WALEED ALY: Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison welcome to the Project.
PRIME MINISTER: G’day Waleed.
ALY: I want to do something I never thought I would do.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah?
ALY: Particularly in an interview with a politician. I'm going to let you set the agenda to begin with. What do you want to say?
PRIME MINISTER: It has been an extraordinary few days and you've just gotten back from New Zealand, meeting with Prime Minister Ardern, you would obviously have a keen sense of what it's like on the ground there.
These events are tectonic, they affect us all. On Friday I was in Sydney when the first news came through and at that stage it was just very unclear. We didn't really know what was happening, who it was, except for where it was happening. Obviously that was deeply distressing; in a mosque. Then as the news came through - and you get the briefings and it became crystal clear what had occurred - there was just a numbness. We all experienced it. You experienced it, we all experienced it as the news came and then the horror came, of the hatred and the ugliness that had led to this.
I have a very forthright way as you know and others know. My first response - apart from getting in contact with Prime Minister Ardern to express our deepest sympathies and to say kia kaha which as you know means “stay strong,” to our New Zealand whanau - it was to let all Australians know what had happened. To call it as it happened and what it was. To seek to bind us up.
Now in the same way – as both Prime Ministers in New Zealand and Australia - my first reaching-out was to the Muslim community. The following day I was able to meet with the Imams Council and I have many friends there and basically we hugged when we met, my friends and I. Then we spoke honestly about what had occurred and how people were feeling in the Islamic community and the feelings that were going right throughout the country. But what really impressed me was the leadership was focused on two things; they were focused on reaching out to those in New Zealand and the practical things, burials, observance of rights and so on, how that could be done and how they could assist. But the other one was to get close to their own community and help them to try and absorb and understand.
So all of us over the last four or five days, have sought to come to terms with this. It's been a very emotional time. It has reminded us I think, of the fragility of life and how quickly hate and violence can take the most important things from us.
So as I said on that first Friday night to Australians; just hug each other tonight. I think we need to keep hugging each other.
ALY: It's an attack that has kind of, I was going to say ‘reset’ but it's least caused pause. Because if I can put it in such crude terms, the community that for 15 years or 18 years has been framed in the public imagination as a perpetrator, suddenly became the victim. The reverse was also true. So we're now having a lot of discussions about Islamophobia in Australia as well as of course in New Zealand and around the world.
PRIME MINISTER: Sure.
ALY: Does Australia have an Islamophobia problem?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't know if Australians understand Islam very well and that can often lead to fear of things you don't understand. So by definition that's what it leads to, but that doesn't always translate into extremism, just like any view doesn't necessarily flow into extremism. Malcolm used to say; “Domestic violence starts with disrespect of women,” -
ALY: But not all disrespect –
PRIME MINISTER: But not all disrespect of women leads to violence.
ALY: I understand your point but when I ask about Islamophobia, I don’t mean just that people don’t understand and they are a bit apprehensive. I mean effectively, an ‘ideologized’ form, an approach -
PRIME MINISTER: There's no doubt that exists in Australia, there's no doubt that exists in Australia but there’s –
ALY: How big of a problem is it?
PRIME MINISTER: But there's no doubt that so many forms of hatred and stereotyping goes on in the Australian community. I mean my -
ALY: How big of a problem is this, do you think?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have been tracking through our agencies, this form of extremism. Now, people use different words, I have said right-wing extremist, others have said white supremacists or white separatists. It all means the same thing ultimately. At the end of the day it's just where a view gets taken to an absolute extreme, when you're talking about supremacists and separatists.
Any community can take itself to a point where they engage in a form of fundamentalism, extremism, which is a danger to innocents. Now this is true in the Christian community, it's true in the Hindu community - in other countries I should stress, I mean we all know of violence that has occurred there - Buddhist communities, Muslim communities. Where in any of these communities, you allow fundamentalism and extremism to take hold and as a community you don't guard against that, then this is where it ends. And the great victim is innocents, the great victim is peace.
