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Joint doorstop interview of the Attorney-General and the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs following Australian Muslim Reference Group Meeting: Parliament House, Canberra: 6 October 2005. \n\n
ATTORNEY -GENERAL THE HON PHILIP RUDDOCK MP
MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP & MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS THE HON JOHN COBB MP
Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 â¢ Tel ephone (02) 6277 7300 â¢ Fax (02) 6273 4102 www.law.gov.au/ag
JOINT DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM REFERENCE GROUP MEETING
THURSDAY , OCTOBER 6 , 2005
MINISTER COBB: Two and a half weeks ago, at the first meeting of the
Reference Group, which came out of the Prime
Minister’s summit in August, I undertook to ask Philip
Ruddock, the Attorney -General, to brief our Australian
Muslin Reference Group on the proposed security
measures which were being put together and hopefully
put into parliament before the end of this year. The
Attorney -General just spent nearly two hours t alking
with the Reference Group and I think he has fully dealt
with any fears or misconceptions that the â in other
words, that this is not a law targeting Australian
Muslims. This is a law targeting people who threaten
Australia’s security. And, I want to thank Dr Ameer Ali,
the Chairman of our Reference Group, for bringing the
group back today, and I would like to ask Philip
Ruddock and Dr Ali to comment further on what
Attorney -General Transcript 2
ATTORNEY -GENERAL : Firstly, I made the point in my own discussions with the
group that I’d had a number of meetings with Islamic
community le aders over the weekend, and particularly
with AFIC â the body that Ameer heads â the Australian
Federation of Islamic Communities â and one of the
points that I think the broader community doesn’t
readily appreciate is that if tragically some event were to
occur in Australia, one of the groups that would
significantly feel the backlash if it were seen to be
generated by those extremist elements, would be the
Islamic community as a whole.
And, I think it’s important that the broader Australian
community kno ws that Muslims broadly are concerned
to ensure that the laws of Australia are adhered to; that
they’re there to protect the Australian community, and
that they are good and valued members of our
Australian family. And, they are just as concerned about
some of these horrific acts that we’ve seen; they’re just as
concerned about those who challenge the values of our
I welcomed the opportunity to reassure all of those who
are part of the Reference Group that , in the measures
that we are proposing, each of them, there are
safeguards that are included. I took each of the measures
in turn, and outlined why, in relation to control orders,
they might be needed; why, in relation to preventive
detention, it was an appropriate measure; why, in
relation to the rules dealing with particularly production
of documents, they were appropriate â the stop, search,
and powers that the States now have, being used by the
Commonwealth; how each of them would be, would be
utilised; what checks and balances would apply.
Attorney -General Transcript 3
And in relation to each of those measures, along with a
briefing about the present security environment, the
Group agreed that the measures were appropriate in
that environment, and welcomed the explanations that I
And I am gratified for the leadership that they have
displayed and their willingness to work with me in
ensuring that these laws as they are implemented in the
latter half of this year are well understood. I made it
clear that I’d be prepared to go out and talk to people, as
I have already, and to do so in each of the States and
Territories, and during, during October and November,
as I’m able, I’ll be undertaking that task.
DR AMEER ALI: Yes, we realise the current environment, the need for
these laws. We ourselves need protection. We were
rather concerned about the way these laws are going to
be implemented. Having listened to the Attorney -General and Minister John Cobb, we are being more
comfortable in the assurances provided, and the
safeguards that are engraved in these laws. And
therefore we think that we can now sell these to our
community with much easier, with much more comfort,
because we think that there’s adequate, is balanced laws;
it has enough safeguards and it protects us from any
incident that might happen in this country.
JOURNALIST: Were you concerned about racial profiling, and what
sort of assurances did you get on that?
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: Well let me just say first , there is no racial profiling . And
if there were to be in the conduct of these laws, racial
elements taken i nto account, we would have to amend
Attorney -General Transcript 4
the Racial Discrimination Act. We have no intention of
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, can I ask you, about racial profiling â concerns
about it? Did that come up as a concern?
DR ALI: That was, racial profiling was anti -constitutional. It was
against the law for anti -discrimination , so therefore we
are more comfortable, and we put our trust in the
government, and if there is a case like that, then they
will take care of that.
JOURNALIST: But were you discussing the fact that Mus lim
communities had been concerned they’d be targeted,
and did you get assurances on that?
DR ALI: Yes, we were concerned about it, that was the general
alarm in the community, but now we have been given
enough assurances that we will not be targeted.
JOURNALIST: What safeguards have been… ?
JOURNALIST: Given that Islamist extremists that are responsible for all
the recent terrorist attacks in the region, how can you be
confident that there won’t be racial profiling?
