Subjects: Flinders Street attack; WA drug bust; Department of Home Affairs; keeping Australian's safe.
I firstly want to deal with the issue in Melbourne; a terrible circumstance and our thoughts and prayers go to all of those people that have been affected by this terrible incident. To those people that are still in hospital, to those people that have witnessed this horrific scene, most importantly at the moment to acknowledge all of the great work of the paramedics, the police, Victorian Police and in particular the Sergeant who was off-duty at the time, but intervened in this incident. We don't know what the next phase of this incident may have been, but the intervention from the off-duty officer is quite remarkable.
There will be stories of heroic acts and thoughts and all sorts of feelings and emotions, no doubt that will flood to the surface, but we will look at those individual heroic acts, we will look at those acts that people undertook to help save a loved one or to intervene in a way that could have put their own life at risk and we honour all of those people. It's amazing in these circumstances, in the hour of need, when people step forward and we really pay tribute to all of those people and as I say, those stories will undoubtable will come out in due course.
It's important to recognise though that the investigation is still underway. The Australian Federal Police and ASIO and other federal agencies including the Australian Border Force are working very closely with the Victorian Police Force. I want to say thank you very much to Lisa Neville, the Police Minister in Victoria, as well as Premier Andrews, for the briefings and updates that we were provided yesterday and into last night and obviously a lot of work that's gone on overnight and again this morning.
We work very closely, particularly during this incidence. There's a lot of effort that goes on behind the scenes, but all the work from our Counter-Terrorism Unit officers within the Australian Federal Police, the officers within ASIO and the way in which they collaborate with their Victorian colleagues is quite remarkable, its first class and I pay full tribute to all of those officers that have been involved.
But there is a long way to go in this investigation. There's a lot of information that is being uncovered and all of that will be provided when appropriate in due course and no doubt the Victorian Police will provide further updates.
I also wanted to provide you with some information in relation to this biggest bust in Australia's history of methamphetamine out of Western Australia. It's a fact as we know that Australia is a source destination because Australians will pay a lot of money for illicit substances and particularly at this time of year, we're very pleased that 12 million hits of methamphetamine will be off the streets over the Christmas-New Year period.
This is a 1.2 tonne seizure and that is worth $1 billion. So this is a billion dollar bust and it's a great credit to the Australian Federal Police, to the West Australian Police and the Australian Border Force, AUSTRAC and the other agencies that have been involved very intimately in uncovering this haul. This will make a huge impact, but it's not the only case that police are investigating at the moment and if people have further information they should contact the police through Crime Stoppers. Any information at all is absolutely essential that people provide that.
The third issue that I just wanted to raise very quickly is that there will be about 1.7 million movements – 1.7 million people moving across our borders over the Christmas-New Year period. I want to pay tribute to the Australian Border Force officers and the work they will do to quickly move people in and out of our international airports and the work that our Australian Federal Police and the other agencies will do at our international and domestic airports.
So please expect that, as is always the case at Christmas and in the New Year, many people are moving through our airports, so please allow plenty of time.
But again, all of these officers – whether it's at our airports, at our sea ports, on these sorts of operations across the country, our Federal Police, our ASIO officers, our Australian Border Force officers – all of them are working around the clock to keep Australians safe and if anybody has any information, particularly over this Christmas period; something that they might have overheard, something that they've seen that would cause them to be suspicious about that activity, if they think it's terrorism related, they need to call the terrorism hotline and that is 1800 123 400. Provide that information; that snippet of information could prevent an attack over this period and if you can contact authorities with that information we would be very grateful.
I'm happy to take any questions.
On the Flinders Street incident, have authorities been able to definitely rule out it being a terror attack?
No we haven't and we're not ruling in or out anything at the moment.
If you look at the circumstances where people have been mowed down by this person in the car, that is a very serious circumstance and so in light of that – and obviously all of our CT officers within the Australian Federal Police, officers within ASIO, the Australian Border Force – all of them are working very closely to look at every aspect, every detail of this case with the Victorian Police at the moment and so I don't want to pre-empt anything, but we are certainly not ruling out a terrorist link and we certainly aren't drawing any conclusions at this stage.
Have we learnt anything more about the suspect today? I understand Victoria Police were hoping to interview him at some point.
Obviously that will take place, if it hasn't already taken place. The Victorian Police are the lead organisation in relation to that matter. The Australian Federal Police are working very closely with them. So they will run down all of those leads. They will look at gathering of all the information and intelligence as you'd expect and our agencies have certainly been working through the night with the Victorian Police to try and put this picture together because we want people to realise that this is an isolated incident. People should go about their business in the run-up to Christmas with shopping, with the start of their holidays, but be conscious of what's going around you, particularly in places of mass gathering.
