PRESIDENT OF THE LEBANESE MUSLIM ASSOCIATION, SAMIER DANDAN: Welcome all. This is an initiative that our Prime Minister has decided to take, to come to the Islamic organisation and meet the Islamic religious leaders and Islamic community organisations, to offer his condolences to the sad events the whole world witnessed yesterday, an event that the community will pay the price and I guess humanity will pay the price. We are here to show solidarity that collectively together, we aim to stand up any time to Islamophobia or discrimination or extremism that affect the social fabric of what we hold dear to our hearts – that is our nation of Australia. Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much. Thank you Samier, to the Grand Mufti and to the members of the National Imams Council, it’s a great privilege to be here with you today and to be joined by the Foreign Minister and David Coleman the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural affairs. I want to thank you all for bringing everyone together to have the opportunity today, not only for me to come with my colleagues and express our profound and deepest condolences and sympathies for the horrific and tragic terrorist attack that took place in New Zealand - that not only impacted New Zealand but frankly has impacted all around the world and certainly has shuddered our own nation and all of our communities here. It’s important to be here standing with you, because as Prime Minister Ardern said yesterday, an attack against one, is an attack against all of us, from all communities who love peace, who love the freedoms that we have both here in Australia and New Zealand and the peace-loving peoples of the world. This is what is under attack.
We have spoken today about the real enemy being hatred and intolerance. This is the root of all extremism and terrorism. It's about fostering a hate and trying to foster a cycle of hate and we stand here together today to break that cycle as we always seek to do, to actually bring Australians together.
This horrific event took place and was targeted to one particular community, the Islamic community, in a mosque as they went to prayers in New Zealand. But in doing so, it was an attack on all peace-loving peoples, on all innocent peoples and that's why we can all stand together in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters who were the specific targets of this attack and to ensure that we speak out against it happening anywhere else and to any other Australian here or any other peace-loving person in the world today.
So I want to thank you very much for the opportunity to come and share the feedback and understand the feelings within the community today. I want to thank you for the response that you've made in bringing your own community together, providing support. I particularly want to thank the community here for the way they've actually reached out to the New Zealand Muslim community and I have had engagements today with the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Prime Minister about how the Muslim communities between the two countries are supporting each other to go through this very difficult time for them. The Muslim community in Australia is very well-established, very well organised, it has great support and social structures that reach out to its own community here, for which it should be commended, which as a Government and as a Minister I have a close knowledge and had a deep involvement with. That same experience is being offered in support of their brothers and sisters across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand.
I also wanted to say - and I would normally not want to give this any oxygen - but I want to absolutely and completely denounce the statements made by Senator Anning in all of the comments that he has made. His conflation of this horrendous terrorist attack with issues of immigration, in his attack on Islamic faith specifically, these comments are appalling and they're ugly and they have no place in Australia, in the Australian Parliament also. He should be, frankly, ashamed of himself. It's not something my Government associates with. It's not something the good faith people of Australia, of any faith or any background, would seek to associate with. So, I think I have made that pretty clear out where I stand on that.
I know that there have been discussions between Senator Cormann and Senator Wong today and the Government will lead, as part of a bipartisan motion, a motion of censure against Senator Anning when Parliament returns in a couple of weeks’ time. The Parliament I'm sure will express a very clear view about what he has had to say.
With that said, I'm happy to take questions. I’m not going to trouble our partners and colleagues to be here for the usual political questions that are sometimes asked, I want to thank them very much for hosting me today and pulling people together at such short notice and for the leadership that has been shown. We are standing together against hatred and against intolerance and extremism in all of its forms. I want to thank the community here for their ongoing support in all of these tasks, thank you.
The Ministers and I are happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is there any medical assistance to New Zealand?
PRIME MINISTER: We're responding to a series of requests. On that front there have not been significant requests made at this time. We're providing significant assistance when it comes to the police investigation, the technical aspects of that investigation. The international engagement element because this reaches well beyond the borders of both New Zealand and Australia and we're providing that support.
But I can tell you also, as I conveyed the offer of support today, the Muslim community here in Australia is offering support with counselling services and even the most practical issues around the burial of those who are deceased and I want to thank them for that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister do you think our gun laws must be reviewed and or tightened?
PRIME MINISTER: Our gun laws are always being reviewed, as you know our gun laws were significantly changed after the Port Arthur massacre. I had hoped and prayed we would never see a massacre in our part of the world, of that scale and order again. But sadly, we have and I think we must be clear that the context of the gun laws between New Zealand and Australia are very different. They're very different as a result of the massacre that occurred in Australia all those years ago. But I tell you, the events of the last 24 hours … it was over 20 years ago but it all comes back and we all know as Australians, how we just grieved so deeply during the Port Arthur massacre. So I can only imagine now how New Zealanders are feeling. I say to them again, kia kaha, stay strong.