ALY: Okay. Well let me be perhaps, more focused in the way I want to ask this. Does the Coalition have a problem with Islamophobia?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I don't believe the Liberal Party does and I don't believe - I can't speak for the National Party, I’ll let the leader of the Nationals –
ALY: No, you can though, you are Prime Minister, it is your Coalition.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no I don’t believe so, I don’t believe so. But I’ll speak for myself -
ALY: No, no, I get that you want to speak for yourself, but it is important to focus on the Coalition generally.
PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s important for all of us – and today is Harmony Day. Harmony Day is an opportunity for us, I think, to understand difference better. You know the classic wisdom; “Seek first to understand, before you understood”. I think that is one of the important lessons of Harmony Day. The problem I have is that we don't do a lot of ‘seeking to understand first’. We often jump to conclusions about others. In politics, I think it's important that we have disagreements, but I wish we could disagree better. I wish if we did disagree, that we always didn't leap to assuming other people's motives. I think that's important.
You know, you and I can disagree and you've interviewed me before, when you're in radio and years ago and we've disagreed. But I think it's really important in Australia if we want a better society, that we've got to disagree better and respect each other more and the motives of others. Not to leap to prejudiced conclusions about others.
ALY: Sure, okay. So let me just run through some things and perhaps you can help me understand better or explain motives or whatever it might be. When you have people in your Coalition, George Christensen speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally, appearing on an alt-right podcast, speaking at a Q Society event where horrible things are said about multiple minorities. When you've got a former Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying that; “Islamophobia never killed anybody,” when actually it already had - it's not just that it was true at the time and it isn't now, it wasn’t true at the time - and suggested that when Muslim leaders condemn terrorism, they don't really mean it. ,When you have Peter Dutton suggesting that Lebanese immigration in the 70s was a mistake or that mistakes were made around it. When you have him talking about Mehreen Faruqi who is a Muslim Senator who is part of the Greens, being ‘as bad as Fraser Anning’s after the Christchurch attacks. When you have multiple, I think seven Coalition Senators shaking Fraser Anning’s hand after he gives the ‘final solution’ speech in Parliament. And when you have reports in a newspaper like The Australian that it got to the point that the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis contacted members of the Liberal Party and of the Coalition, to warn them about the way they were talking about Islam. When I aggregate all that and - there are other examples I could give - when I aggregate all that, is there something that does need to be confronted within your own Party henceforth?
PRIME MINISTER: As leader it's my job to ensure that the tone I set, is the right tone. The tone I have set, you can you can see from my experience Waleed. I mean you may not be familiar with my experience in this area, let me tell you the story.
When I came in and the Parliament in 2007 in the seat of Cook in the southern part of Sydney, that was not long after the riots there and the revenge attacks that took place soon after. So I know what it looks like in a community, when things turn very bad and the cycle of violence is allowed to perpetuate. My predecessor Bruce Baird responded to this working with a wonderful bloke who has become a dear friend of mine Jamal Rifi. They brought the communities together by taking a whole group of young Muslim people in south-western Sydney and they trained to be lifesavers, particularly in the North Cronulla Surf Club. Now when I came into Parliament we wanted to keep up this program of bringing those two parts of Sydney together. Jason Clare, a good friend of mine and a Labor member for that part of Sydney, we decided to take young people from both of our communities and walk the Kokoda Track together, to help us understand and particularly our younger people, these two different types of cultures, what I described as “very different Australian experiences”.
Now since then, Jason I did it two more times, we walked the Sandakan death march together with a similar group and included indigenous group actually from Rob Oakeshott’s electorate at the time. We did the same thing with the Black Cat Track in 2013 and had some great young Muslim women, there some of whom were working for the AFP and again in 2015. I wasn't able to go on that one, but I helped organize one we took to Gallipoli. Now over that period of time, it has been my work in Parliament to try and build these communities together, not apart. Now that's my form Waleed and my form is to take that experience into my own Party as leader.
ALY: But is that happening? Especially when, with that track record … I'm trying to draw you on whether or not that track record is a problem and I haven’t -
PRIME MINISTER: The best way for me to address any problem is to lead by my own example and I’ve just said –
ALY: Okay sure, but is that track record a problem in the first place?
PRIME MINISTER: Well there were a number of cases there that you've talked about where, you know, I've made comments on those at the time. I think there are a few in there that I'm not sure you're representing in the right light.
ALY: Sure okay.
