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Transcript of Joint Press Conference of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard, MP withy the Attorney General, the Hon Philip Ruddock, MP: Sydney: 16 October 2005: ASIO; 'Mercury 05'; family relationship centres; anti-terrorism legislation; Princess Mary; referendum on a new constitution in Iraq.



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PRIME MINISTER

16 October 2005

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, THE HON PHILIP RUDDOCK MP, SYDNEY

Subjects: ASIO; ‘Mercury 05’; family relationship centres; anti-terrorism legislation; Princess Mary; referendum on a new constitution in Iraq.

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………………..

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, the Attorney-General and I have called this news conference to announce that the Government intends to double the size of ASIO by 2010. ASIO’s current staffing level is 980. It will rise to 1,860 by the financial year 2010-2011. This decision, taken against the background of the ongoing terrorist threat which is likely to be with us for some years into the future at the very least, flows out of the recommendation made to the Government by Mr Allan Taylor, a former senior member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a former Director-General of the Australian Security and Intelligence Service, a person well versed in security matters who carried out a detailed investigation into ASIO’s resources and has recommended this increase. And the Government has decided to accept the recommendation.

This doubling of ASIO’s resources comes on top of the almost trebling in the financial commitment to ASIO which has occurred since the terrorist attacks in the United States on the 11th of September 2001. It represents a determination by the Government to arm our security services with all of the resources they need. It remains the very strong view of the Government - it’s a view I believe that is very strongly supported in the community, that the best weapon in the fight against terrorism is good intelligence. It is one thing to have a capacity to respond effectively in the event of a terrorist attack, and the Attorney-General will be having something to say about that in the context of exercises that are planned over the coming week between the Commonwealth and the States, but it is entirely of another order to have the capacity to anticipate events, particularly as we now know that the threat of home-grown terrorism is very real. The London experience is instructive. I have not forgotten the discussion I had with the British Prime Minister in July of this year when he spoke to me of his great pride in the capacity of the forces of the United Kingdom police and other services to respond effectively to the terrorist attack, but he then said if only we had known in advance. In other words, nothing equals superior intelligence.

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Now I cannot guarantee through the investment of these additional resources that we are going to be able to anticipate every single terrorist threat to this country, but our doubling the size of ASIO, by investing the resources that experts tell us are needed, we will give ourselves a better chance, a fighting chance, of being able to deal with this very, very significant threat. I just remind you that the Government has increased the Organisation’s budget from $62.9 million in 2001 to $171.7 million in 2005-06 and this commitment will come on top of that trebling and it’s a very, very significant commitment. Obviously the training and recruitment of people will be very, very significant. And it’s a very, very significant investment and of course it’s going to result in a massive increase in ASIO’s budget. The precise amount of that will be of course announced in the context of the budget next year, over the forward estimates period, but self-evidently we can see a very significant expansion in the financial commitment to ASIO. This is the augmentation, the increase, that the experts have recommended and we have accepted those recommendations in full.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

I think the Prime Minister has made the point very saliently, but I think the important aspect to understand is that we have always accepted the advice we have received in relation to ASIO’s needs and in the last budget there was a substantial increase to ensure that it could fulfil its others responsibilities in relation to counter-espionage. Some might wonder why, after a period in which these risk have been identified, we are making these increases now. The fact is that there has been a thorough review of the needs of the organisation and the strategic plan is one that is designed to reflect the need to grow the Organisation in way which ensures that its capability is properly secured. You don’t recruit people for the intelligence work that is required essentially overnight. It is a very comprehensive training task that people are engaged in and this staged process is the advice that we have received as to the best way in which to secure that growth. If you look at what’s been happening abroad, the Canadian and the British intelligence services have something of the order of 2,400 staff each and theirs are growing as well and you will see that this is not extraordinary when you look at what has been happening elsewhere.

The Prime Minister also mentioned that we will be engaging from this week in the very significant ‘Mercury 05’ exercise. It will be Australia’s largest counter-terrorism exercise. It’ll be conducted from the 17th to the 20th of October. Around 4,000 participants will be involved and it will include State and Territory police services, the Australian Federal Police, state and territory and Australian Government emergency services, health and emergency management organisation, as well as the Australian Defence Force. It will include both Commonwealth and State and Territory Ministers, because if there is a necessity for call-out they have to be practised in the way in which they follow the necessary procedures in relation to those matters. Other relevant State and Territory and Australian Government agencies and departments with a role in counter-terrorism will be involved in this as well. It will focus on consequence-management activities following major terrorism incidents. The key events that will occur during ‘Mercury 05’ will include port and shipping and related incidents, siege hostage situations, threats from large vehicles bombs as well as mass casualty events. It will also include urban mass transit systems and threats to the year 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. And of course during ‘Mercury 05’ members of the public may observe an increase in police, emergency service or even Defence personnel and associated equipment participating in exercises. They ought not to be alarmed at that, but should see it as a very necessary pre-condition to ensuring that we are properly able to respond to any incidents of this sort if they were to occur.

