Shane, thank you very much. Can I say thank you for your warm welcome; it's a great honour to be here today to open this conference. It's a great collaboration and the list of contributors is impressive to say the least. I want to say thank you very much for your leadership in Victoria as Acting Chief Commissioner. The Victorian Police provides an exemplar, not only domestically but around the world, of best practice in policing and we're very pleased to be here. We would agree with most things….but we would dispute the claim to be the world's best sporting capital of course, particularly given that we beat the Poms in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago in Queensland – so for our Five Eyes partners outside of the United Kingdom, I apologise for that in joke which you won't get, but it's an important one for us.
Ladies and gentlemen the International Leadership in Counter Terrorism Alumni Association of course plays a vital role in providing law enforcement and intelligence officials with invaluable professional development and networking opportunities. Many nations today face similar counter-terror challenges and there is much that we can learn through mutual cooperation.
We find ourselves here because, as we all know, the unfortunate reality is that there has been a significant and ongoing deterioration of the threat environment, especially over the last few years in the rise of Islamist inspired lone-wolf attacks and ubiquitous encryption have made threat detection more difficult and post incident investigations ever more challenging.
Extremists are becoming more insidious, more innovative and more determined to inflict harm, through whatever means possible and their twisted and evil ideology means that individuals are using the internet of course to disseminate propaganda and manipulate and radicalise young people in Western nations. As ISIS has crumbled in the Middle East, they have increasingly become reliant on the internet and the spread of their ideology.
There have been five terror attacks in Australia since the national terrorism threat level was raised to PROBABLE in September of 2014. One of these attacks, as the Commissioner pointed out before, involved an incident here in Victoria where two police officers; a Victorian Police officer and an Australian Federal Police officer were injured. I want to commend those officers and the officers in the subsequent attack that were injured where the offender fortunately was killed.
They represent the brave men and women who are part of your organisations, not just here, but around the world and I wanted most importantly today to pay tribute to those, particularly those that have gone into the line of fire, that have provided support to innocent men, women and children that otherwise would have died at the hands of these terrorists.
I want to acknowledge the presence here today of Superintendent Ross McNeil and Inspector Randy Anderson, two Victorian Police officers on the front line who provide the leadership in their organisation, as many do around the world, here today, but they are significant players in Victoria and they represent the great skill that organisations bring to this very real threat.
Across Australia, since 2014, 35 counter-terrorism operations have resulted in 80 individuals being charged. There are currently 42 individuals before the courts for terrorism related offenses, and shockingly we know that five of those are juveniles.
Radicalisation has seen foreign fighters pose a significant problem for our nation and for yours and in the last five years around 220 Australian passports have been cancelled or refused in relation to the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Around 40 foreign fighters have returned to Australia after travelling to the Middle East and joining groups involved in the conflict.
In July this year agencies here in Australia, with assistance from their foreign partners, thwarted an attempt to smuggle a device onto an international flight out of Sydney. The consequences would obviously have been catastrophic, but for the efforts of the officers involved.
So there is no place and there can never be any place for complacency in the face of today's growing and evolving threats. Standing still in the current environment adds up to going backward.
We must make sure that we are making the best use of our intelligence, law enforcement and national security resources to protect the Australian community. We must anticipate foreign threats before they reach our shores and respond to domestic threats as they emerge.
We've invested an additional $1.5 billion in counter-terrorism since August of 2014, but increased funding is not a panacea. Reports to the government over a long period of time, including the recent L'Estrange/Merchant Review, have called for enhanced coordination between Australia's intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It builds on amazing work conducted every day between the respective State and Territory jurisdictions and the federal agencies including the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.
In the past, governments have responded with ad hoc arrangements, but the Federal Government recently announced a more permanent structural reform is required. It's why the Commonwealth is implementing the most significant reforms to Australia's domestic security apparatus in decades and in the establishment of a new Home Affairs Department, we acknowledge the work and support, given that we've modelled our department largely on that of the UK's Home Office and the Department of Homeland Security in the United States.
The Department will provide central coordinated strategy, policy and leadership across its remit which includes national security, federal law enforcement, criminal justice, border protection, immigration and emergency management.
Home Affairs will bring together key frontline agencies including the Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation.
These agencies will maintain the operational independence that they currently have, but strategic planning, coordination and cooperation will be strengthened and supported by the new Home Affairs Department. The reforms will provide a more integrated approach to national security and law enforcement and the stand-up of Home Affairs will place Australia on the strongest possible footing amidst an incredibly challenging threat environment.
Terror-related activity, as we know, joins a long list of threats to the Australian community – from illicit drugs and firearms, to people smuggling, human trafficking, cyber-intrusion, foreign espionage, child exploitation and of course many of the activities ultimately provide funding to terrorist planning.
In closing, I want to thank all of our domestic law enforcement agency leaders here today. Over the course of the last several years, the Commonwealth has been able to co-ordinate with the law enforcement agencies and the Commissioners who are here today and people within their organisations to undertake a programme which has improved the safety of our country.
We've done that through a co-ordinated approach to cancelling visas of non-citizens.
I have been able to cancel the visas of over 3,000 dangerous non-citizens, including 1,300 in the 2016-17 financial year alone. We've been able to that because the respective agencies have provided us with the support and the intelligence around their top targets.
They are record figures. In fact there has been a 1,200 per cent increase in character cancellations and it includes 249 visas for armed robbers, 213 for theft, robbery and break and enter, 649 for assault, 57 for murder, 23 for manslaughter, 129 for rape and other sexual offences, and 247 for child pornography and child sex offences. I have also cancelled the visas of 160 Outlaw Motorcycle Gang members – the downside is that they've all returned back to your respective countries I'm sorry.
Together we have been able to construct a model which has been successful and I want it to be the basis of the coordination, support, effort and the trust that exists between the State and Commonwealth agencies to lift that to a level that hasn't been possible in the past.
So it doesn't matter whether we're protecting Australians from dangerous criminals or from extremist terrorists. Protecting families here in our country is our Government, and I know your organisations' first responsibility and highest priority.
I want to thank you again for the outstanding work within your respective organisations. Thank you for being a part of this collaboration in Victoria and I look forward very much to hearing the product that comes from what I think is a very impressive line-up and it will be of great benefit to all of those who must collaborate together in this fight against terrorism.
Thank you very much.