20 November, 2015
Subjects: Counter-Terrorism Unit interventions; Grand Mufti comments; Indonesian death penalty; transfer of detainees; Christmas Island Detention Centre disturbance; Indonesia Australia Business Week 2015.
PETER DUTTON: I am really pleased to be here this morning at Brisbane International Airport. I want to say thank you very much to Superintendent Greg Corrigan and to all of the CTU staff that we've met with this morning, as well as staff from Australian Border Force.
Obviously all Australians are concerned about who is coming in and out of our airports and our sea ports, and the Australian Border Force, which replaced the function of Customs, is a world-class organisation and agency and I want to advise you today that over the course of the last few months, indeed since July, there have been 199 passengers who have been off-loaded from flights – that's a dramatic increase on the previous 10 months – and it underscores the very important work that the Australian Border Force staff do on a daily basis.
Greg leads a team here that interact with people who pose a threat to our country, and they don't hesitate in questioning those people and making sure that if they are a threat then they're off-loaded.
And of course the Government has made about a $630 million investment into this area. We have Counter-Terrorism Unit officers at our eight international airports and they supplement the work that the Australian Border Force officers do on a daily basis.
So there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people that have been off-loaded. I want to assure the travelling public and assure the Australian people today that we have a world-class agency in Australian Border Force that is staring down the threat at our airports every day.
They make it safe as humanly possible for people to travel and we need to recognise that we are in, of course, as we've seen in Paris and elsewhere, an elevated threat level.
This is the modern reality for western democracies like ours and the fact is that we need to continue this effort, we need to provide support to the CTU officers and to the Australian Border Force officers to make sure that those intercepts can take place, that the interviews can take place, ultimately that people can be stopped from travelling or indeed stopped from coming back into our country.
Happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: What are the reasons for which people would be offloaded?
PETER DUTTON: Well one of the main reasons would be, as to why somebody would be off-loaded, is that there is suspicious behaviour that they're exhibiting that would lead us to think that they are heading off to fight in Syria, for example.
So if the CTU officers have information, or their intelligence leads them to believe that a particular person is on their way to Syria, or indeed on their way back, they swing into action and they provide an intercept at that point; they interview the person, they gather intelligence and evidence and they work very closely with the Australian Federal Police, the state police agencies and other intelligence agencies.
So that would be one of the main reasons as to why somebody would be off-loaded.
JOURNALIST: Are you able to give an indication as to how many of those offloads have actually led to legitimate threats being established?
PETER DUTTON: No, because some of the information obviously is…and some of the people have been referred to the Australian Federal Police, to ASIO, to other agencies and there would be some prosecutions that are initiated, there would be surveillance activity undertaken, investigations otherwise and as ASIO's advised, they have now well over 400 high-priority investigations.
So the ABF is a law enforcement agency, and they work with the Australian Federal Police and the intelligence agencies to work out what is the best response to somebody who poses a threat to the Australian people and they do that on a daily basis.
They're a very, very professional organisation, and I sing their praises again today because their work is more necessary than ever.
QUESTION: But surely you can give some sort of idea of roughly how many of those offloads have led to further investigations or a legitimate threat without going into detail about the specifics of the actual offences or incidents?
PETER DUTTON: No, I can't – I've just given that answer.
QUESTION: How many of those people were then allowed to fly? They may have been taken off one flight [inaudible] the next one?
PETER DUTTON: Well some of them would have been. So once the investigations have been undertaken, there would then be the opportunity, if that person is being cleared or they don't pose a threat, there would be an opportunity for that person to travel.
QUESTION: Any indication of how many …
PETER DUTTON: I'll have to get the figure for you. I don't have it in front of me. But the fact is that investigations can take place that do allow people then to travel if they've satisfied the queries of the ABF officers, or it may be that the person's handed over to the Australian Federal Police or to ASIO or to another agency.
The point of this is though that an increasing number of people are being off-loaded from flights and that I think reflects the environment in which our Border Force officers and the Australian Federal Police are operating and I think the activity will only increase over the coming months and years ahead.
QUESTION: Is there a particular state or city that has got the most offloads [inaudible] particularly difficult area [inaudible].
PETER DUTTON: Well certainly the numbers in Sydney and Melbourne would be above those in other capital cities, and that's a reflection, I suppose, of the number of people travelling from those states to the Middle East or to somewhere else that might be of concern, for example in South-East Asia.
So there would be an increased number of people coming out of Sydney and Melbourne followed, I suspect, by Brisbane.
QUESTION: What’s to say that those people who haven’t been pulled off [inaudible] massive domestic problem?
PETER DUTTON: Well, as we've seen in Canada, people who are stopped from leaving the shores may well decide to manifest their terrorist activity domestically – and that's a threat that we live with – and the Government is doing everything possible to keep the Australian public safe – everything humanly possible – but the fact is that even with a number of people that we off-load, even with the new legislation that we've introduced into Parliament, which strips dual citizens of their Australian citizenship, if they've been involved in terrorist activities which would prevent many of them coming back to our shores, the threat is still a very real one.
And as we've seen in Paris, and as we've seen in Lebanon, and elsewhere over the last couple of weeks, this is a significant threat and we need to be realistic about it, but the Government is doing everything we can, both through legislation and through additional funding to the agencies, to make sure that we can stare this threat down as best we possibly can.
QUESTION: The Grand Mufti of Australia, in light of this increase, the Grand Mufti of Australia has labelled Australia's anti-terror laws as racist and discriminatory, so what do you have say to that?
