Photo: AAP Image/Ben Rushton
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks you for coming today. Yesterday a lone, violent, extremist Islamic terrorist, Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, sought to instil fear in our nation.
Like those who came before him, this terrorist failed, as will all others who share his twisted hatred of our nation.
He was met with unflinching resolve.
The bravery of Police.
The willingness of bystanders to stand up – and to tend to each other.
The professionalism of our emergency services – who didn’t just tend the victim, but even the terrorist as well. Reminding everyone what a decent, fair and humane people we are.
And the quiet efforts of thousands of Melbournians to assist authorities as events unfolded over the course of yesterday afternoon, and through the evening and throughout today. And for Melbournians who got about their lives today.
To all of these Australians I say thank you on behalf of our nation.
As a nation, we grieve today for a life tragically and violently taken.
A fellow Australian who was felled in our streets by another Australian who violated the trust and opportunity gifted to him by a generous nation.
We send our love and prayers to the family who has suffered a great loss, and to those who are recovering from their injuries and to all those who have suffered today and are experiencing anxiety as a result of these events.
You are strong and you are loved by your Australian family.
As always, we overcome these events because we are resolute. Because of what we believe. Because we are stronger together.
And we don’t know any differently.
Instead of fear, we draw strength from each other and the deep quiet bonds between all of us.
That said, I know Australians are seeking assurances today.
While there can never be guarantees against acts of this nature, be encouraged that since when the national threat level was first raised, back on the 12 September 2014, 90 people have been charged as a result of 40 counter-terrorism related operations around Australia;
There have been 14 successful major counter-terrorism disruption operations in response to potential attack planning in Australia;
We have passed 12 tranches of counter-terrorism legislation on a bipartisan basis through the Parliament; and we have also invested to support Australia’s efforts through our various law enforcement and intelligence agencies combating terrorism and working with partners abroad and here at home.
Know this Australians, that all your agencies, at all levels of Government continue everywhere, working together, well resourced, with clear leadership, 24/7 to do everything they can to keep you safe so you can get confidently about your daily lives. State, local, federal. In this country there is tremendous cooperation between all of these agencies and that has been on display, in particular, in less than the past 24 hours, as they have responded to these events and sought to provide that assurance of protection.
I particularly want to thank the Victorian Police for providing the assurances to Melbournians today and for moving quickly to restore access to the city to allow Melbournians to get about their lives.
Since early yesterday evening I have been in continuous contact, along with the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, with our police and intelligence agencies who have updated me on events as well as our preparedness for any other incidents.
The National Terrorism Threat Level remains at Probable.
All agencies of government are working closely together.
I have also spoken, on several occasions, with the Premier of Victoria and the Victorian Leader of the Opposition, given the election that is underway there.
I have also spoken with Mr Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, last night, he has been offered, by me, briefings from our agencies later today, according to the arrangements that suit the opposition.
Later today, I will also be travelling to Canberra, where I will be taking further briefings from Commissioner Colvin in Canberra. And from this point further briefings and response will be handled by the Minister for Home Affairs, along with those other agency leaders.
In closing I’ve got to address the real issue here, I’ve got to call it out - radical, violent, extremist Islam that opposes our very way of life.
I am the first to protect religious freedom in this country, but it also means I must be the first to call out religious extremism. Religious extremism takes many forms around the world, and no religion is immune from it. That is the lesson of history, and sadly modern history as well.
But here in Australia we would be kidding ourselves if we did not call out the fact that the greatest threat of religious extremism, in this country, is the radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam.
I applaud, and I know many of them personally, working in my own city here, as some of you may know, the brave and passionate Australians in the Muslim community who know that their children and their communities are at risk from these evil thieves who will come in and pray on their community, on their vulnerable people, on their children. Like all Australians they want the best for their kids and their communities.
I commend these Australians for the leadership and courage that I know they have had to show to protect their community and their fellow Australians, often at great risk to themselves, and their families.
But there is a special responsibility on religious leaders to protect their religious communities and to ensure that these dangerous teachings and ideologies do not take root here. They must be proactive, they must be alert and they must call this out, in their communities and more broadly for what it is.
And we must all work respectfully together, Government, community and religious leaders to ensure that we continue to prevail in the face of this evil.
As Australians today we feel sadness, but we also feel pride and great resolve this day.
Sadness for the life taken, and for those who have been injured – but proud of the response of our community of Australians, police and emergency services and those who came to assist and to comfort and resolve to stand against those who seek to divide us, who seek to come and subvert all the things we hold dear in in this country to the threat of radical, extremist Islam.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you have a strong message to those religious leaders. Will you be reaching out to them?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course.