The police at a federal and state level have done an enormous amount of work to try and deal with the threat, to try and neutralise that threat, but we know now that 81 people have been charged with terrorist related offences over the course of the last three years or so. We have returning foreign fighters and as we've seen in the incident in Victoria in the last 24 hours or so, this is an issue for us as a Western democracy, as we have seen in other parts of the world and we need to be realistic about the threat that we face and we need to provide the police with any snippet of information that people might have – something they've overheard at a family gathering, in a workplace, something they've seen out in public otherwise – provide that information to the police, call the terrorism hotline; 1800 123 400, provide that information because you may well be providing the police with that bit of information that could stop the next attack from taking place.
The Queensland Police Commissioner yesterday said that it's a matter of time before we see an attack here in Queensland. The Commonwealth Games are just around the corner [inaudible] concerns at all?
Well all I can say is that the police – whether it's here in Queensland or in Victoria in this case, otherwise right around the country – have put an enormous amount of effort into the Counter-Terrorism Units and all of the training that's taken place. There's a very, very close collaboration between the States and Territories and the Commonwealth as well. Obviously we have worked very closely over the last 24 hours with the Victorian Police and long before that. There's joint training exercises that take place. In the case of the Commonwealth Games, there is a big Commonwealth picture both in terms of the Home Affairs Department now, with the Australian Federal Police and the agencies otherwise, but also the Australian Defence Force working very closely with the Queensland Police and we want to make sure that we keep people safe in the Commonwealth Games, in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, at cricket events, football events – whatever it might be throughout the calendar year. There are lots of places where people do gather in mass numbers; shopping centres and the like and we've been working very closely with the state agencies.
The Commonwealth has put $1.5 billion additional money into the counter-terrorism space and our agencies over the course of the last couple of years and we'll continue to work very closely with the state police agencies.
The Victorian Police say this man was known to them. They had looked into him. Could this have been prevented?
Well all of that information obviously will be examined and very closely examined, but at the moment, all of what I have seen indicates to me that the police both at the Victorian level, the Australian Federal Police level, have done an excellent job.
The intervention by the off-duty sergeant was an heroic act and….
[break in audio]
We are facing a significant threat and the police and intelligence officers are working around the clock to keep all of us very safe. But the activities and the information that's been provided to me, I can assure you that the police have done an excellent job in the lead-up to this issue and as a result of it.
Locally here at the airport two years ago a man crashed his car straight through the terminal in a similar attack. Should companies and organisations start taking more responsibility around security?
There's a lot of work that has been done both at a State and Local government level, but also at a Federal Government level as well. We have been working closely with a number of organisations, private enterprise, Government buildings and the like in trying to harden those buildings, trying to address some of the soft targets and trying to put in place measures that would counter mass attacks.
So there's a lot of work that's already underway and the Prime Minister has really shown leadership in this area, taken the lead in putting out a very important discussion paper, a very important engagement piece with many of the places of mass gathering around the country. We saw off the back of Bourke Street obviously and as we have seen in Sydney and Brisbane elsewhere, where we have got thoroughfares, malls, where people are walking and the like trying to deal with this incident of using a vehicle as a weapon.
The current threat level overall is PROBABLE, so that's concerning to us and as we know, as I mentioned before, 81 people have been charged with terrorist-related offences over the course of the last three years or so, but we've been able – as a Commonwealth and as State police agencies with their involvement – been able to thwart about 14 incidents which would have potentially resulted in loss of many, many Australians.
So we need to be mindful that as we have people radicalised online, young people in particular who are listening to this propaganda online, we need to remind ourselves – and people who are in a position of influence; leaders within communities, family members, siblings, sons, daughters, parents – if that snippet of information is available, you can anonymously provide that information to the police either through Crime Stoppers or through the hotline on 1800 123 400 because if you do that, it may well result in lives being saved and we would be very grateful for that information.
Can you tell us what you know about the suspect, his background?
We haven't got any further information to release in relation to him at the moment. Obviously – as is already publicly available I think – he's an individual that arrived in Australia under the refugee and humanitarian programme. So that was in 2004 as I recall. So that's the information otherwise that's publicly available, but I can't add to that at the moment.
[inaudible] security bollards everywhere.
No it's not. The intelligence picture here is the most important thing. We need to make sure that we're getting as much intelligence from the community. We need to make sure that the police and the intelligence agencies have the right powers to collect that information, to disseminate it as appropriate. All of the physical and built environment changes that need to take place are in the process of taking place or have already been implemented. So there are many elements to it.
