Remarks at Special Counter-Terrorism Meeting of the Council of Australian Governments

05 Oct 2017
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister
Defence and National Security

PRIME MINISTER: Welcome to this Special COAG Meeting on Counter-Terrorism.

We acknowledge we are here in Canberra on the land of the Ngunnawal people and honour their elders past, present and emerging.

We’re gathered here together with a common purpose and a recognition that we have no higher obligation, no higher responsibility, than to keep our people safe and to keep Australians safe.

We know we have the finest police, intelligence and security agencies in the world and they do an outstanding job disrupting one terrorist plot after another.

Most recently of course, as Premier Berejiklian knows very well, the plot to blow up an aeroplane, which plot occurred of course as you know in Sydney. That was disrupted and contained by the Joint Counter-Terrorism team in New South Wales just as another plot, which would have involved mass destruction in Melbourne, was disrupted just before Christmas last year.

We need to ensure that we give our police, intelligence and security agencies the tools they need to keep us safe.

We’re all agreed that there’s no place for set and forget in national security.

We want to make sure we’re always improving the laws that they have, the tools they have to keep us safe.

So we’re considering today some very important issues. We have agreement on them.

Most importantly, one of the most important issues of course is to bring the use of biometric data into the 21st century.

Police have been using for many years photo I.D.’s on licences and on passports to enable identities to be verified but it has been operating and – I think, as you know – in a rather clunky, old-fashioned manual way.

By agreeing to bring this together into the one database, into a means of operating together in real-time, it will enable our police, our security services to give an even better level of protection by being able to identify persons of concern, people who are suspected of terrorist offences or terrorist plots in real-time. It is a very important 21st century tool. 

We have the finest minds. What we need to do is give those finest minds the technology of the 21st century.

Equally, it is important that we have a consistent arrangement for questioning, detaining and questioning people suspected of terrorist offences prior to being charged.

As you know, we have presented a proposal to reform or to change the Commonwealth law in that regard to enable the period of detention and questioning to be up to 14 days.

We believe that – which mirrors what has already been legislated in New South Wales – will give our police the time to do their work, to gather the evidence, to examine electronic records, to gather evidence from overseas, to do the elaborate forensic work that Michael Keenan and I were looking at the AFP's Majura Facility yesterday. They need that time to do that in order to complete their investigations.

And the laws that we have at the moment, in fact, as Gladys knows, enabled New South Wales and the AFP to complete that successful disruption and containment of the plot in Sydney just a few months ago.

So we have a lot to do today. I want to thank you all for being here.

I want to thank you for the consistent commitment to keeping Australians safe. Amidst all of our other responsibilities, we have no higher responsibility than that.

And we are here assembled, the leaders of Australia's governments, with a common determination to ensure that our laws are up to date, that our police and security agencies have the resources they need to defend our values and keep our people safe in the face of those who seek to do us harm.