Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for coming together. I’m very pleased to be joined by the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. We will always as a Government do everything within our power to keep Australians safe and we will never rest when it comes to looking at things we can do to make Australians more safe than they are now. Making a number of announcements today that have been determined by the Government that we believe will further strengthen the Government’s position to do just that, to keep Australians safe. And particularly to keep Australians safe from the threat of terrorism.
Being an Australian citizen is a privilege. It is a privilege that carries with it expectations on those who hold it. People who commit acts of terrorism have rejected absolutely everything that this country stands for. They have rejected the beliefs of this country, the values of this country, they have disrespected every other citizen who shares that privilege of citizenship with them. The stripping of Australian citizenship from dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct is a key part of our response to international violent extremism and terrorism. Since the amendments to the citizenship loss provisions of 2015, dual nationals with Australian citizenship have been automatically ceasing if they engage in terrorism offshore.
I can confirm that these actions have been taken in relation to a number of individuals. But when the legislation was introduced by the Minister into Parliament, some of the passing threats to the security and safety of our community came from those engaged in terrorism and it is appropriate that we seek to modernise these provisions and take further steps where we believe they are necessary to firm up these powers to ensure the necessary deterrent response is an place. So there are a number of things we are proposing to do and we will seek to legislate these at the earliest possible opportunity.
First of all, we will seek to introduce legislation before the end of 2018 to enable the Minister to strip an Australian citizen of their citizenship, or anyone who is convicted of a terrorism offence in Australia. There will be no condition on the length of sentence, they would only need to have been convicted of a terrorist offence. It currently requires that there be a sentence of imprisonment of six years. We will be removing that requirement. It will only be if they are convicted of a terrorist offence. We believe the current wording of the law is unrealistic and it needs to reflect what is the genuine threat that has been posed by those engaged in this activity.
Secondly, the standard by which the Minister will be determining issues of dual citizenship will be changed, to ensure that the Minister will only need to be reasonably satisfied that a person would otherwise have another citizenship, which is a change from the standard that exists today. We will be reviewing all the onshore and offshore cases in relation to these matters.
The third action we are going to be taking is to deal with the threat posed by those Australians who have travelled into the conflict zone, returned foreign fighters. This was a matter that was discussed during the recent East Asia Summit and has been a constant topic in our dealings and working with other countries in this area. It remains a threat to the region and of course to Australia. We are determined to deal with those individuals who have done this as far away from our shores as is possible.
So we will be introducing a scheme based on the scheme that exists in the United Kingdom for Temporary Exclusion Orders. Those Exclusion Orders would enable the Minister to impose a condition on the control, return and re-entry into our community of Australians who have been in conflict zones like Syria. It will enable the Minister for Home Affairs to impose an Order for up to two years on Australian citizens of counterterrorism interests who are located offshore. It would be a criminal offence for them to return to Australia, unless a permit of this nature is provided - that is the Temporary Exclusion Order. Once the person is back in Australia it would impose controls on them to mitigate the risk to the community, such as reporting to police, curfews, restrictions on technology used and the like. Failure to comply with the terms of that Temporary Exclusion Order, would be also an offence and subject to penalties for that citizens.
These actions we are taking are designed to ensure that we have the powers that are necessary, in the toolkit, to ensure Australians are kept safe. But also, it's to protect the integrity of Australian citizenship. Terrorists, terrorists have violated everything about being what an Australian is all about. It's a crime against our country, not just against other citizens. This is something that can't be tolerated and permitted, and for those who would engage in this sort of activity, if they have citizenship elsewhere and we have reason to believe they do, well they can go. That is our clear message.
I will pass over to Peter to talk about the operational elements of this. I also want to stress in relation to the matter that he raised during the course of this week on the Government’s Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Assistance and Access Bill which deals with the authority to deal with encrypted communications. Now this is a Bill that is before the Parliament that I want to see passed in the next fortnight. We know from the matters that are currently under investigation, the ability for our authorities to have these powers, to engage and intercepting these communications is incredibly important. Now it is with the Committee currently, and I would urge the Committee to complete their review as quickly as possible. Our police, our agencies need these powers now and I would like to see them passed. In fact, I would insist on seeing them passed before the end of the next sitting fortnight. Peter.
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS, THE HON PETER DUTTON MP: PM, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, all of us of course were shocked by the graphic scenes in Bourke Street in Melbourne. As we know, three men are alleged to have been involved in planning for a terrorist event, they have been arrested in Melbourne in the last 24 hours or so as well. Their intent was to, we allege, obtain a semi-automatic weapon. Now we haven't seen an incident like that in our country. Man Monis was a terrible event but we haven't seen the sort of incidents that we’ve seen in Paris and elsewhere in our country and we never do. And this Government has been able to work very well to support the agencies. I have praised the ASIO officers, the AFP and state officers for the work they do every day to keep us safe.