JOURNALIST: In what way?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be meeting with them, I’ll be talking with them. I was talking with friends in the community today, in fact. I have a long established relationship, particularly with that community here in Sydney and this is something we have to work on together. And these are things that the Muslim community have raised with me over many years in different roles that I have had. You know, I have sat in the living room of a family whose four sons went and fought for ISIS, for Daesh. And they all died. I have seen the look of complete loss in the eyes of a mother and a father - the father has since passed away - who just were bewildered by what were these who came and corrupted their kids.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, last year the Government released a new strategy on protecting people in crowded places. Do you think that had any impact in this scenario and was there anything that could have been done to further mitigate the attack?
PRIME MINISTER: Well a lot has been done in this space as you know and that work was drawn together across agencies at a state and federal level. As you have already heard from the AFP and you’ve already heard from the agencies at a state level, all of these things are constantly reviewed in relation to these incidents and I think you can expect to see that happen. We have to be honest with ourselves here. We can take these precautions, and we do, and we do it here in Australia, I believe, better than anywhere else in the world. And one of the reasons we do do it so much better is the level of cooperation that exists between community, between state and federal government, local governments, and you’ve seen that on display over the last 24 hours and you will continue to see it on display. And so where there are things can be improved, of course they will. There were six attacks of this nature prior to this one. But there have been more that have been thwarted. And the ones that have been thwarted, it was the product of that resolve, the resourcing and the leadership and cooperation. And that’s what Australians can take some confidence out of today, despite the fact we have gone through this tragic and unforgivable incident.
JOURNALIST: You’ve only been in the job for a few months and you’re already talking about terror. Are you surprised by that or do you think, you know, as Australians terror is something that we need to become increasingly concerned about?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the threat level is listed as "probable" and that has been the case for some time. The advice from agencies is that is where it remains. This is something that is in the mind, I think, of every leader in the country, whether you’re a Premier or a Prime Minister. These are the responsibilities that fall to the job. What I have been incredibly impressed with has been the very prompt, the very efficient and very professional way in which the agencies have been able to determine so many things so quickly, to learn about this radical Islamic terrorist and be further pursuing their inquiries and I'm sure those investigations will reveal more in the days ahead.
JOURNALIST: Have you been in touch with the families of those affected or do you intend to?
PRIME MINISTER: Out of respect for those families, as you know, the names particularly of the deceased have not been released yet. So once I think we have got past those issues then I will looking forward to having such a conversation to extend my deepest sympathies.
JOURNALIST: PM, we know he was on a federal ASIO watch list but what about the state list, was he on the state list?
PRIME MINISTER: Well as the Victorian Premier said last night, he was known to both state and federal authorities.
JOURNALIST: Authorities can prepare for, you know, big events and bolster security in that respect but how do you think we prevent these lone wolf attacks?
PRIME MINISTER: That's a very good question. This is why I commend the bravery and the cooperation of members of the Muslim community and the relationships that we must continue to foster and bridge and build. Now, I have no issue with calling out what I have done today in relation to radical Islamic terrorism. But that is a call, I think, to all the community, both within the Muslim community and without to ensure we work together. Because it's the cooperation, it's the integration, that is so important, I think, to reduce the risk of these types of things and to increase the awareness of the likelihood of them happening with any particular individuals. There are a large number of people on watch lists. There is a large number of people who have been prevented from leaving the country as this individual was. And so it does require a constant vigilance but a community of co-operation both within particular religious communities where people I don’t believe want to see this corruption happening. I've had the discussions and I’ve seen the distress and I’ve seen the concern and how that does motivate people to be very proactive in working with all the authorities to deal with this problem. But there can never be any absolute guarantees.
JOURNALIST: What was your reaction… can we ask questions about other things now?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m going to deal with this matter today. This is the matter I’m focusing on today and I don't intend to raise other issues today.
JOURNALIST: I’ve got another question about that. Should the law be changed to boot out non-citizens on a terror watch list? We do it with bikies with links to organised crime, should we also expand the legislation to those involved in terrorist activities? What do you think about that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well we have a range of pieces of legislation before the Parliament, dealing with these things and we will continue to review all of those activities in relation to this event and how we think that applies to those issues going forward.
JOURNALIST: And how many are on the ASIO terror watch list, do you know?
PRIME MINISTER: I said last night, there are around 400.
JOURNALIST: Just lastly, what do you have to say to Australians who are frightened by this attack?
PRIME MINISTER: Get about your lives. Be Australians. We will never be intimidated by those who seek to take away the very thing we value more than anything, and that is to live our lives in the way we choose to. That's what they’re attacking. That's what they've fallen victim to, a dangerous ideology that says this is not how you live your life in harmony with one another, in freedom, in liberty, with expression, where all faiths are respected and can live together happily. A prosperous, optimistic community that has always looked out to the rest of the world and embraced it. That's who we are. Just keep being yourselves. Keep being Australians and be proud of who you are, because I know you are and that is what will ensure we will always defeat this insidious evil that comes at us every single time. Thank you very much.