Television interview with Tracy Grimshaw – A Current Affair, Nine Network

05 Oct 2017
Prime Minister
COAG meeting; Las Vegas shooting

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Today rare agreement from our state and federal leaders on new national surveillance and detention laws. I spoke with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a short time ago.

Prime Minister thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Great to be here.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Today’s agreement sets up a comprehensive database of virtually every adult Australian. How does that change the way we looked at Australians before?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it means that police can access that photo ID information, driver’s licenses, passports and so forth, access them in real time, immediately, in seconds, rather than having to wait, as is currently the case many days. So it’s really bringing access into information that is vital to keep Australians safe, vital to protect us against the threat of terrorism, bringing it into the 21st Century.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Civil libertarians are understandably not happy. You’d expect them not to be happy. Do civil liberties take a back seat to national security?

PRIME MINISTER: Well national security enables us to be free; it is security that keeps us free. The terrorists want to take away our freedom; they want to take away our freedom to live. They want to take away our freedom to go about our lives the way we always do, so security goes hand-in-hand with freedom.

The other point to remember is that the photo IDs we’re talking about are on documents that are designed to be shown to others. The reason you have a driver’s license is to show it; to the police, or wherever you want to establish your ID and so forth for passports.

So all this is doing is ensuring that we have 21st century technology enabling the police to do an even better job in keeping us safe from terrorism.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Prime Minister, if it is vitally important for national security to be able to pick out our faces from a crowd at a footy game or at an airport for example, instantaneously, en masse, then isn’t it time to start having a discussion about banning the burqa?

PRIME MINISTER: Well people have got to show their faces to establish their ID. So we’ve never dictated what people can wear, have to wear in Australia. But under our laws – and they’re the only laws that apply in Australia, we don’t care what other laws or practices people think are preferable, the only law that applies in Australia is Australian law – if you are required to show your identity, then off comes your head-covering, whatever it may be.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: But if you’re talking about being able to pick out persons of interest in a crowd, persons of interest who may be potential terrorists for example – and Islamic extremism has been a lightning rod for global terrorism – you can hide faces, you can hide genders, you can hide weapons under burqas, can’t you? I mean, isn’t that a legitimate conversation to have?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we don’t believe there is a need to make a change of the kind you’re proposing in terms security because when people have to show their identity, then, as I say, they have to uncover their face, and so we have that protection already. It’s very important to remember Tracy that this database that we are talking about is not capturing CCTV footage from football stadiums or concerts or anything like that.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Let's look at events in Las Vegas this week. There is not yet, at this stage, a clear idea of this man's motive –but lets look at their implications for Australia. Firstly, the person with, potentially, the most information about Stephen Paddock's motives is an Australian woman - his Australian girlfriend, if you like. Are our security and intelligence forces combing through her background her background, in Australia, and what we know of her, and have we been asked to do that by the Americans?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can't comment on the work our intelligence and security services are doing on any particular case, but we work hand-in-glove with our partners in the United States. The relationship is as close as it could be and you can be rest assured, and your viewers can be rest assured, that we will be providing every assistance the American police and FBI require, as they investigate this shocking, heart-breaking crime.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Are you worried about the copycat element of something like Las Vegas - the fact that so many people were so easily killed, massacred?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, yes, and this is why a bit over a year ago after the Nice truck attack - you remember when an Islamist terrorist drove a truck down a public street in Nice in France and killed many people -  I set in train the work to develop a national crowded places strategy; Protection of Crowded Places. That was published in August and provides a whole set of tools and resources to keep our crowded places safe, both where they are at the moment and in terms of designing new ones. So, we take very, very careful note of events like this, shocking events like this, and we learn from them.

Now, of course, the big difference between Australia and the United States is the collection of automatic and semiautomatic weapons that this killer had in his possession. Would not have been able to be bought in Australia.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Are we getting to the point where hotels need to scan luggage before people check in?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I am sure that this is one of the things that will be reflected on, Tracy. This is how we operate. We will be reflecting on all of the learnings from this, the whole hotel industry is going to have to.

I have seen reports that he took ten suitcases into his room had a 'do not disturb sign', on his room for days on end. You know, you have to ask the question - why that didn't trigger some enquiry or suspicion. So there’s a lot of questions, many more questions than there are answers, but they will emerge as the investigation goes on.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: It's the new world order, isn't it? Thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Tracy.

TRACY GRIMSHAW: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.