Loading

Monday, 18 March 2019
Transcript

Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN Breakfast

Subjects: New Zealand Terrorist Attack; comments by Senators’ Anning & Faruqi.
 
EO&E...........................................................................................................................................

FRAN KELLY: 

Well Peter Dutton is the Minister for Home Affairs. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

PETER DUTTON: 

Pleasure, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: 

I'll come to some of Senator Faruqi's comments in a moment, but first, I'm sure you've already been briefed by security officials, but are there concerns about a copycat attack or the possibility of a retaliatory attack for what happened in Christchurch?

PETER DUTTON: 

In these circumstances people are always worried about a retaliatory attack or a copycat of what we saw, the atrocity that we saw in Christchurch. We've had continuous briefings really with the Director General of ASIO and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, and AUSTRAC and others since this occurred. Over the course of the weekend, the Prime Minister and I took a number of briefings and I think it should be noted that ASIO and the Australian Federal Police do an exceptional job. We need to be realistic about the threat that we face and from the moment I came into this job, I was briefed by ASIO in relation to extremists, white supremacists, neo-Nazi type groups and individuals, and it's been on their radar for a long period of time. They've worked very closely with their New Zealand counterparts and we have offered and provided whatever assistance has been requested and that will remain the case.

FRAN KELLY: 

Okay, I'm going to come to that in a second. But just can I deal with this? Has the terror threat level in this country changed? It's still at probable I think, isn't it? Is it under review?

PETER DUTTON: 

It is, well it's always under review. It's remained where it is, but obviously any changes and advice will be properly broadcast and notified. The classification in the system at the moment of probable is not changing, but as I say, it's under constant review.

FRAN KELLY: 

Okay. Now in terms of whether our agencies have been focussed enough on right wing extremists, Brenton Tarrant was not on any agency watch list, we know that now. In the past few years, we also know he travelled to North Korea, Pakistan, Bulgaria, two trips to Turkey; he was active on extremist internet forums; just two days before this massacre he posted pictures of his semi-automatic weapons replete with Nazi symbols, the names of white supremacist murderers. Why wasn't a red flag raised on this man?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well, a couple of points to make here Fran. Obviously, the agencies work day and night and I think the work needs to be commended. They've thwarted now 15 attempted terrorist attacks in our country. We need to recognise the fact that given the prolific nature of the internet, all these forums, there's only so much content that can be covered or assessed and analysed by ASIO and other partner agencies. So there's no criticism here of our intelligence agencies whatsoever, and I think that's the first point. The second point is that on the advice available to me at the moment, this individual spent 45 days in Australia over the last three years and has travelled extensively, as you say, through Europe and elsewhere since 2010. All of those factors need to be taken into consideration. But as I say, from the day I took up this portfolio, the first briefing I had from Duncan Lewis, he provided advice in relation to extremists and those that would pose a threat to us, as I say, including white supremacists and neo-Nazi extreme right-wing activities. And they have been very conscious of it. They've been…

FRAN KELLY: 

[Interrupts] They may have been conscious of it, but is our Government and our agencies too focused on Islamist terror, missing the rise of this threat?

PETER DUTTON: 

No. Again Fran, our focus is on people who would seek to do us harm, wherever they are on the spectrum. The fact is, there are people who have sought to harm us, there are people now who would seek to do us harm, to go into a place of mass gathering, into a place of worship, wherever it might be. The agencies, I think frankly, at the moment should be commended for the work that they've undertaken to keep Australians safe and the work that they have done, particularly ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and others, that work has absolutely directly saved lives and they continue to do that so…

FRAN KELLY: 

[Interrupts] I'm sure that's true and I'm not underplaying the threat, but we do spend billions of dollars on counter-terrorism, the agencies have been given wide ranging powers of surveillance. How can we see this as anything other than a monumental failure of security intelligence, even if the task is difficult, is this a failure? I mean how many far right groups or individuals are currently being monitored by our police and security officials? How many of the subject to control orders?

PETER DUTTON: 

Fran, as I say, ASIO has significant resources, as does the federal police. We've put additional monies into our counterterrorism activities. They will look at the threat of any individual, regardless of their religion, their race, their creed; they are focused on threat. And if somebody is posing a threat, then they're on ASIO or the Australian Federal Police's radar. They have significant human intelligence resources, as you say, they've got significant powers otherwise, they gather that intelligence, they act on it and it's why we've been able to thwart a number of cases.

FRAN KELLY: 

So how many far right groups or individuals are subject to control orders, are having their communications monitored?

PETER DUTTON: 

That is not something that ASIO would publicly comment on but I can assure you that there is a significant amount of work underway. ASIO is not blind to the threat. As I say, it was raised with me from the very first day Duncan Lewis has been very, very conscious over a long period of time of the activities of people on the extreme right and extreme left, whatever. If people are posing a threat to our country, then the agencies are working day and night to neutralise that threat and we're worried about a number of elements, as you point out, a retaliatory attack at the moment, a copycat attack, and the agencies have been working with our Five Eyes partners. They've reached out, obviously, into other countries where Tarrant has spent most of his time over the course of the last number of years, in fact. They will continue that work and they're working with their New Zealand counterparts at the moment.

FRAN KELLY: 

Alright. But the Bourke Street attack late last year, the Prime Minister demanded quote: more needs to happen if you're an imam or a leader in one of those communities, you need to know who these people are in your community. So if we apply that same principle now, who should we apply it to? White Australian community leaders on the right? Under this logic, who's responsible for this hate crime?