PETER DUTTON: Well the laws discriminate against terrorists, and we're not going to apologise for that. I don't think they're based on anything other than the desire to stop people doing harm to Australians and the Government is absolutely determined – we've demonstrated this again through the Allegiance Bill being introduced into the Parliament – that we will do whatever is humanly possible to stop these people from causing harm to other Australians.
If people are involved in terrorist activities, then they will feel the full force of that law – that's the reality of, and the reason for the law.
I mean we have a law of murder in this country which doesn't discriminate against particular religions or people from particular backgrounds, it discriminates against those who have committed a heinous offence and for some people to try to paint this or portray this as something other than the true intent, I think, is mischievous and I think frankly, as we've seen and as I've pointed out earlier this week, as the Treasurer's pointed out, as the Attorney-General's pointed out, and the Prime Minister, there are Islamic leaders around the country that have condemned the actions in Paris without qualification.
I think the Islamic leadership in our country needs to step up, and the Australian public and the Muslim community in our country expect them to step up, and to condemn these attacks without qualification so that all Australians know that the terror laws are designed to target people who are terrorists – and that's the way in which we will approach it, not on any other basis.
I don't care of some somebody's religious background. I don't care where they come from. If they are committing a terrorist act or they're preparing to commit a terrorist act, the Australian Government will move very quickly to neutralise that threat.
QUESTION: Kuwaiti authorities have arrested two Australians who are part of an extremist network, what does the Government know about this?
PETER DUTTON: I don't have any information in relation to that issue. The Attorney-General might be able to provide an update. But it is the reality that we've had well over 100 people from Australia travel overseas to the Middle East.
The difficulty, of course, is that once they leave our shores, then they become even more radicalised. They are trained in the art of bomb making and terrorist activity otherwise, which is why we don't want them back on our shores.
If we can prevent them from going in the first place, that is a good thing, because ultimately as Australian citizens they have a constitutional right to return to our shores and we need to be very mindful of that threat and the agencies are working with international counterparts each day to make sure they can provide an appropriate response to that threat.
QUESTION: An article in The Australian has identified that only one of 87 federally funded programmes, such as this, has actually worked in the last five years, and has actually reached radicals, does that say that we’re doing something wrong?
PETER DUTTON: I think if you look at what the rest of the western world is doing – I've just flown back in last night from Jakarta – they are providing funding into, and Australia's supporting some of the programmes, providing funding into CV programmes and the Government here, like in Indonesia and elsewhere, I think is trialling different approaches, working with different leaders and different threats within the community, to try and work out where the best money is spent.
But obviously this is in Minister Keenan's area of responsibility and I've got no doubt at all that he would be doing the very best that he can with the agencies to make sure that the spending of this money is targeted at trying to de-radicalise or trying to identify those threats and try and deal with them before it manifests itself into something tragic.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on Indonesia's moratorium on the death penalty?
PETER DUTTON: Well I was asked about this yesterday in Indonesia, and I just repeat the same response, that is that the Australian Government welcomes the announcement from the Indonesian Government. Obviously the Australian Government's position is well known in relation to these matters.
QUESTION: [inaudible] second plane of New Zealander’s will be deported next week?
PETER DUTTON: I don't have any advice in relation to when the next departures will take place to New Zealand or elsewhere.
Obviously the ABF work each day to…particularly where you have a voluntary return, to send that person back to their country of origin. So again, the law here operates not against New Zealanders or not against Brits or not against Indonesians, it operates against people who have committed serious crimes or who have been conducting themselves in a way which means that they fail the character test.
I think all Australians want us to have a safer society. The Government has worked very hard to make sure that our borders are secure. If you have secure borderers, you can have safe communities, and we are going to continue the work to cancel, under Section 501, people's visas, non-citizens' visas if they've committed criminal offences and if that's the case they'll be deported as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: A lot of Queensland parents are very concerned at the moment, it is on the cusp of schoolies, they're worried about lone wolf attacks, what would you say to those parents? Is there any intelligence? What are the agencies doing?
PETER DUTTON: My advice to any parent would be to make sure that your kids have the appropriate information and are as prepared for any incident when they're going to schoolies, as is humanly possible.
People need to, if they see something suspicious, report it immediately to Crime Stoppers.
If they see something that is out of the ordinary, they should contact police immediately and there will be an enormous police presence for schoolies and the Queensland Police, the Australian Federal Police and others no doubt will be assessing the risk and they'll be providing the appropriate security response.
So I think parents should have faith in the work of the police. They do a great job on a day-to-day basis. They deal with threats and no doubt they'll have an increased presence on the Gold Coast.
JOURNALIST: How many people who were involved in rioting on Christmas Island have faced court?
PETER DUTTON: The investigation is still ongoing and the Australian Federal Police obviously are looking at all the evidence that they've gathered and they'll provide that information in due course.
PETER DUTTON: Well they're under investigation so no doubt they'll have to be viewing CCTV footage, they will be looking at forensic analysis which, as you know, takes time. So they'll comment on that in due course.
JOURNALIST: During your time in Indonesia, did you discuss with your counterpart the people smuggling trade issue?
PETER DUTTON: No, the purpose of the visit was as part of Andrew Robb's Indonesia Australia Business Week to talk to Australian businesses and to Indonesian businesses about opportunities for Australians to grow their business, to employ more people here, to export more to countries like Indonesia.
There were close to 400 businesses up there and I think Andrew Robb's done an amazing job when you look at the opportunities that will come from that. There was a great vibe in the room and I obviously had some bilateral meetings whilst I was there as well with my counterparts, and I had some private discussions with them – that was the purpose of the trip.
Alright, thank you very much.