Transcript by The Hon Scott Morrison MP

Press conference

Location: Canberra

With The Hon. Peter Dutton MP Minister for Immigration, Senator The Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services and Paris Aristotle Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council


PETER DUTTON: Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much for being here.

I’m going to make a few opening remarks and Minister Morrison is going to make some opening remarks. I’m happy to take questions and then I have a plane to catch so I’m going to duck off and let Scott answer any questions you may have for him.

Obviously this morning we’ve had a very productive meeting and I want to say thank you very much to all of the leaders, the community leaders, who joined us today to talk about how we’re going to make a new life for 12,000 people who are living in a very, very desperate situation.

The message from the UNHCR, from IOM, from the Red Cross in my discussions with them in Europe this week, is that this is a very bad situation getting worse.

Millions of people now have left Syria. Millions of people in Syria are displaced. The political turmoil in Syria shows no sign of resolution and we have a very important job to do along with many other countries around the world to try and provide an opportunity for these people to start a new life.

I’m very proud of the response that we’ve been able to provide and I want to say thank you again to all of those people that we met with this morning who had some great suggestions around the way in which we could provide support through the screening process and then ultimately through their settlement here in Australia. Scott.

SCOTT MORRISON: Thanks very much Peter and it’s good to have you back and to get those reports.

I’m joined here today, obviously, by Parliamentary Secretary Senator Fierravanti-Wells and also PARIS ARISTOTLE who is the Chair of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council and Paris will have a bit to say later after Peter has departed.

But it was a very constructive meeting today. The purpose of the meeting today was really to identify ways where we can begin to really harness this incredibly large level of community support.

This has been a very well received announcement and there is an outpouring of support from people right across the community of all different backgrounds, of all different faiths.

It’s important we put in place measures to enable us to harness that, to direct it purposefully, to ensure it delivers the support and compassion people are seeking to provide.

I want to thank all of those community leaders who came along today and there will be many more of these meetings. There will be more direct engagements with quite specific communities of all different backgrounds, of all different faiths, to ensure we maintain the momentum long after the images that we’ve seen that have sparked so much outpouring of support.

This support needs to be maintained over a long time because when you resettle someone in Australia you resettle them for life and that support has to be there over their lifetime and their families as they become great Australians, as they do.

That was an important part of today’s meeting. The Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council will be meeting next week under Paris’s leadership and we will then go further into the task of breaking this process down.

As I remarked this morning, we’ve already settled in the last two years, almost 8,000 refugees and humanitarian immigrants from Iraq and Syria. The focus of that intake has been, as it will be in the future, it’s predominantly focused on those from persecuted minorities, around 70% in those categories, with the balance coming from other groups. And so the processes we have in place will continue to be applied.

We are the best in the world at refugee and humanitarian resettlement and those processes will be put to work in this task we have going forward.

PETER DUTTON: OK, any questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister, I believe there were some questions raised about how the Government itself would define what a persecuted minority was. Given you’ve said already that you will take the advice of the UNHCR on that, but the final decision will be yours to make as a Government, can you tell us if you’re any closer to defining what a persecuted minority is?

PETER DUTTON: Well as Scott’s pointed out, we for many years have been able to identify people who are at risk of persecution because of their religion, because of threats otherwise.

I think it’s important for people to understand, not only is Australia the most generous in terms of the number of people we settle under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, but we were ahead of the curve. Over the last couple of years we have settled thousands of people from Syria and Iraq.

We’ve been able to identify those people who were most at risk. We’ve been able to conduct the security checks, to conduct the health checks, and ultimately to allow those people a safe passage into Australian society.

So, as Scott pointed out, as the Human Rights High Commissioner pointed out to me – Australia does settlement services very well and provides a clear pathway for people to come to Australia if they’re in need.

All of that practice is well established and we’ll work with the UNHCR and other partners to identify those who are most in need and we’ll provide that opportunity too.

JOURNALIST: Will you provide a solid definition of what a persecuted minority is?

PETER DUTTON: We’ll have the same definition we’ve had in the past. That’s the definition.

JOURNALIST: Could Alawites – which is the strand of Islam which Bashar al-Assad practices and are definitely persecuted in some parts of Syria – could they be accepted as a minority?

PETER DUTTON: Well James it’s a good point. The response is that we have millions of people who have been displaced.

There are over four million people who have been displaced from Syria. There are about seven million in the country itself who are displaced.

