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Transcript of press conference: 8 August 2008: Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP

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8 AUGUST

PRESS CONFERENCE , COMMONWEALTH PARLI AMENTARY OFFICES, SYDNEY, 11A M

SUBJECTS: DRUGS SEIZURE BY THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE AND THE AUSTR ALIAN CUSTOMS SERVICE ; TASERS; THE CLARKE INQUIRY

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Thanks very much for coming everyone. I'm here this morning to congratulate the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service on achieving the world's biggest ever seizure of ecstasy and on dismantling a significant alleged or ganised crime syndicate, both here and overseas.

As Commissioner Mick Keelty and Michael

Carmody announced earlier this morning, this operation has resulted in the arrest of some 16 people, alleged to be key members of the Australian arm of an international drug syndicate.

It has netted almost four and a half tonnes of

ecstasy or 15 million tablets, worth around $440 million on the street. In terms of a rating against a harm index, it is estim ated that it has saved the

ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP

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community in the order of $1.3 billion in terms of health and social costs.

I would spe cifically like to acknowledge the

outstanding work done by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Cu stoms Service. Operation Inca , as it's known, is one of the biggest operations the Australian Federal Police has ever undertaken.

It has involved the commitment of more than 400

Australian Federal Police members and has run for over a year. Well over 100,000 hours of policing time has been devoted to this task.

The criminal syndicate operating in Australia had

connections to both Europe and Asia. The operation is, unquestionably, an excellent example of the AFP's continued success in combating organised crime in Australia. It shows that the Australian Federal Police is not only acting to protect the Australian community from the threat of terrorism at home and in our region, it shows that the Australian Federal Police are taking action to protect the youth on our streets.

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It is another success story in a long line of recent

achievements in tackling both domestic and transnational crime, such as dru g trafficking, major fraud, money laundering and child protection.

It demonstrates that our federal law enforcement

agencies are working well, and with their state and international partners to protect the community from criminal activity.

Drug traffick ing is, of course, a worldwide problem,

as this operation i ndicates. And Australian law enforcement agencies cooperate closely with their overseas counterparts to combat the global trade in narcotics and ensure the organised criminal syndicates who profit from it are defeated.

There is no question of the success of this operation

has made our streets just that much safer, and the Rudd Government confirms we will not compromise when it comes to fighting the scourge of narcotics.

QUESTION: It's a worldwide problem. Are you

surprised it's such a big problem in Australia?

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ROBERT McCLELLAND: The seizure was massive. Over 3000 tins of tomato soup, valued at $440 million on the street. The capacity to sustain such a massive criminal investment is something that is of surprise, but it certainly does indicate that the Australian community must have regard to. We live, clearly, in an international community and, clearly, we are as exposed as any country to the scourge of drugs. In this instance, we have found within this country - specifically found and detained within this countr y the world's biggest ever se izure of ecstasy, and that is something that we need to have regard to.

The Australian Federal Police, I note, believe that

there is every likelihood that their operation may have well broken the back of the major Australian syndicate, it will be alleged, in re spect of the importation of ecstasy, and in that res pect, there is no question, as I say, the success of this operation will make our streets just that lit tle more safer.

QUESTION: What kind of impact do you think the seizure will have on the amount of drugs that are hitting the streets?

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ROBERT McCLELLAND: The seizure was made around about 12 months ago. The last research as to the price of ecstasy on the s treets was done before the seizure was undertaken. We would expect, however, that the removal of this amount of ecstasy from the streets will have put an upward pressure on the price of ecstasy . W e would all hope, obviously, to remove ecstasy from the stre ets. But insofar as it's there, we would want to make it - the cost as prohibitive as possible in terms of the elimination of that substance.

QUESTION: From what you understand, could more arrests be made or is this investiga tion done?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: I understand from the Australian Federal Police that there could still be some more arrests made, and I understand that operations are continuing elsewhere, in other countries.

QUESTION: So why did it happen a year ago? What's happened since then for you t o announce it now?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: It was a very successful operation. The seizure occurred in June of last year. There has been silence maintained on the fact of that seizure, while

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additional intelligence has been gathered. Some 10,000 hours of inter ceptions have occurred. There was also a recent seizure of cocaine which the Australian Federal Police will allege was con nected to the original importation.

So the fact that the original seizure was not

published has enabled that very valuable intellige nce to be gathered until this point in time where the Australian Federal Police have been able to act and undertake the arrests of those alleg ed to be involved in the activity.

QUESTION: On another matter, how close is Australia to

ratifying the UN convent ion against torture?

ROBERT McCLELLAND: We've ratified the United Nations convention against torture. What we're looking at is ratifying the optional protocol to the convention against torture, and I'm consulting with my state and territory colleagues and would estimate, within the next couple of months, that I'll be able to table a national interest analysis in the Federal Parliament advocating that that protocol be ratified.

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QUESTION: Are you concerned about how this will affect Australia's relationship with the US, given your comments on AM this morning…

ROBERT McCLELLAND: Two issues. The ratification of the optional protocol against - to the convention against torture will require Australia to pe rmit international inspectors to visit our places of de tention: our prisons, our Immigration detention centres. That's one issue.

What I've also indicated is that, at the same time,

I'm consulting with state and territory counterp arts regarding Australia, that is, the Australian Government implementing legisl ation to create a specific offence of torture. And, indeed, I'm consulting as to whether that offence should appropriately have extra territorial oper ation. That is, applied to Australians taking action overseas.

