Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

Transcript
26 May 2017
Prime Minister
Counter-Terrorism; Margaret Court; Federal Budget; Public Caning in Indonesia; Country Fire Authority; Standing desks
E&OE
Defence and National Security

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. It’s been an awful week - children targeted in terror attacks. A former security adviser to John Howard told me this week he believes schools in Australia could be a future target of supporters of Daesh. Do you agree that’s a danger?

PRIME MINISTER:

We should not underestimate the lengths to which these killers will go Neil.

They are utterly without any moral compass at all. These are the most cruel, the most cynical, the most cowardly killers. Despicable, reprehensible.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So what do we do about the schools?

PRIME MINISTER:

What we need to do is everywhere to be alert. We will not be cowed by terrorists and we have to be alert to risks at all times and be so in a very agile and dynamic manner.

I’ve just been speaking, literally seconds ago, to my Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Tony Sheehan. I was talking to the Federal Police Commissioner shortly before that. I was talking to the Premier in Victoria yesterday, Daniel Andrews, about protection for places of mass gathering - sporting events, concerts and so forth. So we need to be constantly on the balls of our feet, agile, responding dynamically to these threats as they resolve.

I can assure you this is the highest priority, keeping Australians safe and we have very good, very good, the best in the world I would say, police and intelligence services. Think about the 12 plots that have been thwarted, including one, as you remember very keenly, in Melbourne which would have involved exploding devices in and around Federation Square just before Christmas.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So is it time, do we need to step up security? Do we need to improve things? Do we need to change the way we do things? I know the sports authorities are talking about making it tougher to get in. Again, Peter Jennings said to me we need to make it as hard to get into a sporting event as it is to get onto an aircraft. I mean do we have to recognise that we’ve ratcheted up? 

PRIME MINISTER:

We are constantly improving and constantly ratcheting up.

You’ve got to remember, the shocking assault on teenagers in Manchester – look, it shocked everyone, it shocked everyone to the core. It was heartbreaking. But it did not surprise us.

We recognise the extents to which these criminals will go and we are constantly upgrading and refining our responses.

Now what this killer did in Manchester, of course, is he entered the crowd as it was leaving, apparently with a suitcase, a relatively sophisticated explosive device, so it appears. So what the British police are doing now, of course, is seeking to roll up that network. That’s why they’ve had to increase their terrorism alert, because from their point of view until they have rolled up that network they can’t be sure the attack is actually over.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So do we have to accept that our schools, our kids are potential targets?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have to recognise that the targets, that these people will stop at nothing. But equally Neil, we need to be committed and resolute in going about our lives.

We have very good police, intelligence, security services - the best in the world. We cannot guarantee that they will thwart every plot obviously. But they have been very successful and we have had since we increased the terror threat level to probable in 2014, we’ve had 63 arrests including one this week, as you know, in South Australia. 12 major plots have been thwarted. There have been four incidents of course, four attacks. But they’ve been very successful in thwarting these dozen attacks.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So the security level isn’t being changed yet? You mentioned those discussions you’ve had. Did you discuss whether the security level needs to be increased?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes we discuss that all the time. You see there is sometimes there’s a perception that an event occurs and that’s going to result in a reset. This is very dynamic. I mean, we have constantly reviewed and upgraded our legislation. We’ve expanded the ability of our troops in the Middle East to target terrorists regardless of what they’re doing so that they can be targeted and killed in the field even if they’re not in a combatant role, if they’re in a support role. It’s all consistent with international law, but we had to upgrade our laws. We’ve upgraded our domestic counter-terrorism laws too, to make Australians safer.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Have you revisited the possibility of a Minister for Homeland Security? I know it was mentioned some time ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s an issue that’s been discussed for some time and there are a number of reviews underway including a review of our intelligence services which I initiated which is a regular review and I’ll be considering that in the due course.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I was a little confused out of the Coroner’s finding into the Lindt Café siege. Do our authorities have approval to shoot to kill in a terrorist siege? Or do they need to seek approval at a higher level?

PRIME MINISTER:

The police have the ability to take such action as they need to, including to kill in order to protect a human life. That is a judgment that the police, the first responders indeed, are able to take. I think what is perhaps been confused here Neil is that there has been a longstanding practice or protocol with sieges which goes back many years of contain and negotiate.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

However, we are in a different environment now, where we have -

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well these people don’t want to take -

PRIME MINISTER:

Hostage takers basically want to die.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah they don’t want to negotiate.