We are providing support to a significant number, but 12,000 is the number that we’ve indicated.

Obviously, other European countries are providing their support as well so we can’t support everybody, but we will, as we go through the cases, have a look at those that are most in need. We will provide that support and, as I say, there are well established practices in relation to identifying those people.

SCOTT MORRISON: Could I add two things to Peter’s response. The Special Humanitarian Programme and the Refugee Programme work in parallel.

The Refugee Programme works predominantly through the UNHCR mandated process and the Special Humanitarian Programme, which has been restored under this Government, works with community groups here and makes connections with those in these places of conflict in order to be able to identify people, applications are made, assessments are made.

So it is very much as much about the connection with Australia already to the extent to which the communities which are significantly targeted and persecuted in that part of the world are able to connect with the process.

JOURNALIST: Were any Sunni leaders invited and how many attended?

SCOTT MORRISON: Yes they were.

JOURNALIST: And did any attend?

SCOTT MORRISON: Yes, they did.


SCOTT MORRISON: We will continue to work with all communities in this area and that’s one of the big tasks of the settlement services task.

Over a quarter of our intake from the refugee and humanitarian settlement program over the last two years, of that 8,000 from Iraq and Syria, have been of Islamic faith. Now, that is appropriate, the vast majority of those are Sunni and we will continue to engage with those communities.

Our door, when it comes to working with people on this, is open to everyone and we will work with everyone. Invitations will be extended, on occasions people will and won’t be able to come and we will go and work with them directly as we always do.

JOURNALIST: Minister Dutton, I’m just conscious of time.

Ahead of the meeting you were having a discussion with the Prime Minister about Port Moresby at a time that was taking with one of the meetings and you said ‘time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.’ What did you mean by that?

PETER DUTTON: Well I had a private conversation with the Prime Minister. I don’t intend to comment publicly on that.

JOURNALIST: What did you mean by that statement? It’s been caught on camera and it’s going to be seen across the Pacific Islands. What did you mean?

PETER DUTTON: As I say, I don’t have anything to add to it. I had a private conversation with the Prime Minister and I don’t have anything to say further to that.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to explain what you meant?

PETER DUTTON: Are there any other questions in relation to these matters? Yes mate.

JOURNALIST: Minister, earlier in the week we were hearing the first refugees might arrive before Christmas. Is there any update or greater clarity on when we might start seeing them arriving?

PETER DUTTON: I’m very confident that we can have people here before Christmas.

The Department already has people in country working now with UNHCR and with other authorities and there’s an opportunity to bring people in the coming couple of months.

I’m hoping well in advance of Christmas, but we’ve obviously got security and health checks to work through so as soon as possible, but we are breaking every record to try and get the services in place, the support teams in place so that we can bring people out of a terrible situation as quickly as possible.

SCOTT MORRISON: We’re definitely planning for that as well in terms of the settlement.

JOURNALIST: So when would you see all 12,000 settled in Australia?

SCOTT MORRISON: This will take as long as it takes, as I said today.

There is a clear process, identifying, assessing, checking, clearing, pre-departure support, arrival in Australia, establishment of the settlement services.

You don’t rush this. You do it properly because that’s what gets the best outcomes. We are the best in the world at refugee and humanitarian resettlement because we work our process well.

Paris has extensive experience on this and we will go as quickly as we can, but we will work the model, we will work the process because that gets the best outcome for the families and people who’ll be affected.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on logistics. The scenes at the moment are really dreadful.

Is there anything that Australia is doing right now to help people who could be our potential refugees with food or water?

PETER DUTTON: Yes, again I think it’s important to point out what has already happened so Julie Bishop made an announcement, the Prime Minister made an announcement about an additional $44 million. That was in addition to some $155 million that we’ve already committed to aid in Syria.

The number one message out of the meetings that I had with the leaders in Europe was that they needed financial support, people literally flowing out of camps.

Millions of people are within the camps or living within communities in Jordan, in Lebanon, northern parts of Iraq and elsewhere so that support will provide direct assistance to them and that, in addition to the number of places we’ve been able to offer, is exactly what they asked for.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask before you duck off Minister Dutton.

Sixty-two people have died as a result of domestic violence this year. It’s been called a national emergency. What is the Government doing?

PETER DUTTON: I’ll make a quick comment and then I’ll ask Scott because it’s more in his area than Immigration.

