Thursday, 07 November 2019

Address to the 'No Money for Terror' Ministerial Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing, Melbourne


Excellencies, Ministers, Heads of Delegations, Government officials, representatives from international organisations, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to Australia, and welcome to the beautiful city of Melbourne.

In particular I thank our delegates who have travelled great distances to be here and on behalf of the Australian Government, I thank you. I trust the warm welcome from the Australian people will help just a little with the jet lag.

My name is Peter Dutton and as Australia's Minister for Home Affairs I have the privilege of serving as your Ministerial host for the 2019 'No Money for Terror' Conference.

The coming together of so many nations and so many organisations is heartening. It forms an important next step in the global fight against terrorism.

No one country, no matter how powerful, can defeat terrorism alone. The international community must continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against what is an increasingly complex and borderless threat.

While terror groups have suffered significant blows in recent times, we must understand and appreciate that the enemy endures and remains determined to inflict harm.  There is no room for complacency, and we must redouble our efforts to deprive terrorists of funding.

The unfortunate truth about terrorism is that it's insidious and it's amorphous. It is difficult to completely eradicate ideologies which place no value on human life, do not act rationally, and which increasingly exist only in the shadows.

The ideological motivators for terrorism are diverse. They include Islamist extremism, far-right extremism, ethno-nationalism and even radical environmentalism.

The horrific attacks in Christchurch and Sri Lanka this year – which targeted Muslims and Christians respectively – are testimony to the complex challenges of terrorism globally. We are fighting on more than one front and it's getting worse.

The intensity of terrorism has increased over the last two decades and has expanded to more countries. Every region in the world recorded a higher average impact of terrorism in 2017 than in 2002.

According to the most recent Global Terrorism Index, in 2017 the global economic impact of terrorism was estimated at fifty-two billion U.S. dollars.

In fact since 9/11, it has become harder for terrorists to carry out large-scale sophisticated operations, as we know, because as nations, we have collectively improved our security postures; but terrorists remain resolved to locate our weaknesses and to expose any new vulnerability.

Extremists continue to leverage any resources at their disposal, including funding to support their operations – however large or small – and radicalised individuals, whether home-grown or otherwise, have demonstrated their willingness and an ability to carry out unsophisticated attacks on soft targets. We've seen an increasing preference among terrorists to use low-tech methodologies – IEDs, small arms attacks, knife assaults and ramming vehicles into civilians.

Terrorists are however becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology.

ISIL has become particularly adept at using social media to spread hate-filled propaganda to radicalise young men and women.

The would-be mass murderers who attempted to smuggle an IED onto a flight out of Sydney in 2017 used encrypted messaging as part of their plot.

The Christchurch terrorist live-streamed his repugnant attack via social media.

Of course technology is not purely exploited in the execution of an attack or for propaganda purposes.  It has become a key enabler of terror financing.

Just as the virtual world has become a popular vector for transnational, serious and organised crime, it is likely those who wish to support terrorism will increasingly transact online.

The increasing use of digital and cryptocurrencies, stored value cards, online payment systems and crowdfunding platforms provide new channels through which terrorism may be financed.

The anonymity afforded by such technologies, with the overlay of the darkweb, enables terrorist financers to obfuscate their activities and they can camouflage their nefarious dealings within legitimate networks of commerce and cross-border transactions.

As technologies develop and virtual assets proliferate, there will be a growing appeal to use online transactions and cryptocurrencies for financing terrorism.  This is a risk we must stay ahead of.

In the meantime however, more traditional mechanisms of financing terrorism continue to be preferred. Terrorists are funded through conventional banking, remittances, money laundering by professional facilitators, cross-border cash movements, ransom monies, and exploited or fraudulent charities.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, even small amounts of money placed in the hands of terrorists can facilitate devastating attacks.  We must starve these vile individuals and groups of the resources they require to do us harm.

Ladies and gentlemen at the inaugural 'No Money for Terror' Conference in April last year, together we made a commitment to strengthen our collective action to combat the financing of terrorism.