DR ALI: There are rednecks in every society ; not only in
Australian community, every community have rednecks,
and they might be able to twist and turn these laws, but
generally we put our trust in the government, and we
are confident that the broader community will not target
the Muslim community. I give you an example, why I
am so confident â after the September 11 there were
enough incidences; vandalism, our mosques were burnt,
and stoned, but surprisingly, because of the tremendous
Attorney -General Transcript 5
amount of work that you have put in, after the London
bom bing, not one incident was reported in this country.
That goes to the credit of every community in this
country, that was a giant effort that they have made in
creating this mutual environment, and not to target the
community for the, for the deranged acts of one or two
JOURNALIST: Were you given security information today from ASIO,
Australian Federal Police, that’s changed your view?
DR ALI: We haven’t met the security yet, but we’ll be talking to
them â there’s nothing to stop us from talking to them.
They’ll be talking with us, and they were not present in
the meeting today.
JOURNALIST: Did the Attorney -General give you any further
information about intelligence information that makes
you feel the threat is greater here than you perhaps
DR ALI: We are more secure here than anywhere else.
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: Let me just clear up the issue as to what you include in a
briefing. I include information that is publicly known
and available. And, I certainly brief people in terms of
the fact that Australia was targeted well before
September 11 2001 . It happened in Singapore. I certainly
make it clear that before our engagement in Iraq,
Australians tragically lost their life in Bali, and if you
were going to analyse these issues , while I can ’t give and
won ’t give security information, intelligence information
that I might be privy to, publicly, nor will I disclose it to
other gatherings of peo ple who may further disclose it,
Attorney -General Transcript 6
the evidence is extraordinarily compelling, about the
nat ure of the risk that we face.
If you add to the targeting of Australia’s interests
abroad, the fact that a number of people have been
charged with terrorist offences here, and when you
know that there are other activities which are of concern,
and which the Australian Federal Police and ASIO say
can only adequately be dealt with, with the enhanced
laws that we have announced, and that’s the advice
we’ve given to the Premiers and to the government; it
would be pretty foolhardy, and this is what I say to
peo ple â if we have advice, but in order to be able to
better protect the Australian community, these measures
are necessary, and we ignore it, and something were to
occur, we’re going to be held accountable.
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, can you say that every representative at the
meeting today has accepted these laws as you have?
DR ALI: It was unanimous. Not one single disappointed person.
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, can you please give some examples of the
assurances, the concrete assurances that were given to
you that have m ade you this confident now? What are
some of the…
DR ALI: For example â there will not be any arbitrary arrest . If
there is reasonable evidence to, to sort of, to get a
warrant, the police will first consult with Attorney -General; the Attorney -General will consult his officers,
and then the warrant has to come from a judge. And
even the n, the detention is only for 48 hours; 48 hours;
and the maximum is two weeks if it is implemented by
the State. And, what more can you expect?
Attorney -General Transcript 7
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, the meetin g unanimously condemns the Bali
attacks. What message do you hope that, goes to the
DR ALI: No sensible person can support these individuals who
are deranged; who create this, or commit this crime.
They are abhorrent; they are outrageous and we
condemn them without any reservation. And that is a
sentiment felt by the entire Muslim community.
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, given that there was a big rally in Sydney several
weeks ago about these laws and concern of many
Muslim groups there, that they were discriminatory, and
that Muslim groups there were not comfortable with ,
how will you sell it to them and do you think that they
will be able to be convinced?
DR ALI: That is our responsibility. That perception was there no
doubt, but now that we have been given the assurance
and we have seen the details of these, what the Attorney
General has given us, it is the responsibility of the
Muslim leadership to sell this to the community and
allay their fears.
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: I’d like to think that people in the community, before
they discuss these matters and offer a view, have read
the annexures from the COAG statement, because they
were the documents I used today to outline the various
protections that are involved. And we’ll give you a fresh
copy. We’ll give you a copy of the briefing notes that
were made a vailable to the Reference Group because
they take you through step by step, in relation to each
measure, what needs to be done in order for the orders
sought to be obtained.
Attorney -General Transcript 8
JOURNALIST: You don’t expect every member of the Muslim
community, Mr Ruddock, to be reading that, that
document surely. Isn’t it incumbent upon you and other
members of G overnment to sell it?
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: I think the media have a responsibility to play a role in
ensuring that the Australian community is aware of the
safeguards. And I don’t know that I’ve seen them
MINISTER : There’s also…
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: And I just make this point â I do intend to accept
invitations from the communities, as I said earlier. And
Queensland is alread y putting in place its bid, but I will
go to each State and Territory and meet with community
representatives and explain to them; as I did last
weekend with AFIC.