PRIME MINISTER: I'll give you a good example. The comments you've referred to in relation to Peter when he talked about the immigration period in the 1980s. Now that was a humanitarian intake where there weren't the normal assessments that would be done now. There were things that were done at that time which the Immigration Department would tell you today, they would have done differently if they'd had the lessons of that period -
ALY: Only in relation to the Lebanese community?
PRIME MINISTER: No, they learn lessons from all sorts of areas of intake –
ALY: So why single out the Lebanese community in that context?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm simply saying Waleed that what Peter was explaining were some lessons that were learned during a period of what was a fairly tumultuous time in the world –
ALY: But he singled out the Lebanese community –
PRIME MINISTER: If your question to me Waleed is this - which I believe it is - do I think that every single statement by any single member of the Liberal Party -
ALY: That’s not my question.
PRIME MINISTER: Has always been consistent -
ALY: That’s not it's not my question.
PRIME MINISTER: Maybe you might want to rephrase it.
ALY: No, I'll just re-ask it. Does your Party and your Coalition have a problem of Islamophobia?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve already –
ALY: Given that track record of behaviour –
PRIME MINISTER: I already said to you before that no, I don't think the Party has that problem, I don't think the Liberal Party as a total group has that problem. No, I don't and I don't think the National Party does either.
I mean our Party is made up of a lot of individuals and in our Party, individuals have a lot more freedom to say what they think, than in a lot of other parties and it is not for the Party to answer for every single member on every single occasion -
ALY: What about though, if they are speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally?
PRIME MINISTER: I didn't support that at the time.
ALY: Yeah, but it is a problem.
PRIME MINISTER: He was a backbencher and remains a backbencher in the Government –
ALY: And an endorsed candidate I assume.
PRIME MINISTER: By the LNP, but again, do we want to get bogged down in this or do we want to move on to how we actually make things better? In terms of the individuals, I talk to all of my members and as I say, I try and lead by example. My example has been to work with the Muslim community very, very deeply. One of the hardest things I ever did as a politician was when Jamal rang me and there was a family, the El Baf family - I don't know if you remember the story about the four brothers. Jamal rang me when I was Immigration Minister and said; “These four boys have left, we think they have gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS.” He said; “Is there anything you can do to try and prevent them from getting there?” I immediately got in touch with what was then the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, but sadly had already gone through clearances and they'd already gone through South East Asia. Those boys are all dead today to the best of our knowledge, we know two are dead. But Jamal rang me and said; “I'd like you to come and meet their parents”. So I did and I sat down with them and I was also there with Tony Abbott's knowledge, who was the Prime Minister at the time. I just sat there and listened to their grief. So, I have a keen understanding of what terrorist recruiters can do to destroy families and innocence, again, is the victim. It doesn't matter whether you're Muslim, it doesn't matter you're Christian; when evil comes it robs and it steals.
So I think the answer is not for us to retreat into tribes and try to herd people into tribes and say; “Well, you've got this problem, you've got that problem.” I think the answer is to do what I said before; let's try to better understand where we're all coming from, not try to line people up on teams.
ALY: I appreciate that sentiment, I think talking about the past is important because the only way that you can move forward, reset at a moment like this, is if you acknowledge things that have happened in the past that are a problem and that need fixing.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me talk about –
ALY: No, no, but let me talk about the future -
PRIME MINISTER: You also said Peter was talking about the comment made by the Greens Senator. That comment was suggesting that I and Peter Dutton were responsible for the terrorist attacks in Christchurch. Now, would you find that a reasonable statement to make?
ALY: Would I equate it with what Fraser Anning had to say? Would you?
PRIME MINISTER: That I personally –
ALY: Did she say literally that you personally were responsible?
PRIME MINISTER: That was the clear implication Waleed.
ALY: The clear implication, okay, we’re going to get into implication –
PRIME MINISTER: I mean –
ALY: You’re comparing it to the direct statement of Fraser Anning –
PRIME MINISTER: No sorry, you raised the issue, so let me address it.
ALY: No -
PRIME MINISTER: Do you think it’s reasonable –
ALY: I’m trying to answer your question.
PRIME MINISTER: For any Senator to say that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs were responsible for the terrorist attacks in Christchurch?
