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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky PM Agenda: ASIO Counter-Terrorism Control Centre: Canberra: 21 October 2010: 21 October 2010



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Interview SKY PM Agenda - ASIO Counter -Terrorism Control Centre

ATTORNEY -GENERAL

HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP

INTERVIEW SKY PM AGENDA

ASIO COUNTER -TERRORISM CONTROL CENTRE

CANBERRA

THURSDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2010

Kieran Gilbert: First though, to comments made by the head of ASIO that our intelligence agencies are investigation hundreds of potential threats to Australia. I spoke to the Attorney General, Robert McClelland, about this and about the other issues of the day a little earlier. Attorney General thank you very much for your time. This new counterterrorism centre has opened today. Ah, David Irvine, the ASIO chief has made it clear at that opening that the security and intelligence agencies are investigating hundreds of potential threats to Australia. Now, how worried should Australians be?

Robert McClelland: The, the national security environment is such that certainly a terrorist attack is, is possible in Australia. The security rating notes that. ASIO in the normal course of their daily investigations, does look at both individuals and looks at potential issues, potential plans. The sole message is, we need to continue to be alert, we can’t be complacent. We need to draw and maximise the use of our, of our agencies and their combined strengths.

Kieran Gilbert: Hundreds of potential threats though, as he says, David Irvine, Al Qaeda and those who share its distorted ideology, continue to see Australia as legitimate target for mass casualty attacks. It certainly sounds ominous, this warning from the ASIO boss.

Robert McClelland: When he is referring to hundreds of threats, he’s talking about individuals that, individuals as opposed to separate plots. Nonetheless, nonetheless, there are significant issues, obviously. Hence the focus of the government on resourcing to a very substantial extent, our counter-terrorism and law enforcement agencies. But with the centre today bringing that combined expertise together and focussing on these issues. So, the reality is, if you look at the safety and security of Australians, it’s not only at home but it’s also offshore and it’s also obviously Australian interests both at home and offshore. So these are live issues, there is no doubt about that, and that was stressed by the Director General of Intelligence and Security this morning.

Kieran Gilbert: Well this is a new centre that was opened today, you sort of touched on it there. But gives us a, a sense of exactly what it will do. Is it just a coordination centre of all the intelligence agencies, whether it be ASIO, AFP or the others?

Robert McClelland: If you go back a little, the catalyst for it was really the attack on the attempted attack on North West Airlines flight last Christmas Day. And the review of international agencies said, “Well, look, a number of agencies had information that, if drawn together, may well have identified this person before he got on the plane.”

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Learning from that experience, we’ve said, “Well, we have to draw everything together in Australia.” And that’s been the catalyst establishing for this centre. It’s going to draw together the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian, ah, um, the ASIS, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Australian Federal Police. So those agencies will be drawn together to exchange the information they have, to be able to reach back into their agencies for additional assistance if they need it. Bring it together and pool it as part of a partnership approach. So, that’s if you like, the observing international trends, international practices, we want to be ahead of the game and I think this new centre is going to enable us to do that.

Kieran Gilbert: Attorney, does our involvement - if I could move now to the Afghanistan debate - does our involvement in Afghanistan increase our risk of being a terrorist target?

Robert McClelland: If you look back to even before the September 11 attacks, there was a reference by Al Qaeda to Australia being a target. The reality is that those who profess violent extremism will look for any reason to identify western targets. And they will rely on a number of events - including our involvement in Afghanistan - to justify them claiming Australia as a target. But if you ask as to what the reality is, as opposed to the rhetoric, I think that there are two different things. I think the reality is if we’re not in Afghanistan we would enable that country to once again become a completely failed state and a safe haven for terrorist activity.

Kieran Gilbert: Kevin Rudd, the foreign minister, in his speech today said in support of the Afghanistan deployment, he says it’s helped prevent the repetition of a series of large scale September 11-type attacks, and he went on to say of course there have been many near misses - in fact many more than the general public is ever likely to know. How many are we talking about, and any on Australia or in our region?

Robert McClelland: Yeah well this, ah, the report, the annual report of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation will be tabled today in fact. It’s no secret that the work of ASIO, and combined with those other agencies, has thwarted certainly four potential attacks that could have resulted in extreme casualties in Australia. That is on the record. In addition, as the head of ASIO indicated today, there are a number of individuals of concern that our security agencies monitor. And of course the government as part of its counterterrorism white paper is saying well look its not good enough to simply monitor; we need to really look at the trends of extremism and we need to counter violent extremism in Australia - so hence the work we’ve been doing through a counter violent extremism unit that’s been established in the Attorney General’s Department. So it’s on-going work, and its on-going work that is being taken very, very seriously, being extremely well resourced, with the combined expertise of our national security agency. So, obviously we don’t want the fear of terrorism to disrupt our economy, our social structure or indeed our values, but the reality is it is a threat and we need to take appropriate actions.

Kieran Gilbert: A bit further afield - and there were reports in the last week or so that Osama Bin Laden is living in North-West Pakistan. How much energy is being put into tracking him down by the Coalition, and how significant would that be do you think?

Robert McClelland: It goes without saying that obviously the Coalition forces would certainly regard Osama Bin Laden as a prime capture. I can’t… I’m not advised of the

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details of operations of course but it goes without saying that he is certainly, remains and would be a prized target, and sincerely a person that who obviously should be brought to justice and efforts are being made in that respect.

Kieran Gilbert: One last issue I want to get your thoughts on. Um, the Iraq War whistle blower, Andrew Wilkie, the independent Member for Denison, reports that he’s been approached to serve on the Parliamentary Committee, Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Is that correct?

Robert McClelland: I don’t know whether he has. I’ve seen the reports to that effect, that, he has said that. I’m not sure if an approach has been made. That committee, is a very significant committee. It’s usually the, it’s made with the consent of, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. They chose people who have had considerable experience in national security issues, but are also trusted individuals. So, there, if there is going to be an appointment, it would be made conjointly between the Prime Minister with the consent of the Leader of the Opposition. I’m not sure, of, of the extent of any discussions that have occurred.

Kieran Gilbert: It would include reviewing the operations of Mister Wilkie’s former employer the ONA, the Office of National Assessments. Do you think that these agencies would feel comfortable with having this former intelligence officer, who I say, was a former whistle-blower during the Iraq War?

Robert McClelland: I can’t speak on behalf of the agencies, of course they’ll have their own view. A number of, a number of situations where people move through different aspects of their career and their life and he’s now in the role of a Member of Parliament representing the seat of Denison. And I would think, overall, people would see him in that context as opposed to aspects of his previous life but, obviously, I can’t speak on behalf of those people.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay. Just one final question, if I can, on the broader Afghanistan debate. Why’s it taken nine years and do you think it’s a good thing for the democracy that we’re finally having this discussion here?

Robert McClelland: There is no, and it’s been said repeatedly, there is no greater responsibility on any government than the decision to send young Australians, men and women, into harm’s way and it is appropriate in all those circumstances for there to be a debate about these matters. The issue as to whether the debate should precede the deployment is one I don’t agree with. I think the government has to have the ability, the executive of the day has to have the ability to deploy our troops, but I think the fact of deployment and the ongoing deployment is legitimately and appropriately something that the parliament should debate.

Kieran Gilbert: Attorney General, Robert McClelland, appreciate your time today. Thank you.

Robert McClelland- It’s my pleasure.

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