Joint Press Conference

Transcript
25 Jul 2016
Sydney
Prime Minister, Attorney-General
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m here with the Attorney General to talk about important legislative measures to keep Australia safe in the face of increased terrorist activity around the world. Before I move to that I want to note that over the weekend I conveyed our deepest sympathies and strongest solidarity to the Charge D'affaires in the Embassy of Afghanistan here in Australia in the wake of the killing in Kabul, the most severe terrorist action in that city since 2001. As you know 80 people were killed, more than 230 others injured in a suicide bombing on a peaceful demonstration in that city. ISIL has claimed responsibility for it.

ISIL continues to inspire and direct atrocities across the world even as our military efforts in the Middle East push back their territorial gains and cut off their source of revenue. I should also note that over the weekend I similarly conveyed our sympathies and solidarity to the Deputy of the German Embassy here in Australia.

The attack in Munich was not - it appears - a terrorist event although the assault on a train in Wurzburg shortly beforehand clearly was. The German people are in mourning and are deeply shocked as we all are by these attacks coming as they did hard on the heels of the terrorist assault in Nice where so many people were killed.

There has been an increase in the frequency and the severity of terrorist attacks globally and particularly in Western nations such as ours. Over the past year around 750 people have been killed in about 40 attacks either in the West or against Western interests. As I noted a moment ago we saw yesterday the worst terrorist attack in Kabul since 2001.

Our Border Protection, intelligence and security apparatus are among the best in the world. Since August 2014 the Government has undertaken a comprehensive reform of Australia's national security laws, taking five tranches of legislation through the Parliament, implementing the recommendations of different reviews and proactively learning from an ever-evolving security environment to ensure that our law enforcement and security agencies have the tools they need to keep Australians safe.
But in the wake of Orlando, Nice and other terrorist incidents as well as our own experience of 16 counter-terrorism operations since September 2014, resulting in the charging of 44 persons, we cannot afford for a moment to be complacent.

The Attorney and I are therefore updating you today on two important measures to further strengthen our counter-terrorism laws and meet the challenges of this evolving threat environment.

Over the weekend, I wrote to and spoke with state and territory premiers and chief ministers to thank them for their ongoing cooperation and I have asked the Attorney-General to convene a meeting of his counterparts, state and territory attorney-generals, as soon as practicable to ensure that post-sentence preventative detention legislation can be introduced quickly.

This system will enable a continuing period of imprisonment for high risk terrorist offenders. It will be supervised by the courts similarly to the arrangements that apply in a number of our jurisdictions for sex offenders and extremely violent individuals.

I raised this matter with the states last year and at our meeting in April there was agreement to continue working on it and we are now in a position to have the new arrangements legislated across all jurisdictions as quickly as we can. The Attorney and I are happy to take questions on details of that in a moment.
Secondly, I can announce my Government has accepted all the recommendations of the review of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill which we introduced into the Senate in November. We will introduce the revised Bill at the earliest opportunity. Again, the Attorney will go into some more detail about that legislation.

These two decisive steps are necessary to strengthen and update our counter-terrorism laws. They are also proportionate. They balance the need to keep the community safe with our commitment to privacy and the rights of the individual. They follow a direction I gave last week to the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Greg Moriarty for advice on the implications of the lone attacker terrorists such as those we saw recently, particularly in Nice earlier this month.

Together the measures that we are announcing today are designed to deter terrorism, prevent it, ensure that the nation and our people are kept safe and to provide reassurance that Australians can and should continue going about their daily lives and enjoying their freedom in the usual way because they should understand and recognise that the Australian Government and its agencies are doing everything possible to keep them safe.

We have the best counter-terrorism, the best security agencies in the world. They are committed professionally 24/7 to keep us safe. The Attorney-General and I and all of our colleagues are committed to ensuring that they at all times have the tools they need, the legal tools they need, to keep us safe to do their job to ensure that Australians, so far as we can ensure, are kept safe from terrorism.

