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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: email@example.com
1 April 2021
Every Thursday I speak to the Member for Dickson, and that is of course Peter Dutton. This week – of course, last time we spoke he was the Home Affairs minister – he’s no longer the Home Affairs minister. You wouldn’t tell me last week when I interviewed you that you were about to be elevated to the Defence ministry.
Ray, I always want to provide an exclusive to the Ray Hadley Show, but not on this occasion…
It’s three days late Minister. It’s three days. We don’t mind an exclusive, but they’ve got to be the day they happen or the day before, not three days later.
Your heart-breaking story that day, last Thursday, I just couldn’t contribute to it. Otherwise, I might have jinxed it.
That’s a matter for the Prime Minister I think you said. Now, your time as Home Affairs minister, you were the inaugural Home Affairs minister. What are some of the things you take away from your role? What do you think you’ve done as the first Home Affairs minister in Australia?
Well Ray, I’m incredibly proud of the team that we’ve put together at Home Affairs. We set up the portfolio and the work of the Australian Federal Police, obviously in the child protection space, and when you look at the $70 million investment that we made there, but also just empowering the police to really, you know, get after these paedophiles and stop as much of this activity as they can from taking place. So, almost 250 kids removed from the hands of paedophiles or from harmful situations. I’m very proud of that.
I’m proud of the fact that we cancelled visas – over 6,000 in the end over my time – Compare that to 600-odd when Labor was in power for the same period of time and many of those people were very serious criminals – bikies, people who were involved in sexual offences against women and children.
I’m proud of the fact that the work of the Australian Federal Police didn’t stop there. The importations of drugs that they detected was at a record high.
The work of ASIO. I mean the officers of ASIO we just don’t see in the public eye, obviously, but we thwarted 20 attempted terrorist attacks in our country, and the work that they do, day and night to protect us, is just quite remarkable and recognised by the FBI and CIA and others around the world. They are a very strong partner.
Obviously getting all the kids out of detention that Labor put there. We’ve sent almost 900 people to the United States from Manus and Nauru. I abolished the Manus Island detention centre.
So there’s a lot there that we’ve achieved. The team, both in my office, but within the Department as well, are just really remarkable. I’m very proud of what we were able to do there and I’ve no doubt that Karen Andrews will do a great job as my successor in that portfolio. On my watch we didn’t have a boat and we didn’t have a drowning at sea, which is very important as well.
No, very important. Now you to Defence as we’ve said. It’s a critical time, but look, one of the really critical issues domestically is the treatment of veterans. Already the Parliament has said we need to have a royal commission into the suicide of veterans and you know I feel as though our veterans have been treated rather shabbily and there are, you know, inquiries into the behaviour of various veterans in theatres of war.
Where do you stand in meeting the challenges? I mean, I know you won’t comment, but I thought your predecessor bailed out on veterans to a certain extent and said things that should never have been said. No-one’s been found guilty of any crime, any war crime. There are assertions being made, but you know, at this particular stage, there’s no court of law or court martial that’s asserted that or confirmed that. So where do you stand on all those issues?
Well Ray I think there’s always been a special affinity between Police and Army personnel, and when I worked in Townsville as a young constable, we had a lot to do with Lavarack Barracks and the Army personnel there. I’ve got a huge veteran community in my own electorate, so I’ve had big exposure over a long period of time to their service, to their sacrifice and we are one of the most formidable fighting forces in the world, and we need to make sure that we get back to core business; and that is making sure that we take care of our people – there’s an enormous investment that’s made, but obviously more needs to be done – we need to take care of people, but we need to concentrate also on the amazing capacity that we’ve got. Many veterans go on to different careers. They make a huge success of their lives. So I want to celebrate that as well, but it means that we need to provide them with the proper kit, with the proper support in investments and the Government’s done that.
I mean the underspend in Defence and Veterans’ Affairs in the Rudd-Gillard years was just a disgrace and we’ve rebuilt, but we need to do more for our veterans. In all the briefings I’ve had so far, including with the Chief of Defence and the Secretary of the Department, it’s been an issue that I’ve raised at each of those briefings; what more can we do? How can we help people recover from what for many is a very traumatic experience of war-like conditions? And I absolutely dedicate myself to doing whatever we can to keep our people safe.
But I do want to make sure that at the same time…I mean people recognise now that there are significant threats in our region. The cyber attacks that are taking place on institutions, that is the new frontier and not only in our own region do we need to make sure that we’ve got the personnel and the equipment for them to use in their deployments, but we also need to make sure that we’re stepping up on the cyber front to defend Australia as well.
So I’m just incredibly proud of the Australian Defence Force, incredibly proud to be in this role and taking care of our people, both when they’re in employment at ADF and post that, is incredibly important.
Will you lobby the Prime Minister in this very senior position you now occupy in regards to the royal commission which Parliament said it wants?
I don’t think I need to lobby the PM. I know for a fact that the Prime Minister is as dedicated as any of us to making sure that we can keep people well. He’s proposed effectively a standing royal commission so that we don’t just have a point-in-time royal commission and then families of those that tragically commit suicide in a year or two, or five, don’t have the same recourse, don’t have the ability to have their matter investigated.
