Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of press conference: Sydney: 9 October 2015: violent extremism; Government telecommunications; Nauru

Download PDFDownload PDF




9 October 2015

Press Conference Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney



Thank you very much for being here. I want to speak today about our response as a nation to the brutal murder of Curtis Cheng, a police accountant, a much-loved father and husband. He was murdered in an act of terrorism by a 15-year-old boy, motivated, we believe, by extremist political and religious views.

This phenomenon of violent extremism, of terrorism, politically motivated violence, is a challenge for all of us, as a community, as a society, as a government. It is a law and order issue of the highest priority. And it is important to note that the Commonwealth Government, the Federal Government, State and Territory Governments are working closely together this.

I have been in the closest contact over the last week on this very issue with the Premier Mike Baird, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, and indeed, his Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

I've been in the closest contact with our own - the closest contact with our own Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin and the Director of Security Duncan Lewis and of course my colleagues the Attorney-General, the Justice Minister and other colleagues - especially the Assistant Minister for Multicultural affairs, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells.

Now, everything I say about this today is carefully calculated to support the work of our security agencies.

Everything I do, as your Prime Minister, is designed to make us safe, to ensure that our police, our security services, whether they work for the Commonwealth or whether they work for the States or Territories, are better able to do their job.

This phenomenon of violent extremism is a challenge to the most fundamental Australian values.

Australia is the most successful and most harmonious multicultural society in the world. There is no comparable country with as large a percentage of its citizens and residents born from outside its shores with such a diverse cultural mix of peoples.

None of us, no one of us can look in the mirror and say “All Australians look like me”. Australians look like every race, like every culture, like every ethnic group in the world.

How have we been able to be so successful? It is because of a fundamental Australian value - and that is mutual respect. I want to say to you that mutual respect is the glue that binds this very diverse country together.

It is what enables us to be so successful. Mutual respect is fundamental to our harmony as a multicultural society and it is fundamental to our success. It's fundamental to our future prosperity.

It's fundamental to our national security.

The key to that mutual respect is that it is a two-way street. Every religion, every faith, every moral doctrine understands the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So if we want to be respected, if we want our faith, our cultural background to be respected, then we have to respect others.

That is a fundamental part of the Australian project. And it means, therefore, that every single one of us who wants Australia to be successful, who wants our great nation to prosper further in the future, who wants us to be safer in the future. And I have no doubt that almost every single Australian does.

Then we have to ask ourselves whether we are leaders, political leaders, whether we are parents, whether we are teachers, whether we are ministers for religion, whether we are working in the police or the security services, whether we are a leader in our own business or in our own community, we have to ask ourselves: are we teaching our young people both by word and by deed the values of mutual respect? Because if we are not, then we are not doing enough for Australia.

Now, not all extremist talk intolerant, hateful speech, not all of it leads to violence. But let me tell you: that's where all violence begins. And we have to call it out. We have to call out the language, the examples of disrespect, the language of hatred wherever it is practiced. It is critical for our success that we say here and now that as Australians, we expect each other. And we expect to be respected by others.

Now, only last night, I mentioned that I've spoken with Mike Baird frequently and met with him since the attack, the murder in Parramatta. Last night, I spoke with the British Prime Minister David Cameron, who of course faces similar, many would say greater challenges,than our own in this area.

And I might say and I appreciated the discussion with Mr Cameron, and we will, we obviously, we do collaborate, cooperate, share experiences and with the British in this field and we will continue to do so, and I look forward to that cooperation and that sharing of experiences being deepened in the weeks and months and years ahead.

And I might say, it says a lot about Mr Cameron and the shared values and interests of Australia and the United Kingdom that the first thing he said to me was to pass on his condolences for the death of Curtis Cheng. And I rang Curtis's son today, I'd spoken to him earlier in the week already, but I rang him again today and passed on the condolences of the British Prime Minister in addition to my own that I had conveyed to him earlier.

That was a very - that was a moving thing to do, I might say. It is always good to know that we are absolutely united and in complete solidarity in taking on the challenge of terrorism and combatting this violent extremism.

Now this morning, I took the train out to Burwood and to the electorate office of my good friend and colleague Craig Laundy, the member for Reid. And I met there with seven leading Muslim civic and religious figures, four women and three men, as it happened, and we had a very good discussion for well over an hour, in which I did lots of listening.

Prime Ministers might learn when they listen, I might say. I think we all do, and particularly Prime Ministers. And we exchanged some very constructive discussion about this. All of them spoke of their determination to ensure that we work together as part of the Australian family to prevent the spread of extremism and including violent extremism.

Now, it is a very complex problem. In an age of social media and the Internet, those seeking to preserve social harmony have to be very review agile. We have to constantly review what's being done, what's working, what isn't, and learn from each other's experiences, whether at home or abroad.