The threat is real however. We must recognise that. That the threat level is stated as ‘probable.’ There is a real threat of terrorist incidents here in Australia but we do everything we can to ensure Australians are kept safe. We have in addition to the professionalism of our agencies, we of course have secure borders. That is a very significant advantage that we have over other countries. We have strong gun control laws. Again a significant advantage over other countries.

But we can never ever be complacent and we are not. We are focused constantly on the single most important obligation of our Government, indeed of any government, which is to preserve and protect the safety of the people.

Attorney-General.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Thank you very much indeed Prime Minister. Let me expand a little on the detail of the two legislative measures which the Prime Minister has referred to.

First of all the scheme for a post-sentence preventative detention regime. As you would be aware most of the states and territories have post-sentence preventative detention schemes of one kind or another, in most cases they are sex offenders who are incapable of rehabilitation and pose a very serious risk to the community to re-offend were they to be released.

Two of the states, New South Wales and South Australia also have in place post-sentence preventive detention regimes in relation to violent offenders but there has not, up until this time, been a post-sentence preventive detention regime in relation to terrorism offences.  Of course as you know, not all terrorism offences defined by Commonwealth law necessarily directly involve violence. For example terrorism financing involves conduct which is not directly violent conduct.

COAG decided in April of this year to give in-principle approval to the development of a nationally consistent post-sentence preventive detention scheme which the Commonwealth has been leading and we have produced and will be sharing with the states and territories model legislation for a post-sentence preventive detention regime to be developed in collaboration with them. As the Prime Minister has indicated I will be meeting with my state and territory counterparts in the coming days to further discuss and refine that model.

Let me mention a number of features of it. First of all, it will of course only apply to individuals who as they approach the end of a sentence of imprisonment, continue to pose an unacceptably high risk to the community because of the failure to - their failure to be rehabilitated as a result of a penal sentence.

This will be a court supervised process. It will be a process informed by medical and psychological assessment and details about for example, patterns of behaviour while in custody, participation or willingness to participate in rehabilitation programs while in custody.

In the event that a court-supervised process makes an order extending a period of detention, there will be periodic review of that and the offender can seek leave to apply to the court during the currency of any period of extended detention for review of that determination. There will be annual reporting to Parliament on the number of orders granted and we propose a statutory review of the
efficacy and need for the scheme after a period of years.

Those are the broad outlines that have been developed in the Commonwealth's model and in discussions at an official’s level with the states and territories which I look forward to discussing with my counterpart attorneys in coming days.

The second item of legislation to which the Prime Minister referred was the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill. This is the Bill that was introduced by me in November of 2015. It was referred for inquiry and report by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security which in February came back with a series of recommendations, some 21 in all, most important of which was the Bill subject to certain amendments being passed.

The legislation reflects, among other things, findings of the COAG Review of Counter-Terrorism Legislation. I have during the life of the last Parliament, I wrote to my state and territory counterparts outlining the proposals in the Bill. Upon the dissolution of the Parliament, the Senate had not had the chance to pass the Bill so we will be re-introducing it, it will now be known as the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill No.1 2016.

Let me outline briefly its main features. Probably it’s most important new feature is the introduction of – the extension of the control order regime to juveniles to the age of 14. At the moment, the lowest age at which control orders are available against a person of concern is the age of 16 but as we saw tragically, for example, in the shooting at the Parramatta Police Station last year, 16 is too low a threshold. The age of criminal responsibility, as you know, is below the age of 16 in all states and therefore we've decided to introduce a special regime of juvenile control orders for people between the ages of 14 to 17. There will be special controls reflecting the fact that juveniles are in a different position from adult offenders, although they may potentially be just as dangerous. There will also be other refinements to the general control order regime which reflect the recommendations of the COAG Review of Counter-Terrorism Legislation. As well, we will be introducing a new offence of advocacy of genocide. The definition of genocide being taken from the genocide convention. When we introduced the Foreign Fighters Legislation at the end of 2014, we created a new offence of advocacy of terrorism. The new offence of advocacy of genocide will be analogous to the existing offence of advocacy of terrorism.

