Doorstop with Minister for Justice and Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police

Media release
04 Oct 2017
Majura, ACT
Prime Minister, Minister for Justice, Australian Federal Police Commissioner
AFP forensics; Counter-terrorism COAG meeting; Terrorism laws;
E&OE
Defence and National Security

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. We’re here with the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan and the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin.

You’ve seen some of the amazing advances in technology here at Majura. And I’m so proud that my government has provided a record level of funding to support the forensics work here by the Australian Federal Police.

We have provided $321 million in the budget as you know. It is vitally important.

This is a battle that we wage to keep Australians safe every day. We need to have the sharpest minds and they are here, I can assure you, but also the latest technologies and the best tools to keep Australians safe.

We have seen today how important the work of this forensics laboratory has been in so many critical investigations. Obviously, in the Operation Silves case which was the plot to, as you know, take a bomb on to an aeroplane in Sydney that was recently disrupted but also the big organised crime investigations involving money laundering, drug smuggling, tobacco smuggling from the Middle East.

You have seen the outstanding work that's been done by the Australian Federal Police collaborating with their state and territory counterparts and, of course, also their international partners but at the heart of all of this is science and the work that's done in these forensics laboratories.

The work here is a very important part of why we need the reforms to pre-charge detention that we are taking to the COAG meeting tomorrow.

Michael will say a few words after me but I might ask you, Andrew, to talk a little bit as well about the significance of having that additional time to detain somebody, a suspect, before they are charged.

What happened with Operation Silves as you know, was that intelligence was received of a plot. That was the information received but then the police had to go to work, they had to do the work and meticulously find every single piece of evidence. Extraordinary detailed chemical, forensic analysis, all of which takes time.

Unless you have that time to do it, in real time, you run the risk that evidence will be lost, you run the risk the people who you have detained will be let free and then be in a position to compromise the investigation, destroy other evidence and so forth.

The police were working here in Majura and they were also working in the field and, of course, the investigation team were working on that crime scene, working together in real time, piecing together all of that evidence in real time, building it up, building the case, not only to secure a brief of evidence against the accused, the people that have now been accused, but also to find out more about the methodology of the terrorists which, of course, has been of enormous benefit to our partners around the world.

We are dealing with a global threat and our response has to be global and everything we do here, every piece of evidence we discover, every tactic or technique we uncover of the terrorists is of enormous assistance to our partners around the world.

No place for set-and-forget when it comes to national security.

Everything we do, every hour of every day is focused on keeping Australians safe. That's my job. That’s Michael's job. That’s Andrew's job. That is the whole of the government's job, to keep Australians safe. It is our relentless focus.

Defending Australia, keeping Australians safe, so we can go about our Australian way of life free from the fear of terrorism and violence.

I will ask Michael to say a few words, then Andrew.

THE HON. MICHAEL KEENAN MP, MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

Thanks PM, Commissioner.

It’s good to be back here at the Majura facility that we had the opportunity to open a little over a year ago and to get a sense about the important work that's being done here, particularly the briefing we just had about the Operation Silves and about the way forensics was absolutely integral to the way police investigated what would have been a horrendous atrocity should it have gone ahead in July. 7,200 man hours were spent here at the forensics laboratory on that investigation alone.

We have also been updated about how forensics was vitally important on Operation Astatine and Veyder which was the two enormous organised crime jobs that we did which had simultaneous raids in Sydney, Dubai and Amsterdam.

The facility here represents the future of the Australian Federal Police. It is about having high-tech capability. Capability that is not available to any other police force in the country.

It is also about the global nature of the operations. They are fighting international networks when they are fighting crime networks, when they are fighting for Australia's national security against big global terrorist organisations and the future of the AFP is in a high-tech, highly capable organisation with significant global linkages.

We are supporting that vision through our investment, $321 million in this year's budget, which provides 300 extra specialised officers for the Australian Federal Police which helps with up-skilling, helps them get specialised skills and capability that they need to police against the modern threats the Australian community faces.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you Michael. Andrew, do you want to enlarge a bit about the importance of the time the pre-charge detention laws currently provide and how more time will enable us to be even more effective?

ANDREW COLVIN APM OAM, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER:

Certainly PM. Morning everybody. Welcome back to the AFP Majura facility. It is great to have the Prime Minister and the Minister back here again to visit and see some of the great work that we are incredibly proud of that gets done here.