Obviously there's a lot of proactive work that goes on by the Australian Federal Police, ASIO and the State Police authorities as well. We have stood up Counter-Terrorism Unit officers at our international airports and they're speaking to people both on their way out of Australia as well as those returning. The intelligence gathering piece is as big as it's ever been, but the threat is more significant than it's ever been as well.
I think it's important to put in perspective the fact that this was an isolated incident. There's no indication that this was part of some broader cell or there is, you know, an impending threat at the moment. That's not the information or the intelligence that we have.
I want people to be reassured as they go about their Christmas activities to know that the police are working 24/7 to keep us all safe at the moment, and that work will continue of course and if people have any information then please provide it to the police authorities.
The second person arrested yesterday [inaudible].
Police now know through their investigations overnight that that individual wasn't associated with the driver of the vehicle in question. So that person has been discounted. He was in the vicinity at the time, but there's no connection as I am advised on the information and intelligence currently available that there's any link to the driver or to the vehicle. He was at that point, in the wrong place at the wrong time, if you like, so he's been discounted from further investigation.
Any advice for Aussies travelling abroad overseas during the holiday season? Are there any risks or anything they should be looking out for and could it possibly be [inaudible].
It's a good question. We know that a million people a year holiday in Indonesia, so many people's Christmas will be going to Bali, they'll be going to other places in South-East Asia and of course to Europe or right around the world. I mean Australians travel a lot.
All I would say to people is to take note of the information on the smartraveller website, on the Department of Foreign Affairs website. To get any of that up-to-date country information before you travel, to register and to make sure that you're watching constantly the information that's being provided through the DFAT website.
But otherwise, if you're in a tourist destination, if you're at a bar within, you know, a village in Bali or wherever it might be, just make sure that you are extra cautious, make sure that you're watching the surrounds, watching what is going on around you and be aware of the environment that you're in.
This is a difficult time, particularly in South-East Asia. We work very closely with the Indonesian authorities, we work very closely with the Philippines Government and others particularly in those two areas where we have had foreign fighters returning from Syria and the Middle East. So there's a lot of work that Defence and our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are engaged in in the region. But please be aware, whether you're at a shopping centre or elsewhere.
This was an isolated incident in Melbourne, but we know that there are people that would seek to do us harm and at this time of year we do need to pay particular attention to the surrounds whether we're here in Australia or whether people are intending to travel overseas.
Can I quickly ask you about the WA boat?
The drug bust. So, where did these people come from, where was the boat from?
The Australian Federal Police aren't releasing that detail at the moment in terms of where the vessel's come from because it's still an active investigation, but we know that eight people have been arrested in relation to this, both people off the vessel and also people onshore.
So, we've been concerned for some time – and obviously there have been previous incidents where drugs have been seized either by carriers or courier's onshore meeting people on vessels – so all of that detail will be released in time.
We know that this is the biggest drug bust in our country's history of methamphetamine. One point two tonnes is an incredible amount of drugs that won't hit our streets this Christmas and New Year period and to take 12 million hits off the street over the Christmas and New Year period is a huge success story.
So again I really want to pay tribute to the AFP, to the Western Australian Police, the Australian Border Force, AUSTRAC, all of those other agencies that were involved. This is a very, very successful culmination and it really reflects months of work going back to the middle of the year and it's a credit great to all of those officers involved.
There are kids in Australia who will have their lives saved because of the impact that the police have had in the detection of these drugs. Taking 12 million hits off the street over the Christmas New Year period will make a big impact right across the country and this is the biggest bust. It's a billion dollar bust and it's the biggest bust of amphetamine in our country's history.
Was it a public tip-off that led to this?
Again, not something we would comment on in terms of where the intelligence has come from, but it is a long run investigation and there's still obviously a period to run in terms of the police activity and the investigations in relation to this matter.
But again, it's been a successful operation and quite often these operations start off because somebody close to a criminal, or somebody who has information, somebody that overheard a telephone call has provided information to Crime Stoppers and again if anybody has that sort of information, they really could make a big positive impact on the lives of Australians if they provide that information.
Geraldton is a somewhat remote port, North WA. Is that a common place that you see criminals avoiding those bigger city areas to try to get up to those smaller ones? Are they secure?
Well we have certainly seen this in the past where – particularly on the West Australian coast, but also across the Torres Strait as well where we're obviously in very close proximity to Papua New Guinea and many movements of vessels across that Strait on a daily basis –the reality is that Australian Border Force patrol areas regularly, the Queensland Police do, the Northern Territory Police do and obviously the West Australian Police as well.
Lots of joint operations, but most of these operations that are successful are the result of information being provided to the policing authorities. So again, if people have that information please provide it.
Were they all Australians that were arrested?
Look, I don't have that information in relation to the nationality, but the police will provide that information in due course.
Thanks very much. Have a nice Christmas.