As I said before, I look forward to meeting my state and territory counterparts in the coming days to refine the post-sentence detention regime legislation which the Government, the Prime Minister has indicated, will be making a priority in the early days of the new Parliament, as we will also be prioritising the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill No.1.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do any of your state and territory interlocutors indicate any concerns with the post sentencing detention regime that you’ve proposed? If not, when do you expect the laws will actually be in effect?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, let me deal with the first point, there’s very strong support among premiers and chief ministers for this. And I'll leave chief ministers and premiers to speak for themselves but I'd say there is overwhelming - very strong support and a desire that we share too, to get on with it. George, do you want to talk about timetable?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well, this has been - yes, Prime Minister, this has been, as you know, a collaborative process through COAG. In terms of the development of the proposal, it was first put to COAG by the Prime Minister in December of last year. It was agreed to in principle in April of this year. As I indicated, I'll be meeting with the attorneys to refine the model of the legislation in coming days. That date has not been finalised but it will be very soon and we expect to be moving on this in the early days of the new parliament.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Brandis, are you looking at anyone in particular for this legislation - perhaps someone whose sentence is about to expire?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

No and that's always the wrong approach - you can’t take an ad hominem approach to this but there is a group of persons who are currently in custody who were given reasonably lengthy sentences of detention for serious terrorist crime. The first of those, by the way, doesn't expire until November 2019, so it's not as if there is a group that is about to be released, but nevertheless, we need to have this in place well in advance. The answer to your question is no - we don't do this by reference to particular individuals - we do it by reference to an identified need.

JOURNALIST:

How confident are you that this would survive a High Court challenge?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

We are reasonably confident. We are reasonably confident. We have taken advice, of course. The analogous legislation dealing with sex offenders was the subject of a High Court challenge in a case called Fardon's Case and its validity was upheld.

JOURNALIST:

On that point – sorry to interrupt - you have made the comparison with sex offenders and violent offenders but the police haven't been given billions of dollars in additional funding to manage sex offenders in the community, they haven't been given control orders to manage sex offenders in the community, they haven't been given lower thresholds of arrest, they can't take away the citizenship of sex offenders. All of these options exist in relation to jihadists. Aren't there sufficient measures already in place to manage these guys in the community?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is strong support - as I said, overwhelming support from the other jurisdictions for this proposal that I raised last year. The threat of terrorism is evolving, as I said. It is moving rapidly, it changes form and shape and nature. And what we need to ensure, is that we have all of the tools that we can provide, our legal system, our security agencies, our police service, our intelligence services, to deal with it and this is a very important tool. It will - the fact, the existence of post-sentence preventative detention as a measure will serve as a very real incentive for those imprisoned for terrorist offences to reform. It will provide a very real incentive for people in prison for terrorist offences not to engage in continued extremist activity. There is no one single solution to terrorism. We are dealing with a problem that is as variable, as diverse, as multifaceted, as any you can imagine. What Australians need to know - and George Brandis the Attorney-General and I are here to assure – is that we are as agile as our opponents. We are determined to ensure that as they develop new ways of threatening us, we are able to respond quickly and effectively, so what we're announcing today are new tools, new measures that will enable us better to keep Australians safe. There are no guarantees, we understand that and that's why the threat warning is where it is, but nonetheless, Australians must understand that we, their Government, our primary duty, our first obligation is to keep the people of Australia safe. And we will always be investigating and if we believe they're effective, implementing new measures to enable our professional security services, the best in the world, to have the ability to keep Australians safe.