But this threat is very real. We know that we have now been able to thwart 15 attempted terrorist attacks, seven have got through tragically and we have had significant numbers of arrests since 2014 when the threat level was elevated. We are finding that many of the individuals of concern are people who have at some point, had Australian citizenship conferred on them, or they have been born here as second or third generation members of families that have migrated earlier. And so we are dealing about the issue of Australian citizenship and how we treat those people, as the Prime Minister points out, who have betrayed their country. Who have surrendered what it means to be an Australian citizen through their actions, seeking to blow up or to cause harm to other Australians is unacceptable of course.
So what we have been able to do through the legislation so far, and I can update the figures today, is to increase the number of cancellations from six to nine. So nine people now who have had their Australian citizenship through their own actions, revoked, and this is an important step we make today. We have legislation that needs to be approved, and the areas that the Prime Minister has pointed out will go to improving legislation.
So again, we call on the Committee to deal with that, to examine what the Government will be putting forward very shortly, and it is important that we get these matters, these amendments, these improvements to legislation through the House as quickly as possible. Because we want our authorities who are dealing with 400 high priority cases now to have every tool available to them. The temporary exclusion order as it operates in the United Kingdom is an important power. When you have Australian citizens, as I say, whether it is third or second generation, or by conferral going overseas to fight and then seeking to come back, we need to have a better structure about that arrangement. People need to know if they are coming back into our country, and they breach the orders put in place, then they faced a serious penalty when they get back here. It is unlawful under the legislation as it operates in the UK for those people to come back in an unmanaged way, without it being agreed between the Government and the individual in certain conditions.
So that’s where it’s at. Just to finish very quickly, the encryption bill is certainly a high priority for the Government as the as the Prime Minister says. I have written to the chair of the committee and I would call on all members of the committee to do whatever they can to deal with this matter in an expeditious way. Because we do want to arm the police with the ability to look at these encrypted messages. At the moment many of these people are using encrypted messaging apps and police are dark to those messages and the exchange of that planning. That is unacceptable in the current threat environment.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can you just confirm, is this just the dual citizens? What about those extremists who have been charged with terrorism offences that are born in Australia, what will you do with them?
PRIME MINISTER: Well if they are born in Australia, that doesn’t mean that they are not dual citizens as we have learnt. There are many Australian citizens who were born in Australia who can have citizenship by descent and under other circumstances and where the Minister is reasonably satisfied that it would be the case that they would be dual citizens for the purposes of taking the actions that would be available to the Minister under these provisions, which means that there would be stripped of their Australian citizenship.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what process will the Minister have to undertake to strip citizenship?
PRIME MINISTER: He would have to undertake the test of reasonableness and there will be the normal natural justice processes that would apply to their circumstances. But what’s important here, is that the test is one that where it was in the Minister's belief, for example, that where somebody was born in a country where being born in a country automatically confers a right of citizenship, that would be sufficient. That would be sufficient, or there is a clear citizenship right by descent and the law is clear about that, well that would be sufficient. There will be no need to go around looking for paperwork. This would enable the Minister to act.
Now there are safety provisions that already exist within the legislation that enable any such matters to be addressed. In many cases here, we’re talking about people that would be convicted of offences and they would be residing in jail at that time and that will provide an opportunity for us to address matters there. But that said, we believe it’s necessary to ensure that these powers can be applied in a broad array of circumstances and paperwork can’t be an excuse for that, somebody being subject to these issues.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Bill Shorten and when will you be introducing these [inaudible]?
PRIME MINISTER: The Minister will be undertaking briefings with the Opposition in the normal way. I anticipate he’ll introduce particularly matters that relate to the dual citizenship cancellation and this new test as soon as possible, so that will be in the next sitting fortnight. The Temporary Exclusion Order may take a little longer but if they can be expedited sooner or on a better basis, then we will move on it.
JOURNALIST: You’ll also be meeting with Muslim leaders today, will you be explaining this to them and what do you expect their response to be?
PRIME MINISTER: Those meetings are private. I’m not intending to go into the details of those discussions.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you on an important issue of the day. In relation to the Kogarah sexual assault of a seven year old girl, New South Wales Police have today admitted that they should have informed the state parole board here that he had breached that parole. As a father yourself, how does it feel to you that this man was on the streets?
