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Budget 2015: Transcript of joint press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 May 2015: Stronger counter-terrorism arrangements; Budget 2015.



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PRIME MINISTER

25 May 2015

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP

JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SENATOR THE HON. GEORGE BRANDIS QC, ATTORNEY-GENERAL, THE HON. MICHAEL KEENAN MP, MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND MR GREG MORIARTY, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

Subjects: Stronger counter-terrorism arrangements; Budget 2015.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

As you know, Australia currently faces a very serious terror threat and has faced a serious terror threat for quite some time.

Since the terror level was raised to High in September of last year, we’ve had two terrorist incidents and we’ve had six attacks disrupted. Unfortunately, the numbers of Australians fighting with various terrorist groups in the Middle East is going up all the time - there’s now at least 100. The number of Australians actively supporting the death cult and other terrorist groups in the Middle East here at home is going up all the time - there’s now at least 150. ASIO, our domestic intelligence organisation, has got some 400 high priority anti-terrorist organisations in train at this time.

So, this is a serious threat to our safety as a people and as a nation and, regrettably, it is getting worse, not better.

As you might remember, back in September of last year I commissioned a counter-terrorism review. We also had a review that was jointly conducted by my Secretary and Premier Baird’s Secretary in the wake of the Martin Place siege. As a result of those reviews, we had a series of recommendations, perhaps the most important of which was the appointment of a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.

I want to say that I have the greatest of faith, confidence and respect for our security agencies - the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, our domestic intelligence organisation, ASIS, our foreign intelligence organisation, the ASD, our signals intelligence organisation. I also have enormous respect and confidence in the state police forces and I saw some of that first hand as part of our response to the Martin Place siege. I do want to say that both at the Commonwealth level and between the Commonwealth and the States, our coordination is good and getting better all the time.

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But, it is important that we stay ahead of this game. It is important that we are constantly doing better, because our enemies are constantly striving to do more. So, I am very pleased to announce that Greg Moriarty, our former Ambassador to Jakarta, currently a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will move into my Department, the Commonwealth's principal coordinating department, as our Counter-Terrorism Coordinator. I got to know Greg very well as Ambassador to Indonesia and obviously Greg was working very closely with the Operation Sovereign Borders team as Ambassador to Indonesia.

Greg will be responsible for coordinating our counter-terrorism responses at the official level and I do want to upgrade our coordination at the political and ministerial level as well. That's why I announce today that the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, will become Minister assisting me for counter-terrorism. I have asked Michael to take particular responsibility as well within the Attorney-General's Department for our various Countering Violent Extremism programmes. As you know, we've committed some $40 million to various Countering Violent Extremism programmes. Michael will be responsible for those within the Attorney-General's Department as well as responsible to me for our overall counter-terrorism coordination.

It was, in fact, the Attorney, who suggested that this would be a very good role for Minister Keenan and I am very pleased that our team, our effort, is being strengthened in this way.

I want to stress in conclusion that this Government takes with extraordinary seriousness our responsibility for keeping the community safe. I think we've demonstrated in the way we have stopped the boats, I think we've demonstrated with our commitment to countering Islamist death cults both here and abroad that we do take our responsibilities to keep our community safe very, very seriously indeed, but we must constantly evolve to meet an evolving terror threat and that's what today's announcements are all about.

So, George, if you'd like to add to these remarks?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL:

Thank you very much, Prime Minister. The threat of Islamist terrorism is the greatest national security challenge we are likely to face in our lifetimes. As the Prime Minister has said, it is the central responsibility of Government of which there is no greater responsibility to keep our people safe.

We have been generally satisfied with the counter-terrorism arrangements within the Australian Government, but nevertheless, when we received the departmental review and the Martin Place siege review to which the Prime Minister has referred, we examined those reviews closely and asked ourselves the question: is there anything more that could be done to make the pre-existing arrangements even stronger? The announcement that we make today is the fruit of that consideration.

