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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 19 July 2017: National security reform; establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio; Craig Morrissey; Australian Taxation Office



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The Hon Peter Dutton MP Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

TRANSCRIPT

Doorstop Interview, Parliament House

19 July 2017

Subjects: National security reform; establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio; Craig Morrissey; Australian Taxation Office.

E&EO…………………………………………………………………………………………..

PETER DUTTON:

It’s always been the case that on national security issues there has been bipartisan support and I’m disappointed by the comments made by Mr Shorten today. He’s taken a cheap political opportunity, but really, now is a time for somebody who wants to be the alternative prime minister of this country to step up.

We want to make sure that Labor can get all of the information that they require because this is a significant change and it is worthy of support from the Labor Party and from crossbench Senators to get this legislation through, to make sure that we can have in place the best possible system to keep Australians safe.

I am disappointed that Mr Shorten has taken the stance that he has, but now is the time for him to rise above that. Labor made a mistake when they opposed the Government in relation to our efforts to stop boats and to defend our borders. They shouldn’t make another mistake in opposing this legislation because this legislation is designed to keep Australians safe - as our legislation and all of our efforts around Operation Sovereign Borders was designed to stop deaths at sea, to stop the boats coming and to make sure that we restored integrity to our borders.

Now, Mr Shorten needs to learn that history lesson and he needs to come out today to say that he will support the changes the Government is proposing.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to any of the crossbenchers about your legislation and do you require their support and have they indicated any?

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PETER DUTTON:

I haven’t had those discussions as you’d expect with the crossbench Senators yet. We’ve got an open dialogue with them on a number of matters and I deal with them regularly in relation to immigration and border protection matters.

So there’s I think a willingness within the crossbench to provide support to the Government on national security issues and generally speaking there would be from the Labor Party as well, but I think Mr Shorten has just had a knee-jerk reaction, which is a political reaction. I think he now needs to rise above that because the Labor Party did make a mistake in opposing our efforts on Operation Sovereign Borders and they would be making another mistake if they opposed our efforts in trying to keep Australians as safe as humanly possible.

JOURNALIST:

Andrew Wilkie has raised his concerns, have you heard them and what would you say to him?

PETER DUTTON:

I haven’t seen Andrew Wilkie’s comments. I’m happy to provide him with information so that he’s properly informed and might be able to make comments based on information as opposed to supposition, but if he requests that information we’re happy to provide him with a briefing.

JOURNALIST:

Someone like him has interesting insights being a former…

PETER DUTTON:

…well he has got very interesting insights and there’s a lot been written about Mr Wilkie over a long period of time in relation to his time with defence etc, so I’ll leave that for others to comment on.

JOURNALIST:

Labor says they want to hear more expert opinion about the case for this ministry and this department to be created, one of those experts; Greg Barton and several others have complained…

PETER DUTTON:

…no, no, sorry, that’s not the case. I mean if they’re asking for commentary from commentators, and if they’re asking for academics, then they can make those approaches. I understand Labor’s interest to be a genuine one, not to hear from commentators that you’ve cited, but to hear from experts; the heads of the departments, people within the government intelligence community network and we will provide them with the appropriate briefings and answer the questions that they

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might have - academics and others can make their comments - but I don’t think that’s who Labor is seeking to take their advice from.

JOURNALIST:

Are you hopeful that those briefings will be enough to get Labor over the line on this?

PETER DUTTON:

I believe they will. I mean there’s a check and balance in place here. There is the retention by the Attorney-General in relation to the warrant power within the ASIO Act and that’s been an important safeguard that we’ve put in place because at the moment, both function, in terms of an operational sense and the issuance of warrants, is performed within one portfolio. My own judgement is that it is good to have that separation so that the police function, the operational function or the intelligence function is separate from the issuance of a warrant by the first law officer.

So I think that will give some comfort to the Labor Party. I think they should concede that point and it’s hard to imagine what they reject otherwise. If we were proposing to abolish all of these agencies and roll them into one new one, then maybe they’d have a fair point, but that’s not what we’re proposing to do here.

We’re proposing to retain the independent statutory authority of each of the agencies so that they can perform their functions, but that there is an overriding strategic direction provided under the one department, under the one umbrella. At the moment the Prime Minister is calling upon four or five Ministers to get answers around national security elements - and for good reason over a long period of time under both Labor and Liberal Governments, there have been bolt-ons, you know different taskforces, different people that have been appointed to different aspects and this I think is a consolidation - it’s a sensible measured reform and it deserves the support of the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST:

Just on the national security issue that two foreigners can become Australian Senators, should this be something that ASIO should be looking at?