ALY: No, I don’t.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I think –
ALY: But you’re –
PRIME MINISTER: It’s reasonable that Peter would have found that quite offensive –
PRIME MINISTER: In the heat of the moment when people are upset –
ALY: Oh, it was the heat of the moment thing? Is that what you’re saying?
PRIME MINISTER: Waleed, the other night, you were very emotional and I’m sure you may have said some things about me, that based on our conservations since, you think may have been a bit over the top, about my own motives when it comes to these issues.
ALY: Sorry, say that again? You think I said what?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you were on the other night and as we discussed today, you implied that Muslims couldn’t feel safe because they had a Prime Minister who somehow had been prejudiced against them. I don’t believe that’s true.
ALY: Okay, you know what -
PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think you believe that’s true either.
ALY: I don’t, no, and that wasn’t the implication that I was making.
PRIME MINISTER: People say things sometimes –
ALY: But since you, Prime Minister, no, let me ask this question. Since you raise it, we’ll come to that report, that shadow cabinet report. You say that this never happened, you’ve called it a smear and a lie. Who is lying?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can only say anyone who may have talked to a journalist to smear me in that way. Because there have been a number of members who were at that meeting who have gone on the record to support the fact that it did not happen.
ALY: Well, there were some members who went on the record, some of whom weren't at the meeting. There are other members who –
PRIME MINISTER: Phillip Ruddock was there and he said it didn't happen.
ALY: Yeah, no, my understanding -
PRIME MINISTER: Tony Abbott was there and he said it didn’t happen.
ALY: No, no let me explain it.
PRIME MINISTER: David Johnson was there and he said it didn't happen.
ALY: Prime Minister –
PRIME MINISTER: I mean, I was there and I say it didn’t happen.
ALY: With respect, Phillip Ruddock did not say it didn’t happen, he said that he could not recall. I have looked high and low -
PRIME MINISTER: Okay –
ALY: No, but it’s an important difference isn’t it.
PRIME MINISTER: Well -
ALY: You talk about people who have been on the record. Well, there is at least one of those people on the record saying that it did happen, that being Andrew Robb.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no hang on –
ALY: You have multiple journalists reporting ‘multiple sources’ –
PRIME MINISTER: Hang on –
ALY: Let me finish the question. Let me finish -
PRIME MINISTER: No, I have to stop you there.
ALY: You can get to that point in a second. You have multiple journalists -
PRIME MINISTER: No Waleed, you have said that Andrew Robb said something that he did not.
ALY: Reporting from - I’ve read it with my own eyes today.
PRIME MINISTER: No. What Andrew –
ALY: You have – let me finish this.
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll let you finish, I apologise.
ALY: You have multiple reporters, reporting from multiple sources that it happened and you have one on the record saying the same.
PRIME MINISTER: No, that’s not true.
ALY: What I am interested in –
PRIME MINISTER: Waleed, that is not true. What is suggested is that I said that we should exploit, exploit concerns about Islam in the community to our political advantage.
ALY: Exploit I think is your word. Alright -
PRIME MINISTER: No, that –
ALY: Let me ask you this way -
PRIME MINISTER: Andrew Robb –
ALY: Let me ask you this way -
PRIME MINISTER: Do you mind if I finish?
ALY: What did you say?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I’m sorry, Andrew Robb did not say that I did that.
ALY: No, Andrew Robb said that you raised the issue.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, I was the shadow immigration minister at the time and I was very concerned about these issues and the way people were feeling in the community.
ALY: So when you raised those issues in that meeting, what did you say to them?
PRIME MINISTER: I was concerned that we needed to address them, which is what I've been doing inside and outside of the Parliament for the last 10 years of my life.
ALY: Address those concerns?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, to lower them.
ALY: So what your argument was in that shadow cabinet meeting was?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I was acknowledging that there were these fears in the community and that we had to address them, not exploit them. To actually seek to try and address them.
ALY: So the reports then of other people in the shadow cabinet concluding that discussion by saying; “We have a non-discriminatory immigration policy and that's the way that it should stay”?
PRIME MINISER: Yes, that has always been my view.