I wish to acknowledge the efforts of the Government of France in hosting that event, which focused on inhibiting the financing of ISIL and Al-Qaeda and established the Paris Agenda framework.  This year's Conference will explore elements of the Agenda in greater depth.

Over the next two days, we will assess the evolving terror threat, discuss the key trends and methods of terrorism financing, and share best practise strategies to combat those risks.

Specifically, we will look at five broad themes.

Firstly, we will discuss the global and Indo-Pacific threat environment, particularly following the territorial defeat of ISIL. 

Although ISIL's caliphate has collapsed, and Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi has recently been brought to justice, the influence of ISIL's insidious ideology remains.

ISIL will seek out new provinces and affiliates.  It will attempt to recruit new followers through online propaganda and influence local actors and returning foreign fighters.

In the background, Al-Qaeda is undergoing a different process, trying to germinate in new forms in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

AUSTRAC – Australia's financial intelligence, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulator – is building capacity in our region along with our partners in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Regardless of the extremist group's moniker, their strategy is to spark the flames of terror and it is all too familiar. To entwine local grievances with transnational ideological causes; whether it be Al-Qaeda or ISIL, there is a consistency in methods for funding their activities.

Secondly, at this Conference, we will highlight and build support for international cooperation and mechanisms to combat terrorism financing, including kidnap for ransom.

In that vein, I particularly want to acknowledge the efforts of the Financial Action Task Force and its network of regional bodies – including our own Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering – in helping to stem terrorist financing.

I note the contributions of the Paris Agenda and the recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force in informing the development of UN Security Council Resolution 2462, the first of its kind dedicated to suppressing and criminalising terrorism financing.

Third, over this conference, we will endeavour to identify practical ways to enhance public and private sector partnerships.

The challenge of 21st century terrorism – whatever its form – cannot be overcome by governments alone. 

This is especially the case when it comes to countering terror financing. Governments absolutely must harness the capabilities and expertise which exist outside of government.

The potential for successful partnerships is demonstrated by Australia's Fintel Alliance – a world-first public and private sector initiative.

Over the next few days, we will have an opportunity to discuss the Fintel Alliance, as well as best practice public-private partnerships from around the region and the globe.

Fourthly, at this conference, we will explore in greater depth the risks of emerging technologies, including virtual assets, or as they are more commonly known, cryptocurrencies. 

While technological advancements have overwhelmingly pushed humanity forward, we must acknowledge and address their intrinsic shortcomings. Namely, the potential for new technologies to be manipulated for nefarious means, including for the funding of terrorism.

Too often we focus myopically on the immediate benefits of technology, without enough deep-thinking about longer-term consequences.

And finally ladies and gentlemen, this Conference will consider issues associated with not-for-profit organisations, including the transparency of financial transactions and governance oversight.

The not-for-profit sector is incredibly diverse. It provides broad ranging services which interact with all parts of our societies.

The unfortunate reality is that some charities and not-for-profits are have also become popular conduits through which terrorism is being financed. In many cases, not-for-profits are not even aware that they are being taken advantage of.

There is much we can and must do to strengthen the resilience of these groups against poisonous exploitation by terrorists.

This Conference brings together over 65 delegations, including some 20 Ministers; representatives from 14 international organisations and over 20 financial and technology companies; and hundreds of senior officials and subject-matter experts from across government, industry, business and academia.

If we work as one, we can strike a significant blow against those who seek to threaten our citizens, our institutions and way of life.

It's a great honour for Australia to host this year's 'No Money for Terror' Conference – to have taken the baton from France for the next leg of what will be an enduring relay.

Ladies and gentlemen, earlier this year Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison reflected on the role of government. Its primary duty – in collaboration with external partners – is to help its citizens' realise their aspirations in life. That objective is universal. 

Everything we do here to stem the financing of terrorism – to enhance collective security –contributes to the betterment of our fellow citizens.

Over the course of this conference, let's keep that aim in the very front of mind.

Thank you.