Let me dwell for a moment on two particular matters. It is absolutely essential that there be a whole of Government response to the threat of terrorism. As you know, the agencies are located in various departments - ASIO, the principal domestic national security body, is located within the Attorney-General’s department, but ASIS is located in Foreign Affairs and Trade, the ASD, the Australian Signals Directorate, is located within Defence. So it was, in our view, desirable that the central coordination function be located with one officer who oversees it all located within PM&C and work with a Minister assigned specifically to assist the Prime Minister and I'm delighted that my junior Minister in the Attorney-General's Department, Michael Keenan, has been chosen for that important role.

The second aspect I want to make mention of is countering violent extremism. Increasingly, we know that stopping this problem at source, anticipating it before it metastasises into an irretrievable problem is an essential element of meeting the terrorist challenge and that's particularly acute now that we see this very alarming trend that younger and younger people, now people of 14 and 15 years old, are being radicalised. So I recommended to the Prime Minister that we concentrate and elevate the CVE function - the countering violent extremism function - to a greater extent than it had been emphasised hitherto. There are programmes

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that are delivered through the Attorney-General’s Department, but we took the view that there needed to be a Minister who would have specific responsibility for CVE and given that Michael is the junior Minister in the Attorney-General's portfolio and already has responsibility for the Australian Federal Police, the logical person to lead the CVE programmes was him.

So this is in my view a very beneficial set of arrangements. As I said at the start, the pre-existing arrangements were good arrangements, but this is about staying ahead of the curve. This is a rapidly changing threat environment. The public expect no less than we will be ahead of the curve. These arrangements will further strengthen our Government's response to the terrorist challenge.

PRIME MINISTER:

Michael?

JUSTICE MINISTER:

Thank you Prime Minister. Thank you, Attorney.

There is no greater responsibility from the Commonwealth Government than to keep the Australian people safe, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General to ensure that is the case.

We are very well served in Australia by world-class law enforcement and intelligence agencies and they have been very successful, this year alone stopping three possible terrorist attacks here in Sydney and Melbourne.

We need to continue, though, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make sure that the efforts that we have both from our law enforcement, our intelligence agencies and also the efforts we're putting into countering these radical and violent ideologies that have proved to be attractive to a small section of the Australian population. We need to make sure that those efforts are as well-coordinated across the Commonwealth Government, but also with the states and territories who are very important partners with us here, as well.

So, those are the two roles that I will be playing under this new arrangement. The coordinating role across the Commonwealth and also with the states, but also making sure that those countering violent extremism messages, the programmes that we're rolling out, work to support that law and order effort, to support ASIO, to support the Australian Federal Police, so they can continue to do their job of keeping us safe, which they have done so successfully to date.

PRIME MINISTER:

Greg?

GREG MORIARTY:

I'd like to thank the Prime Minister for offering me this opportunity to assist the Government in this incredibly demanding and complex role. I'm very much looking forward to supporting the Prime Minister and the Attorney and Mr Keenan do this vitally important work.

I have seen the benefits to the Government of tightly coordinated interagency work. In Jakarta, where I worked with multi-agencies to tackle challenges relating to counter-terrorism in Indonesia and South East Asia, but also the very enormous amount of interagency work we did in support of Operation Sovereign Borders and I think that our agencies have enormous depths of talent and enormously hard-working people.

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I really look forward to working with them and with the states and territories to coordinate that work even more closely than it has been done before and I'm sure that I'll really develop a great set of relationships with the intelligence and security agencies, but also those important actors that are involved with countering violent extremism.

So, looking very much forward to getting on with this job.

Thank you, Prime Minister.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I just ask - in practice, what will the coordinator will do if there's intelligence of an attack that's imminent or an attack’s under way, will the coordinator have operational responsibility or more facilitating?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the operational responsibility obviously remains with the line agencies, but it's very important that the line agencies are as well networked with each other as possible. It's very important that the line agencies are as aware of their key developments as is possible and that's what Greg Moriarty will be doing at the official level and that's what Minister Keenan will be doing at the political level.

QUESTION:

And on warrants - is there any change to warrant authorisation procedures?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

QUESTION:

On the wider issue here, there are clearly parts of the Muslim community in Australia that are feeling disconnected from the rest of the community, possibly alienated, sometimes discriminated against. Is the Government planning to do more to reach out to those members of the community to get their support? And are there any lessons from the last year or so in terms of that programme of getting their support for these kind of security measures?

