Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of the Press Conference of the Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard, MP: Parliament House, Canberra: National counter-terrorism summit; National ID Card; terrorist threats. \n\n\n\n



Download PDFDownload PDF

PRIME MINISTER

5 August 2005

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP PRESS CONFERENCE, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

Subjects: National counter-terrorism summit; National ID Card; terrorist threats.

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. I’ve called this news conference to announce that I have today written to the premiers and the chief ministers of the states and territories proposing that we have a special meeting of the Council of Australian Governments to consider counter-terrorism issues. I indicated last week, after my return from overseas, that if I thought we could add value to the existing layers of counter-terrorism capacity and laws by having a special meeting of premiers and chief ministers, I would call such a meeting. Having considered the matter and taken appropriate advice from Commonwealth agencies, I am of the view that we can add value by having such a meeting.

Amongst the issues which I have listed on the agenda in my letter to premiers are as follows: counter terrorism legal frameworks; surface transport security; identity security; more effective prevention of any advocacy of terrorism, including through the engagement of community and religious leaders, and also enhancing community understanding of an engagement in the national counter-terrorism arrangements.

This issue is a particular challenge to our nation; it is a particular challenge to all countries with a liberal democratic tradition. Those countries of a more dictatorial political structure have a simpler response; impose more repression. Countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom and the United States face the difficult challenge of balancing our abhorrence of terrorism and our determination to do all in our power to

1

prevent the terrorists striking at us without natural and proper regard for the liberty of the individual. It is the ultimate responsibility of the Government, in our case particularly, the Federal Government, to find the right balance between those two competing interests.

We do need in the wake of what has occurred in London, to assess whether there are some messages in that, that can be incorporated into Australian arrangements. I hope to have at this meeting not only those members of the Australian AFP-led team that went to the United Kingdom but also other advice and briefing of the British experience and the way in which the British capital responded.

However, every country needs its home grown responses because every country has a particular home grown challenge. What has shaken many people in Britain and I dare say in Australia, is the knowledge that those whose carried out the attack in London were British born, they were not people who flew in for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack and that has added a particular dimension. This is an issue that will only be effectively dealt with over a long period of time, it requires determination, it requires deliberation and it requires balance and common sense and it requires an understanding of all Australians that they all have a role to play. We need each other and we need to work with each other in order to solve the problem and it needs all of us and particularly people of influence in the community to reassert the fundamental values of Australia which involve an abhorrence of violence, a belief in tolerating different points of view, an understanding of the importance of spiritual values in our community, but not spiritual values that assume some superiority or an exclusivity to the detriment and exclusion of others. It’s in that spirit that I will be convening this meeting. I don’t want to over estimate or overstate the challenge we face, but equally those who imagine it can’t happen here, are misplaced, it can happen here and we would be very complacent if we imagined it will not. Although the challenges in this country are not as great, I believe, as in many other societies.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister when will the meeting be convened?

PRIME MINISTER:

I expect a meeting to take place late next month. I want to allow adequate time for the states to assemble ideas, this is not a totemic, symbolic meeting, it’s meant to be a working session, I want serious proposals, I want an acceptance by Governments at a state level that they have responsibilities, including financial ones, we accept our responsibilities. I want to go into the meeting in a cooperative spirit. I don’t want the meeting to be overlaid with state/federal politics. It will only be about terrorism, it will not be about other issues and I seriously invite my state colleagues to work closely with the Federal Government. I will bring total goodwill and a total spirit of cooperation to the meeting and I know that the state premiers will do exactly the same.

JOURNALIST:

2

Prime Minister, you mentioned identification security, is it inevitable that civil liberties will be eroded, not just as a result of this meeting, but as tougher counter-terrorism laws are introduced?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the most important civil liberty I have is, and you have, is to stay alive and to be free from violence and death and I think when people talk about civil liberties, they sometimes forget that action taken to protect the citizen against physical violence and physical attack is a blow in favour, and not a blow against civil liberties.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard do you think, do you personally think that the present laws covering incitement to terrorism are adequate or should there be something further done in this area?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am currently assessing my attitude towards that Louise. I wouldn’t be calling this meeting, I wouldn’t be having this discussion if I didn’t believe that they at the very least required a further review. We have done a great deal in some respects our counter- terrorism laws are ahead of those in the United Kingdom. In other respects they are different. We don’t seek automatically to mirror the counter-terrorism laws of either Britain or the Untied States. In one important area where I believe our arrangements are superior to those of either Britain or the United States, I believe the whole-of-government focus through the National Security Committee of Cabinet brings together, in a more coordinated way, our agencies than happens in either the United Kingdom or the United States. There is no parallel in either of those two countries to a body which brings together on a regular basis the five most senior ministers in the government and the leaders of the five relevant agencies on a very regular confidential basis. It is one of the institutional arrangements that this country’s had for a number of years that in my view has enabled us to handle these better, handle many of these issues in a more effective, whole-of-government fashion.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) police laws across the country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our laws are largely uniform. I see merit in uniformity where it advances the common cause. I never believe in uniformity for uniformity sake. If there is merit in that, well it will be canvassed at the meeting. But uniformity for uniformity sake is not something I automatically hold to. But most of our laws are fairly…are quite similar and I think there

3

is a large degree of uniformity already. Because bear in mind we have worked very cooperatively since 2001.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to Australian Muslims who support what they call, the Jihad overseas?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well supporting a Jihad has no place in the values of this country. A Jihad represents, is the epitome of intolerance, is the epitome of the negativity and darkness which we do not want in this country. That’s my view.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister where do you see Australian arrangements being inferior to those of Britain…

PRIME MINISTER:

Australian what?

JOURNALIST:

Australian arrangements, anti-terrorism arrangements being inferior to those in Britain and the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m still working on that. There are no things that stick out but there could be some areas where we could improve, and there could be some areas where we could further innovate.

JOURNALIST:

Are you at all sympathetic to the proposals now being considered by the British Government for people to be detained for up to three months without charge? And secondly has your thinking developed at all on the ID Card?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well in relation to the second matter Michelle, identity security is one of the issues that’s going to be discussed, that’s as far as I will go on that subject at present. In relation to detention, let me simply say that that is one of the areas that is being looked at, but that does not mean I automatically embrace the British approach - I don’t. Thank you. Yes.

4

5

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of Al-Zawahri’s latest threats to come out of… to be aired on Al Jazeera. What was your response when you heard that this morning?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ve heard those sorts of threats before and my response has been that no country can allow foreign policy to be dictated by terrorist threats. And once countries start succumbing to those terrorist threats they are in effect surrendering, not only moral authority, but they’re also surrendering strategic advantage and tremendous advantage in the Middle East to those terrorist threats. People who imagine that you can buy some peace with the terrorist by pulling out of Iraq are totally deluded. The next country that you would be asked to pull out of would be Afghanistan, the next thing you would be asked to do would be to compromise on other policy, compromise on the security of Israel, and so the process goes on. You cannot surrender to that kind of threat. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

What do you say to Australians who are calling for the deportation of Muslims with extreme views?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that issue has to be handled in accordance with the rule of law. We have to maintain a total respect for the rule of law. The question of whether the law should be adjusted from time-to-time is a matter for law makers to consider from time-to-time. And one of the things that will be considered at the meeting we’re having-and this is not specifically referable to your question, only generally referable to your question, it will be whether the laws of this country should be changed to deal with this challenge.

Thank you.

[ends]