Peter Dutton has defended the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director, Duncan Lewis, over his evidence to the Senate rejecting One Nation’s claims of a link between refugees and terrorism.
At a doorstop on Thursday, Dutton said if anyone wanted to level criticism at the refugee program they should criticise him and argued terrorism was caused by radicalisation regardless of people’s method of arrival in Australia.
The comments from the senior conservative figure stand in contrast with Tony Abbott’s warning on Wednesday that public officials should not “deny facts” that three recent terrorist attacks in Australia “involved either people claiming to be refugees or the children of refugees”.
On Thursday, Abbott stepped up his calls to crack down on Islamic extremism with a call to create “special courts” to try returning jihadis.
Last week at Senate estimates Lewis told Pauline Hanson he had no evidence of any connection between refugees and terrorism. On Wednesday, Lewis explained that only a few refugees of the tens of thousands that have come to Australia have caused concern to Asio.
He said that, in the few cases where terrorists were refugees or their children, it was “not because they are refugees but because of the violent, extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam that they have adopted”.
On Thursday, Dutton expressed confidence in Lewis and urged people to respect his “loyal” service and to look at the facts and the full context of his comments, not “one sentence”.
“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,” he said.
“Our problem is with people of any background, whether they are born here or when they come here, who are radicalised and go out and commit these offences.”
Dutton cited his own earlier comments that some children of “Lebanese Muslim” refugees that came to Australia in the 1970s have been charged with terrorism offences and noted “they were born here”.
Referring to the recent Manchester attack in the UK, the immigration minister said 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”.
Dutton said: “If people want to criticise this government in relation to the refugee program, criticise me. I’m the person in charge of this portfolio.”
Since the second world war, 845,000 refugees have come to Australia and have worked hard, he said. Of the 12,000 additional refugees taken from Syria, there were national security concerns that barred more than 20, he added.
On Thursday, Abbott wrote an opinion piece in News Corp papers accusing Australia of treating terrorist suspects, “economic migrants”, “welfare rorters” and criminals with “kid gloves”.
“Since 9/11, it should have been obvious that there’s a strain of Islam that believes quite literally in death to the infidel.”
Abbott said Australians should not “pussyfoot around” the fact the “root cause” of that lies in the interpretation of the Koran and claimed that Islam lacked an “interpretative tradition” to moderate its teachings, unlike Christianity.
The former prime minister reiterated his call for expanded shoot-to-kill powers during terrorist events.
Abbott said that Australia should ensure jihadis returning from foreign conflicts “can readily be charged and convicted, possibly through the creation of special courts that can hear evidence that may not normally be admissible”.
On Thursday Dutton told 2GB radio he had read Abbott’s piece and revealed he dined with him in Canberra on Wednesday evening.
“[Abbott’s] still a good friend,” he said. “I had a good relationship with him when I served as a minister and I was loyal to him then; I don’t have any different relationship to him now. I’m still mates with him.
“I can serve Malcolm Turnbull loyally and I don’t have any criticism of Tony [Abbott], no.”
Dutton said that the Turnbull government was committed to killing Islamic State fighters in the Middle East with the Australian airforce.
“We do not want these people on the face of the Earth because their purpose is to destroy decent law-abiding men, women and children.”