So I think the Prime Minister has been clear about the fact that he’s not opposed to a royal commission. We’ve made that very clear, but if we’re to proceed with the royal commission – which we should and the Prime Minister’s been very clear about that – then it should include a standing commission arrangement so that we can have, you know, the future capacity, Ray. I think it’s as important as that.
I don’t think anyone would disagree, a royal commission followed by a continuing royal commission or powers of a royal commission to investigate things into the future. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue about that, but the sooner it happens the better.
Now, to another matter. You know I get a lot of tips from your former colleagues in the police service and a lot are working in hotel quarantine. So, they tell me they’re staggered by the number of people they see, they check in to hotels and they check them out after 14 days of quarantining, that use foreign passports.
Now, one of my very able listeners said, "Ray, what you’ve got to realise is the official figure of 490,000 Australians being repatriated, does not just include Australian citizens; it includes permanent residents." Now, the figures I’ve checked is that 86 per cent of people who’ve gone into quarantine or are in quarantine are either Australian citizens or permanent residents who would not necessarily hold an Australian passport. The other 14 per cent may be family members or people who would accompany them, either older people or younger people, who aren’t either residents or citizens. Is that correct?
That’s correct Ray. The Government’s obviously had, you know, a huge effort. We’ve put on charter flights; we’ve worked with Qantas and Virgin and other international carriers to bring Australians home. I guess the first important point I’d make here is that we’ve been saying since February of last year to Australians; come home, don’t travel. It’s not safe to be in many parts of the world where we would normally in a normal year regularly travel. It’s not safe. And unless there are the most extreme circumstances, don’t travel overseas. That has been a consistent message for over 12 months and we repeat that message now.
People are desperately, you know, wanting to see family and grandkids that have been born and go to a wedding, go to a funeral. I understand all of that, and we’ve been able to facilitate a significant number of people for those reasons, but it is important that if you don’t need to travel, don’t travel.
We’ve made Australian citizens a priority, but we do know that people are on their way to citizenship, that have been granted permanent residency, they don’t yet have an Australian passport, but they are able to access the health system and education system etc. So they’re Australian citizens all but in name, and they have been part of those that have been coming back.
We’ve also facilitated the travel of, you know, important engineers or people that are involved in crucial decision-making in businesses that employ Australians or are about to make capital investment because we want to grow the economy, we want it to recover, we want to make sure that the jobs are there. So those people will make up some of those that are going into hotel quarantine as well. But it’s a tough process for people in that category to get a visa here and we scrutinize it very closely.
So you’ve got to get the balance right, but for 12 months we’ve been telling people not to travel overseas, to come home and a lot of those have listened to that and others have ignored it.
Just one final thing. I know you don’t normally stick your head into state politics in New South Wales, more into Queensland, but this week the Liberal National Party Government appointed former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as Chair of the New South Wales Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board.
I spoke to John Barilaro the Deputy Premier on Tuesday and warned him that he’d live to regret this decision because he apparently supported it at Cabinet. Hasn’t taken too long; Malcolm Turnbull yesterday told the ABC that we need to have a moratorium on new coal mines in New South Wales. So, 24 hours after being appointed. Of course, he also has a bit of a problem. He recently took up the chair as the Chairman of the Andrew Forrest Australia Fortescue Futures Industry, a subsidiary that scours the globe for clean energy investment opportunities. How he got this job I’m buggered if I know. Do you want to comment on it?
No I don’t Ray. Thank you very much for the opportunity, but I’ll probably pass on that one, if that’s okay?
If you had been in the New South Wales Cabinet would you have voted for this appointment?
Well, all I can say is that Malcolm was very consistent as Prime Minister – and that is that he supported coal mining and he said that on the public record on a number of occasions – and I think consistency in public life is important.
And he’s inconsistent. That’s the point you’re making.
And New South Wales is a sovereign government, and they can make their own decisions that don’t need me to comment on Ray. But it’s very kind of you to offer me the opportunity to comment on that matter.
Yeah, yeah. You see, you’re going weak at the knees. I thought you’d rip and tear into him, but you just let me down.
Ray, I don’t want to let you down, but I just don’t think you give these things oxygen. I think if Matt Kean, who’s obviously on the far left of the Liberal Party makes a decision to appoint…
That’s it, now you’re warming up. Now you’re warming up. Keep going. Keep going.
I’m watching the clock; you’re going to run out of time shortly. You’ve got to go to one of those ads. Mate, on to more important matters, I want to say congratulations – I didn’t get a chance last week – to you and Soph. I think it’s wonderful news, and it’s great and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all your friends to see you both so happy and deservedly so. So hopefully you’ll enjoy a bit of time off over Easter.
I hopefully can get to the Gold Coast, but that will be dependent on what happens in the next couple of days. Thanks for your time, as always. We’ll talk soon.
Thanks, mate. Bye.
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