6PR Mornings, Perth - Interview with Gareth Parker

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Well, welcome to the Morning program. That's the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. He's talking about South Australian woman Kirsty Boden, just 28 years old, a nurse who ran to help the wounded victims of the London Bridge terror attack. Last night, her family confirmed the worst, that she was killed in that attack – a victim of an Islamist terrorist atrocity. I'm not going to waste any time with preamble today. There's lots coming up on the show, but I'll tell you what that is after the first break, because right now on the line is the Foreign Minister of Australia, Julie Bishop, and there's plenty to talk about as we grapple with the terror threat at home and abroad. Julie Bishop, good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

GARETH PARKER: You've confirmed that two Australians have been killed this morning. I understand you're not releasing names at the moment, but we do note that the families of Kirsty Boden and 21 year old Sara Zelenak from Queensland are travelling to the United Kingdom. Can you tell us any more at this point?

JULIE BISHOP: Very sadly I can confirm that two Australians, two young women, were killed in the London attacks last Saturday night. It is heartbreaking official confirmation from the British authorities, although I have to point out the British authorities have asked us, the Australian Government, to not publically identify the Australians until official coronial processes are completed and the families have been officially advised. The families are both on their way to London and we have been in constant contact with the families, who have asked for privacy, and I know the media will respect that. But it is heartbreaking news that two beautiful, young Australian women enjoying a night out in London were so savagely attacked in this way. The brutality of the attacks is just beyond belief and it's sickening to learn the details, but sadly my task today is to confirm officially that two Australians have been killed.

GARETH PARKER: We are dealing with this terror threat, as I said, not just abroad but at home. The Prime Minister is today demanding that the states fix parole laws. I don't think I'm going to call these attacks lone wolf attacks. I think there's enough evidence to suggest that the perpetrators of these attacks are carrying them out based on inspiration or a generalised direction, if you like, from Jihadis, from Islamic State and the like, to cause fear and mayhem among Western communities, including here in Australia. So that's the context. What can we do about that issue?

JULIE BISHOP: Well you are absolutely right. There is a pattern of behaviour, but none of the attacks are exactly the same, and the attacks in London involved the use of a car and knives. The attack in Manchester was much more sophisticated, with a bomb being made. They are indiscriminate in that the attacks can happen anywhere at any time and people of all nationalities and backgrounds and religions and faiths and age are being attacked. There was a terrible attack in Baghdad where a 12 year old Australian girl was also killed. So they are random, indiscriminate, but there is a pattern of Islamist terrorism, whether they are inspired, whether they are directed, whether they are copycats. It is of deep, deep ongoing concern.

Here in Australia we have to have a united front. We have to have the voices of moderation, the voices of tolerance and harmony rejecting violence, rejecting these extremist views, and they must drown out the voices of hatred and Islamic extremism. We have all of our laws under constant review to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to detect and thwart these terrorist attacks, and as the threats evolve we have to keep ahead of it. We have to ensure that our safety procedures for mass gatherings for areas where public crowds gather are as tight as they can be. We have to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the powers and the resources they need, and most of all we have to have the very best intelligence and information we can. Much of the information we have received in Australia about radicalised young people in particular have come from the Muslim communities, from the community leaders, from religious leaders, from schools, from families who detect worrying changes in behaviour and let the authorities know.

So we are not immune in Australia, as we saw in Melbourne yesterday, but I can assure you that the Government is doing all we can, working with state authorities, with law enforcement, security, intelligence authorities to keep Australians as safe as we possibly can.

GARETH PARKER: So the case in Melbourne, Yacqub Khayre, he was known to authorities yet he wasn't one of the 400 or thereabouts cases being actively tracked by ASIO. He was a lower priority than that. What do we conclude about that? Does ASIO have sufficient resources?

JULIE BISHOP: Well what we have to do is review every single case. This person was on a watch list and then did nothing for a long time and so became a lesser priority for those who were more active. ASIO, they have to make judgements all the time about the hundreds of people who are on a watch list. As you might know, we have cancelled about 200 passports of people that we believe pose a risk to Australia if they go overseas and learn how to become a terrorist, but when they are not permitted to go overseas we have to keep a watch on them here, and there are literally hundreds of people of interest to our law enforcement and security agencies. That is why it's got to be a whole of community effort, a whole of government effort, to detect changes in behaviour, to detect radicalisation and instances of Islamic extremism so that we can intervene and try and prevent attacks happening. Since we increased our terror threat to probable in September of 2014, over 60 people have been arrested for terrorist-related offences. We have thwarted about over 12 attacks that could have been mass-casualty attacks. So we are succeeding in one sense, but of course we have to be right every single time, but terrorists only have to be lucky once.

GARETH PARKER: It almost becomes a numbers game. I mean, I don't know that every- I think we're asking a lot of ASIO, we're asking a lot of the AFP to disrupt every single time, as you say.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's right, and this is what law enforcement and security agencies and intelligence agencies are facing around the world. We are working very closely with authorities in the UK to learn as much as we can from what has happened there. We are working closely with European authorities and particularly in our region, with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with the Philippines, because these Islamic Jihadists, these foreign terrorist fighters who have been pushed out of Iraq and Syria, they will make their way home, wherever home might be, and so we have to be able to monitor them and detect them and deter them wherever they are. If they survive the conflict in Syria and Iraq and try and make their way back then we have to monitor them, but likewise here in Australia. What they call home-grown terrorists, people who've lived in Australia – might be second-generation Australians or more – we have to work with the Muslim communities, we have to work with communities across Australia to see if we can detect changes in the behaviour that might lead to this kind of attack that we saw in Melbourne.