In terms of the interaction between our de fence

forces and def ence forces of other countries there is legislation that applies to actions of our defence forces and that hasn't impeded their in teraction with other defence forces.

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QUESTION: It's been suggested that signing a protocol and, indeed, do mestic laws here could affect the use of TASERS by police [indistinct].

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: They're two separate issues, and while I can understand people arguing as to the

appropriateness of law enforcement agencies using TASERS, I think that should be kep t separate and distinct from what we're talking about.

Clearly, if a TASER is used as an alternative to

shooting someone dead, then that is one thing. If, on the other hand, a TASER was used to repeatedly fire into someone for the purpose of eliciting in formation, then obviously, that's a different situation.

So I think with respect to those who in good faith

have raised the issue, I think it wo uld be better all round for them to keep their advocacy of the removal of TASERS from law enforcement agencies debated on a separate level.

It is my personal view that it is far better for police

officers to have the capacity to disable an alleged criminal rather than shoot them dead.

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QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: No. The - we need to keep qui te separate in terms of discussing torture y ou have to look at the action and the purpose, when we are looking at law enforcement technologies and techniques; that is for the purpose of disabling an alle ged criminal, that is one thing, as I s ay, as opposed to using these technologies for the purpose of eliciting information.

A simple example would be, for instance,

repeatedly hitting someone with a baton for the purpose of extracting information from them, could well be torture. On the other hand, using a baton for the purpose of crowd -control activities for a legitimate law enforcement purpose, I don't think anyone would reasonably suggest was torture.

So in other words, it needs to be seen in terms of the

technologies, the technique and the purpose; and it's unhelpful to the overall debate, I would suggest to those who have raise d the issue, to try and intermingle their advocacy for the removal of TASERS to what the Australian Government is

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doing, consulting in respect to implementing a specific offence o f torture.

QUESTION: Mr McClelland, on the Haneef matter, what do you make of the AFP's apparent refusal to release public or publishable version?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: It's important to know that at all times the Australian Federal Police has fully cooperate d with the Clarke Inquiry to the point where they have invited repre sentatives of the inquiry into - literally into their premises to inspect all relevant documents; and I emphasise all relevant documents, and I understand, as appropriate - to make appropr iate copies of those sought by the inquiry.

So there has been and there is no issue, absolutely

no issue about the Australian Federal Police providing all information that has been required of it of the Clarke Inquiry.

The controversy has arisen in res pect to whether the

Australian Federal Police is pre pared to publish a red acted version of its submission to the Clarke Inquiry. In that context - and I think it's fair to say that obviously myself and Mr Keelty have - are of

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the same view; as much informa tion as is reasonable practical should be made public.

But I have actually participated not only in

discussions with Mr Keelty, but also in discussions with the counter -terrorism prosecutor in the United Kingdom, with representatives of Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom; they are legitimately concerned that the publication of information that they have provided - that the British Government has provided to Australia to assist in its inquiries - and the reciprocal applies as well - may be publicly disclo sed prior to their initiating pro secutions which occur in October of this year.

It is a difficult ba lance to achieve the public interest

and satisfy the legitimate public and indeed media interest in ascertaining the information as against, obviously, the public interest; although I think all fair -minded Australians would say is assisting or at least, not impeding the prospects of successf ul prosecutions in the United Kingdom. It's a difficult balance.

Mr Keelty and I have had sensible and balanced and

re asonable discussions about the matter and I

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understand his arguments, I understand the challenges. I am in a position where I haven't seen the submission of the Australian Federal Police, it's difficult for me to judge the issue and I might say, it's quite inappropriate for me to give directions in respect to the issue. I c an obviously give directions in my capacity as Attorney -General in respect of matters of policy, but I can't in respect to

operational matters or matters of this kind.

QUESTION: Will you be putting - trying to persuade Keelty to make those [indistinct]… especially when ASIO are considered the most secretive agencies [indistinct]?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: We've had discussions about the matter. I understand on an ongoing basis the Australian Fede ral Police are examining that information which, in the normal course of things, is bein g made during the course of the British criminal

investigation and prosecution service and that will influence the extent to which they're able to in tur n make public s imilar information in Australia.

QUESTION: When will you next speak to Keelty on that?

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ROBERT MCCLELLAND: I'll be speaking to Mr Keelty about a range of matters, including thes e policing operations. But again, I won't - I don't think it's - it won't be

nec essor… necessary for me to speak further on that matter. We have had, as I say, a sensible, balanced and reasonable discussion. I'm well aware

of the difficulties and the complexities that the Australian Federal Police face . And equally, he's aware, and I think personally desires that as much information as reasonably practical should be publicly available.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] drugs [indistinct]? Why are Australians being targeted by these people?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: You can't be naive that the volume of the seizure indicates that the international syndicates saw Australia as a potentially fertile market. We hope that that impression has well and truly, well and truly been smashed by the fact that the seizu re has occurred.

So the other benefit of the seiz ure is to send a very,

very clear message to these drug syndicates that

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Australia is not a soft target, that if

they intend to attempt to enter the Australian market that our law enforcement authorities are as good

as, if not better, than any in the worl d in terms of the quantity of this

seizure. And they face substantial prejudice and ultimately, in terms of these people who have been arrested and alleged to have been involved in the activities, are potentially

obviously very sim… very serious criminal c onsequences.

Thank you.

ENDS