Radio interview with Sabra Lane – ABC AM

Transcript
04 Oct 2017
Prime Minister
COAG meeting; Gun Laws; Same-sex Marriage
E&OE

SABRA LANE:

The federal government wants to introduce a new Commonwealth law to hold in question terrorism suspects for up to 14 days before they’re charged. Such a move was previously thought constitutionally difficult but it part of a renewed push towards nationally consistent pre-charge detention laws.

The Prime Minister will discuss the details with state and territory leaders at a special national security meeting tomorrow.

Malcolm Turnbull joins us this morning to discuss the issue. Prime Minister good morning and welcome to the program.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Sabra.

SABRA LANE:

Now the Commonwealth wanted the states to introduce pre-charge detention laws back in 2015. The Commonwealth didn't replicate them at the time because the Attorney-General said that it would breach the Constitution as a form of executive detention. But you're revisiting this idea now. How have you managed to get around the Constitutional impediment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well, thank you. Well, we've obviously had a lot of experience of our existing laws, the way they operate at the moment, and they've been operating very well with a magistrate being able to extend the period of pre-charge detention.

So the aim is to agree with the states and, obviously, this has got to be worked through legally and they have to get their own legal advice, but the aim is to have consistent pre-charge detention laws that would enable somebody who has been charged to be detained and questioned for up to 14 days with, of course, all of the appropriate oversight.

I mean this is absolutely consistent with ensuring that there is appropriate judicial oversight.

SABRA LANE:

Sure. But how have you - George Brandis back in 2015 said there were Constitutional issues for the Commonwealth replicating this. How have you managed to get around that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the basis of ensuring it is Constitutionally defensible is obviously bound up with experience, with further advice and also by having a judicial officer, a magistrate, extending the period of detention, which is how it operates at the moment.

SABRA LANE:

What evidence is there that 14 days is the right balance between community safety and personal liberties?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's based on experience, Sabra. I mean there is no place for set-and-forget with national security.

And we learn from every incident, from every experience, from incidents overseas indeed, but the laws that we have provided, my government has provided, to the Federal Police, enable them to complete that very successful disruption and investigation of the plot to blow up an airliner in Sydney. Operation Silves.

So, you know, we work very closely, naturally, seamlessly, with the Federal Police, with ASIO, with our legal advisers, with our state counterparts, to ensure that we're always fine-tuning and improving our national security laws.

Our primary, overwhelming responsibility is to keep Australians safe. We are relentless in that and we will always continue to improve and enhance the tools our agencies have to keep us safe.

SABRA LANE:

You're also seeking for the states and territories to hand over pictures of all licensed drivers to allow the expansion of a facial recognition system. Will the states agree to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe they will, yes.

We already have, with licence photographs, driver's licence photographs are already used to identify people. We obviously, at the federal level, we obviously have passport photographs. About half of the population have got a photograph in a federal government system of one kind or another.

We believe if we bring together driver's licences, then we can start to build up a national system that will enable us then more quickly to identify people, particularly to be able to identify people that are suspected of, or involved in terrorist activities. 

This is all again, it is simply a question of using technology, being proactive, not being complacent, relentless in my determination to keep Australians safe.

SABRA LANE:

So this will be used in technology, surveillance technology at airports?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

SABRA LANE:

Will it be used as malls and places like that?

PRIME MINISTER:

It absolutely could be. We are determined to keep Australians safe, Sabra. And we must use every technology we can to do that.

SABRA LANE:

When this idea was first raised two years ago, tech experts had some concerns about this, particularly safeguards, saying if the system is hacked how will you protect this biometric data given that, once it's hacked, you compromise someone’s, an individual's information for life?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, clearly, you have to make sure that all of your big databases are protected against hacking, but you know, if the risk of-

SABRA LANE:

There's no 100 per cent guarantee for that.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the alternative is to not use data at all, Sabra. So you can't allow the risk of hacking to prevent you from doing everything you can to keep Australians safe.

So the focus, obviously, is to constantly improve our cyber-security. I've made it a big priority of my government.

We have a cyber-security strategy that is actually under way, that is internationally respected and being emulated.

But at the same time, we need to be able to keep Australians safe and I want all of your listeners to know that we are relentless, tireless in ensuring that our agencies have the tools to keep them safe.

SABRA LANE:

You also want to make it an offence to possess instructional terrorist material.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

SABRA LANE:

Why aren't existing laws sufficient?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, they just aren't. You also need very clear, clear laws. It's important to make sure that you give the police a very clear offence so that there's no ambiguity or grey area.

