ABC AM Program, Canberra - interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE
23 June 2015

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop, clearly you still can't confirm the deaths of these two people, but presumably, it would be something of a relief for Australian intelligence agencies if it was confirmed.

JULIE BISHOP Our security and intelligence agencies are working to verify these reports that Mr Elomar and Mr Sharrouf have been killed in Iraq or perhaps Syria. Both men have been listed as terrorists under the United Nations Security Council resolution dealing with foreign terrorist fighters. Both men have had their passports cancelled on the grounds that they pose a national security risk to Australia and both men have had warrants issued for their arrest by Australian police. They have been boasting online – on social media – about the brutal acts that they have been carrying out in Syria and Iraq and, of course, it is a crime for an Australian citizen to be in Mosul in Iraq or Al-Raqqa province in Syria without a legitimate purpose.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Now they have been pretty important, haven't they, in the whole recruitment process, as we've seen, very active on social media.

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I recall last August, when Secretary of State John Kerry was in Australia for our ministerial meeting, and the photographs of Mr Sharrouf's son holding up the head allegedly of a Syrian fighter was in the Australian media and Secretary of State Kerry expressed his utter shock and revulsion by this image and, of course, the photographs went global.

I understand that both Mr Elomar and Mr Sharrouf have been used for recruiting purposes for this terrorist organisation, Da'esh. They are not martyrs, they are not heroes, they are criminal thugs who are carrying out terrorist activities to harm not only people of Syria and Iraq, but also Australians.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Where does it leave the children and the families? Clearly if it has been confirmed, presumably they can come home, can't they?

JULIE BISHOP Well there are families in Australia and obviously we'll be seeking to contact them. We understand that there are family members in Syria or Iraq and should these reports be verified, then we'll try and be in contact with them, however until such time as we know that the reports are true…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok, but what are the possibilities if they are? I mean, can they come home?

JULIE BISHOP It would depend very much on the circumstances and the advice that we receive from our intelligence agencies at the time.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Okay. On the citizenship issue generally, having discussed and argued over the whole citizenship removal process, where have you ended up?

JULIE BISHOP We will be introducing a proposed bill to our Party Room this morning and it will be discussed in our Party Room, as is the usual course, and if the Party Room signs off on it, then it will be introduced into the Parliament.

What we are seeking to do is extend Section 35 of the Citizenship Act. I mean, this is a section that's been in the Act for some seven decades and it relates to the automatic forfeiture of a citizenship if someone fights with a foreign army against Australia. We will bring that into the contemporary circumstances of people taking up with terrorist organisations that have effectively declared war on Australia and Australians.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So it is a bureaucratic decision essentially, is it, it's not a ministerial decision?

JULIE BISHOP That's right. I won't go into the detail of it, but it does address some of the concerns that have been raised in the last few weeks and I think it will be a very effective tool in our fight against terrorism.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Is it constitutional?

JULIE BISHOP I believe so.


JULIE BISHOP Well we've received advice to that effect.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Of course. Doesn't this make the initial proposal floated by the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, and the Prime Minister look like overreach?

JULIE BISHOP No, not at all. What the Prime Minister and Minister Dutton were doing was putting forward a proposal. It's been discussed as it should be. It is a serious issue, but we are facing an unprecedented terrorist threat that is attracting at last count about 120 Australians fighting for this terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq and a similar number supporting it back home.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Do you accept that there is a danger the rhetoric around this does risk alienating the people you need to have on side?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is doing all it can to reach out to communities that are affected by this. We have programs in place, we have grants programs that have been assisting about 42 community-based organisations in engaging with, particularly young people, who are at risk or have been radicalised by this violent extremism. But this is not a matter just for the Government. We can't do it alone. We have to do it with communities, with schools, with parents. That's why we've been reaching out for months…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Sure, which is my point because you would have seen comments this morning, there are a couple around today. Diana Abdel-Rhaman, President of the Australian Muslim Voice here in Canberra, says the tone and the language used is designed to heighten levels of fear in the community and Jamal Rifi who's certainly one of the more moderate and considered Muslim leaders says the Government has done more to antagonise the community than to engage with them.

JULIE BISHOP We are seeking to work closely with the communities, engage with the communities across Australia. That's why we held a summit in Sydney recently on countering violent extremism and invited leaders and representatives from community organisations and NGOs from throughout the region, because this is not an issue that Australia alone faces. This is not…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And you need the community on side, don't you?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely and that's why we've invested so much money – millions and millions of dollars – into community programmes and why we're providing grants to 42 community-based organisations so that they can use taxpayer funds to come up with programs and ideas and initiatives to get to the core of why young Australians are being radicalised. But, they're not just Muslims, they're not just people with religious affiliations – people are being radicalised online with no particular background that would cause any interest in terms of a religious affiliation or religious extremism. That's why…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So why is it that some of the more considered Muslim voices in the community are starting to feel alienated by this discussion? I mean that's the point I'm putting to you.

JULIE BISHOP We are trying to stem the flow of funding and fighters to Iraq and Syria to stop people taking up with Da'esh and until we are able to prevent that, we will continue to introduce programs or review our laws to ensure that we can do what we can to keep Australians safe.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And are you confident you have the Muslim community on your side?

JULIE BISHOP We are working to engage very deeply with the Muslim community. We commend them for the work that they have done, we thank them for the engagement we've had with them and this will continue.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Okay. Julie Bishop, thanks for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks, Michael.

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