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Can I add to that Paul this observation, I think it's very appropriate that when we are developing the sort of measures, when we're asking ourselves the question how can we best defend ourselves from this threat, that we do learn from other areas of the criminal law, like for example the penological treatment of violent offenders and sex offenders, but of course the peculiarity of terrorism, which makes terrorist crime unique, is that it is not just an attack on individuals, it's an attack on the body politic itself. That's why - and it's useful to remember, I had some words to say about this yesterday - that terrorism is defined in a particular way by our law. It is harm or the threat of harm to advance a political, religious or ideological cause in order to either coerce a Government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public. And because terrorism is essentially a political crime, there are peculiarities of it which means that some techniques that are not suitable to the generality of criminal law, are particularly suitable to deal with terrorism.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Brandis there's a matter in NSW at the moment involving Ahmed Elomar, the brother of Mohamed Elomar. The NSW Government wants to keep him behind bars but at his parole hearing Justice Graham Barr he said he may be surrounded by inmates who themselves have radical beliefs and therefore he thinks it is in the public's interest for him to be released. Is there a danger that by extending detention we could amplify the problem by exposing people to such radical beliefs?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well first of all it is invidious to comment on individual cases and I will refrain from doing that. But secondly of course the issue of radicalisation while in imprisonment is an important issue and that is a matter which the states and territories which manage prisons have in hand. But as the Prime Minister said before, one of the virtues of the post-sentence detention regime that we are proposing is that it provides a very powerful incentive to people who may be in prison, not to participate in further radicalisation or not to renew their malevolent intents, but rather gives them an incentive to be genuinely rehabilitated because they face the risk that if they continue to demonstrate these attitudes, these intentions, that they may very well find themselves the subject of an application for preventative post-sentence detention.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any plans to increase the budget of our intelligence agencies in the wake of recent global events and what makes you say that they are best in the world?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can assure you our intelligence services are part of the Five Eyes that George as the Attorney-General deals with his counterparts across the world. I can tell you our intelligence services are held in the highest regard around the world and I just offer you that assessment. They have the highest repute, they really do. We should be very proud of them and, yes, we have substantial provision, financial provision for them - that is in Budget. Obviously we review every year the needs of our intelligence services very carefully and make sure they have the resources that they need. George, did you want to add to that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well I can assure you that that is true.

JOURNALIST:

How do you measure that?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

From my own conversations with my counterpart Ministers and in the Five Eyes community in particular, not just the repute of our intelligence services by the way, but some of the law reforms which we have pioneered in Australia. Last December as it happens I had a meeting with the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister Theresa May, and she was very interested in some of the law reform we had undertaken in Australia. I know that her own thinking when she was Home Secretary earlier in the year was guided by some of the law reform we undertook in Australia so certainly among the Five Eyes partners and among other partner nations as well, the way we handle this problem in Australia, while always respecting our liberal democratic values at the same time and keeping the balance right between security and freedom, is greatly admired.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister on MH370, Labor is calling on the Government to…

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just - while I don't want to cut you off - have we exhausted questions on the subject of the press conference? And then we can come back to you?

JOURNALIST:

Not quite. You referred a moment ago to Nice and to and to Munich which certainly might not be a terror attack but well, you referred to the growing tempo and nature of the attacks. What credence do you give to this theory that as Islamic State is put under pressure in Iraq and Syria that it will attack, or is attacking subjects in the West – does that put us in Australia at greater risk in the months and years ahead?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m aware of that theory Paul. I think it is nonetheless, it is vitally important that we defeat Islamic State or ISIL, Daesh, in the field. I gave a speech some time ago about this point to the Sydney Institute I recall. Daesh was able to create the impression that it was invincible and they create, because of their rapid territorial gains, they created the impression and they claimed that like the armies of Mohammed they would sweep across Europe and they said they were going to stable their horses in the Vatican. You remember that. They used that success on the ground in Syria and Iraq very powerfully as a recruiting tool, as a propaganda tool. Now it was nonsense in any relevant sense other than as a propaganda tool but it has been vital to turn the tide against them in the field. And as they are coming under greater pressure, as they are losing control of cities, towns and territory, they are being recognised as a failing organisation and so they are - their recruiting power, their propaganda is much less compelling than it was. We have to keep up that fight, but they will seek other avenues to intimidate and terrorise so we have to be constantly vigilant against that.