ALY: Right, but –
PRIME MINISTER: I have championed that view as a Minister, as a member Parliament for my entire public life –
ALY: Why would that need to be said though, if the discussion in the meeting was about; “How can we dampen down community concerns about Muslims”?
PRIME MINISTER: Because I think we have responsibilities - as you were just asking me to do - that where we are concerned that people would have fears about these things, that we would seek to alleviate those fears.
ALY: This was a meeting about campaign strategy and you were saying –
PRIME MINISTER: No, this was just a shadow cabinet meeting.
ALY: Okay and you –
PRIME MINISTER: Talking about policy.
ALY: At the end of that conversation somebody had to say - it was reported as Julie Bishop who I understand was chairing that meeting – said: “We're drawing a line under this because we have a non-discriminatory immigration system.”
PRIME MINISTER: Yes, that's my view and that was my view. It has always been my view.
ALY: But I still don’t understand why she would need to say that, if that wasn't a matter of controversy within the meeting?
PRIME MINISTER: No what I'm saying is that I was concerned about those fears in the community and that it has always been my practice - as I've demonstrated to you outside the Parliament and inside the Parliament - to seek to address those. Why else do you think I would have been working like I have as I explained to you before, why do you think I would be? That's been my experience and that’s why on Saturday after these horrendous attacks, I went to speak to those at the Lakemba Mosque, I was greeted with hugs and tears. Do you think that is the act of someone who hasn't been working closely with the Islamic community in Sydney for a long time?
ALY: I'm not accusing you of not having ever worked with the Muslim community in Sydney, or even not having done it for a long time.
PRIME MINISTER: Well can’t you see that what you’re suggesting –
ALY: I’m not suggesting –
PRIME MINISTER: Is at complete odds –
ALY: Prime Minister –
PRIME MINISTER: With the experience –
ALY: I’m not suggesting –
PRIME MINISTER: That I’ve been involved in over my last ten years of public life?
ALY: Prime Minister I’m not suggesting anything. I’m simply -
PRIME MINISTER: Doesn’t it sound odd that that report -
ALY: Prime Minister I'm asking you a question about a report that is sourced from multiple people, that was reported by multiple journalists, by which all of those journalists stand.
PRIME MINISTER: Two unnamed sources, who have never gone public.
ALY: Well, one of them has.
PRIME MINISTER: Well who?
ALY: We’ve had this discussion already, I’m asking you –
PRIME MINISTER: No, Andrew Robb is not one of those.
ALY: Prime Minister I’ve asked you to explain it.
PRIME MINISTER: And I have.
ALY: You’ve provided your explanation, fine, people will just draw their own conclusions on that. I have no problem with that.
PRIME MINISTER: Waleed let me just say for the record -
ALY: Can I come - no, no, I’ve got to ask you this question.
PRIME MINISTER: Well –
ALY: You wanted to look forward and you wanted to talk about the tone.
PRIME MINISTER: I want to rule a line under this issue. It never happened, I’ve always been deeply concerned about attitudes towards people of Muslim faith in our community. I entered the Parliament after one of the most horrible scenes that we've seen on our own soil on this issue and set about immediately to try and bring communities together.
PRIME MINISTER: I have always acted consistently with that in shadow cabinet, in the Cabinet, by my policy decisions as Minister and in my own personal conduct. So such a report is so at odds with my experience and actions, that I think that speaks for itself.
ALY: Does acting in accordance with those beliefs mean that you will be henceforth – this is about the future and about the tone you want to set as a leader - that you will be preferencing One Nation last?
PRIME MINISTER: We are not going to do any preference deals with One Nation.
ALY: Not a deal, will you on your how-to-vote cards, be putting One Nation last?
PRIME MINISTER: Those matters are determined by the Party when we know what the nominations are.
ALY: You have a very strong voice within that Party.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah and we won't do any deals with One Nation -
ALY: I'm not talking about deal with One Nation. I'm talking about a decision from your Party to preference One Nation - who by the way said that Islam was a disease that needed to be vaccinated - will you be putting them last on your how-to-vote card?
PRIME MINISTER: Well what if Fraser Anning is running candidates?
ALY: Right. So if Fraser Anning is, you will put One Nation ahead of Fraser Anning?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you tell me -
ALY: I’m just asking.
