day? Of course she knew about Anzac Day. She's an educated woman and she made a comment which was I think all about publicity seeking.
Now I don't want to add to her publicity seeking venture, but I do seek to call into question frankly the management of the ABC when they tolerate this ongoing…they almost sacked a female presenter only a couple of weeks ago from the ABC for a bit of an on-air gaffe which was really here nor there, but they laid down the law to that particular presenter simply because she wasn't prepared for when the camera crossed back to her, and yet this person, who's on the ABC payroll has made a comment in her capacity. I think it's unacceptable and I don't understand how the ABC can continue to justify the long line of these people that they employ, that they engage.
They can question the Government, the fourth estate, it’s an important part of our democracy, media has a very important role to play, but when these journalists turn themselves into advocates and players and political operatives, then I think they shouldn't be doing that on taxpayers' dime and I think that's something the ABC needs to answer for – and in terms of…I'm not aware of the Foreign Affairs element…
Well I mean she holds some position it's reported today where she receives a stipend via Julie Bishop's department and what I'm saying to you and to the Government is; if it's good enough to call out the ABC, well it's good enough to call yourselves out and for you to say well, if she is getting money from us, a Federal Government that should cease immediately.
Well Ray, I don't believe she should be paid anything from the Federal Government, that's my personal view. It's an issue for the Foreign Affairs Minister and perhaps the role she's performing that she's being paid for, DFAT believe that that's valuable, but my experience of having observed this particular individual, as I say, pains me to talk about it because she is just seeking publicity and unfortunately we are giving it her, but that's the way it is.
I think we just need to call out the comments that she's expressed on what is the most sacrosanct day of the Australian calendar and on a day when many veterans are doing the right thing; commemorating the loss of those that have gone before them and for all the insensitive remarks…the way they were projected through her own publicity reasons, is just completely unacceptable.
Now one of the things you and I spoke about recently is these detention centres; I nominated Villawood and you know, you weren't surprised that I received information from Villawood because people are allowed to have contact with the outside world – it's not a jail, it's a detention centre – but there's a story today in The Telegraph and in News Limited papers; criminals awaiting deportation based on character grounds are there; many of them belonging to outlaw motorcycle gangs, they've got access to mobile phones which we understand, but apparently they’re using them to run drug operations and even plot the odd murder from inside Villawood. Are you aware of all of this?
Well I've tried to stop the mobile phones from being used in the detention centre. I think the matter is before the court at the moment. I’ve been injuncted from doing that, so there a couple of issues I think Ray from that story.
It really goes to the changing population. So as we’ve stopped boats and people have been returned back to their country of origin or released from detention, obviously the number of refugees or asylum seekers within our detention network has dropped right down and the numbers have ramped up because – as we've discussed on many occasions – we've dramatically increased the number of visa cancellations of outlaw motorcycle gang members and criminals.
So the population within the detention centre now is predominantly people that have committed crimes, that are being deported because of the crimes that they've committed and so we're dealing with a much hardened population than what we had before. So there's that issue that's raised.
We've done a lot of work with the Commissioner and the Australian Border Force, intelligence officers around raids, gathering information, seizing contraband items and the rest of it and all that work will continue, but the frustration otherwise is the endless court process that's involved here in some of the reviews – and this is more so around some of the asylum seekers who just…and one of the cases we spoke about on your programme only a couple of weeks ago with the family that had been here I think for 17 years from Fiji, and you go through these endless legal processes.
My view is simple; if the Department determines that somebody is not owed protection, then they should have their day in court for it to be independently looked at through the court process. Once that is at an end, then frankly people should be preparing to depart, but instead we end up with this prolonged period where we have to pay to keep these people in detention; it's a stalling tactic, taxpayers' end up paying millions and millions, hundreds of millions of dollars to all of these matters over the forward estimates, that we deal with in the Budget, and I could be spending that money elsewhere within either stopping boats or stopping terrorism.
All of those aspects, which is a huge frustration – and there's a lot that we're looking at in this space and we should talk more about it because as I say people should have their fair day in court – but the taxpayer shouldn't be taken for a ride and at the moment I believe that they are.
Okay, one final thing, I know you're busy, but this is something that's been brought to my attention by one of my listeners in your state, your state of Queensland. We had this discussion previously about, particularly in relation to the disaffected youth- refugee youth in Victoria, and when you can say enough is enough, you're going back from whence you came.
A Victorian teen who groped eight teenage girls, eight, and a woman while swimming in a predatory manner – that's the judges word, not mine – has avoided conviction and walked from court with a probation order. The teen can't be identified as he is an Afghani refugee who came to Australia from Pakistan without a birth certificate. After being charged as an adult, the teen was assessed based on development milestones that he could not prove or the prosecutor couldn't prove his date of birth.
So they didn't know whether he was an adult or a child, so he was charged as a child. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual assault, three counts of common assault on women aged 15 to 24 while he was on holidays; January last year. He did not have a conviction recorded, was sentenced to two years’ probation for the conduct described in court as pre-meditated and persistent.
Now, the Judge David Kent QC said the teen had been swimming in a quite predatory manner and persisted to touch the women for a period of almost two hours before being reported to lifeguards on the beach. Yet, there's no…you can't do anything about this bloke, whether he's 16 or 26, we don't know how old he is because there's no conviction recorded.
Well this is the frustration I'm talking about and I don't know the details of the particular case, but this is why it was important Ray for the announcement that the PM and I made last week about the citizenship as well.
People who want to become Australian citizens, regardless of their background, whether they’ve come here as a refugee or on a working visa, whatever it might be; if you're going to conduct yourself like this, if you believe that you can't abide by our laws and you can't adopt our values, then you won't be getting Australian citizenship – and that is at the heart of what we've been working really hard toward.
I think it's been a good decision and we'll talk more about it over the coming months, but it is absolutely essential that people of this character don't become Australian citizens because we end up spending millions of dollars on these people going through the criminal legal justice system and above and beyond that, more importantly, they leave a trail of victims behind and we just don't want those people in our country.
Okay, thanks for your time; we'll talk to you next week.
Thanks Ray. See you mate.