MINISTER : It’s also â to cover that issue is the reason that the
Reference Group is as diverse as it is. It has young
people; some three people quite young; it has clerics, it
has representatives pretty much covering the whole of
Australia. And it’s to cover the fact that Australia’s
Muslim community is as diverse as is Christian and
every other community. That’s why the Group is as
diverse as it is, to get that message out that we’ve been
talking about right amongst all of our Australian
JOURNALIST: Mr Ruddock, there is a gulf in acceptance I guess, if you
like, from what many grassroots Muslim groups feel, or
some of the people feel, and what you’re putting
forward. Do you recognise that gulf, and can you
understand why they have been concerned?
Attorney -General Transcript 9
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: Well look, I can understand that if measures are
misrepresented by broad descriptions that they’re
constraining people’s freedoms, that some people will
say, gee that’s, that’s pretty terrible isn’t it, when they’ve
JOURNALIST: But don’t they have a [inaudible] fear that in relation …
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: No. I think, no I think there are some groups who go out
and who see measures of this sort as constraining
liberties that they believe are absolute, rather than
matters that have to be balanced. And there are some
people who put that, and there are some people who
will go and find those w ho will say exactly that. What
I’d like to see you do, is to take the annexures to the
COAG document and go through each of the measures,
with some of those advocates, and see whether or not
you can get a more reasonable debate going.
And, I’d just finally conclude by saying, I have no doubt
that when people are aware of the detail, and some of
the generalised concerns will, will evaporate fairly
quickly. And I accept that I have some responsibility to
ensure that those matters are, are addressed. That’ s one
of the reasons I was here today; it’s one of the reasons I
spoke at the AFIC conference over the weekend; it’s one
of the reasons I’ve agreed to accept other engagements,
and I will.
JOURNALIST : Dr Ali, the last point on this communiquÃ© is on the need
for the care and the use of language to avoid
stereotyping and stigmatising. Do you think that
members of government or senior security officials have
used inappropriate language?
Attorney -General Transcript 10
DR ALI: Not only members of government, even the media have
using inappropriate language. We want to take the
word Islam away from terrorism. Each time you call
Islamic militants, Islamic insurgents, that’s an
oxymoron. So that’s what we mean, and we don’t want
to say that to the community, and we don’t want to use
the inappropriate language to tarnish the entire
community by dragging Islamic into this picture.
ATTORNEY -GENERA L: And, look, let me just make it very clear as far as the
government is concerned, the great bulk of Muslims in
Australia are law -abiding citizens who have a
commitm ent to this nation and it s future. And, we don’t
think that stereotyping of the community broadly is
acceptable, and I certainly acknowledge that, in the way
in which I address these issues. I have to express myself
with care. I d o, and I will continue to do so. A nd it’s
important, without, without pointing the finger, to just
reinforce the view that needs to be there in the
Australian community, that what we are about is
looking at behaviour that is abhorrent; behaviour that is
going to endanger people’ s lives. And, some of those
people often invoke the name, and we talked about this
today, you know. Bin Laden has been known to invoke
the name of the Prophet Allah. He has no, no
DR ALI: Yes.
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: …no entitlement to do that, and we want to ensure that
people understand that the broader community should
not be blamed because some people do that.
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, on Bali, has there been any backlash within the
Muslim community from the latest bombings?
Attorney -General Transcript 11
DR ALI: Not that I know of ; not a sin gle incident was reported to
me, throughout the whole country.
JOURNALIST: Dr Ali, have you asked for any extra assistance in selling
it? You’ve said you take the responsibility of selling the
government’s new laws. What extra help do you want
DR ALI: The Reference Group will cooperate with the
government, and do all is possible to say this, to tell the
community that there is absolutely nothing that we
should be worried about. I said, mentioned earlier, there
can be exceptions f or any laws, and if an exceptional
case arises, left to the law enforcing authorities to take
care of it.
JOURNALIST: And Dr Ali, did any of your members admonish the
government at all for not being more frank in the first
summit meeting; not alluding apparently at that meeting
to the forthcoming laws that were coming down the
DR ALI: In fact it was mentioned by the Prime Minister that the
laws are being, they are thinking of bringing new laws.
It was mentioned, but they didn’t have the details at that
time to tell us.
JOURNALIST: And was that a matter of…
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: So, well, look, I mean, this is an incremental task. I have
laws that are in the process of being drafted. I haven’t
shown the drafts to the Group, you know, we’ll get the
drafts to the Group as, when they’ve gone through the
procedures that I’m now about to embark upon â
backbench committee approval, getting them to the
Attorney -General Transcript 12
Premiers, and so on. And again I have assured them that
we will be providing that material as and when we can .
I think that really needs to be it.
JOURNALIST: Attorney -General, on immigration, today the
Ombudsman’s delivered a â do you take any
responsibility for the criticisms…
ATTORNEY -GENERAL: No. None at all. Okay. Thank you all.