And that's why, in Canberra this week, or next week, I should say, later next week, I've asked for the agency heads working on countering violent extremism from all Australian Governments to join our director of counter-terrorism to discuss at an officials level what more should do and what we need to do better.

But I can say to you that the advice I have consistently from my parliamentary colleagues, from the security services, from the police services, is that the Muslim community is our absolutely necessary partner in the battle against violent extremism.

And that we have to work and we should work and we will work, we are working, with the Muslim community to ensure that we can take on this scourge, which of course, is as much a threat if not more so to the Muslim community than it is to the whole Australian community.

Now, can I say that speaking about - if I may just speak now about faith. We acknowledge the right of each individual to observe his or her own faith, to be true to their own conscience, to respect, to express freely their own beliefs, provided they do so in accordance with the law of Australia.

There is only one law that applies in Australia, it is the Australian law, passed by our Parliaments, adjudicated by our judges. Set out in its most authoritative form in our constitution.

Now, in my view, the values of faith must be reaffirmed as passionately and resolutely as we can in the context of mutual respect. It is an absolutely shared responsibility; it is a vital Australian value. And as I said a moment ago, it is a two-way street.

Now, respect for each other, respect for our country, respect for our shared values, these are the things that make this country one of the most successful countries in the world - as a multicultural country in particular.

There is nothing inaccessible about our values. We are an open, liberal democracy.

Faith is and must be a positive force in our community. It should serve to promote cohesion, respect and compassion for each other. Extremism destroys the virtues of faith and religion in our community.

Muslims - individual Muslims - who preach hatred of other Muslims, of Christians, of Jews or others, threaten to undermine our social harmony, our prosperity and our security. And I might say it was good to see the Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, today calling that out as one of the religious leaders of the Muslim community in Australia.

And equally, people who try to tag all Muslims with responsibility for the crimes of a tiny minority and convert that into a general hatred of all Muslims are also undermining our national interest.

Those who do that are making the work of the police and security services, governments, who seek to prevent violent extremism much harder. They also make the work of parents and community leaders who seek to prevent violent extremism much harder. And so we all have a role to play.

It is my role, it‟s the role of political leaders at all levels, community and business leaders, religious leaders and educators to stand up against hatred and extremism.

And I note, for example, I mentioned the Grand Mufti today - a leading religious figure - Ahmed Fahour, the Chief Executive of Australia Post was expressing the same values of inclusion and respect himself and he does that as one of our leading business figures and of course a proud Australian Muslim.

Now could I just conclude on this note: tonight, many Australian Muslims and Jews will join together in their mosques and synagogues in prayer and on Sunday, many Christian Australians will be at church, but whether we are over this weekend at church or at home, at a shawl, at a mosque, wherever we are, I want to encourage Australians of all faiths, or of no faith, to reflect on this fundamental value of mutual respect.

To look around, let's look around ourselves and ask this question: is this not the most wonderful country in which to live?

Is this not a remarkable achievement that we have such a diverse community and yet we live together so harmoniously? And should we not ask ourselves: how did that happen?

Well, the answer is: because, as Australians, with that fundamental Australian value - you might call it live and let live - we respect each other. We expect to be respected and we earn that respect by respecting others. And those who preach or teach extremism, those who say we should not respect other Australians, those who seek to gnaw away at that social fabric are not helping the Australian dream, they are not advancing the interests of our great country.

Australia, my friends, has the greatest future ahead of it. I say it many times. This is the most exciting time to be Australian.

One of our greatest assets is our diverse multicultural society, but it is built on a foundation of mutual respect. And that is what we are entitled to demand from each and every Australian - mutual respect, respect for each other, because that enables us to advance Australia.


Prime Minister, you used the term again „politically motivated violence‟ and you've been criticised this week for not calling it as religiously motivated violence. Why are you making that distinction?


It was religious and political. I said religious and political. The motivation is both religious and political. The two adjectives are linked and it's an act of terrorism. The definition of terrorism in a legal sense is politically motivated violence, but of course, in this case, it is both political and religious - absolutely.


Would you acknowledge you had reluctance earlier in the week to use the word religious?


No, not at all, it is quite the contrary. I'm not quite sure what point you're trying to make here, but it is the 15 year old boy, his actions, it is very clear that it was an act of politically motivated violence, motivated by a very perverted view of religion. There's no question about that.

Thank you for the interesting discussion about semantics.


Prime Minister, should people who don't like Australia or Australian values, should they leave?


It is not compulsory to live in Australia. If you find Australian values unpalatable, then there's a big wide world out there and people have got freedom of movement. So, the fundamental point, I just want to get back to, is that the success of our society is founded on mutual respect and we have to recognise that people who preach hatred, preach extremism, are undermining the success of this extraordinary country and this extraordinary project.


