Interview with Paul Murray, Paul Murray Live Programme, SkyNews

17 December 2014

Subjects: Martin Place siege and Review, Craig Thomson conviction.


Attorney-General: Good evening Paul.

Paul Murray: Can you give us an idea – how will this inquiry work that is going to have a look, not just obviously at what happened earlier in the week but how different agencies have, and potentially haven’t, worked together in the lead up to this week.

Attorney-General: Well, as the Prime Minister announced this afternoon he’s asked the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Michael Thawley, to work with the Secretary of the New South Wales Department of the Premier and Cabinet so that they can report urgently to both the Prime Minister and the Premier by the end of January. And no doubt what they will do is they will examine very closely the various systems, the various agencies, the way in which the agencies, both federal and state, work together so that they can see if there are ways in which that level of cooperation can be improved. I’m not saying what the conclusions of that inquiry might be, of course, but when an event like this happens then I think people will expect that the government’s responsible for law enforcement and national security will have a very good look at themselves, their agencies, the way they operate to ensure that nothing is missed and if something was missed, to identify how that happened.

Paul Murray: How do the agencies work together at the moment, I’m obviously not interested, and nor are you, in a how-to playbook for people of how to get around it but can you give us a simple idea of how agencies do work together to help reassure people that they system does work?

Attorney-General: Yes, I can Paul. At the federal level we have the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation. The Australian Federal Police is a law enforcement agency, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation isn’t a law enforcement agency, actually, it’s an intelligence gathering agency, and then the New South Wales government has, of course, the New South Wales Police. Those different agencies, and others involved in counter-terrorism, meet as part of the National Joint Counter-Terrorism Taskforce and they share and they pool information. There is a very high level of coordination and collaboration between the agencies and police forces, both Federal and State. But as the Prime Minister indicated, we want to make sure that the arrangements are as good as they can possibly can be because we are still reeling from this tragedy. The reason the law enforcement and national security agencies work together on counter-terrorism is to ensure that events like this don’t happen. There is no absolute fail-safe, it’s really a matter of risk mitigation because you can never entirely eliminate the risk of something like this happening just as you can’t entirely eliminate the possibility of a crime being committed. But we want to make sure the way in which the agencies work together is effective as it can possibly be.

Paul Murray: How specific will the inquiry be into the circumstances and the variety of departmental decisions about the specific man, the murderer at the heart of this?

Attorney-General: Well the terms of reference allow the enquiry to be as detailed as it needs to be Paul and that’s what I want to reassure your viewers of. This will be as detailed as it needs to be and I can tell you that the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, and I have also asked the Australian Federal Police and ASIO to themselves go through all of their records, all of the information and data that they have to identify various critical decision points in relation to their visibility of this Man Monis.

Paul Murray: Do we need to have a clearer system that it is almost instantaneous for the authorities to know if someone does or doesn’t have a gun licence?

Attorney-General: Well there is a national police register in relation to gun licences so that is already the subject of pooled information that is available on a national register.

Paul Murray: So we are in this moment where police in New South Wales are obviously trying to be as guarded with information for their investigation. There’s obviously an insatiable appetite for people to know a little more here. Is there going to be efforts from your office, or anyone at the federal level, to try to loosen some of the information controls here that are necessary for the NSW Police and NSW Coroner to give us an idea about things that are not germane to what happened that night but are germane to what may have led up to that evening?

Attorney-General: Everything the inquiry needs to know, just as the NSW Coroner’s inquiry needs to know will be available to those respective inquiries. Certainly I can say as the federal Minister responsible for ASIO and ultimately also for the AFP, everything the relevant inquiries need to know will be made available to them. This is too important, the nation has suffered an unspeakable tragedy and as I say no government can guarantee absolutely that this sort of thing will never happen but what a government can and must do is reassure the public that its systems of law enforcement and of intelligence are set up so as to minimise to the lowest possible level the risk of such a tragedy. I might say, Paul, that as far as we can tell at this relatively early stage, this man, Monis, seems to answer the description of what is sometimes called a lone-wolf actor. In other words not somebody who has done what he’s done as a result of a conspiracy or a plot between members of a terrorism network, but a random individual, a deranged person as we know, with a serious criminal history as we know, who has, it seems, spontaneously and on his own account, decided to engage in this shocking act.

Paul Murray: Do you think that this qualifies as an act of terrorism?