PRIME MINISTER: Well this is the point Waleed, I don't know who is going to nominate. In the electorate of Longman –
ALY: Let me rephrase –
PRIME MINISTER: In the electorate of Longman – no, well you’ve raised the issue –
ALY: No, no, no, let me rephrase because I know what you’re going to –
PRIME MINISTER: Waleed please let me answer one question.
ALY: No, because I’ll ask this question -
PRIME MINISTER: Oh okay –
ALY: This is going to the point.
PRIME MINISTER: I'm just trying to answer your questions. I was raising the issue –
ALY: Let me rephrase it Prime Minister –
PRIME MINISTER: On the practical issue of Longman –
ALY: I need to get through this question. Will you at the very least committed in every seat, to putting them below the Labor Party and the Greens?
PRIME MINISTER: I am going to wait to see what all the nominations are and in our Party those decisions are made by the Party organisation. I know the Labor Party wants me to do a preference deal with them. I won't be doing a deal with the Labor Party or the Greens or anyone else.
ALY: None of this –
PRIME MINISTER: The election nominations will be called, we will see the candidates and we will make our decisions at that time.
ALY: Prime Minister why are you talking about preference deals? I'm not talking about a preference deal.
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve just answered the question as to how we're going to conduct ourselves in relation to preferences.
ALY: But you’re talking about a preference deal, which is not what I’m talking about.
PRIME MINISTER: No, I said we’re going to make these decisions at the time nominations close and then we'll apply those decisions at that time as a Party organisation.
ALY: Do you think, particularly in the circumstances that we face right now, that the Liberal Party and the National Party where relevant, should be preferencing One Nation below Labor and the Greens?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve said we're going to make that decision at the time of the nominations closing.
ALY: What do you think?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’ll know when we make that decision at that time.
ALY: Do you have a view on it?
PRIME MINISTER: I'll be consulting with my own Party organisation, I won't be doing it through your program.
ALY: Why is it difficult? Why is it a difficult question?
PRIME MINISTER: Because I'm part of a Party that has a process and that Party listens to a lot of people in it's organisation who are members of our Party. That is a decision that is actually taken in each state and territory division of the Liberal Party, by the President of that Party, as part of their preferences committee on which I will have representatives. That is respecting our process.
ALY: But there is also the question of leadership, which you have raised.
PRIME MINISTER: And I’ll be exercising that at that time.
ALY: Would it not be a strong act of leadership to say right now that you shouldn't be preferencing in One Nation ahead of Labor and the Greens? It would be an uncontroversial thing.
PRIME MINISTER: No, all I’m saying at this stage is that we will never do a preference deal with One Nation and that we will settle those matters at the time of nominations closing, when we know who all the candidates are.
ALY: So does that mean it is possible that you will be preferencing One Nation ahead of Labor and the Greens?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it just means what I just said.
ALY: No, it wasn't clear to me on that point, sorry. Does that mean -
PRIME MINISTER: We will make those decisions –
ALY: You will, it’s possible?
PRIME MINISTER: Clear at the time of the nominations closing, Waleed.
ALY: Okay on the question of immigration - and here I’m not talking about the policy of immigration so much as the rhetoric of immigration, the discourse around immigration - do you think it's a problem when we talk about asylum seekers in particular through the prism of the possibility of them being rapists, of being murderers, of being paedophiles? This kind of ‘quasi Trumpian’ language? In his case applied to Mexicans.
PRIME MINISTER: Well that's only relevant if in the cases that we're talking about, that’s what is known about the actual individuals who may be subject to transfers. That was the topic of that debate at the time and that's what was said.
PRIME MINISTER: Should we ignore the fact that if there are persons who do have those records, or for whom those issues are present, that we should ignore that?
ALY: The question –
PRIME MINISTER: Like it's taboo, you’re not allowed to mention it?
ALY: No, no there are multiple points to this, one of which is that it was warning that these people would be in Australia, as though they would be in the community. The bill in question never did that. I suppose it's about whether –
PRIME MINISTER: Well no, the bill actually could do that, if they were put in community detention in metropolitan parts of the city, that’s exactly –
ALY: The bill made clear that they could be denied on those grounds and so they wouldn't get they into the country in the first place.