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JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, to what extent…

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just emphasise one thing very quickly and come back, Paul, that there will be a special focus on Victoria in this exercise and there will be events in both Melbourne and Bendigo as if they were happening during the Commonwealth Games. So for the people of Victoria and the people of Melbourne and Bendigo it will have a particular resonance and it is designed plainly to test the capacity to respond to a terrorist incident during the Commonwealth Games and to demonstrate the preparedness and the cooperation which is so very important between Commonwealth and States. Yes Paul?

JOURNALIST:

To what extent could as assume from your comments that the main reason for this expansion in the size of ASIO is because of the risk of home-grown terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s a reason. It’s fair to say that the review started before the attack in London but in a sense the commencement of the review was, in the light of what happened, prescient. I wouldn’t say it’s the only reason. It is certainly a significant part of the reason why the Government has decided to accept the recommendation. Home-grown terrorist threats are a greater reality to the Australian people now than we would have thought to be the case six or 12 months ago. I think we accepted that it could happen here, seeing it happen in London, a city as I’ve said before we know better than any city in the world except our own, probably drove home to the Australian population more than any other terrorist attack the possibility that it could happen here and the realisation that the people who had carried it out in Great Britain were people in the main who’d been born in the United Kingdom and had grown up in the British community gave it added point. Now it’s not the only reason but it’s certainly a substantial reason.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, other governments have spelt out foiled attacks that they’ve managed to stop. Has that happened in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t want to go into the detail, except to say that clearly it’s on the record in relation to the Frenchman that certain things were done, and there are of course certain proceedings pending in relation to other people. The Attorney may have things he wants to add, but we are not normally disposed to go into the detail of those things for the most obvious of reasons.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

I’d simply say that there are operational reasons why matters of that sort are not canvassed. Occasionally operational issues are reported and I think in relation to one that occurred several years ago the Commissioner of Police, I think, used the words that the activities of

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various agencies had disrupted, I think they were the words he used, disrupted potential terrorist planning in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Ruddock, can I just ask you about family relationship centres and why (inaudible) has been ranked the most immediate (inaudible)?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well there are, I think, 65 family relation centres planned and the way in which these matters are dealt with requires you to look at needs Australia-wide, and we’ve done that. I know the Member for Chifley is complaining that there is no centre in Chifley, but Chifley is compromised of what are primarily dormitory suburbs and the area itself is readily accessible to the centres that have been planned for Penrith and Blacktown and even relatively closely, Parramatta. If you look at the location of the centres, and I think they were published this morning, they are major population centres where by public transport and otherwise they’re reasonably accessible and we haven’t planned 150 and that’s what you’d need is you were going to have one for every electorate.

JOURNALIST:

We’ve had in the last couple of days the ACT Chief Minister publish on his website the details of the security laws. I’d like to ask two questions about that. First of all are any of those details still up for negotiation, might any of those details be changed as a result of the complaints and outcry about them? And secondly, what’s your response to the criticism of those laws that they’re too tough, in particularly provisions such as life imprisonment for people funding terrorist organisations? That sort of criticism has been made by the Law Society.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll try to answer it and Philip may want to add. Look, in relation to the form of the legislation, what has happened on this occasion is what always happens when we’re engaged in an exercise of having, in effect, common legislation coming out of the Commonwealth/State agreement. A draft was done, it was sent to the States and the Territories for comment. The version that appeared on the website I am told is not the current state of the legislation. There have already been changes. As to the final shape of it, it will reflect what we agreed. It’s not meant to embrace a whole lot of other things. Can I make a couple of comments about some of the criticisms that have being made? In relation to the so-called shoot to kill provision, my advice is that that merely replicates, in relation to terrorism, an existing provision in the Commonwealth Crimes Act which defines the powers of the Australian Federal Police in relation to the commission of crimes. And I also understand that it replicates long-standing, or similar to long-standing provisions, in state legislation. In relation to sedition, I understand that what has happened is that essentially we have codified the existing law in relation to sedition and brought it up to date. As far as the penalties are concerned, I think people who knowingly funding terrorist organisations should be subject to very severe penalties and I think the overwhelmingly majority of the Australian public believe they should be subject to severe penalties.