On that front, Hizb ut-Tahrir is calling for the overthrow of democracy [inaudible]. What's your take on that group this week pushing and getting quite active on recruitment etc? What would you say to that group, and are you looking to control that group in any way?


Without going into a lengthy dissertation on that particular group, can I just say that those people who preach intolerance, who preach - and, of course, preaching is not limited to religious, politicians can preach too, we all can preach if we like - but the people who preach that type of intolerance are actively working against the national interest.

Now, we do have freedom of speech in Australia and there are laws that limit hate speech, as you know. There are laws about promoting terrorism. But let me just say to you that the most important thing is that when people speak the language or promote values which are antithetical to Australia's best interests, it's important for those who hold Australia's interests dear to call them out and take them on and to win the argument.

Because you have to ask yourself this fundamental question, and I think the answer is pretty clear: do we believe we are a successful multicultural society? I think most people would say yes - I think that‟s undoubtedly correct. Is mutual respect at the foundation of that?

Plainly, yes. Those who seek to undermine that respect are undermining the success of the Australian project - and they are making the country less safe and I have no doubt they will be unsuccessful. I am absolutely optimistic and confident about our future, but equally we should not be complacent.


As Prime Minister, what's your advice to anyone who‟s planning on going to a rally on race or religion?


I think, again, we have freedom of assembly in Australia, but I'd ask everyone to reflect on this. Given that our success is so fundamentally based on values of mutual respect, if you are supporting a different approach, if you're supporting an approach of disrespecting or of hating, or of vilifying another group in the community, how can that possibly be anything other than contrary to our national interest? How can that be anything other than making the work of our police services, our security services in keeping us safe harder?


What do you think about prayer groups and scripture classes being banned from schools?


Again, the critical thing is whether you are a prayer group, whether it's a prayer group or whether it is a scripture class, the important thing is that Australian values of respect, mutual respect are upheld. Just because somebody thinks that it is religiously ordained to preach values of disrespect or of hatred, that's not acceptable.

We have to call that out for what it is and teachers, headmasters, parents above all - I mean, the reality is the challenge of this type of terrorism, this type of violent extremism is largely found, not exclusively found as we know, but it's largely found with younger people. They are most influence-able by those closest to them.

Their families, their peers at school, people that they work with, they interact with in a sporting club, in a church group or a religious group or whatever community organisation.

All of us who are dealing with young people - as I say, whether as parents or in any of those many other capacities have got to ask ourselves, are we helping Australia by promoting those values of mutual respect? Because remember, violent extremism, a terrorist act if you like, is just the end point of extremism.

If you preach extremism, if you preach hatred, religious hatred or political hatred for that matter, if you preach hatred like that, then at some point it will have a violent manifestation. So it is critically important for us to understand why our society has been so successful. It's been successful because of mutual respect. That is the key, and we have to be prepared, all of us, to call that out and then call out those who seek to undermine it.


Would you agree with Mike Baird that we have a major problem with Islamic extremism in this city? And what are you as Prime Minister proposing to do about that?


There's no question there is a major problem with extremism, manifested if you like by a very small minority within the Muslim community. The Muslim community as you know, is very, very diverse.

Now generalising about Muslims is about as meaningful as generalising about Christians, but there is no doubt that there is this among extremist tendency is found among a very small minority. It is rejected by the leaders of the Muslim community. The men and women I spoke with today, the Grand Mufti speaking out at Fairfield earlier today.

But all of us, I think, have to provide support to the proposition that at the key of all of this is mutual respect. That's why those people who decide that the response to the extremism of a very small minority is to vilify all Muslims are absolutely acting in a thoroughly counter-productive way. That is the most counter-productive thing you can do.


But is your answer to these kind of acts that there be mutual respect? I mean, how do you see as Prime Minister see yourself going forward in terms attacks of trying to ensure that these attacks stop?


The law enforcement agencies for which I am responsible ultimately as Prime Minister, their unequivocal, unanimous advice is that the points I've made to you today are calculated to help them in their work and make us safer.

The Muslim community are our necessary partners. As it may interest you that I went through what I was going to say today only a few minutes ago with the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and Duncan Lewis, the Director of Security and the Attorney-General Senator Brandis.

I am committed to ensuring that everything I say and do will make the work of those who keep us safe easier. It's not easy at all, it's hard, but make it less difficult. I want to make sure that everything I do helps take us to the solution, doesn't worsen the problem.


Is there any suggestion by you in that, that your predecessor was doing anything to worsen the problem?


There is no suggestion at all - I can see... there is absolutely no suggestion at all and I'm frankly disappointed that on a matter of such importance you try to create mischief like that. There are more important things than political gamesmanship.

Now perhaps we will just have…Gentleman at the back.


Surely you heard this morning, in that meeting, the message from those people that Tony Abbott was or part of the problem? Did you, or did you not hear that?