PETER DUTTON:

Well people might say that you know if we can stop the Greens from joining Parliament altogether that would be a great day for the Australian people, but look, I don’t agree with anything that Larissa Waters or Scott Ludlam has to say, but at a personal level I feel for each of them. It seems to me they’ve made a mistake, they’ve paid a high price for that mistake and it no doubt will make sure people that have been born overseas will check their status before they contemplate coming into the Australian Parliament.

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JOURNALIST:

Speaking broadly about the issue; James Paterson tweeted that it is a basic administration of Party’s to actually vet candidates and check those sorts of things. Is it?

PETER DUTTON:

My view is that yes, of course that’s the case, there’s a vetting process that takes place, but ultimately individuals have responsibilities and it’s a very well-known fact that people need to address these issues and in Larrisa’s case she said she was born overseas in Canada and that it was a simple mistake. So you take people at face value, but it’s an issue for them to decide.

JOURNALIST:

And just obviously for the record, you’re true blue?

PETER DUTTON:

I’m born in what was then a sleepy town of Brisbane in November of 1970. It may appear that it was longer ago than that…but it was in 1970, that’s what my birth certificate says and Brisbane of course now is a metropolis and thriving tourist destination, so everyone should go and visit.

JOURNALIST:

Are you confident that you are still going to be able to give immigration its full attention given that you are now going to have extra responsibilities?

PETER DUTTON:

Yes, because there’s already a national security aspect to this portfolio. We’ve got Counter Terrorism Unit officers at our international airports - something that we didn’t have even five years ago - and there is a lot of work that we do with the agencies already in terms of vetting people coming in - as you know through the 12,000 intake of the Syrians and Iraqis - we worked very closely with ASIO and with the Australian Federal Police and our international counterparts because we do want to make sure that people who are coming to our country are coming here on the basis that they’re proposing to come here. We want to make sure that we know their identities so that there are natural synergies across each of these areas.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned the AFP should be investigating Cabinet leaks? The media seemed to know that you were going to be appointed Home Affairs Minister well before it happened?

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PETER DUTTON:

Well they’re issues for the AFP.

I think one of the important things to point out here is that the autonomy remains within these departments. I was asked a question on radio this morning, which I think demonstrated sadly that there wasn’t sort of a basic understanding of the way in which this will operate. So the Australian Federal Police Commissioner will retain his autonomy, his power to investigate, to arrest, to prosecute, all of that will remain as an independent function of his office and ASIO; Duncan Lewis remains as Director-General and ASIO as a statutory authority. So it’s the coordination of function and of the direction, the strategic direction that we’re delivering within the Home Affairs portfolio and all of it is designed at making sure that we can keep people safe.

JOURNALIST:

…just saying it was an issue for the AFP…I mean appointments and ministerial reshuffles are surely a machinery of government issue that is a matter for the Prime Minister, why on earth would the AFP investigate that?

PETER DUTTON:

Well as I say, in terms of the function of the AFP, the AFP have the same independence, the same function under this portfolio as they do under the current arrangement, but you’re right Sam in terms of machinery of government changes, that’s an issue for the Prime Minister; it always has been and that’s the reality.

JOURNALIST:

Do you acknowledge that the announcement was leaked before it was made?

PETER DUTTON:

Well again, I will leave that to the commentators to speculate on.

JOURNALIST:

But it was reported that you’d become the Minister.

PETER DUTTON:

Well I mean you reported it, so if you’ve got a confession to make then you can make it, but you’ve reported it, not me. It was announced yesterday by the Prime Minister…

JOURNALIST:

Does that frustrate you?

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PETER DUTTON:

Oh look, I think it’s a process issue to be honest. I think the substantive issue to deal with here is looking at the reality that over the last three years we’ve had 70 people charged with terrorist related offences, we’ve had 12 terror plots thwarted, we’ve had five attacks - three of them that have resulted in the death of innocent Australians - and this threat is not going away and it’s beyond that, it’s a counter-espionage aspect that we need to focus on, we need to make sure that we have every effort in the cyber security space because we know that all sorts of actors in that space are attacking businesses and government entities. So there is enormous sense, common sense to what we’re proposing here and I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister has made the announcement.

JOURNALIST:

Just reports today that prominent Brisbane accountant Craig Morrissey is in trouble with the tax office…whether the ATO is going after these sorts of things?

PETER DUTTON:

Well look, I saw the reports and I can’t comment on an individual case. All I’d say is that people need to conduct their affairs within the law and people are presumed innocent until shown otherwise. The ATO has a very active programme and if people are acting outside of the law then the ATO on a daily basis has enormous capacity within their systems to detect fraud, to look at irregularities and they will prosecute as we’ve seen over recent months in high profile cases, they will prosecute people that are acting outside of the law or alleged to have done so. It should be a reminder to all people that they have responsibilities.

[ends]