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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1362

United States of America


Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:05): My question is also to the Attorney-General. Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate what steps members of the Turnbull government have taken to engage with the new Trump administration?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:05): Yes, I can—thank you very much indeed, Senator Fawcett. In the 58 days since President Trump was inaugurated, the Turnbull government has been swift to engage with key figures in the new administration. As we know, Prime Minister Turnbull has spoken with the President. The outcome of that conversation was the President's honouring of an agreement by America to accept refugees from Manus Island and Nauru—an important outcome for Australia.

Already, three NSC-level ministers have had face-to-face meetings with their cabinet-level counterparts and other senior officials. Last month, Foreign Minister Bishop travelled to Washington to meet the Vice-President, the Secretary of State and the national security adviser. Also last month, the defence minister, Senator Payne, held meetings with the new Secretary of Defense, General Mattis. This morning I returned from the United States after a visit to Washington and New York during which I had meetings with, among others, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions; the new director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo; the director of the FBI, James Comey; the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert; and the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Burr. While in New York, I met with the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, who has responsibility for counterterrorism. I also spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations on the topic of Islamist terrorism in South-East Asia. On my visit, I was accompanied by the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, Chris Moraitis, and senior officials from ASIO and the AFP.

My meetings, like those of Ms Bishop and Senator Payne, are a timely reminder of the depth and breadth of our relationship with the United States and, in the case of the meetings from which I have recently returned, in particular, its intelligence and security agencies.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a supplementary question.



Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:07): Could the Attorney-General advise the Senate what the outcome of these meetings was?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:08): Thank you, Senator Fawcett—through you, Mr President. I can tell honourable senators that the level of cooperation between American and Australian agencies on intelligence and national security matters, both bilaterally and through the Five Eyes group of nations, remains entirely unaffected by the change of administration in Washington. The level of our engagement between our agencies on counterterrorism, transnational crime and the wide range of other matters on which they work together is as close today as it has ever been.

During the meetings in which I participated, I was able to raise key national security matters including the current threat posed by ISIL both in the Middle East and in our region. We also discussed the broader national security environment in the region and beyond, and I was able to reaffirm the critical importance of continued engagement by the United States in our region.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a final supplementary question.



Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:09): Can the Attorney-General inform the Senate why it is critical from a national security standpoint that the relationship between Australia and the United States continues unaffected by changing political circumstances?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:09): Thank you, Senator Fawcett. As you know, the United States has been and remains Australia's most important strategic partner on national security matters. As I said a moment ago, that partnership is unaffected by changes of administration in Washington or of government in Canberra. It is as crucial to Australia's national security today as it has ever been.

Since 12 September 2014, when the national terrorism threat level was elevated, Australia has experienced four terror related attacks, and 12 potential attacks have been interdicted and disrupted by our agencies. As I have said before, a number of those disruptions—which, had they not been interdicted, would have led to the deaths of many Australians—were the direct consequence of the deep and effective intelligence sharing between Australia and its allies and, in particular, the United States. The Turnbull government understands that, and so does the Trump administration. (Time expired)