All I can say to you is we had a good discussion and I don't propose to make any comments about matters of that kind. If you want me to reflect on my colleagues, my ministerial colleagues or indeed the former Prime Minister I can only speak warmly of them all.


Can you talk about your private email just -?


Ah yes, good, right. Let me just say to you... and I've taken care to get some further advice on this. The rules and regulations relating to the use of emails by government ministers relate to the use of the handling of classified information.

Classified information can only be exchanged through government systems and obviously all members and senators and ministers use non-government forms of communication, most notably SMS, which I might say is probably the least secure of all forms of electronic communication for matters that are not classified, that are routine, non-sensitive, however you want to describe it.

To suggest that every government, every piece of government or communication by a politician that relates to his or her office can only be transmitted on a government email account or to a government email account would mean you could never write a letter to your constituent, it would mean you could never use SMS.

The issue is the protection of classified information and that is absolutely - that's the objective and that is done.


So you were only using…[inaudible]


Classified information cannot be transmitted to, or transmitted from, anything other than a government system that is certified as appropriate for it.


…wouldn‟t have done that then…[inaudible]


The answer is I can't do it and I wouldn't do it and I protect classified information very, very carefully. I might say that all of us use a variety of forms of telecommunication.


You haven't used it for...?


You can‟t. National classified information can't be and is not and has not been used, transmitted by me on services other than those approved for it and that's the bottom line. I think the other point that was raised was freedom of information. As has been the case, if you have an FOI application that relates to a Minister's text messages that's not on a Government system. Those text messages, subject to all sorts of exemptions and rules and so forth, can be accessed.


What if they're using Wickr Prime Minister?


Well if they‟re using Wickr there probably won‟t be a record to disclose.


Is that why you use Wickr?


Wickr is a very secure over the top application. I'm happy if you want to have a talk about the security of different forms of communication, firstly you shouldn't assume that Government email services are more secure than private ones. That‟s one point to remember. But nonetheless we do have rules relating to them. Secondly, I can tell you that text messaging which is widely used, is the least secure form of communication. It's unencrypted in transit and unencrypted at rest. Over the top applications, you mentioned one, I don't want to do an

advertisement for anybody, but there are a number of over the top applications that offer a much higher degrees of security.

We'll just have one more if you‟ve run out of questions about countering violent extremism.


Just on a different issue. Will the pregnant Somalian rape victim who is on Nauru, will she be allowed to come to Australia for an abortion?


This is a matter being dealt with by the Department and I'll have no more to say about that. Her needs are very well understood by the Government.


There have been reports about a potential deal with the Philippines regarding asylum seekers being processed there. Can you give us more information about that? Is that true?


I won't add anything more to what the Immigration Minister said today, but I will say this. Those who seek to come to Australia illegally on boats via people smuggling will not be resettled in Australia. Whether they are planning a voyage today, or whether they are in Nauru or Manus now. As you know, the Foreign Minister has been talking to a number of countries to enable people in Nauru and Manus to be returned from the countries they came from and indeed to be resettled. But it is a fundamental plank of our border protection policy that those who seek to come here unlawfully with the assistance of people-smugglers will not settle in Australia. I know that is a tough policy, but I can tell you it is the only one that works.

I went through this some years ago when I was Opposition Leader and Kevin Rudd sought to change it and I argued with him at length and I said, "If you change the Howard Government's policy, there will be a massive increase in people smuggling, unauthorized arrivals, illegal immigration and so forth.” I said that. Mr Rudd took a different view.

The facts speak for themselves. 50,000 arrivals, deaths at sea, billions of dollars. A shocking tragedy in every respect. Now what our policy, tough though it is, our policy is keeping people safe. If they don't get on those boats, they won't drown at sea. It is a critical part of our border protection policy and protecting our national sovereignty.

Just one more you then we'll wrap it up.


Will you keep using your private email in the future?


Look, I use a variety of forms of messaging. I am very careful about security. I use my private non-Government email is obviously one that I've had for many years and many

people can reach me that way. But obviously any material that is classified or sensitive remains within the Government system.

I am not -- I don't claim to be an expert in this area, but it is not an unknown area to me. I'm pretty familiar with the different forms of data security and the challenges. I stay very closely in touch with our experts such as the Australian Signals Directorate. I take care about this and I look forward to improving levels of Government security where ever we can.

So I can assure you, security of telecommunications, security of Government data is a very high priority for me, as it is for all of our Ministers and Assistant Ministers.


Will the Liberal Party vote in favor of a fresh Senate inquiry into political donations when it meets next week?


I haven't considered that matter, but I think that issue, that field is very well ploughed, but no doubt if the issue arises we can reconsider it.

Now on that note, I will love you and leave you, thanks very much.