PETER DUTTON: 

Well people should be condemned at whatever level. So if the…

FRAN KELLY: 

[Talks Over] Well are you, well I don't hear the condemnation coming from the Prime Minister to someone responsible for this in the same way we saw it coming to the leaders of the Muslim community.

PETER DUTTON: 

I just think that's an absurd statement to make. I think the Prime Minister has been out strong from the first moment, he has condemned ridiculous and pathetic comments from Fraser Anning and the rest. He's worked very closely with the Islamic community and again, the agencies here have contacts back into communities as they do within Islamic communities here. They have the ability to gather intelligence and they have the ability to prosecute or to disrupt activities where they see a threat manifesting. So people who hold these extreme views are on the radar, that's the reality. But as I say Fran, in relation to this individual, 45 days in Australia over the last three years and has been travelling internationally extensively since as far back as I'm advised to 2010.

FRAN KELLY: 

You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's 16 to eight. Our guest is the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton. Minister, if I can come to the comments we heard earlier from Senator Mehreen Faruqi. She's not the only one attributing some blame for what happened on Friday to the rising anti Muslim sentiment in this country, which she says has been fanned by politicians including you. Do you have any regrets of things you've said in the past?

PETER DUTTON: 

One of the regrets I have is we give attention or a spotlight onto people like Fraser Anning or like this Senator as well. The other person that has been critical has been Richard Di Natale. So giving these people attention that they don't deserve, I think, is something we should be very conscious of. The comments that she's made and the desire to extract some sort of political advantage or attention seeking out of this circumstance, I think is appalling. The fact is at the moment we're dealing with trying to provide to families, both here and in New Zealand, people are burying the bodies of those that have been massacred in Christchurch now. We have people on the far-left or the far-right trying to extract political advantage. I think it's a disgrace and I think frankly the comments should be called out for exactly what it is…

FRAN KELLY: 

[Interrupts] We do need to analyse though don't we, where we are in terms of blurring lines between hate speech and free speech? And people, a lot of people citing the comments you made when you said it was a mistake the immigration of Lebanese Muslims in the 1970s, which was heavily criticised at the time. Do you regret those kind of comments? Do you accept that they feed into some of the feelings here amongst these white supremacists?

PETER DUTTON: 

No I don't, Fran. I brought more people in through the Refugee and Humanitarian Program last year than any time in the last 30 years. We have settled people of all sorts of faiths in our country over a long period of time. People on the left don't like me because of Operation Sovereign Borders or Manus or Nauru, that's fine. But…

FRAN KELLY: 

[Interrupts] But there is rhetoric around that Minister, I mean you warned recently of illegals boarding Indonesian boats and arriving in record numbers of Labor. We know we know asylum seekers aren't illegals you know that.

PETER DUTTON: 

Fran, to come to our country by boat is illegal that's it. Now, to seek refuge is not illegal.

FRAN KELLY: 

To seek asylum is not illegal.

PETER DUTTON: 

Again, you can get caught on all of all of the semantics of that. My point is that their dislike of me, they will seek an opportunity as they're doing at the moment, and I just don't want to give them any publicity, they can be critical of me about border protection et cetera, that's fine. But let's be realistic about it.
My record is that we have brought people in to our country in record number; I've got every child out of detention on the mainland. We've got the last three children out of detention on Nauru. I haven't had one person drown at sea on my watch.

FRAN KELLY: 

Okay.

PETER DUTTON: 

I'm hardly going to take morals lectures from the extreme left, who frankly are just as bad. In this circumstances, people like Fraser Anning, they should equally be condemned.

FRAN KELLY: 

Well let's talk about Fraser Anning. The Prime Minister says the full force of the law should be applied to him for the way he responded to that young man who egged him. But also I think for his comments that Muslim migration was to blame for the attack. What did the PM mean by the full force of the law?

PETER DUTTON: 

There's an investigation that's underway by the Victorian Police at the moment. I think there were some comments yesterday by the Victorian Police Commissioners so that's underway and we will let the police investigate.

FRAN KELLY: 

Is it only in terms of the egging or are you looking at a prosecution
under racial vilification laws?

PETER DUTTON: 

In relation to the Victorian investigation, that will be in relation to the incident with Senator Anning and the young man involved, so that's separate. If there is an incident otherwise or language otherwise that gives rise to a Commonwealth offence, then the Australian Federal Police will investigate that.

FRAN KELLY: 

Okay. Just finally the government and the opposition want social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to do more to stop live-streaming of violent attacks such as the one in Christchurch. These platforms say they don't have the technology to do that. I think Facebook took down 1.2 million copies of that video within the first 24 hours. Do you accept their response?

PETER DUTTON: 

I accept that they've engaged with us and they certainly engaged with the Federal Police immediately, so there's no question about that. The issue is one of timeliness and if they don't have the technology - and there's a question mark around that - but if they don't have the technology to take it down then they need to have a serious look at their business model, because at the moment these companies are making literally hundreds of millions of dollars out of people using social media.
That's fine but broadcasters have special responsibilities, and other people that might communicate messages. In this case I think they are not living up to the expectation that we have. I think there's a further debate, I might say, in relation to the use of computer games and graphic videos and the way in which that is accessed online. Not people buying products now, they're downloading products and these companies have a responsibility in a society like ours to live up to the society expectation.

FRAN KELLY: 

Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

PETER DUTTON: 

Thanks, Fran.

[ends]