Janine Perrett, Richo Program, Sky News

24 September 2014

Subjects: National Security Legislation

E&OE

Janine Perrett: Welcome to the show Senator Brandis.

Attorney-General: Hi Janine.

Janine Perrett: I really want to know what is the main objective of this bill? It’s called the foreign fighters bill but it is broader than that, it is to stop terrorism both abroad and home isn’t it?

Attorney-General: It is. Basically the main objective of the legislation is to make sure that our criminal law and the powers of our criminal law enforcement and intelligence agencies are as comprehensive as they need to be to keep Australians safe. At the same time we’ve been very careful to ensure strong laws and strong powers are protected by strong safeguards and strong oversight. Now this is the next step in a three stage process that the Prime Minister tasked me to undertake earlier in the year to ensure that we have all the equipment that we need to keep the community safe. We also debated in the Senate today the first instalment of the legislation which has now come back from report from the relevant parliamentary committee, the intelligence committee, that deals with the powers of the intelligence agencies. Then I introduced the foreign fighters bill, as you say, and later in the year I’ll be introducing the third instalment, which is the metadata retention law.

Janine Perrett: Okay, on this, what we will call the second tranche, we know that we’ve got bipartisan support, the Labor Party is saying they will support it but there were concerns raised today by Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus who said that while they support it, he raised concern about certain aspects of this which he claimed represented an unprecedented crackdown, a curtailing of freedoms, especially for people heading overseas to areas of conflict. Now he is argument that you have to make the case. Do you think you’ll have any trouble in convincing them?

Attorney-General: Well two points, Janine. First of all, although Mr Dreyfus expressed some reservations, those reservations were really by way of commentary. I met with Mr Dreyfus, and with Mr Shorten, after he gave that interview this morning and there is no doubt at all, and this was made very clear by his spokesman in the Senate, Senator Collins, that the Labor Party is supporting this package of legislation.

The second point I would make to you is I don’t think there is any doubt at all that the overwhelming majority of Australians want the Government to do what it is advised,  by the police, by the intelligence agencies, are the most effective laws to keep our country safe. In relation to the particular measure that you are referring to, it is an unusual power.  It is a power, as I said before that I expect will be used sparingly to enable the Foreign Affairs Minister to declare certain localities overseas to be no-go zones which Australians are prohibited from visiting. For example, we’ve heard about the town of Raqqa in Syria which is very much regarded as a headquarters of the ISIL operation. Without pre-empting anything the Foreign Minister might do, a place like that is the sort of place that could well be the subject of a declaration so that Australians are told that, well you have got no business being in a place that is really ISIL’s operational headquarters.

Janine Perrett: The US President Barak Obama is speaking to the UN this week, speaking about this very issue, wanting to get international coordination to stop this whole issue of foreign fighters in the region. Have we coordinated at all with the US in this Bill?

Attorney-General: I’ve had discussions with a very wide range of people about this issue, about how we deal with foreign fighters. We have learned from what other countries have done. At the beginning of July I travelled to London for a meeting with the Attorney’s-General of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand and the principal item on the agenda of that meeting, the so called Quintet of Attorneys-General of those five nations was the most effective way to deal with this foreign fighters issue. So the answer to that question is yes.

Janine Perrett: Well of course the threat really hit home last night, we saw the terrible events in that Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hills. Could you just tell us about that in the context of the new legislation? Obviously these people, this individual was under surveillance.

Attorney-General: Yes he was.

Janine Perrett: Is this the kind of thing you were worried about or the fact that you’ve said, or the authorities have said that he was acting along, is this one of those lone wolves that make it harder to monitor?

Attorney-General: Let me make a couple of points about that. First of all the investigation is ongoing so you’ll understand Janine, there are limits to what I can say.

The second part I want to make to you is this, although we are improving our anti-terrorism laws to make them as effective as they can possibly be, a lot of the heavy lifting was already done for Australian in 2005 by John Howard and Philip Ruddock when he was the Attorney because there were a number of reforms to Australia’s counter-terrorism laws then and we are building upon those significant reforms.

The third point I would make to you is this, one of the ways in which we propose in the bill that I have introduced into the Senate to make those laws more effective is to expand the basis upon which a particular order called a control order can be made so that we can have better oversight and better capacity to control people who are of significant security interest and at significant risk.

