Subjects: Melbourne terror arrests; encryption legislation.
It is 26 minutes after eight and we've been able to crowbar our way into a very busy schedule of the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton who joins us this morning. Good morning Peter.
Good morning Ed. How are you?
Thank you very much for taking our call Peter. A big day in Melbourne again yesterday. We can't talk about the specifics obviously because it's sub judice, but Peter can you give us an insight into what your Department and the various agencies from ASIO to Victoria Police and associated crime fighters around Australia are doing at the moment and how heightened is the fear of terrorist attacks in our country at the moment?
Yes. Well morning mate, they're good questions and I guess the first words are of praise for the police here. The Victorian Police work in a joint taskforce with ASIO and with the Australian Federal Police and they've done a great job in stopping this attack before it’s taken place.
So the allegation is that these individuals were trying to source a semi-automatic weapon and that obviously provides potentially for a significant loss of life if somebody goes into a crowded place. So that's what we've seen overseas and one of our great concerns here obviously, and they do a lot of work behind the scenes.
One of the concerns that we've got at the moment is a lot of these alleged terrorists and people have committed terrorist attacks, when we go back and have a look at their history, they are communicating through encrypted messaging apps so they know the police can't access those. And now we're seeing paedophile rings and others who are using those encrypted apps.
Now encryption is an incredibly important thing for all of us – for internet banking, for secure messaging etc. – but in situations where we just don't have coverage, or the police have gone dark on some of these individuals, it's near impossible then to detect what is happening, what's being planned and that's the big debate at the moment.
Yeah Peter it's a big question that, isn't it? With everyone who uses WhatsApp and it's almost all of us at this stage. What are the measures in place to make sure that you are going after people that we need to be protected from and also protecting privacy? Are there ways to, I suppose, keep everyone happy?
Well Darce, the rule at the moment is that the police need a warrant to get access to somebody's phone for example or to intercept messages or calls and that needs to be issued, in most cases, by a magistrate or by a judge and all of those same protections should apply. There's no question about that. Privacy is incredibly important and this applies to people who are the most serious criminals.
So it's really – I guess the best way to describe it is if a criminal or somebody planning a terrorist attack 20 years ago wrote a handwritten note about the things that he needed to buy from the hardware to make the bomb and the list of things that he was planning on doing before he went down to Bourke Street then the police could get a warrant for that. They could knock down the front door, go in, grab the piece of paper, stop the attack and that would be used as evidence. The exact same detail can be now typed into a WhatsApp message, sent to one of the criminal's associates or the terrorist associates, but they can't get that information. So it's just an issue of trying to deal with the technology.
As I say, encryption is important. We don't want to create a backdoor. We don't want to create problems for the tech companies. But if the police are blind on these matters and the Director-General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, tells us that about 95 per cent of cases now, the high value targets that they're looking at and investigations, people are using encrypted messaging apps for that reason.
So we've got to be realistic about the threat that we've got and I think most people would expect that if the police have any chance of stopping these attacks, they've got to have reasonable coverage of what the people are doing.
So Peter, you're guaranteeing though that this will be kept to terrorism and terrorism-related issues? It's not going to have some sort of creep out to being expanded to fishing around in people's WhatsApps for other things? I mean, because I imagine even some politicians who, say had been planning leadership spills behind their leaders back on WhatsApp wouldn't want those messages leaking out into the public.
Mate, let me put it this way, you have nothing to fear.
Oh no, I have plenty to fear.
…dodgy messages and practices won’t be discovered.
He's doing a check, don't worry.
You’ll be fine.
Peter with that in mind, there's the other side of it and that's the need for security and you've got that battle with a story this morning about the Chinese diverting emails and particularly sensitive business emails through China and then through Australia. So it's a double-edged sword this one, isn't it?
Yeah and it's not one that a lot of people see, Ed. So we've got state actors and non-state actors who are trying to hack into computers, trying to discover emails, companies, small businesses across the country, including in Victoria, that might be providing some sort of services or products to the Australian Defence Force that are involved in that supply chain or if they've got lawyers who are representing them in transactions overseas and we're seeing at the moment just a heightened level of activity.
The Government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to harden our systems because we have had attacks even say through the Bureau of Meteorology site because if they can get into that site then they can worm their way into the government-protected networks otherwise – at least that's the attempt that they undertake.
So yeah, it's a pretty serious business and for a lot of businesses it's – the WannaCry attacks, the extortion demands, people having their identities stolen – it's a real issue and obviously it's growing because the use of technology now is just unprecedented.
So if you're in a small business, it's worth getting an upgrade to the protection that you've got on your system or speaking to someone who knows what they're talking about because it's a pretty complicated area, but you could save yourself a lot of grief.
Peter, we're just on the 8:30 news, a quick one which is a bit complex, but if you can do your best for us here. We've seen in the past that you've been able to stop passports for people who might want to go off to war zones or areas. We stopped them going because we don't want them to become more radicalised and then come back to Australia trained up to be terrorists on our own shore. Is there a way, particularly if they're Australian-born citizens, is there a way that if they go you can cancel their situation and they can't come back? Is that where you're heading with this type of thing? It's a wrestling match isn't it between Australian citizens and those who decide to become enemies of our state.
Yeah. Look, it's a difficult thing because instinctively my thought is look, if people want to go off and fight, let them go. And about 100 Australians have been killed over in Syria and Iraq. It's a tragedy for their families back here. Some of whom just had no idea that they'd been radicalised online, told their parents that they were going overseas for a holiday or to get married or whatever it might be and end up being killed in a theatre of war.
So the difficulty though is if you've got an Australian citizen, they've got, obviously rightly, much greater protections than somebody here on a visa. So they have the ability to come back to Australia and if you allow people to go over, they get trained up in the art of bomb-making and terrorism activity and they have a constitutional right to come back to our country as an Australian citizen, then they come back an even greater threat.
So it's a question of trying to get that balance right and it's part of the reason – and we've spoken about this on air before – why we've cancelled significant numbers of visas of people who had been involved in serious criminal activity. We want to stop bad people from becoming Australian citizens and encourage good people.
You look at the contrast of the life of Sisto, somebody who came here and worked his guts out for a long period of time, raised his family, sacrificed and built an enormous involvement in Australian life compared to someone like Shire Ali, who goes out and stabs a bloke who comes out to help him when his car's on fire.
So we want the good people to come in and to stay and we want to kick out the bad people so they don't go on to commit the sort of atrocities we've seen in Bourke Street and elsewhere.
Peter, they're big issues facing the country. We always appreciate you taking the time out to join us on Triple M's Hot Breakfast. Good to catch up.
Thanks guys. Cheers.