PRIME MINISTER: No I'm sorry Waleed, the bill didn't do that. The bill didn't do that. So for those for whom that is a particular issue, and there is intelligence or information that relates to those individuals who have that as an issue for us, well of course we're going to take the necessary precautions.
ALY: We spoke to numerous people who were involved in drafting the bill, there seems to have been no advice that those people, with those track records, would be able to –
PRIME MINISTER: Well sorry, we are the Government and we have to implement it. We know that's exactly what can happen and we can't resist it.
ALY: Right, so do you understand though that –
PRIME MINISTER: We're implementing that bill right now, it's not ours.
ALY: I understand. Do you understand –
PRIME MINISTER: We are taking the advice on how it has to be implemented and we'll be doing that.
ALY: Do you understand though that when you frame the issue in that way, that creates an environment of prejudice? Or do you think that's not what happens?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I think we're not going to sugar-coat to the public the implications of laws passing the Parliament and Waleed, it's important that you don't either.
ALY: No, I’m not in the process of doing anything of the sort.
PRIME MINISTER: In your commentary on these things, all journalists I think, have to be careful that they don't create a false impression of the risks that need to be managed.
ALY: I am asking you a question about whether or not describing people, Prime Minister –
PRIME MINISTER: The only people are described like that, are people that you could make that description of.
ALY: I feel like it’s very difficult to get through a sentence at the moment. The question really is about whether or not front-footing that description of these people, when there are so few of them in that category - and the categories that we were being warned about ended up being so vanishingly small once further questioning was applied to them – that that creates -
PRIME MINISTER: Well actually we’re talking about a number.
ALY: That that creates a prejudice.
PRIME MINISTER: No, no Waleed, you've got to be honest with people. If a bill that was put forward and supported by the Labor Party, was going to be creating risks for managing the transfer of people into the community, then I'm not going to tell the Australian people what those risks don't exist. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. There are real risks, there are very real risks. I mean people used to accuse me of this when I was talking about what we needed to do to actually get our borders under control. They used to accuse me of all sorts of motives. But I was right, it needed –
ALY: And how many people were in this category?
PRIME MINISTER: My last advice on all of those of whom there were some serious concerns on character issues, I think was over about 50.
ALY: No, 50 murderers, rapists and paedophiles?
PRIME MINISTER: Not only those but also people who had serious character assessments –
ALY: No, no how many, how many murderers, rapists and paedophiles are we talking about?
PRIME MINISTER: They were actually published –
ALY: How many?
PRIME MINISTER: We had people with character concerns, over 50 people Waleed –
ALY: No, no that’s not what I asked. How many murders, rapists and paedophiles? It’s an important question because that's –
PRIME MINISTER: They were among those 50, that’s true.
ALY: Among? Two among? Three among? 50 among?
PRIME MINISTER: So how many rapists – no, let me put this to you Waleed. How rapists and murderers should be transferred to the Australian community?
ALY: I would say none, which is what the authors of the bill contend.
PRIME MINISTER: And they were wrong, they were wrong Waleed.
ALY: No, no but let me ask you the question. Because as you say –
PRIME MINISTER: There only needs to be one Waleed, that’s my answer.
ALY: And if the Minister has discretion to stop that person?
PRIME MINISTER: But they don’t.
ALY: They do.
PRIME MINISTER: They do not Waleed. I’m sorry, I’m the Prime Minister, I’m responsible for implementing it and I have the full availability of the Attorney General, the Attorney General’s Department, the Department of Home Affairs and their advice to me is, no, we don't have that power. So I don't know whose advice you're relying on, but I'm sorry, you don't know.
ALY: So because of that one person. Is it one by the way?
PRIME MINISTER: No it's more than one, it's well over that –
ALY: Okay can you give me that number, I am actually interested to know it.
PRIME MINISTER: I've already told you there's, there's almost 60 actually who were identified as having serious character concerns, that in other circumstances we would never allow to be transferred to Australia. So that's enough –
ALY: You know that’s not the question I’ve asked.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ve asked you the same question and you’re saying ‘no rapists’.
ALY: There were reports about murderers, rapists and paedophiles.
PRIME MINISTER: They exist and they are there –
ALY: How many? How many of those 60?