Of course, we know that the operating environment for the police, particularly the AFP is changing incredibly. It is borderless. It is global. And it is also very complex. When you add into that particular dynamics that we have around counter-terrorism where we don't have the normal luxury to watch, to wait, to collect evidence before we act, we have to act to disrupt. That puts police in a difficult position. It puts police in a position where we need more time to gather the evidence that we need to put people before the Courts.

Operation Silves is the most recent example of that. Probably the starkest example of where we have needed to act very quickly to disrupt an operation where our knowledge at the start of the investigation was very limited. We were putting together pieces of a puzzle that we didn't know what the final picture needed to look like. Over the course of those next six, seven days as we forensically went through and searched a range of premises, as investigators interviewed suspects, as our tactical teams as you see behind me did what they needed to do to support our investigators, we started to put the pieces of the puzzle together. That takes time.

Of course, tomorrow at the special COAG the Prime Minister has convened with all government around the country we will be talking about the need for us to stay contemporary with our legislation, the need for us to make sure that we are keeping up with that environment and part of that is the ability for police to be able to detain suspects with the right safeguards in place, with the right scrutiny of our operations in place for a longer period of time than we would normally be accustomed to and that's because the environment demands that we have that time to put together the evidence that we need to properly disrupt criminal enterprises - in this case terrorism enterprises.

The best disruption will always be to put people before the courts and make sure that they face the justice system as we understand it in this country. That requires us to think about this differently and in this case, it requires us to have extended pre-charge detention powers.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner, is two weeks enough?

AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER:

That's a good question. Obviously, like-minded countries around the world have got slightly different arrangements in place that I think fit their environment. We're comfortable, actually we're very comfortable, that our analysis of the situation in Australia is that two weeks is an appropriate amount of time with the right safeguards, with the right scrutiny in place for police to be able to hold somebody to make sure that we can do all of the enquiries we need to properly disrupt.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, the Commissioner spoke about safeguards and George Brandis has previously expressed some concerns. What are the safeguards you are promising tomorrow?

PRIME MINISTER:

The safeguards are of course that the period of detention has to be approved by a judicial officer, by a magistrate, so that is the, that provides the oversight of the courts. That will be continued under the proposed extension to 14 days, which would make it consistent with what New South Wales has already legislated for.

You can imagine the speed at which the technology in this building operates and the professionalism that is deployed with dozens of officers simultaneously working on the crime scene and on the forensic product that's recovered from it. But nonetheless, everything is not available at the moment of first entry. So having that additional time is vitally important. Andrew put his finger on a key difference with these terrorism investigations. There is always going to be the pressure to disrupt obviously, for fear of a plot being carried out. So as he said, with terrorism cases, the police will go in sooner than they might, say, with respect to a financial crime or a plan to undertake a robbery.

JOURNALIST:

How important is the drivers’ licence database to facial recognition technology and do you expect the states to come on board?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah I do, the answer is I do expect them to. It’s vitally important. Again Andrew can add to this, if you wish, Andrew. But all of these databases are used already, you know. Drivers' licences are accessible now and are accessed. What we need to do is to make them immediately available, combine them with other biometric data like passport photographs for example, that the Commonwealth has, so that we're in a position to identify people in real time.

I mean, imagine the power of being able to identify, to be looking out for and identify a person suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, walking into an airport, walking into a sporting stadium. You know, this is a fundamentally vital piece of technology that takes it up to an additional level of protection, as we are committed, as I've said, to keep Australians safe. We will use every technology and every technique that is available to do that.

JOURNALIST:

You’ve also mentioned it could be used in shopping malls as well. Can you just explain to us how you envisage that working and what, I suppose, particular cities and malls are envisaged there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there is obviously a lot of CCTV, live surveillance cameras. Many of them have, whether it's in homes or in shopping centres or airports or stadiums, but the ability to be able to identify - in real time, or indeed in terms of a past date - whether a particular person has been in there or not, to be able to track them, is vitally important. Look at all of these, every major incident that we see, terrorist incident, involves the use of CCTV data.

So, having a national database so that can all be integrated and accessed in real time is I think, a logical next step. I mean, this is information that is already being accessed. What we're talking about is doing it more efficiently. Do you want to add to that, Andrew?

AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER:

Yes, I can. PM, as you say, this is about bringing automation to something that we already do. It’s automation that we need to keep up with the contemporary environment that we've seen. We've just taken the Prime Minister and the Minister in very brief terms through the idea of identity theft which is a very real phenomena in the community. The ability for somebody to assume an identity, the ability for someone it take on an alias, create documentation, is real. So this really is about how can we get identity verification as quickly as we possible can. The technology is available, we already have access to the information available, it's about bringing the technology and the information together.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner what does that mean for the data? Could other agencies have access to it, if it's also useful to them? Will it be shared?

AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER:

Well at the moment there is a variety of regimes that operate around the country. As I said, we already have access to it and other agencies have access to it as well. There’s thresholds and it needs to be for a lawful purpose and nothing in this system is going to change the lawful purpose for which an agency has access to it.  It will put thresholds in place around what that lawful access should be, but again this is about bringing automation to something we are already doing.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister does that mean that Australians just have to get used to the fact that enormous amounts of data are being kept on us?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't know if you've checked your Facebook page lately, but people put an enormous amount of their own data up in the public domain already, I mean there has never been more data on citizens than there is today. The vast bulk of it is actually in the private sector and most of it, if you think about the amount of personal data, photographs and so forth, that are held on Facebook accounts, I think around three-quarters of Australians have Facebook accounts, so there is a lot of data out there.

What we're talking about is taking drivers' licences and other photo IDs that are in the government domain and as Andrew said, being able to access them swiftly and using automation to do so, rather than being a clunky manual system.

JOURNALIST:

But that’s people making a choice to put something up, this is quite different information being collected on them they don’t know about? In your view, does that mean safety trumps privacy?  

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you have a driver's licence?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me tell you, if the police need to access that photo on your driver's license, they can do so now. So I think we’re all aware –

JOURNALIST:

But I’m not posting my shopping centre walks online necessarily.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no.

JOURNALIST:

Are you saying that safety trumps privacy in these matters?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, safety and privacy go hand in hand. I’ll ask Michael to add to this, but we have very, very rigorous privacy protections in terms of the use of government data and government-held biometric data. Do you want to add to that, Michael?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

The premise of what you're saying is wrong. We are not collecting more data. Not one extra piece of extra data is being collected under this. What we are doing, is allowing the police to access the data they currently access, in a 21st Century way, rather than a 1950s way that currently exists.

So there’s no extra database, no extra collection of data, all it is, is about access to existing databases; passports, Department of Immigration, and drivers licenses if we can -

JOURNALIST:

So you’re not requiring the states to provide that, you’ve got access to it now?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

That is what we’re asking for tomorrow and that is what we expect the states will grant us.

JOURNALIST:

So it is extra data then. That you’re –

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

No it's not, it’s an existing database.

JOURNALIST:

That you’ll have access to?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

It’s what other agencies could access and do access. It just takes them about seven days to ten days to do now. We’ll be able to do it now instantaneously. It’s not an extra database and not extra collection of data.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of protections are there to stop against hacking. You know, you've got this database, obviously it will be open to hackers.

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

Well, the Prime Minister addressed this in his interview this morning. All data that exists online, there is a possibility that it could be hacked. But the point is, we have a comprehensive National Cyber Security Strategy to make sure that information that the Commonwealth holds, information that’s held in in other databases by other governments, is held in a safe way.

JOURNALIST:

Can I get you on the instructional material as well please? Earlier intervention, how important is that when people are just accessing and just looking at how to make a bomb - how to do this, how to do that - without the planning phase. How important is that for authorities?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

It’s very important because it gives our police one more part of their arsenal to be able to go after people who plan to do the wrong thing. Now, if you have bomb-making instructions on your phone for example and you intend to use those, then clearly that is an offence that we need to give our police the ability to prosecute.

JOURNALIST:

On the automatic facial recognition technology, could someone be falsely identified and detained through those circumstances, should that be rolled out?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

I think that’s highly unlikely, but you could make the same inference for any way one can be identified but identifying people biometrically, is far more accurate than existing system.

JOURNALIST:

How long will it take for this system to be rolled out?

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE:

We would want to have it operational by next year, certainly in some states.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]