As far as the final shape of the bill again is concerned, it will subject to the normal processes of our party committee and our party room. But can I say again it does reflect, and is

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designed to reflect, and the parameters in which it is being prepared will reflect, the agreement that was made between myself and the Premiers and Chief Ministers. Now I understand what Mr Stanhope is about, he’s not about informing the public, he’s about balancing his own political position. He went to this whole thing saying he was against it all and then when he understood that the laws were not all that unreasonable given the new environment in which we live he agreed and he’s now sort of trying to pretend that in some way he’s exposing draconian laws. The laws are not, given the circumstances in which we live, they’re not draconian, they are unusual but we live in unusual circumstances. And I think when people see the final form of it, and it’s impossible if we are to keep faith with the States, it’s impossible to publish each draft. The sensible thing to do and the thing that has happened in the past, and I notice even Mr Beattie said he wouldn’t have done it and I heard yesterday Mr Brumby was critical of Mr Stanhope. He said that it undermined the good faith that existed between the Commonwealth and the States, and when the final legislation is prepared it will be officially published and we will then have further discussion on it. But everything I’ve heard so far is an exaggeration or a distortion of what is in the legislation, except in relation to the severity of the penalties where people are entitled to have different views. I don’t agree with the suggestion that the funding of terrorism penalty is too severe, but I respect the right of other people to have that view.

JOURNALIST:

And what’s your response to the critique that the Government is rushing this legislation through, that is that it’s not providing any reasonable or adequate time at all for the Parliament or for the Senate to properly scrutinise these quite contentious provisions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the essence of the provisions have been publicly known for weeks. I mean the essence of this bill, the new provisions in this bill are the control orders and the preventative detention provisions. They’re the two new things. The rest of it is a recodification of existing laws. If you look at the totality of the sedition provisions they’re not new. We’ve had sedition laws in this country for years. We’ve had laws governing the use of lethal force by police for years. The two new concepts in this legislation are the preventative detention and the control orders and the parameters of that have now been well known and they continue to be debated in the community. Now I am sure that the legislation, when it comes out officially, will reflect all of that and of course there will be a period of debate in the Parliament.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Can I just say in relation to penalties and that the penalty issues are looked at comparatively to what you impose in relation to other offences. And there is an objective analysis undertaken of these issues within the Attorney-General’s Department. And the Minister for Justice is required to advise as to whether or not penalties are out of character with the penalties for like offences. They are treated very seriously.

JOURNALIST:

What would be the penalty, for example, for leaving your bag unattended in an airport?

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ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well the reason for dealing with that issue, and the penalty will be I think commensurate with the seriousness of it, is that if people believe that it is inconsequential to leave a bag unattended where emergency services are activated and people have to follow a whole lot of procedures in order to be able to reassure the community that there is no dangerous products contained in it, it does occasion very considerable inconvenience to the public generally, as well as the officials who have to respond. And so this is about, it’s the same sort of thing that you have about seat belts. People don’t like wearing seat belts but they know that it helps reassure their safety and their security and the penalties were about ensuring that people consider how they change their behaviour. And while the penalties will be there, there’ll be relatively minor. But it is designed to produce a change in the way in which people behave and deal with their property.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you had any (inaudible) so far from your backbench or your committee on the bill? Have they expressed…

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t had any representations directly to me. There may have been some discussions with my office of which I am unaware. I know that Mr Ruddock with his customary courtesy and thoroughness has already engaged the backbench in discussion about this legislation. They

are taking a keen interest in it and that’s good. Let me make it very plain, we are not trying to sneak anything through under the cover of the COAG agreement. That’s not the purpose of this exercise. And I think you will see that the legislation in its final form will reflect that.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

A staged process for handling legislation is always there. The reason that the states and territories were involved early in the process was because they have a specific role having made a reference of certain powers to the Commonwealth to cover the field to be consulted in advance about measures that we are intending to implement. And for that reason, the material is made available in confidence to Premiers and Chief Ministers, and for that reason there was an expectation that that confidence would be respected.