PRIME MINISTER: And those crimes have been committed actually in Papua New Guinea.
ALY: How many of those 60?
PRIME MINISTER: There are a number, I don't have the numbers to hand, but this is getting into a semantic discussion. What I'm saying to you Waleed is this though; don't sugar-coat this stuff.
ALY: I’m not.
PRIME MINISTER: It doesn't excuse it.
ALY: I have no interest in sugar-coating any of it.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm afraid mate, sometimes you could be accused of it.
ALY: Yes? Is that what you’re doing now?
PRIME MINISTER: Well you're saying that there was no risk Waleed.
ALY: I'm asking you, no –
PRIME MINISTER: And there was there was risk and you say it didn't exist because the bill didn't allow for it. I'm telling you that's wrong.
ALY: I'm saying the bill protected against that risk.
PRIME MINISTER: So I was always trying to be honest with the Australian people about the risk.
ALY: And I’m not sugar-coating anything with that. Let me ask you about one final area here. What needs to happen now communally, from the Government? What does the Government need to do, what leadership does the Government need to show to lower the social temperature in Australia, do you think?
PRIME MINISTER: You mean particularly after Friday?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, exactly what I did do. The first step, call this out for what it was. Next step, go and sit down with Muslim brothers and sisters that I know and express my deepest and serious condolences and talk about the issues we needed to manage straight away. On Sunday, I went to the Coptic Church in Arncliffe in Sydney, a community no stranger to shootings in churches, who understand probably more than most how deeply these things can affect communities. I went there and spoke there, prayed there with my family. On Monday, I went to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce here in Melbourne and I gave a speech which talked about the need for Australians to see each other as individuals, hot herded into particular groups. That we could actually respect each other and the motives that sit behind each and every individual and not make assumptions about people based on what other people have said. That we need to disagree better, not necessarily agree more. That we didn't allow conflict in debate to become more sport than an entertainment, but that we were able to get behind that and actually have real community-building initiatives which are exactly the type of initiatives I announced on Wednesday of this week.
ALY: So, I fully –
PRIME MINISTER: Initiative Together for Humanity, which we put $2.5 million in, initiatives like the one we announced today with Bachar Houli down there at Richmond at Punt Road. These types of programs which I've been supporting and my Government has been funding for years now. That's what we need to do.
ALY: So I fully expect that when someone, one of your political opponents behaves in a way that is contrary to the spirit of that, that you will censure them. I fully expect that. Do you think you will do it when it comes from within your own set of political allies?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I have. So again Waleed, look to the experience that I've laid out for you tonight and don't prejudge me.
ALY: I’m not prejudging, I’m asking the question. Will you henceforth -
PRIME MINISTER: That's my form Waleed.
ALY: So next time –
PRIME MINISTER: I'm happy to call out people, as others have sought to call me out on things, I'm not shy about doing these sorts of things. I'm not shy about doing these sorts of things because I know what my values are and I know what I have done in my life, to try and build these bridges between communities.
When I became Prime Minister I said I want to do three things; I wanted to keep the economy strong - because if you don't have a job you don't have a lot of choices. If the economy is not strong you can't pay for service like hospitals and schools.
I said I want to keep Australians safe - and that wasn't just about strong borders and our Defence forces, it was about the biggest ever plan for countering domestic violence in Australia's history, at $328 million which we announced just the other week.
And I said I wanted to bring Australians together. Now I have form on all these things Waleed and I'm bringing Australians together. I think you'll find it hard to find another member of Parliament who has not made at least the same effort that I have to build these bridges between these communities.
I continue to do that as Prime Minister each and every day because you know, we've got to love all Australians. It doesn't matter what their background is, it doesn't matter what their religion is, it doesn't matter what their ethnicity is. We are the most successful multicultural country on the earth, the best immigration nation of any country on the earth. That's my responsibility to make sure it stays that way and that's my absolute commitment.
ALY: Prime Minister I wish you all the best with that endeavour.
PRIME MINISTER: Well I look forward to your support and we will be doing it.
ALY: We’ll certainly be watching and supporting, absolutely where that does happen.
PRIME MINISTER: Cheers.
ALY: Thank you very much for your time.