PRIME MINISTER: It’s abhorrent. I am appalled and I am sure that those, whether it’s in the New South Wales Police or elsewhere, they would be equally appalled. I know they will be doing everything they can to remedy the situation, as I’m sure the Premier is. It’s matter of state jurisdiction as I’m sure you appreciate, so I don't intend to have much more to say than that. But as a dad, how would you expect me to feel? Just like any other dad, I'm just appalled.
JOURNALIST: On the topic of terrorism, on what grounds would you actually seek to deport an Australian with alleged extremist links?
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: In terms of the conviction aspect, at the moment there is a requirement for somebody to have been convicted to six years imprisonment or more. We propose to reduce down to on conviction of a terrorist related offence. So that is the change in the threshold if you like, that would bring more people into scope, including people who have been charged now, including that some prospectively that may be charged as well. I think frankly that reflects what most Australians would believe; that if you’re convicted in our courts of a terrorist-related offence, you can expect to leave our country.
PRIME MINISTER: We’ll just stick to national security for the moment. Happy to come to other matters.
JOURNALIST: How many of the current, existing deportation laws, do they pose a risk as it stands now?
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well, we have had a look at a number of cases, frankly, which we think should come within scope and don't, under the existing legislation. The existing legislation obviously was crafted by the Joint Committee and the Government implemented the recommendations of the joint committee. We have had a look at the way that has worked in the last couple of years and there are some people that I think pose a serious threat to the security of this country, who shouldn’t be here. Who, if we possibly can, we should deport them. Our country and Australians would be safer if we did that. So that’s the motivation here. We need to keep Australians as safe as possible. We have all the requisite protections in place, but the reality is that the law needs to be updated. Our Government now has introduced 12 tranches of updates to our national security legislation. Similarly with the encryption Bill, ASIO and the AFP are telling us that that is a very important measure to get through the Parliament. That’s why we need the Joint Committee to deal with it very quickly.
Instead of opposing it, Mr Shorten should support it and hopefully we’ll get it through the Parliament as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: In regards to the encryption bill, the intel committee passed recommendations that are being put forward [inaudible], by moving this so quickly and truncating the hearings are you jeopardising the possibility to in fact improve the Bill?
MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: No we’re not and again, there has been a period of time where committee meetings have taken place, witnesses have given evidence, including the Director General of ASIO and the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. As I say, the evidence there is overwhelming that we need this change. We cannot have paedophiles or terrorists using encrypted messaging apps. In the case of paedophiles, directing sex scenes that are being streamed into their bedrooms and providing that instruction through an encrypted messaging app. That’s not the purpose of encryption. Encryption has an important place in our society and the privacy requirements are always important, always will be important. But we are in a situation where we have terrorists who are using encrypted messaging apps to plan attacks and ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have no sight of that. It’s unacceptable, particularly given the current risk environment.
PRIME MINISTER: Now, I have to have an engagement with the President of India, so I’m happy to address any other issues.
JOURNALIST: Just really quickly, Bill Shorten is offering to sit down with you and talk about the National Energy Guarantee. This is your policy, you applauded it, it passed the Coalition Party Room, is it now the case the Morrison Government is standing in the way of bipartisan energy policy?
PRIME MINISTER: Let me make a couple of comments on what Bill Shorten has announced. This is a throwback; a throwback to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd failures of their time in government. Let’s remind ourselves of what he’s announced today; a 45 per cent emissions reduction target, and a 50 per cent RET, which on the current work is five times worse than the carbon tax that was put in by the Labor government when they were last in place.
Secondly, the ramping up of expensive subsidies, paid for by higher taxes. Another example of what was done under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. And can everyone remember the last time the Labor Party, when they were in government, tried to put something in your house, the insulation bats? What we have got here, is we have gone from “pink batts” to “pink batteries”. They never learn from their mistakes, the Labor Party. What we have here is a repeat of the same failed approach to policy that we saw from the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor government five or six years ago. They have not learned from their mistakes.
Frankly at the end of the day, I don't know how out of touch Bill Shorten can be, but if he thinks a family here in Sydney with two people learning about $90,000 a year can somehow have a lazy $10,000 laying around to go and buy one of his pink batteries, and somehow they will be able to afford to do that when they’re actually keeping the pressure on to just pay for the electricity bills as they are, I can’t understand how he thinks he’s in touch with the real cost pressures facing Australian families.
This is just a reheat, a throwback, to the same failed approach that we saw from the Labor Party last time they were in government. They have learnt nothing. They have learnt absolutely nothing. And if you couldn't trust them to put pink batts in your own roof without setting it on fire, I wouldn’t be trusting Bill Shorten to put a big battery in your house either.
Thanks very much.