Subjects: Defence Call out
ROBBIE BUCK: Well you see images of events in the US and you see the US military out on the street - and that's not so surprising - but here in Australia we haven't had a history of that and that may be about to change. There are new laws that are being unveiled today by the Attorney-General Christian Porter, which will make it easier to have the military on our streets and how do you feel about this? It comes as a response to the recommendations from the inquest to that terrible event, the Lindt siege several years ago. One of the crucial issues was at which point the police would enter the café to put the situation under control which was the subject of our Four Corners program just last month.
REPORTER: During the course of the siege the trigger was fixed at a much higher level, police would only go in when a hostage was killed or seriously injured.
WENDY HARMER: I was just going to say the interesting thing here, Deborah Snow, who's written a book about the siege and will be on later in the program, she said that the army's Afghanistan experience dealing with attackers armed with bombs wasn't deemed to be relevant in this situation -where clearly it was.
ROBBIE BUCK: Well there was a lot of criticism levelled at the police response of course afterwards.
Well, the law's come from the Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter and he joins us in our Canberra studio to talk through this issue. Good morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah, good morning to you both.
ROBBIE BUCK: Okay, tell us what the new laws are going to entail?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well as you noted in that sort of intro the present threshold for the deployment of any kind of ADF asset in a domestic situation is very high and effectively the threshold is the determination has to be made by the state police, that they're completely overwhelmed, that they're unable to cope with the situation. And what we've determined is after the Lindt siege and going through this in a very cautious and cooperative way with the states and territories, that actually represents fundamentally the wrong question. The question is - given all of the circumstances of the violence of the terrorism incident and what we know about particular ADF resources, is there something an asset or a skill or some personnel that can be deployed to assist that can actually help save Australia lives? So this changes that threshold question. I mean it will still be a very, very rare event but the threshold that existed up until this point has been so incredibly high that you would never really get a call out even if the call out could help.
WENDY HARMER: Well, I guess we have to ask ourselves here though are we going to be seeing the military out on the streets? I mean we put the mechanism in place there and with due respect, Attorney-General, if someone deems that the military could be more useful in saying controlling just a demonstration in the street, we've got that mechanism there haven't we?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that the sort of scenarios that you're talking about are incredibly unlikely. And what this is really about, I'd say there are three types of scenarios where you could see this happen. One is a prolonged siege type situation as you had in the Lindt Cafe. The second is if you had multiple geographically spread but coordinated incidence of terrorist violence as we've seen in Paris and London, there's a potentiality there. The third type of scenario I think is where there is a specific type of threat or attack that uses biological or chemical weapons where the ADF are without question the most skilled authority to deal with that situation and have the greatest specialists. But the idea that just any kind of general disturbance would warrant this type of power is just practically speaking a near to impossibility.
ROBBIE BUCK: Can we go back to that threshold question though? I know that this is in response to a joint- the joint government recommendation, the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government of course. But I'm still intrigued as to where that trigger point is if you like, when the state police are going to go, alright, we're happy to hand it over to the army at this stage. Where is that moment?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it's not a handover, with respect it's not a handover, sorry.
ROBBIE BUCK: Okay.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The ADF assets would be deployed and would be under the essential structure of instructions from the state authority. So they would for instance not act in so far as reasonably as practical without the specific staged instructions of the central command which would be the state police in most of these incidents.
ROBBIE BUCK: But doesn't that raise an issue that the state police will always, I mean if we go back to the Lindt siege, the state police had the option to bring in the army there if they had of wanted.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They didn't. They didn't, because it's not about wanting them. It's not about considering that there would be an asset which could help you protect lives. The threshold question that they were operating under in the Lindt siege was whether or not the New South Wales police were unable or highly unlikely to be able to deal with the situation. So the threshold question that they had to ask and answer before they would even contemplate making a request is were they completely overwhelmed? Now that is a very distinct question from the question as to whether or not a specific asset could come in on a cooperative and assisted basis and help them in their response. And so it's the latter standard that we're moving to and that would make it more likely, it would still be a very rare event, but why would you have a situation persist where a particular skill or asset, and it might even be an air asset in a pursuit, could be deployed that could help save lives but is not because the present threshold requires the state police to be completely overwhelmed which is a very high standard which is rarely ever reach and in fact it's never been reached.
ROBBIE BUCK: But the power will remain with the state police will it?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's correct. So this is done, if it's a purely state incident the request would come in. There are authorising ministers starting with the Prime Minister at a Commonwealth level and the authorisation would be for the ADF asset or personnel to come in under the essential instruction of the state command authority that was in place.
WENDY HARMER: And let's talk about the sort of resources we're talking about here. Are we talking about foot soldiers on the street, fully armed, tanks, what is the possibility? You mentioned aircraft there.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Wendy, I mean that's kind of almost a tabloid type of description of the situation. Like, what we're talking about is very specialist skills and assets that exist in the ADF. So for instance in the first of those three examples I gave - in a very drawn out siege situation it's conceivable that some of the very expert abilities that exist in the Commando Regiment on the East Coast or the SAS on the West Coast with improvised explosive devices and long drawn out sieges might be of some assistance. In a situation where there was a chemical or a biological attack, the ADF is the specialist skill centre in Australia for those types of response. So the idea of just people randomly patrolling the streets is not at all what we're talking about here
WENDY HARMER: No, okay.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Christian Porter is with us this morning, the Federal Attorney-General and we are talking about these new laws which are being unveiled today.
WENDY HARMER: And I guess we do want that reassurance there. I guess that's what everyone is thinking. Say if the police were to say we are overwhelmed by a riot which is of a political nature, perhaps, would there be a situation there were the Defence Force could be called in?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I can't think of any situation that has ever existed in Australia's entire constitutional history where the state police would consider themselves of being overwhelmed by a civil or political riot. I mean it just doesn't happen.
ROBBIE BUCK: I mean are there checks and balances though within this legislation to make sure that it's not abused in that way? If they do have the capacity to have those assets there and they think well why not, let's bring them out.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So, well first of all, the request would have to come up from the relevant state authority. They would have to have assessed the situation. They'd have to be able to demonstrate to us as the Commonwealth that the particular nature of the threat, of violence or the terrorist attack that's ongoing could be assisted in a material way by a particular asset or skill that exists inside the ADF. Then there would have to be authorisation either by the Prime Minister or if he were absent from the country, myself and the Defence Minister which would go to the Governor-General. So it is a very layered and structured process. And you might accept that the states of course are necessarily very protective of their jurisdiction and we've done this over a very considerable period of time in full consultation with them.
But what we've all agreed is that the lessons that we learnt from the Lindt Café siege is, why would you leave skills or assets or expertise or personnel in the shed effectively when they could be deployed in a cooperative basis under stepped instructions from state command to actually save Australian lives? And I think most Australians would want to know as is the case that our government, the Turnbull Government, is always reviewing its laws to make sure that the laws match the modern manifestation of threats.
ROBBIE BUCK: Alright, well, we'll see what people have to say about it. But thank you so much for your time this morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Great pleasure, cheers.
WENDY HARMER: Thank you.
ROBBIE BUCK: Good on you. Christian Porter who's the Federal Attorney-General.
What do you make of the new laws? Do you think it's a fair reach? Is it an overreach? Is it an under-reach? And how would you feel about seeing, yeah, Australian military on the streets of Sydney especially- as the Attorney-General said it would be an extraordinary event for it to be called out but...
WENDY HARMER: Yeah, to reiterate; a prolonged siege, a terrorist violent and a specific type of overwhelming situation.
ROBBIE BUCK: Yeah, 1300 2227 02.