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Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has come to the aid of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation head Duncan Lewis over his controversial statement that there was “no evidence” of a link between refugees and terrorism.
Mr Dutton would not explicitly agree with Mr Lewis’ remarks, but urged critics to cut the spy agency boss some slack after nearly a week of heavy criticism from the likes of Pauline Hanson, Tony Abbott, Andrew Bolt and others.
“The point Mr Lewis was making, that others have made, and I’ve made on a number of occasions, is that we do have problems where people are indoctrinated online, where they have an impressionable young mind,” Mr Dutton said on Thursday. “They can be of any background, they can come to this country on any visa.
“They can be born here, as was the case in the UK, and we saw this recently in Manchester, where people are radicalised not because of the pathway that they came to our country, but because they have had their minds influenced by people over the internet or by rogue preachers or whatever it might be.”
Mr Dutton also noted the “clarification” from Mr Lewis this week, when he explained on ABC radio that the handful of refugees who became terrorists were radicalised not because they were refugees but because of an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam.
The intervention from Mr Dutton, as Immigration Minister and a senior conservative member of the Coalition cabinet, is a repudiation of the critics who have dismissed Mr Lewis’ evidence as “denying the obvious” or “not what the Australian people want to hear”.
Mr Dutton, whose department works closely with ASIO, said the government had rejected 30 asylum seekers on national security grounds as part of its special intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees, proving the system worked.
He also repeated his previous concerns about the radicalisation of “some” descendants of Lebanese migrants who entered Australia in the 1970s.
“All of that is fact. It’s not to be critical of Duncan Lewis or anybody else,” Mr Dutton told 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley.
“He is a good, decent man who has the absolute best interests of our country at heart. He has served this country loyally for his entire adult life. So I don’t criticise him.”
Mr Dutton later told reporters Mr Lewis’ detractors should direct their complaints towards him, Mr Dutton, instead.
“If people want to criticise this government in relation to the refugee program, criticise me. I’m the person in charge of this portfolio,” he said.
“But I don’t get too much criticism, in terms of people saying I need to harden up or take a tougher stance in relation to security checks.”
Mr Dutton said that as far as he was aware, the government was not considering the introduction of a special “terrorism court” for returning jihadis, as floated by former prime minister Tony Abbott in an opinion piece on Thursday.
But it would be a matter for Attorney-General George Brandis, Mr Dutton said.
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