I was a policeman for ten years, a long time ago now, but one of the most horrific scenes that you can go to and I can recall many at just the mention of domestic violence. Many scenes you would go to where an assault had taken place. In many cases, kids had watched that violence taking place and I think those scars stay with people forever.

So at a Federal Government level, at a State Government, Local Government level, but most importantly within our community, as well. Blokes at work need to condemn domestic violence. When you’re at the footy club at the weekend, you’re involved in sports or activities otherwise, this is not just about a Government response, but it’s a community response because it’s about changing the culture.

All of us commit ourselves to that and obviously I think Scott’s doing great work through his Department, but across Government otherwise.

Scott might have something more to say about that. I’ll go and catch a plane.

MINISTER MORRISON: On that issue then what I might do is throw to Paris to make a few comments and then Connie, you might want to make a few comments. Tara Brown’s death is just heartbreaking, it’s just absolutely heart breaking and once again we see this happen as it happens every single week in this country, as we know.

There is no shortage of will and effort and application at a Federal, State, a local, community level. But we need to take it further. We are awaiting the report back from Ken Lay and Rosie Batty who have been leading a lot of the engagement in this area and the Government is standing at the ready to have the resources we’ve set aside to invest in the initiatives that will come forward in those recommendations. But we need to remember that you’ve got to deal with this at every level. State police authorities are doing what they’re doing. In our area we’ve got to deal with things like addressing on-line interactive gambling and how that leads to problem gambling and that in effect also can result in this.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells convened together with Minister Cash an outstanding forum for multicultural and culturally and linguistically diverse communities I attended several weeks ago where we were looking at the issues in those communities, which are different to the mainstream communities in Australia. You need to address this at every level, but what I want to assure Australians is that this Government, every government at every level, every party, every member of Parliament, every councillor, every police officer, every nurse, every councillor, everyone on the end of the 1800 Respect Line. Everyone wants to do whatever we can do so that we don’t have to see again what we see. Sadly this is a cultural challenge that infests and we need to rid it, but it’ll take leadership continued and work and that’s what we’re doing.

On that, I might ask Paris, Paris is the chair of the refugee resettlement advisory council. I don’t know of anyone who has more experience than Paris in this area. I might ask him to make a few comments and then Connie you might do the same.

PARIS ARISTOTLE: Thanks very much, Minister. I guess the first thing to say is that in the meeting just then and with everyone I’ve spoken to, all of the church leaders, all of the heads of welfare agencies from different faith-based groups, all of the settlement services, all of the community organisations have welcomed this decision and this announcement and praised it unanimously and personally, I think it’s an absolutely wonderful commitment by the Government to respond to what is an appalling crisis which has seen many people die and millions displaced. That’s the first most critical point that I’d like to acknowledge.

The second point I’d like to acknowledge is that yes, there are real challenges associated with resettling refugees, but as the Minister has said and as the High Commissioner for Refugees Ant?nio Guterres has said on multiple occasions we have the best settlement services programs in the world. I’ve been doing this for 27 years now. I’ve seen it when we had people coming out of Bosnian rape camps. We’ve seen it when we’ve had Sudanese coming out of desperate situations in Africa and Somalis and Eritreans, with East Timorese and Bosnians and so forth. All of those crises bring with it terrible consequences, but in every single one of those situations, Australia as a country has been able to respond, to deal with the terrible trauma that people carry, the incredible sense of loss and help them rebuild new lives in this country.

I’m absolutely confident with the incredible goodwill in the room and the clear support of the Government which is outstanding, and also the clear support of the whole Parliament in Australia that we will be able to deal with this additional load. We’ll take it in our stride. We’ll plan carefully for it and ensure that the people that we get to bring here, the 12,000 people whose lives will literally be saved as a consequence of this commitment, that we’ll look after them properly and they will not only recover from those experiences, but they’ll go on to make a fantastic contribution to Australian society just as thousands and thousands of other refugees have done in the past.

MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks, Paris. Connie.

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FIERRAVANTI WELLS: Thank you, thank you Minister, thanks Paris. Settlement in Australia has been a feature of our migration program since 1945. We have had 7.5 million migrants join us in Australia including over 825,000 people under our humanitarian program, so we’ve been doing this not only well Minister, but we’ve been doing it for a very, very long time. We have a very well-established system that starts from before people arrive in Australia and as far as our group of Syrians coming out from this terrible situation, those frameworks will be in place to assist them on this occasion. Then, of course, when they do arrive in Australia we do have an established network of humanitarian service provision. We have settlement services grants. We have a whole range of things that help them virtually from the time they get off the aeroplane in terms of taking them to accommodation, orientation programmes, the nuts and bolts of assisting them with life in Australia.

