Subjects: Melbourne terror attack.
The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton joined me a short time ago to discuss Friday's attack. Peter Dutton, thanks for joining AM. What's the latest on the condition with the two people who were injured?
Well Sabra, fortunately people are improving and obviously they weren't serious injuries to the extent that we saw inflicted upon the 74-year-old gentleman who tragically lost his life, but there'll be many people impacted both physically and psychologically out of this event and we wish all of those people a speedy recovery.
The attacker's passport was cancelled in 2015, are you able to be explicit as to why it was cancelled?
No, but it's obvious that ASIO speaks to people on a regular basis, gathers intelligence in relation to a number of people of concern. This individual was certainly on that list and there was enough and sufficient evidence for ASIO to recommend cancellation of the passport and that took place.
Authorities obviously deemed him as a risk travelling overseas – as you mentioned his passport was cancelled – how is it that he was assessed as not being an ongoing risk at home?
Well ASIO has 400 plus high priority investigations. This is a significant issue for not only ASIO, but Victorian Police, the Australian Federal Police and the police and ASIO have decisions to make on a daily basis about whether or not somebody is a present threat. There was no intelligence or advice to police or to ASIO that a threat was imminent, that an attack was about to be undertaken.
And as we say, and as ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have said for a long time, where you've got a soft target, that is a place of mass gathering whether it's a shopping centre or a mall, wherever it might be and you've got a low level of sophistication – so somebody grabbing a kitchen knife and picking up a couple of gas bottles – it's very hard unless you've got direct evidence.
It's made even harder at the moment because many terrorists are communicating through encrypted messaging apps and the agencies aren't able to access that information in a way that they would have through a text message or a telephone call even five or six years ago.
So it's not an easy business that they're in, but they need to make calls and I think we should be happy in the fact that we've got the best security and intelligence agencies in the world and they've been able to thwart 14 attempts so far. But they do rely on information from the community and we need to further engage to make sure that that information is free flowing to police and intelligence authorities.
You have appealed to the Islamic community and broader community to report behaviour that causes concern. Friends of the attacker have told The Guardian, Fairfax and the ABC that he has suffered delusions and had substance abuse problems and was increasingly estranged from his family. How do you think those friends and families should have dealt with this behaviour?
Well look, I don't want to comment in relation to what individual family member should have done in this case.
But as a general comment – and this is not a criticism, it's an appeal – in many cases we have been able to receive information from somebody that sees a change in behaviour of an individual, whether it's through any of the indicators that you've spoken of or others and they've been able to provide that information to authorities and we have been able to avert tragedy.
So it's an appeal for further information to be provided, for there not to be a hesitation. It can be on the basis of anonymity that the information is supplied, but it may be that you save the life of that family member as well as innocent men, women and children within the community.
And this is an ongoing problem particularly where you've got, as I say, blackouts in terms of information gathering because people are using encrypted messaging apps and they're guarding from authorities the planning of an attack. And particularly where you've got a low level of sophistication, where there may not be any internet searches or planning or indicators otherwise that might lead authorities to intervene in a case where you've got, as I say, somebody picking up a kitchen knife and gas bottles and going down to a local place of gathering, it's very hard for the authorities to act on that because unless they've got a tip off from somebody that's intimately involved in that family group or within that community, then the police won't be with that information.
The local Imam who knew this man when he was a young boy says the community is doing everything it can and the language by politicians hasn't been respectful and that he has appealed to you to be a bit more respectful. How do you respond?
Well we have very good engagement with the community. ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Victorian Police in this case, have significant outreach into the community, but we need the help of the community.
And I make the appeal on behalf of all Australians – and I don't care what community people come from – if you've got information about an imminent attack, or you know that somebody is being radicalised, or they're involved in serious organised criminal activity otherwise, it's incumbent upon you regardless of your religion, race or background to provide that information to the police. That's how we save lives.
And we have been able to do it within some of the 14 cases and we've now got seven attacks that have been successful and we need to make sure that we don't have an eighth and we can only do that if we have increased support from the community.
So it's said in a respectful way. It builds on the rapport and the relationship that we have already, but more needs to be done and more needs to be done because we're talking about 400 plus cases and others that we won't be aware of; that without the support of the community we may see tragic loss of life and we may sadly see it on a scale that we've seen overseas where more than one person is killed in an incident like that in Bourke Street last week.
So there's a lot at stake here and there is a lot depending on the advice and the intelligence gathering and we can only do that if people are forthcoming with information.
And that's the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.