But lastly can I conclude by saying this. Of course you can write the best set of laws in the world and that is what we aim to do, but at the end of the day it’s the men and women of the police, of the intelligence agencies who are on the front line, who put themselves on the line, who put their lives at risk as we saw last night, and the enforcement of those laws is even more important than the text of the laws. And I want to take this opportunity Janine, if I may, to express my deep concern for the families of those two very brave officers who did put their lives on the line, one of whom owes his life to the intervention of his colleague who had to take out the man who was trying to kill him.

Janine Perrett: And obviously the current laws are working in this case, are you confident that you’ve enough resources or as I say, if you are going to have individual popping up like this, do you think you might end up having to put more resources into it?

Attorney-General: We have made a decision to significantly increase the resources available to both the national security agency ASIO and to the Australia Federal Police. We made a series of decisions which the Prime Minister and I announced on the 5th of August. One of those decisions was this package of legislation that we have been discussing. Another of the decisions was to provide additional resources to those agencies to the tune of some $630 million. We asked them what they needed to do their job as effectively as they could. They came back to us with certain measures and certain additional resources that they needed and the Government decided to give them those additional resources.  

Janine Perrett: Senator Brandis, I wanted to ask you about something that has emerged today out of the US.  Khorasan, it’s a terrorist threat, we haven’t heard about it, a splinter group or separate group, they’re from al-Qaida remnants. Your US counterpart, Attorney-General Eric Holder, has made some very disturbing claims that they were threatening to blow up airliners through tooth-paste tubes and clothing. Can you tell me; is Khorasan a threat in Australia?

Attorney-General: I haven’t seen Attorney-General Holder’s remarks so I want to be careful. I know that President Obama has referred in the last 24 hours to the Khorasan Group. We have known about the Khorasan Group for some time. They are a very, very dangerous entity but obviously I’m not in a position to comment on particular remarks by the American Attorney-General which I haven’t seen.   

Janine Perrett: What about from our point of view, we know, we’ve even got down to numbers, estimated numbers of IS supporters in Australia. Are you aware of Khorasan supporters in Australia?

Attorney-General: Well I’m not going to go into that level of detail. The outgoing Director-General of ASIO, David Irvine, confirmed a couple of weeks ago were, that there are, ASIO at that time assessed there were about 60 or 61 Australians actively engaged in war fighting in the northern Iraq/Syria theatre. He estimated there are more than 20 who have returned to Australia from having engaged in that war fighting and he estimated that there are 100 others who are actively supporting them through facilitation networks and so on. Now those Australians are associated with a variety of different entities, terrorist organisations. ISIL is the one we hear the most about, another is Jabhat al-Nusra and there are a variety of others as well. Some of those groups they’re quite porous, they’re quite amorphous. Sometimes they go by different names so I don’t really want to respond to your question with anymore particularity than that please.

Janine Perrett: Okay.  Just finally, we talked about Labor bipartisan support for the legislation introduced today. What’s the level of Muslim support like and does this side theatre over the burka debate, we’ve seen National Party senators get involved today, a push to ban people wearing the burka coming into Parliament House. Is that making it harder to get Muslim support?  

Attorney-General: I want to make the point and it can’t be made too often, that the vast majority of Australia’s Muslim population are good, patriotic, law-abiding citizens and in fact, their communities are most at risk from the behaviour of these criminals because they prey upon their young men. It’s mostly young men who get ensnared by the recruiters who try and glamorise all the wickedness that is going on in northern Iraq and Syria at the behest of groups like ISIL. So we don’t want to offend our Muslim fellow citizens, we know that there is an element within their community, it represents in numerical terms a tiny number, a relatively tiny minority who prey upon that community. And in all the meetings I’ve had with the Islamic leaders, I’ve got the same message. They condemn the activity of these people as strongly as every other Australian does, they feel particularly vulnerable because some people, I’m sorry to say foolishly demonise the entire Muslim population. That is a very wrong thing and it’s a very foolish thing to do and in fact it’s a very dangerous thing to do because we need their cooperation and we need their goodwill in dealing with this problem that exists like a basilisk within their own community.

Janine Perrett: Senator Brandis thanks for your time this evening.

Attorney-General: Thank you Janine.

[Ends]