What has been very good about this morning is again we’ve seen those community networks we’ve built up over many, many years now wanting to partner with us, to be with us again to assist this particular group and as Paris has said, we’ve seen different waves and now we have a wave from this area and our system is well established to deal with that.

MINISTER MORRISON: Thank you Connie. I should note that one of the things next week, the Red Cross will be co-opted next week onto the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council. They were in attendance today and that’s one of the many organisations that can provide a very good interface between those who are the resettlement service providers doing the work and the community more broadly. They’re very experienced at handling public appeals. Not suggesting there’ll necessarily be one of those, but what I am suggesting is they’re very good at harnessing, directing the public support that will emerge thankfully in instances like this. I welcome that involvement from the Red Cross and I’m sure there are many other organisations that will be able to interface with, as well. Any other questions before we wrap it up.

QUESTION: Minister just briefly, how damaging is it for Cabinet solidarity to have a list…

MINISTER MORRISON: Can we focus on the issue of the meeting today because I’m sure Paris doesn’t want to listen to political questions, I’ll excuse him.

QUESTION: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, I’m interested to know if you’ve spoken to Australia’s Muslim leaders like the Grand Mufti or his representatives about his statements regarding prioritising Christians over Muslims. He said yesterday that it’s another form of discrimination he wants to see more Muslims taken as part of the persecuted minorities. Have you spoken to him about that?

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FIERRAVANTI WELLS: I’ve had lots of engagement with many different communities in this role of multicultural affairs and settlement services. Can I particularly say that in recent months I have written to all Muslim groups in this country and I am one by one visiting them around Australia and that is an ongoing process where I have the opportunity to discuss a whole range of different things. I haven’t seen the comments that the Grand Mufti has made, but as the Minister has said our policy has been a non-discriminatory one and our recent years and the intake that we have had in recent years has been a combination of Christians, Muslims, basically it has been non-discriminatory and it will continue to be non-discriminatory. It has been the feature of our migration policy over a long, long time and it will continue to do so.

MINISTER MORRISON: It’s not about someone’s faith or belief. It’s about prioritising areas of need and it has been our practice now for two years since we came to government, just around over a quarter have come by statistics from those of Muslim faith. The balance have come from other persecuted minorities, predominantly Christian, but there are other non-Christian groups in that area. Because in many areas it’s because that’s where we’re able to make the identifications and have the settlement opportunities here in Australia.

But there is a large Sunni community here in Australia and they have the same opportunity to walk through the special humanitarian program and the applications that are made and that’s where many have come from through the process over the last two years. This is a continuation of a practice that we’ve had since we’ve first come to government. The policies, the implementations, the practices, the assessment, all of this are things we’ve been doing for a long time.

Project compassion is well under way it has been now for several years. Project compassion goes into a gear as a result of the commitment we’ve made and project compassion being led particularly by Paris here as the head of our Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council and the Government working together I think will see the results in this project as we’ve been pleased to see in other initiatives.

QUESTION: Do you worry that Sunni community leaders feel frozen out of meetings like this when there’s a plethora of Christian churches, but not a substantial Sunni representation?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well I think it’s important to be empathetic to how people feel about these things and that’s why Senator Fierravanti-Wells has been going door-to-door.

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FIERRAVANTI WELLS: Literally door-to-door across Australia.

MINISTER MORRISON: Having one-on-one consultations. I’ve met with the Grand Mufti as well on many matters. These personal relationships are built over many times. You all know my deep friendships with people like Jamal Rifi and Samier Dandan from the LMA and other groups; we are in engagement all the time. I respect all of these organisations and we will find ways to engage in the best and most effective way.

But the reason I pointed out those statistics today is to put facts into the debate and those facts demonstrate very clearly that we have taken people from the broad array of faiths and we will continue to do that. There has been no outcry about the way we’ve done that to date and the assurance we’re giving is we will continue to follow the practice of focusing predominantly on the persecuted minorities, but that does leave room for those from other faiths who have family affected by these circumstances and there are pathways to pursue that.

QUESTION: We’ve seen a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment in Australia through things like the Reclaim Australia rallies being held recently. What’s the Government doing in the wake of this resettlement announcement to placate or to inform that group of people about this announcement?