PRIME MINISTER:

That’s correct.

So a different approach – this is the point the Coroner is making – a different approach needs to be considered.

All of these matters, I might say, are being considered now in a series of reviews including one relating to vehicle-borne attacks and places of mass gathering through the Australian-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee. Most of the policing in Australia, front-line policing, is obviously done by state police forces but at the federal level what we’re able to do through our counter-terrorism coordinator, through the AFP, through ASIO, is to ensure that we share experience, share knowledge and make sure that we have the same high standards everywhere.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So why were you talking to our Premier yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was talking to your Premier about precisely these issues - about protecting the places of mass gathering. Daniel Andrews and I have often talked about how we can ensure that we have more bollards, more protections so that we don’t have, so we can prevent, as far as we can, attacks like the tragic events in the Bourke Street Mall and also of course protecting sporting stadiums, you know, the MCG and so forth.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Your Minister Peter Dutton told our sister station 2GB that he thought foreign fighters, it would be better if they died rather than return to Australia. So Australians who are fighting for ISIS would be better off if they’re killed rather than come back to Australia. Do you agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

Certainly while they’re fighting in the Middle East, I can assure you they are being targeted by the Coalition forces. There is a very high attrition rate. There’s well over 60 or 70 have been killed in that theatre. We believe there’s around 100 there.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So we actively want to kill Australian citizens fighting there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our forces are actively seeking to destroy Daesh or ISIL and its members. If there are Australians who misguidedly are fighting with them, then they will be targeted as well. There’s no discrimination but if they are, our focus and that of our partners there, I can assure you Neil, is to destroy Daesh in the field.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

That means killing the terrorists, disabling them, disrupting them, until that so-called caliphate is brought down.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, a couple of other quick security issues. Britain has cut it’s sharing of intelligence with the United States after a leak of Manchester material. Israel has done the same. Do you trust the United States to take our material?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, we do. Look this was clearly a regrettable breach of security and you can see how disappointed President Trump was about it. So you know, regrettably these things do happen but it was as regretted by President Trump as it was by Prime Minister May.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Also reported today the United States fears a nuclear arms race in the Asia Pacific area over North Korea, specifically Japan and South Korea getting the bomb. Can you ever see a situation where Australia would become a nuclear power?

PRIME MINISTER:

You could certainly see that’s an area in the future in a, you know, in a sort of dire environment but I think realistically for the far foreseeable future, our commitment to non-proliferation is rock solid. But the fact is that we have the strong support, the rock solid support of the United States which is the premier power in the world, military power in the world, including the premier nuclear power in the world.

So that is the basis of our security but the concern about proliferation is a real one and that is why it is vitally important that the reckless and dangerous escalation by North Korea is brought to a stop and that requires China, as we’ve discussed before to take more responsibility because they have the greatest leverage.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Both the Herald Sun, on something else, Herald Sun and this program have been looking at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the number of pretty bad crooks. Decisions are being made by ministers or officials to throw them out of the country, deport them, they’ve been overturned and it is very difficult to see why. In fact, I think it’s at 39 per cent of the recommendations from government are rejected by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Has it become too political?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is a legal process and obviously when decisions are being overturned, governments regret having their decisions overturned through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or indeed through the courts but we have a legal process and it is entitled to take its course but plainly there are a number of those decisions that have left people scratching their heads.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Okay. It’s suggested today Indonesia is not a civilized country because two young gay men were publicly caned for being gay. Do you agree that’s a barbaric thing to do? 

PRIME MINISTER:

It is certainly a barbaric thing to do to be caning people because of their sexual orientation.

Can I say, however, Indonesia is a very big country, it is a very diverse country. It’s President, Joko Widodo, is a standard bearer for moderate Islam and he says that Indonesia is proof that democracy, Islam and moderation are compatible.

But it is a very big country and it is very diverse and there are different strands or lines of opinion if you like in politics in Indonesia as there are everywhere but of course there is a moderate Islam, a very moderate tradition which I would think is the prevailing one and certainly the one the President advocates.

NEIL MITCHELL:

This is a little related – Margaret Court – one of, well probably our greatest ever tennis player is opposing gay marriage and has said she would try not to fly Qantas because of it. That’s led to some people saying Margaret Court Arena should be renamed because of it. What do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Margaret Court, whatever people may think about Margaret Court’s views about gay marriage, and she’s entitled to have them and she’s entitled to fly on whatever airline she likes or not – but you know, she is one of the all-time greats and the Margaret Court Arena celebrates Margaret Court the tennis player.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I agree. So it shouldn’t be changed?

