Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Interview with AM, ABC Radio

Topics: Counter-terrorism White Paper, security in India

Transcript, E&OE

23 February 2010

SABRA LANE: Mr Smith, welcome to AM.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you.

SABRA LANE: Why are you releasing this document today? The Opposition says you are trying to take the heat off Peter Garrett.

STEPHEN SMITH: That's just not right. We're releasing the document because it is ready for release.

When the Prime Minister launched the National Security Statement we gave a commitment that within 12 months we would release a counter-terrorism white paper. That was technically up in December, but in December we weren't satisfied that we had done sufficient analysis on a couple of things - on emerging threats in Yemen and Somalia, which have been the subject of international commentary recently, and of course on Christmas Day we had the so-called Christmas Day bomber.

We now believe we've got the White Paper into the best state it can be for this point in time but can I make this point? Terrorism and counter-terrorism is going to be with us as an enduring feature for a long period of time. And the Australian community and the Parliament, the Government and the Opposition can carry two thoughts in their mind on one day, they can deal with the prevailing domestic issues of the day, but also deal seriously with our most significant priority as a Government and a nation, which is to protect the national security interests of Australia's citizens.

So people will be able to deal with this and other matters today.

SABRA LANE: As you have just alluded to, this Paper now says that terrorism has become a permanent feature of Australia's security environment. Has the threat from home grown radicals overtaken external threats?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what the White Paper analysis shows is that if you take September 11, 2001, as the modern starting point, there have been two changes since then.

Firstly, while we have had some success against Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whilst of course that is ongoing, but also in Southeast Asia with Jemaah Islamiah, the Al Qaeda threat continues. It has also evolved. I referred to Yemen and Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, so it has evolved.

The second development we've seen, and this came to light in the first instance in the United Kingdom, is the so-called home-grown threat here where individuals of a particular nation become influenced by the extremist global jihad and we have to be very careful to watch that in Australia.

Whilst the numbers are small, so for example since 2001 we have had about 40 people arrested on terrorism charges, we have had 20 convictions and we've had about 40 people whose passports have been refused or confiscated for terrorism reasons, it only takes one to get through.

I think the other feature is the techniques of the terrorists are also evolving. We are now seeing emerging the potential so-called lone wolf escapade where we don't have sophisticated planning but an individual is seduced by the international jihad and as a lone wolf does extreme things.

SABRA LANE: Under this plan you are going to target 10 countries for strict new visa checks. You are going to introduce $69 million over the next four years to introduce biometric testing. How are you going to select these countries and will Indonesia factor there as Jemaah Islamiah has had a strong presence in Indonesia?

STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly we are going to introduce through a range of countries these enhanced visa arrangements - introduction of biometrics, which is essentially fingerprints and facial scanning or facial imaging or screening. That will reduce the risk of terrorists or terrorist suspects getting through our systems through identity fraud and the like.

We are not proposing to identify the countries concerned until we actually engage in the rollout for all of the obvious reasons, but that will become apparent as the program is rolled out.

We are doing this in conjunction primarily with the United Kingdom, using resources that they use, but also, of course, the database is that which is available internationally through a range of our partners and likemindeds in this area.

SABRA LANE: Will you have to fly to some of these countries ahead of naming them because I would imagine that some of them wouldn't be too happy as being fingered publicly as terrorist or criminal havens?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, obviously we will be in consultation with the countries concerned. Whether that is done at ministerial level or officials level, time will tell.

SABRA LANE: This Paper, as you mentioned, was promised at the end of last year.

How many rewrites has it had and how much input has the Prime Minister had?

STEPHEN SMITH: It has been the subject of intensive consideration by the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, which of course the Prime Minister chairs and we gave it very intense consideration in the last quarter of last year, not just Ministers but officials from the various agencies, in particular the intelligence community.

And, as I say, in the last quarter of last year, November-December, we came to the conclusion that we needed to do more work just to make sure that we had gotten on top of the assessment of some of those emerging threats in Yemen - and we've seen an international conference in London on Yemen - Somalia, and then we saw of course the Christmas Day bomber. And as a consequence of that, you have also seen recently the aviation security announcement by the Government enhancing our aviation protection mechanisms.

SABRA LANE: On a separate issue, Indian Premier League cricketers are meeting in Sydney today. They are getting a private security briefing on the 20/10 tournament in India next month. Is it still safe for them to go there?

STEPHEN SMITH: In the end, whether Australian cricketers or hockey players or Commonwealth Games athletes compete is a matter for them. What we do is provide them with all of the up-to-date travel threat assessments and security assessments.

We have done that with Cricket Australia for test match overseas tours but also for these individual games now, the IPL and the like. We have done it exhaustively with Hockey Australia and we are doing it with the Commonwealth Games. So we make it available. It is a matter for them.

My understanding is the meeting today is some of the cricketers getting advice from their own private security organisation. Well, that is entirely appropriate.

In the end it's a matter for the cricketers to make their own individual judgements, but we give them access to all of the information that we have, as we should.

SABRA LANE: Mr Smith, thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in our Canberra studio with Sabra Lane.

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