Attorney-General: Well I think the Prime Minister put it very well yesterday, if I may say so, when he said that this is a brush with terrorism. This is a criminal act, the man’s history largely depicts him as a criminal - he was the subject of charges of being an accessory both before and after the fact of the murder of his former wife, he’d had a long string of convictions for sexual offences, he was convicted of the disgusting conduct of sending harassing letters to the bereaved families of Australian soldiers who died in action in Iraq. So this man was a criminal but when this siege took place he did wrap himself in the symbolism and invoke the cause of ISIL. So, so far as we can see, he had no links with ISIL but of course terrorist groups like ISIL do prey upon deranged individuals and encourage and seek to inspire them to engage in behaviours like this. So there are certainly dimensions of this crime that may be regarded as an act of terrorism.

Paul Murray: I just wanted to ask you about the terrorist watchlist. A lot of Monday morning quarterbacking is going on about what surveillance should or shouldn’t have happened in regards to this individual or individuals generally. Are there hundreds or thousands of people that are on this list and I’m assuming that there is a variety of gradients of people, there would be people who are close to immediate threats versus people who have said inflammatory things on Facebook?

Attorney-General: Well I’m not going to talk about specific numbers but it’s important to know that this man was known to the authorities, he was known to ASIO, he was known to the Australian Federal Police, he was known to the New South Wales Police. Now when we speak of a watchlist, I think that term can mean different things to different people, it’s not a technical term. And as you rightly say, Paul, there are gradations and those gradations go from full-on 24-hour-a-day surveillance, to partial surveillance, to investigation of individuals which doesn’t necessarily take the form of actual surveillance by way of, for example, telephone intercepts or computer access warrants or physical surveillance, to merely being a person who in the past formed, as it were, part of the record because of past conduct of the police or the security agencies. So there are gradations of this.

Paul Murray: So one last question on this and then I want to ask you about the Craig Thomson situation, you were very public about that, and rightly so, in the lead up to the last election and as the Attorney-General you’ve spoken on it before. But just finally, here, have been a lot of people who have tried to downplay almost the existence of people within our own society who want to do us harm and want to do us harm for religious and political reasons or people who try to mix up, and deliberately mix up, matters to do with race, religion and nationality. Would you caution people that, in the same way that we don’t want people to overblow the threat, we also don’t want people to blow it off.

Attorney-General: I think that puts it pretty well if I may say so Paul. I mean, only a fool, only a fool could deny that there is a problem here. This man, who murdered – slaughtered – these two innocent people and injured others as well chose to identify himself with Islamist terrorism. Now even if he may not have been a member of a terrorist organisation, it’s too early to be definitive about that but early indications are that he wasn’t actually a member or an affiliate of a terrorist organisation, nevertheless the fact that he chose to identify himself with a terrorist organisation should tell us that we have a problem here and, as I say, you have to be a fool to pretend that there isn’t a problem. We don’t, and the Government has been careful in its language. The Prime Minister has been very judicious and guarded in his language as has Premier Baird and Commissioner Scipione. We don’t want to overstate the problem but you’d be a fool to say that there isn’t a problem that has to be dealt with in a measured, strong and determined way.

Paul Murray: Last one – did the court get it right or wrong about not gaoling the now convicted thief that is a former member of the Labor Party, former MP, Craig Thomson?

Attorney-General: Well, you know Paul, I’m not going to be a commentator on sentences but I just make the point to you that I am other members of the then Opposition, now the Government, including colleague Julie Bishop, made the point for a very long time in the last Parliament that the evidence against Craig Thomson that he had committed acts of theft against the members of the HSU was overwhelmingly strong. That view has been upheld by a court, I understand he’s been convicted of 13 counts of thefts for which he’s been sentenced. Everything that we claimed about Craig Thomson and his character seems to have been the subject of the same conclusion that the court reached and I think the matter is now, subject to appeal of course, I think the matter is now closed. It was a very tawdry chapter in our nation’s history and I don’t particularly want to revisit the tawdry nature of the last parliament, but the fact is that the Australian Government, the Government of Julia Gillard survived for more than a year on what we said at the time was the tainted vote of a man who is a convicted thief.

Paul Murray: And also, important to note here, there’s people trying to say there’s some sort of vindication here because he hasn’t gone to gaol. Last time I checked being found guilty and sentenced about theft is not an insignificant manner.

Attorney-General: I never cease to be amazed Paul by the silliness of some of the claims that are made by people in politics but in this case how anybody could find vindication for a point of view about Craig Thomson when he’s been convicted of numerous counts of theft, how anybody could think that’s some kind of vindication of him escapes me.

Paul Murray: Attorney-General, thank you for your time.

Attorney-General: Thank you Paul, Merry Christmas.