PRIME MINISTER:

That would certainly be my view. She is one of the great, one of the greatest greats of tennis and that’s why the arena is named after her.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Can I just get it clear – will you write the bank levy at the current rate as predicted into law?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. That’s the commitment – it will be in an Act of Parliament.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well you’re going to have a black hole according to the figures from the banks - $2 billion over the forward estimates. What are you going to do about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ve seen all of these estimates and as the Treasurer said the Australian Taxation Office determines how much tax is collected, not the taxpayer.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes, but you’ve estimated it at $1.6 billion in the first year and $6 billion over the four years. That’s going to be a lot less than that by the look of it. What do you do? You’re going to have a $2 billion black hole.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Treasury has set out its estimates in the budget. They’ve been calculated by the Treasury. It’s not something that Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann have done themselves. This has been carefully calculated by Treasury and the estimates are set out there in the budget papers.

NEIL MITCHELL:

But you will not increase the size of the levy?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, the commitment is the 0.6 per cent.

NEIL MITCHELL:

A private school’s representative body says today 40 per cent of private schools will be worse off under your plan. Does that mean parents pay more?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I think the point that they’re, actually that private, that independent schools group, peak body, is supporting our school’s policy. They’re supporting it and they’re saying that it is because it is transparent, it’s fair and it is needs-based. So they’re strongly supporting it and what it will do is going to result in substantial additional funding for all schools in Victoria.

I mean to give you, just to give you an idea across the, over the next ten years the total Commonwealth Government funding for schools in Victoria is going to be $61.5 billion. And that increase in funding over ten years will be on average 4.1 per cent across all systems. It will be 5.2 per cent for government schools. 3.3 per cent for Catholic schools, because they are already close to the 80 per cent figure. And 4.2 per cent for the independents.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Prime Minister, a number of alleged victims of a woman who was principal of Adass School, a Jewish school here in Melbourne – the woman has left the country, is in Israel - there is trouble getting her back, extraditing her. I don’t know if, one, are you aware of the case? But second, can we put any pressure on Israel to say come on we need to get this person back to face justice?

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly are making representations and as one of the people concerned to get her returned wrote to me and my chief of staff at the time wrote back and advised her that our Ambassador in Tel Aviv is going to be, continuing to raise the matter and indeed the Justice Minister Michael Keenan will be speaking to the Israeli Ambassador here in Australia shortly. So yes, the answer is we are doing our best.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The CFA deal here, anything you can do now? You’re now dealt out of it aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve just been speaking to Matt Guy about that. Obviously the state government, the Andrews Government is now trying to link a presumptive right to compensation for cancer which is supported, for cancer treatment – to the changes to the CFA.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

Which are part of their continuing campaign to do the bidding of the Fire Fighters Union. That’s been condemned by the state opposition and I think rightly so.

NEIL MITCHELL

But you’re out of it now aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. It is questionable. The legislation only came out yesterday. Speaking to Matt a moment ago, he said to me that it’s very questionable whether, even if the state government is able to get the legislation through the Parliament, whether it would have the effect that they’re trying to achieve.

But clearly, for reasons that I cannot possibly fathom Neil, Daniel Andrews wants to undermine the CFA. 60,000 volunteers, the pride of Victoria. The men and women who put themselves in the face of the inferno to protect Victorians and their properties. He’s seeking to undermine that at the behest of this militant union. It says a lot about the government.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time.

Do you ever work standing up?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am! I’m standing up right now actually, I have a standing desk.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Oh really? That’s a good idea. Well it’s being advocated that it should happen in schools – so do you work a lot standing up?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do, the answer is yes. I have a standing desk in Canberra as well. I wouldn’t go so far as some people say, you know, sitting is the new smoking. But I think the more you can stand while you work, the better. There’s no doubt about that, that’s a fact. I know some people have been advocating that, I think it was Jane Fleming was saying-

NEIL MITCHELL:

It was, yeah.

PRIME MINISTER:

That kids should take classes standing up. I’ll consult my daughter Daisy about that, I’m not sure whether the fidgeting factor would overcome the health benefits. 

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah, Jane wants it in legislation. I can’t see that happening.

(Laughter)

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, look I think we should let school teachers run their own classes don’t you?

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you so much for your time,

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks a lot.

[ENDS]