PRIME MINISTER:

And… sorry?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

And in relation to the backbench, the backbench always sees legislation before it is approved by the Party room for introduction to the Parliament and so it is appropriate and would be expected that the backbench would be dealing with the legislation. Now we don’t give a commentary on those matters. Sometimes there are what I would call matters that the people drafting the legislation have reflected as being an appropriate way to deal with some of the issues and when Members look at it we make suggestions, and suggestions are made, and that is a process that goes on frequently and it is not to be seen to be unusual or unexpected. The other point I would make is that on these matters, there are a variety of views. There are people who think that any action in this area is going into unusual areas and they have doubts

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about it. There are some people who believe that we haven’t gone far enough and that dynamic is always there.

JOURNALIST:

But do you think you’ve satisfied backbench fears that you are going too far?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

We are at the stage where the backbench is aware of the nature of the legislation. Some minor changes that were made from the very first draft and there are issues in which I provided them with further information, and I expect that that will satisfy them, but I won’t know until I meet with them later on, probably in a fortnight’s time, whether or not all the additional information that I have provided has met all of their interests.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Ruddock you’ve got positions vacant for 900 extra spies. What special qualities do you need to be a spy, what exactly do they do?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well if I could just talk briefly about their role. I mean ASIO provides advice on a daily basis which feeds into decisions in relation to protection of people, places and critical infrastructure, critical events, interests overseas. It also contributes to national security schemes and security checking, authority of source security assessments and through the National Threat Assessment Centre, provides a one stop shop for national assessments. It also has work in relation to counter espionage and so the range of activities are very wide. What you need is a person with a suitable disposition for the work that has to be undertaken. They go through very thorough character checking in addition to what I suppose might be described sometimes as psychometric checking to see that they are people who will have sensible commonsense judgements. They are expected to have a high level of education and normally do, and that’s because most of the work that they are doing is analytical work.

PRIME MINISTER:

Right, could I just, one more question and then I just want to make two comments about two completely unrelated matters but I think…

JOURNALIST:

If it’s on the news…

PRIME MINISTER:

…are in the news and important.

JOURNALIST:

If it’s on the missing boat I can wait, is that your other issue?

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PRIME MINISTER:

The what?

JOURNALIST:

The missing immigration boat?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, I am not commenting that.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have anything to say on this at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no further information than what is publicly known. Can I say on behalf of the Australian public how delighted we are at the birth of the Danish Prince and we congratulate Frederick and Mary on the safe arrival of their child and the fulfilment of all new parents’ wishes that mother and child are both doing well. The Australian Government will be sending a gift and it will be a first edition of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. We think is an entirely appropriate Australian gift for this wonderful event.

The other equally, well certainly a different order of matter but something that is extremely important. The early indications out of Iraq are that there has been a greater turn out than occurred earlier this year. Now I can’t be certain, none of us can until the count is further progressed but by any measure if that turns out to be the case, it will have been a courageous embrace of a democratic future by the Iraqi people whatever the outcome of the referendum is. The willingness of Iraqis to participate in the face of the most fearful intimidation and violence and terror is very praiseworthy It’s inspiring. It should draw forth our admiration. We should not turn our backs on people who are that courageous, in such terrible circumstances. The Iraqi people continue to need our help and our understanding and our support as they struggle in the most fearful of circumstances to embrace democracy. And I say that irrespective of the result of the referendum, whether it is yes or no. It’s another milestone along the path of embracing a democratic future for Iraq and the people of Iraq deserve our support, not the sight of our backs.

JOURNALIST:

Just on that point about Iraq Prime Minister, given the situation there with the insurgency, can you give us what the Government’s current appreciation is about how long the Australian forces will be remaining there?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s quite impossible to talk about that in terms of weeks or months or whatever, quite impossible. The latest advice I have from our own people is that the capacity of the Iraqi security forces is improving all the time. It is better than it was a few months ago and it continues to improve and this is information and advice I’ve had from the highest levels in our own military quite recently. I am encouraged by that, they continue to need our help and

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it would be foolish in the extreme to hazard a guess and that is all it would be about when any significant withdrawal of coalition forces could take place. Obviously the Americans and the British and others will take their own decisions. We’ve made certain announcements about our own people and they continue to do a very good job. I addressed the 450 who are going

in stages over the next few weeks to replace the first detachment that went there in April and their mission will be the same as the people they are replacing, of a good will, of the people they are replacing, will be continued by the men and women who go and one of the features of the Australian involvement is that we do try very hard to win the hearts and minds of the locals and we’ve been very successful and I believe cautiously that that is one of the contributing factors to the relative safety. And I don’t make any claims about the future, they are going into a dangerous environment and there is always the possibility of causalities. I don’t want to pretend otherwise but I think our measures of operation are a help and we are not only engaged in demonstrating a strong security presence, we are also engaged in identifying with the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

[ends]