MINISTER MORRISON: I don’t actually agree there has been a surge in the sentiment you’re talking about. I actually don’t agree with that. If you look at the any of the work done by Peter Scanlon’s outstanding organisation, the Scanlon Foundation, and the work he has done in research, it shows an incredible level of support for the cultural diversity and cultural unity I should say, as well, because that’s what it’s based on. That’s why the support is there. There are a range of opinions and views in this country and that’s as it is, but I don’t accept the premise of the question.

I think Australians are generous. I think Australians want to be able to help where they can and they want to be able to help best where they can help best, and the program we’ve announced with 12,000 and the focus it has consistent with the policy that we’ve had since we’ve come to government, I think reflects that community view and I’m frankly overwhelmed by the level of number of people contacting members and officers and others wanting to be involved. How can we help? And our challenge is working with Connie and Paris and the whole team is how do we best harness that help? I’d say to those people who want to open their room tomorrow afternoon to take someone in, you’ll need to be patient with us as we work through this process. We’ll find the most effective way to harness your support and your contribution.

QUESTION: Are home stays on the table? Will new dwellings have to be built? What other arrangements are you looking at?

MINISTER MORRISON: I don’t believe necessarily those things will be required. There’ll be a range of programmes we’re already running that can be scaled to accommodate this. There are suggestions made at our meeting today about how various groups can provide hosting as they have already done.

Take the Mandean Communities they haven’t turned anyone away since they have been here and we’ve had one of the largest resettlements of the Mandean population in Australia of any country in the world. These systems, these processes, these networks are already established so we’re going to harness them.

QUESTION: You mentioned Samier Dandan from the LMA on Wednesday he said in relation to the issue of persecuted minorities, he said ‘the LMA advice is to condemn in the strongest terms the suggestion that priority should be given to people of one faith over another.’

Now I understand you’re working hard to take both Christians and Muslims, to you Minister and also Senator, do you think that the way in which it’s been canvassed that priority should be given to Christians or that some people would like to see priority given to Christians. Do you think that’s helpful given the talks you’ve been having with the LMA and other groups? What would you say to Samier Dandan in relation to the statement released on Wednesday?

MINISTER MORRISON: Well you have answered your own question in your introduction because as you’ve already acknowledged we are working to take people from right across the board, but there is a focus. There is a focus and there has always been a focus since we’ve been in government and we will continue to maintain that focus. That focus is not based on someone’s belief; it’s based on someone’s level of persecution and the focus of that persecution.

Remember, we are taking permanent arrivals, permanent arrivals and the reason we’re doing that is we’re recognising there are communities in the Middle East who will never be able to go back, never. Not in 30 years and their families won’t be able to go back in 100 years because of what has happened in the Middle East. If you’re going to offer permanent visas, then you need to focus them to those communities that need those not just for one generation, but multiple generations, and that’s what drives the decision making and that’s why we’ve been making the decisions we’ve been making for the last two years and they will continue to inform our decision making going forward.

Samier is a good mate. We will talk regularly and we won’t always agree on the semantics of points and those sorts of things, but he’s a good-hearted bloke and he is always someone I’ve found who’s prepared to listen and engage. That’s why I think he is the strong leader he is in that community.

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FIERRAVANTI WELLS: Can I just add there are persecuted Christian minorities and there are persecuted Muslim minorities. We’ve seen some of the horrific scenes with the Yazidis and particularly the Yazidi women. As part of the consultations that I’ve had with Muslim communities it has included Muslim communities and minority Muslim communities, as well.

QUESTION: One other issue Senator Fierravanti-Wells, do you think that we might see a Cabinet reshuffle, a ministerial reshuffle by the end of the year? Would you like to be given a greater role?

PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FIERRAVANTI WELLS: I don’t think that’s really appropriate for me. I think the Prime Minister’s made comments in relation to that.

MINISTER MORRISON: The Prime Minister has already given his answer on those matters and I refer you to that I think he was fairly clear.

QUESTION: My question was in relation to Cabinet solidarity and how much damage is done by the leaking of a list like this that suggests so many Ministers are…

MINISTER MORRISON: Well the government didn’t publish the list or write the list. It was written in the media.

QUESTION: Do you think the Daily Telegraph is engaged in a Jihad against the government too then?

MINISTER MORRISON: Very cheeky James and it is a good point for you to finish on.

Thank you.