JOURNALIST: So you will be reviewing the gun laws?
PRIME MINISTER: We're always doing that. We're always seeking to improve them. As you know, they're matters for states and territories, but I can say that Australia has, I would argue the most strengthened gun laws of anywhere in the world today. We are the standard by which other countries measure the strength of their gun laws. To John Howard, we will always be grateful for that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when was the latest conversation you have had about the terror threat level?
PRIME MINISTER: This morning.
JOURNALIST: What was discussed?
PRIME MINISTER: No change.
JOURNALIST: Is there an ongoing threat of terrorism in Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, there always has been. This is not new - as we discussed today in our meeting, these right-wing extremist views, these white supremacist, white separatist views, are not new. I mean, these sentiments have sadly existed in Australia for hundreds of years. So - hatred, bigotry, racism, these are things that we do stand against and we always seek to combat. We are a tolerant, multicultural society, the most successful immigrant country on the planet. We can, I think, take comfort in that fact today.
But that said, we will always seek to improve wherever we can. So these issues aren't new, these have always constituted a threat. There has always been and we have certainly invested in and ensured there's a capability to address that element of the terrorist threat in Australia. It hasn't had a lot of public commentary, either in the media or elsewhere but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It has been and it has been very important to us particularly in the last 24 hours, that we've been able to draw on the knowledge and the work done by our agencies in this area, that we can lend our expertise and advice about these matters as part of the investigation.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the Indonesian Prime Minister in relation to the attacks?
PRIME MINISTER: I have been in contact with the President of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister have you have any conversation with Fraser Anning and have you told him perhaps, to pull his finger out? Given he only had 19 votes, I mean, how can he be a representative and be allowed to keep on going like this?
PRIME MINISTER: As I said, the Senate will deal with that when they resume. That will be a bipartisan motion moved by the Government. I don't think Fraser Anning is in any doubt about what my views are of his despicable comments.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what did you say to President Widodo when you spoke to him?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the way we usually contact each other - he's in the middle of an election campaign over there – is we have a very good process of texting, as we’ve done many, many times together since we formed our relationship last year. It was effectively to express the same sentiments that I have here today. In particular in relation to Indonesians who have been caught up specifically in this terrorist attack and to offer our sympathies and condolences there. But also to make it very clear to all Indonesians that this attack on people of Islamic faith that has occurred at their most private and peaceful time of worship, is abhorrent to Australians and it is abhorrent to my Government and to ensure that is well understood throughout the region.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that this suspect wasn't on an Australian intelligence watch list?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the interesting thing about this individual is he was - as I'm advised - on nobody's radar anywhere, even when it comes, I'm advised, in relation to any offences that may have occurred. So, this is the real challenge when it comes to issues of terrorism, regardless of its origins; in this case extremist views based on white supremacist and separatist ideologies which are abhorrent and foster hate. This is what happens, so you know, that's why we need to continue to be vigilant in this area. But there are no guarantees and protections. Hatred and intolerance will seek to work its evil wherever it can.
JOURNALIST: The Australian National Imams Council this morning said that Senator Anning is inciting violence and hatred. Is there nothing more that you can do other than a censure motion when Senate resumes?
PRIME MINISTER: To the extent - if Senator Anning has committed offence under any law anywhere in this country, I would be expecting authorities to take whatever action they could in relation to that.
JOURNALIST: Will you be extraditing the perpetrator of these crimes back to Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: That’s very premature. There is a court process going on in New Zealand, as I said yesterday and it's very important that New Zealand - this has occurred on their sovereign territory - it has involved an Australian-born citizen and he is facing the New Zealand justice system. That's where that process begins.
JOURNALIST: What else can you tell us about your conversation with Jacinda Ardern?
PRIME MINISTER: Other than her appreciation for the great warmth and support that New Zealanders have felt from Australians - we're cousins, New Zealanders and Australians and they've really felt the outreach from Australia. The gesture yesterday of lowering the flag over Parliament House to half-mast, I sent Jacinda Ardern a picture of it and said: "We're with you.” She was greatly appreciative of that, as flags around the country today are at half-mast in solidarity and in sympathy and in condolence for the people of New Zealand. I understand - I was speaking to the Governor-General earlier today – and there's a New Zealand flag flying at half-mast at his residence as well. So they're very appreciative of the support.
This is a traumatic and tectonic event for New Zealand. This is, I think, what is so shocking; it's such a peaceful place. It's such a calm, peaceful place. I lived there for some years myself and for this to happen in that silence and peacefulness, is incredibly distressing. But its intent was to inspire more hatred and violence. Its intent was to try and provoke others to the same. Its intent was to provide some sort of sick leadership to others who share those views. What we say today is; “No.” No, peace and love will triumph.
Thank you very much.