2GB Drive - Interview with Michael McLaren

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL MCLAREN: An absolute mountain of news around heaps of stuff, but I think the big story still is the news that broke this morning when that truck ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in West Berlin killing at least 12 people, 48 others injured at this stage. It's shaken Germany to the core. On the line I have our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who's been good enough to give us some time on the program this afternoon. Foreign Minister, thank you for that. Good afternoon

JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon, Michael.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: These stories sadly aren't unique anymore, but nonetheless every time we hear of these terror attacks they do make us all just pause and take stock. As far as Australians are concerned, if they do have worries about relatives in Berlin or in Germany I suppose they have DFAT to get in touch with, don't they?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's right. We are not aware of any Australians being killed or injured in the shocking incident in Berlin. At least 12 people have been killed, around 50 reportedly injured, and I certainly extend our condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and we hope for a full recovery for those injured. We have confirmed that a couple of Australians who were in the vicinity are unharmed, but we have offered support to them should they require it. Any Australians in Berlin or elsewhere in Germany should monitor the media, follow the advice of local authorities, and certainly advise their friends and family back home that they're safe. But if anyone does have concerns for the welfare of family and friends in the region and can't contact them directly, there are two phone numbers that I can give out. One is our 24-hour consular emergency centre on: 1300555135. Or, if people are calling from overseas, the number is: +61262613305. But I can confirm that all our staff in our embassy in Berlin are accounted for, and that we have provided consular assistance to a young Australian woman who is unharmed but did witness the incident at close quarters.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: Yes. We've got those numbers, so if people need them repeated they can get in touch and we will repeat those. As I said though, sadly this is becoming an all too frequent occurrence, terrorist attacks, at it seems particularly around this Christmas time of the year, when a lot of people in Western countries are enjoying time with family and the festive season, out and about in crowded public areas like Christmas markets, evil strikes. Are Western governments doing enough to protect their citizens from these events, Julie?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a shocking incident. It certainly has all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack – although I have to point out that German authorities have not yet confirmed the motive. Our embassy is in close contact with German authorities and we are awaiting further clarification about the incident, but our travel advice was in fact updated on 17 December, reflecting the intelligence and security advice we had that Christmas markets in particular, but other places that attract mass gatherings, large-scale events, are particularly vulnerable at this time of the year.

And governments around the world are heightening their security. In fact, over the last 30 days there's been some shocking attacks in Jordan, in Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Nigeria, Iraq. So not just in Europe, but in Middle East, North Africa, there's been some terrible incidents that have targeted civilians in particular, and we unite with governments and people around the world in our fight against terrorism, and particularly the targeting of civilians. The Australian Government is doing all we can here at home in ensuring that our federal police are working in close cooperation with state and territory police to act on any intelligence that we have. We've provided the resources and the support that our agencies need to do what we can to keep Australians safe, but we can't provide any guarantees. People have to be very well aware of the circumstances and where they are, and we have to continue with our life and continue with what we do at this time of the year, but we have to be aware that there are risks.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: Can I ask a difficult question in regard to this? And this feeds off concerns of some listeners and others that I mix with in the community. They make the point, and by no means is this a broad brush sweep of Muslim people, but people say are we doing enough in our immigration program to keep Australia safe, in that it is very clear that terrorism is almost exclusively being perpetuated by a particular segment of the global population and there are, as you know, politicians calling for a debate, if nothing else, on immigration from the Islamic world. Should we be having that debate, or is that overreach?

JULIE BISHOP: There's a tiny proportion of people, when you consider the number of Muslims world-wide, there's a tiny proportion of people who are carrying out attacks and are of interest and concern to intelligence agencies. But there is a significant level of conflict in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, elsewhere. Australian citizens have been attracted as foreign terrorist fighters who are in Syria and Iraq and who have been trained as hardened terrorists. Our concern is that the more successful we are in defeating terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq the more likely it is that these radicalised Australians and others from our region will seek to return home and still have extremist views and believe in extremist ideology. Terrorism is a global risk. It's a risk in our region, it's a risk in Australia. As far as our immigration system is concerned, we have very high level security checks on people. We spend a lot of time and effort and resources ensuring that those who come to Australia meet our very high standards. But again, it's impossible [indistinct] …

MICHAEL MCLAREN: [Talks over] But some do slip through the cracks.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's right. It's impossible, as we've seen around the world, particularly in Europe though where they had very open borders. The security and intelligence authorities and forces and agencies were really stretched in trying to cope with it. In Australia we are an island continent. We have a universal visa system. You can't come to Australia unless you have a visa - that gives us an opportunity to ensure that people have travel documentation - but even that doesn't guarantee that people with ill intent can't come into the country.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: I suppose, just finally then, following from that, the theory is, well, again, 98 per cent of those who profess to be Islamic may, and will, make wonderful citizens, but the one or two per cent risk factor, is it worth the risk? That's where the debate is in the public. That's what people are saying around the barbeque and over the dinner table when these things happen.

JULIE BISHOP: Indeed, but of course we have to put this in perspective. There is criminal activity across segments of society, across ethnic groups, across backgrounds, across different life experiences there's criminal activity. Terrorist activity, of course, is at a different level again, and tragically we've seen it around the world. We've thwarted a number of terrorist attack attempts here in Australia, and we'll continue to do that, but I want your listeners to be assured that the Australian Government is doing all we can at this time of the year, but also throughout the year, in ensuring that we have strong border protection, a strong, credible immigration system, and that our police, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies are well resourced and well positioned to seek to keep Australians as safe as they possibly can.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: Foreign Minister, you've been more than generous with your time on a very busy and difficult day. I thank you for that, and have a merry Christmas.

JULIE BISHOP: Same to you and your listeners. Thanks Michael.

MICHAEL MCLAREN: Pleasure. Julie Bishop there, Australia's Foreign Minister.

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