PRIME MINISTER:

David, look, I know that there are some people who say that they feel alienated by this, but no-one should feel alienated by the Government's efforts to ensure that our community is as safe as is humanly possible and no-one should feel alienated by our determination to ensure that everyone in our country takes the citizenship pledge seriously. All our new citizens pledge their commitment to Australia and its people, our democratic values, our rights and liberties, our laws. That's what everyone does and we think that those commitments should mean something and that's what we're determined to ensure, that the commitments that everyone makes to our country that everyone should have to our country are real and not just rhetorical.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, will the new Minister have a seat at the National Security Committee of Cabinet and will he have a seat at the Cabinet table?

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PRIME MINISTER:

The Minister Assisting me for Counter-Terrorism will attend all counter-terrorism-related discussions at the National Security Committee, as will the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.

QUESTION:

On citizenship, what are your plans for citizenship and are you considering extending this citizenship cancellation to non-dual nationals?

PRIME MINISTER:

We'll have more to say later in the week on that subject, but I made it very clear earlier in the year that we were having another look at this area and that we were intending to extend to people who had participated in terrorist activity against Australia the same sanctions that have long existed under the Citizenship Act for people who have served with the military of a country at war with Australia. So, effectively what we are doing is acknowledging that in the modern world it's not just people who are serving with an enemy army who are in a sense at odds with the whole nature of citizenship, but people who are working with terrorist organisations that hate our country, hate our way of life, hate our values. They have likewise put themselves outside the extended family of our nation.

QUESTION:

[inaudible] dual nationals as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

We'll have more to say in due course. What we've always said is that it's not our intention to leave people stateless.

QUESTION:

On that basis, Prime Minister, what do you think of Dan Tehan’s proposal that we should lodge a reservation with the United Nations with regards to the treaty from '73?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, we've seen an interesting debate develop in the community and we've seen some interesting proposals from various people and I've noted some quite good op-ed pieces by various colleagues of mine, including Dan Tehan who’s doing an outstanding job I should say as the chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security. But we'll have more to say in the next little while about this.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, does the debacle of Ramadi - similar as it seems to be have been to the debacle of Mosul - give you any fear that we might be trying to train an army in Iraq that when it’s all boiled down doesn't want to fight?

PRIME MINISTER:

Tim, I'm obviously consulting carefully with our Defence Chiefs and our Defence Chiefs are obviously consulting carefully with our partners and allies here, but the serious setback in Ramadi just emphasises how challenging the task is and how necessary the task is. So, if anything this should cause us to be more committed, not less committed, to the task ahead because this conflict in the Middle East is not just

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something that's happening thousands of miles away, as we know from the two terrorist incidents that have already taken place here, both of which were inspired by the death cult in the Middle East. This fight is reaching out to us, and we might wish it were not so, but we have no choice in this matter. They are reaching out to us and it's important that we respond at home and abroad.

The final point I should make is that the one Iraqi security force element that most stuck to its post and withdrew from Ramadi as a formed unit as opposed to a disorganised group was the unit, the counter-terrorism service of the Iraqi security forces that we have been advising and assisting in our initial placement at Baghdad International Airport.

QUESTION:

How does this role that Greg Moriarty's just started differ from the role of your national security adviser Margot McGrath (sic)? In respect of incidents that occur, isn't it the case that by definition, like the Martin Place incident, these are multi-jurisdictional, multi-departmental responsibilities? Wouldn't that job, therefore, require some level of coordination?

PRIME MINISTER:

The point I make, Mark, is that all of our agencies are working well. All of our agencies are working together, but this problem is developing. It is even in some senses as the Attorney has just said metastasising and what we are doing in the past is not necessarily good enough for the future and the recommendation of the counter-terrorism review was that over and above people who had specific departmental roles there needed to be someone who had a cross-agency role - and that's what the counter-terrorism coordinator will be doing.

It is a cross-agency role. He will not be directing the operations of the agency, of any particular agency, but he will have authority across agencies to ensure that all of the agencies are pulling together when it comes to this vital national security challenge.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] adviser’s role?