What we saw in Nice, there were two elements, at least two elements there of considerable significance to us. This is why I've asked Greg Moriarty to advise us on the implications of these lone actor attacks. The first thing is the phenomenon of somebody who is not on the counter-terrorism radar at all, who is not known to the authorities and in fact there is no reason for him to be known to the authorities, rapidly becoming radicalised, identifying with an Islamist objective and the objective of Daesh or ISIL and then carrying out an attack. We've seen this with a number of these actors. Sometimes there have been actors involved in some of the other coordinated and planned attacks who rapidly radicalised as well. So again how we react to that and how we prevent that is very important. The key thing of course is really strong human intelligence. The deeper and more committed our engagement is with the community, particularly with the Muslim community, the safer we are because - and it is vital that people who feel they have a - it might be their son, a nephew, it might be the son of a friend - if they feel that they are heading down that track to make sure they let our police, our security services know. Forewarning is critically important. That's why maintaining a strong and confident relationship with the community is critical. The other significant factor, and of course there are others but I'll just deal with two very plainly obvious ones, is the use of a vehicle, a readily obtainable vehicle. Now you can't realistically stop people getting access to motor cars or trucks. So we do have to reflect on how we can harden public spaces where large numbers of people congregate so that access by a vehicle like that is not possible. This killer in Nice as you know, drove for 2km down the Promenade des Anglais murdering people indiscriminately as he went. That is an attack vector, it has been used before of course, but it comes into very sharp relief.

So as I said earlier, the nature of terrorism is global. Everything is global in the 21st-century in reality because of the speed of communications. But it's global, it's evolving quickly and it's important that we continue to learn from incidents everywhere because our enemies are learning from them as well. So that's why we are constantly focused on improving our responses, whether it's tactical responses at a policing level, the work of the intelligence services and the security services, whether it's at the legislative level giving our police and security services the tools they need. But the phenomenon of the rapidly radicalised lone actor is one that we have to be very alert to, very, very alert to indeed. A key part of that is obviously excellent intelligence. Just one more and then we might go to MH370.

JOURNALIST:

Senator can I ask you how long do you foresee this preventable measure and how long might you keep someone behind bars? And how confident are you that there are the appropriate checks and balances in place?

ATTORNEY GENERAL:

Well the model we are proposing does contain checks and balances, in particular judicial oversight and peer periodic review. As to the period, the maximum period for which a sentence of detention could be extended is a matter that I'll discuss with my state and territory counterparts to seek their guidance but one is talking about a period of potentially some years. The phrase indefinite detention has been used frequently, including by me. But perhaps it's best to think about this as extended detention so that a period of detention per sentence may be extended for a defined period and then on the application of the Attorney-General. And then when that period is expiring obviously the case would be reviewed. And if there is cause to seek a further extension of that period then that decision would be made at that time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

On MH370 Labor is calling on the Government is to talk about the reports the pilot deliberately brought down the plane that have come out by the FBI. Why won't the Government share all the information it has on the missing plane?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm aware, as is the Government, of the reports about the FBI investigation into the MH370 captain's home simulator. These reports are not new and they have been reported previously in the media as you know. I'm unable to comment on them other than to say that it's a matter for the Malaysian investigators when they're considering their final report into this tragedy. I just note that even if the simulator information does show that it is possible or very likely that the captain planned this shocking event, it does not tell us the location of the aircraft. I want to say that everyone involved in this unprecedented search for MH370 earnestly, passionately wants to find the aircraft. I want to commend and thank all of those - all of the organisations, all of the individuals and the countries - Malaysia and China - who have collaborated in this search. As you know the search area is 120,000 square kilometres, less than 10,000 square kilometres remains to be searched and it's been agreed between ourselves, the Malaysians and China that the search will be suspended upon completion of that 120,000 square kilometre search area. It is and has been a shocking tragedy and, again, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were lost. It is the location of this aircraft I hope will be found, I hope will be found, but at this point it is an unknown. It has an element of mystery but, above all, a deep sense of tragedy and loss and our hearts go out to the family and friends of those who died on-board that plane.

Thank you all very much.

[Ends]