GARETH PARKER: So Malcolm Turnbull was very critical yesterday of the fact that Yacqub Khayre was out on parole. This morning on our sister station 3AW in Melbourne, the head of the Victorian parole board told Neil Mitchell- he defended the parole board's work, saying that there was no information put before the parole board, from any Commonwealth authority, that suggested that Yacqub Khayre was a continuing risk to the public, that he shouldn't be released on potential terrorist or any other grounds. Did the Commonwealth drop the ball here?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, yet, as I understand it the Victorians put him on a deradicalisation program – they must have had information to suggest that he needed to be deradicalised, and I don't believe the Commonwealth had that information. So what it tells me is there has got to be much greater information sharing between the federal and state authorities. I know the Prime Minister is determined to make that happen, he has an upcoming meeting with state and territory leaders – the Premiers and chief ministers – and I have no doubt that this issue of counter-terrorism of working together across Government will be top of the agenda.

GARETH PARKER: Yeah, so that's the COAG meeting that begins tomorrow. Fourteen-months ago COAG met, and agreed – and I'm quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald here – that the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, and state and territory leaders agreed to finalise a deal that would treat unrepentant terrorists the same as paedophiles and extreme violent offenders who could, when applications are made to the courts, be held in detention as a preventative measure beyond their sentence in the same way that, for example, in this state declared dangerous sex offenders can be held beyond their sentence. Now, I made some inquiries here in Western Australia this morning, I confirmed that those laws are yet to be enacted 14-months on. I was told that the urgency isn't really here in WA because we don't have any terrorists in jail. But, clearly this has relevance to New South Wales and Victoria, so have the states and the Commonwealth finalised that matter? My understanding is it was required enabling legislation for each of the states, has that been done?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I'd have to check with the Attorney General as to the status of each state, but you are absolutely right, for this to be a national initiative, it has to be enacted in each state and territory, and, the Commonwealth will do all we can to ensure that we have the laws in place – which I believe we do – but I'd have to check to ascertain whether each state and territory has completed it. That is just one task, that is just one piece of legislation, there's a whole raft of things that we have to do as this terrorist threat evolves. No one attack follows the same pattern. There is an overarching theme of Islamist terrorism and violence and savage brutality but no one attack has followed exactly the same approach. So you can't take a cookie cutter approach, you have got to be ever evolving our response and that's what we're seeking to do, and of course, the issue of parole is going to be one that is uppermost in the Premiers' and Prime Minister's mind as they meet tomorrow.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, Julie Bishop, on another matter, as you're aware, this week there has been a large focus on the issue of Chinese influence in domestic politics as a result of the Four Corners-Fairfax investigation. Now, we spoke with Nick McKenzie, one of the journalists who worked on that on the program yesterday, I just want to play you a little bit of what he had to say.

[Start excerpt]

NICK MCKENZIE: Well, Western Australia it would be fair to ask the question as to why a New South Wales property developer – be they from China or not – want to donate to WA – the Liberals in WA. I think it would be a fair conclusion to say that Julie Bishop's home state, and we see money taking power here, there's a reason why money's going to WA and the most likely reason is because it's about, at the very least, giving access to our Foreign Minister.

[End of excerpt]

GARETH PARKER: What would you say about that, Julie Bishop?

JULIE BISHOP: People can have access to me as Foreign Minister in accordance with appropriate precedent and laws. If anybody thinks that they're going to influence me by donating money to the Liberal Party, then they are vastly mistaken, and I think the evidence shows there has been absolutely no Chinese influence over our foreign policy – which has not changed. I continue to call out Chinese behaviour where I believe it's appropriate. I continue to maintain our position on the South China Sea. I continue to maintain our position calling on China to be a responsible international stakeholder when it comes to North Korea. So there is absolutely no evidence of any influence or any change or policy as a result of donations being made to the Liberal Party of Australia.

GARETH PARKER: But why would Chinese business people with property development interests in New South Wales send donations to the West Australian Liberal Party?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that these are Chinese-Australian citizens and that they donate across the country to both sides of politics – that's my understanding.

GARETH PARKER: Is it your belief that that practice needs to end now?

JULIE BISHOP: If they're Australian citizens, they are entitled to donate to political parties as any other Australian citizen or permanent resident is able to. What we are looking at is banning foreign donations, and that is to take away the influence of foreign countries, foreign corporations from the political processes in Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull announced that that is what we would be doing, and I understand that legislation is being drafted, and I would welcome that. But if somebody's an Australian citizen, you can't take away their right to donate to a political party of their choice. I might also say that there are many in the business community – whether they are Chinese or Australian businesses – who donate to the Liberal Party because they believe that we are the party best suited for businesses to thrive, that we are a party that supports business, that supports investment, that supports a growing economy, and, in a democratic society such as Australia's, people can have the right to donate to political parties that they believe best represent their interests and the interests of the country. I mean, that's how the Liberal Party gains donations from business. That's how the Labor Party gains donations from the union movement – the unions think Labor is best suited for their interests in government, whereas I believe that the Liberal Party best represents the majority interests of the majority of Australians.

GARETH PARKER: Julie Bishop, thanks for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

GARETH PARKER: Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of Australia.

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