Leigh Sales has clashed with home affairs minister Peter Dutton on tonight’s 7.30, at one point becoming so frustrated she hit out at his meandering statements declaring, “it’s a simple question, why can’t you can’t answer?”
Mr Dutton appeared on the ABC current affairs program following the Government’s historic 75-74 defeat in the House of Representatives on a bill that would see refugees held on Manus Island and Nauru transferred to Australia for medical treatment if two doctors and the minister deemed it necessary.
It is the first time a government has lost a substantive policy vote on the floor of the House since 1941.
A combative Mr Dutton did his best to paint the bill as a Labor misstep that would see a return to the days when multiple boat loads of asylum seekers arrived in Australia’s waters.
“This puts Australia back on the map for people smugglers and Bill Shorten has that on his shoulders,” he told Sales.
“We’ve closed 19 detention centres and Mr Shorten, along with the Greens, has taken a decision that he will unravel that success,” he said.
Mr Dutton said the Coalition government hadn’t sent any children to offshore detention and had evacuated every child in the camps.
Many of the adults were being processed for final settlement in the United States and potentially New Zealand, he said.
“I’M ASKING YOU”
However, Sale’s ire was raised by one of the most contentious points raised by Mr Dutton.
“Under these arrangements tonight, we have people that can come to our country from Manus or Nauru; people that have been charged with child sex offences or allegations around serious offences including murder,” said Mr Dutton.
“And how many of those (people) are on Nauru and Manus?” Sales asked.
“I would suggest to you that Australians don’t want those people …” he said before Sales interjected, apparently frustrated that Mr Dutton would suggest violent criminals were in detention but not provide a skerrick of further information to back up his claims.
“How many are on Nauru and Manus? People charged with serious offences like child sex offences?” she asked.
“We will release that detail if it is appropriate.”
“Well you’re the relevant minister, I’m asking you tonight,” Sales said, but Mr Dutton wouldn’t budge.
It was one of several fiery exchanges between the pair.
Sales pressed Mr Dutton on his assertion that people smugglers would restart their boats due to the legislation passing.
“The bill only applies to people who are currently on Nauru and Manus. How is it going to make it attractive and fill the place?” she asked.
“At the last election Bill Shorten was saying there was no difference on Operation Sovereign Borders between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party …”
“No, that’s not what I asked,” interrupted Sales who tried to get him to answer the question.
“The point I’m making, is you couldn’t believe what Bill Shorten says when it comes to border protection. He says one thing before the election and he does the opposite after,” Mr Dutton replied.
“IT’S A PRETTY SIMPLE QUESTION”
However, the biggest back and forth came when Sales asked Mr Dutton a question he simply point blank refused to answer.
It was a question that she said she hadn’t had a chance to ask him as he hadn’t been on 7.30 since the August leadership spill where he failed to take the top job.
“Malcolm Turnbull was asked why he wasn’t the Prime Minister anymore and he replied it is a question he can’t answer and that people should ask you among others. So why isn’t he?” she asked.
Mr Dutton insisted he’d answered the question at Christmas time and wasn’t going to revisit the issue.
“I’m sure our viewers would be interested to hear your response, whether you’ve answered it before or not,” said Ms Sales.
“I dealt with these issues at Christmas,” he repeated.
“It is a pretty simple question isn’t it? Why isn’t Malcolm Turnbull still Prime Minister?”
“I answered it at Christmas,” he insisted.
“Don’t you think viewers might be bothered that you can’t answer that in a straightforward manner?” Sales pressed.
“I want to make sure that we can stop boats and keep our economy strong and that’s the only thing I’m focused on,” he said.
“We’ve gone through that,” said Sales, who added: “But you were stopping boats and keeping the economy strong under Malcolm Turnbull?”
Again, “Christmas”, Mr Dutton said.
“One sentence. One sentence. Why did you change leaders?” Sales pressed.
But to no avail.
In an interview chiefly about refugees on Manus and Nauru, Mr Dutton said the word “Christmas” six times, none of which was in reference to Christmas Island where many of the asylum seekers once arrived.
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Originally published as ‘It’s a simple question’: Sales’ frustration