PRIME MINISTER:

The recommendation of the review was that we needed a beefed-up role and that's exactly what we've now got.

Paul?

QUESTION:

Given that ASIO is our chief counter-terrorism agency, why doesn't Minister Keenan have responsibility for ASIO? Given that he's Counter-Terrorism Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's not the only agency. There are…

QUESTION:

But it's the key one.

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PRIME MINISTER:

It's not necessarily the key one, it's a very, very important one. I'm not going to start saying that this is more important than that, they're all-important, whether it be ASIO in the Attorney's Department, the Australian Federal Police in the Attorney's Department, the Australian Signals Directorate in the Defence Department, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - they're all incredibly important. I mean, the Office of National Assessments in my own Department - they're all incredibly important and what we want is a minister who can manage at the political level and the coordination between all of them so that ministers, no less than officials, are all working together.

QUESTION:

David Kilcullen, who is one of Australia's foremost authorities on counter-insurgency has written this week that one of the mistakes the West is making, about Islamic State is, that for all intents and purposes it is operating like a State. Does this cause you to rethink your attitude to Islamic State?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dennis, as you know, I refuse to use that terminology, because I think that dignifies a death cult and I am not going to dignify a death cult. If some entity was to start killing people and call itself "the true Vatican" I would not use that terminology, and similarly I am not going to use that term that they seek for themselves.

I don't believe any legitimate State is involved in crucifixions, beheadings, mass executions, sexual slavery. I don't believe that any legitimate State is out there in the business of killing everyone who does not subscribe to a particularly extreme version of religion. I just don't believe that for a second and that's why I think we should never use that term.

Now, plainly, they have a high level of control secured through terror over millions of people, and vast areas of land and this is why it's absolutely important that we do everything we reasonably can to enable the legitimate government of Iraq - the democratically-elected government of Iraq - to recapture the territory that is rightly its. Without wanting to say that everything that the current Iraqi Government does is perfect, by the standards of democratic legitimacy, it's pretty good in that part of the world.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] has said that Syria and Iraq are now failed States and he says there is a case to increase troop numbers with America - maybe 10,000 troops if that's the case. If America does increase its troop numbers, would we be - would we consider increasing our troop numbers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Matt, the United States is obviously the leading Western country. We don't expect the United States to do what needs to be done in the defence of decency right around the world on its own and that's why Australia has been more than ready to be an utterly reliable partner to the United States. I think in this as in so many things the world does look to the United States for leadership. We do look to the United States for leadership and I was pleased when President Obama did exercise leadership in response to the initial push by the death cult through Northern Iraq and we continue to welcome the leadership that the United States plays here. As always, we stand ready to work with our partners and allies, the United States, the Iraqis, our other international and regional partners, to do what we can to help. It's quite a substantial contribution, Matt, that we are already making.

Phil, you can finish. Ok?

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QUESTION:

The Senate is showing no sign of moving on the family tax cuts to fund, which you've said depend on the child-care package going ahead. Given child-care changes don't start till about 2017 - would that be a package you'd be prepared to take to the next election, the funding and the outcome?

PRIME MINISTER:

Just on the Budget, the priority this week and over the next little while is to get through the parliament the small business boost which is at the heart of the Budget and which is so important for our confidence and our ongoing economic strength. This is something that, however much through gritted teeth, however begrudgingly, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he supports. So, I certainly expect the Labor Party to support expeditious passage through the parliament of our small business measures. Let's face it - this is the best Budget ever for small business and we've seen a 3 per cent plus jump in the ANZ consumer confidence index, we have seen a 6 per cent plus jump in the Westpac consumer confidence index and the last thing the Labor Party should want to do is damage consumer confidence by playing political games with the small business measures in the Senate. As for other measures, well, obviously we stand behind them; we think that they are absolutely justified in the circumstances. The point I want to make is that we are trying to reprioritise our expenditure into the areas where it will do the most good and the child-care changes, that we think are very important in terms of boosting our economy as well as strengthening families, will put into the pockets of low and middle income families using the child-care system an additional $1,500 a year on average. So, this is not just good for families, it's very good for our economy and again, I would urge the Labor Party to put the national interest first.

[ends]