SABRA LANE:

Is this designed to target people who have manuals but not yet the equipment or the know how?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, correct. Well, for example, I'll give you a very practical example - the people that were arrested in respect of the Operation Silves matter - this was the plot to blow up the airliner and build a chemical dispersal bomb - they were receiving instructions directly from the Middle East.

Now, if people nowadays in the age of encrypted messaging applications and the age of the internet, somebody can be sent from the other side of the world or download from the internet an instruction manual to build a bomb.

There's no legitimate purpose or justification for having information like that and that should be an offence.

I don't think there'll be any dispute about that at COAG or any dispute - I mean if you go up and ask somebody in the street do you think it should be lawful to carry around instructions to build bombs and, you know, chemical disposal devices and techniques for blowing up aeroplanes? I don't think anyone would agree that there is. So, we will make it clearly unlawful and that is another tool we give our agencies to keep us safe.

SABRA LANE:

The U.K. overnight has outlined similar laws with plans for people who repeatedly view terrorist material online to face jail terms of up to 15 years. Is that the kind of thing you've got in mind here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what we're looking at here is instructional material. Obviously, we review legal developments in other jurisdictions, particularly the U.K. where we have a strong and close security relationship, but the objective for tomorrow's meeting relates to instructional material and also creating another offence, a new offence of terrorist hoaxes.

Now, there are hoax offences, you know, when people make a hoax about a bomb and so forth, but to have, again, you give the police a very clear offence - this is what the police asked for. They said just give us a very, very clearly defined offence and that enables them to use that to, you know, enforce and charge people.

SABRA LANE:

It's reported in The Australian this morning that AFP officers have helped disrupt over half a dozen terrorist plots in the region, including Indonesia. What are you able to tell us about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not an enormous amount, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:

No?

PRIME MINISTER:

I'll tell you as much as I can. Terrorists do not respect borders. It is a global threat, in the age of the internet and air travel, people can move ideas around instantaneously and people move around very quickly too. So we need to be globally connected with allies and partners around the world. We help them. They help us.

Sharing intelligence is a key priority. It was a key priority I raised at the G20. It's the key priority I've raised at East Asia summits in the past and we work very closely, particularly in our region.

I mean, if you look at what's happening in the southern Philippines - we're helping the Philippines Government there. We don't want the southern Philippines or the city of Marawi to become South-East Asia's Raqqa, you know? To become a base for ISIL in the region.

SABRA LANE:

Have we helped disrupt operations that have targeted Australians abroad for example?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Australians who are fighting with ISIL in the Middle East are targeted, yes, absolutely. They are targeted because they're fighting with ISIL in the Middle East, but because they're terrorists. They're not targeted because they're Australians.

We target terrorists absolutely and I would just note that one of the legal changes my government has made is to give our Defence Force the power to target and kill terrorists even in the Middle East, even if they're not actively in a combat role.

So I broadened the scope for our Defence Force to be able to target and kill these terrorists in this battle that's going on in the Middle East.

SABRA LANE:

You noted yesterday that Australia's gun laws post Port Arthur has served us very well. In the wake of what has happened in the United States, is there a need to review those laws?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the laws are very tight. They're among the strictest in the world. They're obviously - again, there's no place for set and forget in any area of national security, but the laws are already very strict.

The position in the United States is obviously, the politics of that, I think, is almost beyond comprehension to Australians, that people could be and a society that, in many ways, is so like our own, so familiar, that somebody could legally buy all of these military-grade weapons and, you know, thousands of rounds of ammunition. It seems inconceivable.

Anyway, as we know - you've covered it many times, Sabra - it is a politically intractable problem in America.

SABRA LANE:

It is. The Bureau of Statistics revealed yesterday that 57.5 per cent of eligible voters have returned their forms back in the same-sex marriage survey.

PRIME MINISTER:

A great outcome.

SABRA LANE:

What does that tell you?

PRIME MINISTER:

What that tells you is that Australians wanted to have their say. After all of the criticism from the Labor Party and all of Labor's attempts to block Australians having their say, playing politics with this issue, we managed to provide a means for Australians to have their say through the postal survey.

And already, as of last week, just under 60 per cent have participated. That's a very high participation rate but it will obviously get higher. There's four weeks and more to go.

So I think it is a ringing endorsement of the government's decision to give every Australian their say on this issue.

SABRA LANE:

Prime Minister, we're out of time. Thank you for joining the program this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you so much.

[ENDS]