Subjects: Establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio; national security reform.
Minister, good evening and congratulations on the promotion and the responsibility that comes with it.
Thanks very much mate. I appreciate it.
Now, I've got to ask the straight question to try to explain to everyone watching right now, can you give us an idea of what centralised control in something like a Home Office can achieve that the current system that's worked very well can't?
So Paul, at the moment I think all of us recognise that we've got great agencies in all of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. You know we're a bit biased, but I think they're the best in the world. There's no question about that.
But they're operating at the moment as independent statutory authorities in their own right – if I can describe it in those terms – so in their own silos. Now they work together, they've got a good relationship, but our argument is that under an umbrella portfolio of Home Affairs they still retain their independence, the Commissioner's still making decisions about investigations and who's arrested and who's charged and all the rest of it. But it allows the organisations to be joined up in that we can have regular discussions about the strategy, where our priorities are, where there might be an overlap of work, where for example the Counter Terrorism Unit Officers at our international airports which we never had even five years ago are working hand in glove or can they work more effectively with their Federal Police counterparts, with ASIO. So that's the idea that we allow a closer working relationship.
And as we saw off the back of 9/11 in the United States, there was a difficulty in the sharing of information. As we saw out of Man Monis here, there was a breakdown in some parts of the system where information wasn't known to other government departments. And the reality is that we face a significant terrorist threat now, but that is not going to abate, that's going to continue into the future and our argument, the Prime Minister's argument, is that we should be ahead of that game and we should bring the agencies together, allow the independence, but make sure that they are definitely sharing information, working together and we could do that most effectively within one portfolio and that's what we're proposing.
Now much has been made of two things here. The first is that when the Prime Minister first came to power he removed you from the National Security Committee. This is one hell of a turnaround from then. What has he said to you about, you know, that's one heck of a journey to go on in the best part of two years?
Well he said to me that there's no more important job in government at the moment than keeping people safe and making sure that we are ahead of the threat. We know even just over the last three years that 70 people have been charged with terrorist related offences. There have been five successful attacks, three of which have involved death of innocent people and there have been 12 potential terrorist threats or plots that have been thwarted. So if you contrast that to the previous three years, or the previous 13 years, that really is a significant ramping up. We've got foreign fighters coming back from overseas.
But the joining up of the portfolio goes beyond the terrorist aspect. We've got a lot of work, as you know, that we've been doing in cancelling visas of non-citizens who have committed offences against Australians. So there's a lot of work to do around outlaw motorcycle gangs, a lot of work to do in relation to any sort of criminal activity, organised criminal activity, paedophile rings. I mean, there is a lot that we can do on the national security front to keep our population safe and that's the priority that he's given me and I take it very seriously.
Now there are plenty of people who, you know, they're the experts in these areas who jump up and say either there's no need for this or they're unconvinced whether it's going to work, there's a lot of commentary inside the media about is this the right thing to do. Well this is all basically the same class that had its view about stopping the boats, but it was Scott Morrison first and then yourself as well have been able to basically bang heads together to get a better result. To get a result that says you know what, we can do business as usual and that's fine, but there's a way to improve on it. How much of this is about that? About a new series of relationships that are put together with - as Jim Molan said a little bit earlier tonight with Andrew Bolt - a clear idea of what everyone's purpose is, who they report to and that in part is part of the need for the restructure?
Well it's a significant part of it and it's a good point because in Operation Sovereign Borders I've got responsibility for the execution of that operation obviously. We've got 16 different government agencies that are working on that front - so work that we're doing around disrupting ventures before they get away, making sure that we've got the aerial surveillance, the on water surveillance, all of our assets around the world that we've got through our intelligence agencies - utilising and coordinating all of that.
But don't forget that these same critics - the Labor Party were dead against Operation Sovereign Borders as it seems that they're against the changes that we're proposing now. I think Mr Shorten has to rise above the petty responses that we've seen today, accept that they made a mistake in relation to opposing Operation Sovereign Borders and accept the fact that the Government is serious about making sure that this works and I believe that we can do that.
But there is a lot of work to do. There is a lot of work in coordinating the agencies efforts and at the moment. There are four or five ministers across government that have different bits and pieces and the Prime Minister wants one person within Cabinet that he can go to on national security matters and that's the idea of the Home Affairs portfolio, but still working very closely with other colleagues.
And, as I say, there's an enormous amount of tremendous work that the agencies are doing, but I think they will be strengthened by having the coordination and being brought closer together so that they can get a greater appreciation of the direction of the Government, of the direction of their respective portfolios within their own areas of responsibility and I think ultimately we can say to the Australian people that this really is about making them as safe as we humanly can.
Well as our friend Alan Jones would say, you're the hope of the side and more power to you, literally in this case. Thank you so much for the chat. All the best, Minister.
Thanks Paul. Appreciate it mate.
See you later.