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PM Howard on new Australian counter-terrorism laws

Transcript Of The Prime Minister The Hon John Howard Mp Coag Joint Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra

Subject: New counter-terrorism laws

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen I’d like to welcome everybody to this news conference. I’d particularly like to welcome the new Premier of New South Wales, Mr Morris Iemma, I think this is the first meeting of COAG he’s attended and I welcome him and I thank him for his very constructive contribution.

This has been a very positive meeting. There has been unanimous agreement coming out of the meeting for major changes that will enhance the security of this country. The meeting commenced with a detailed briefing from the Director General of ASIO, and the Director General of the Office of National Assessments. Those briefings put into detailed context the security environment in which we now live and the broad terrorist threats that, not only Australia, but the rest of the western world in particular faces.

Following that there was unanimous agreement on the Commonwealth’s proposals in relation to both control orders and preventative detention. I went through in detail the procedures that will be involved, the safeguards, the judicial review, the right to have lawyers, the rights of appeal and so forth that have always been part of the Commonwealth’s proposals. And we have attached to the communiqué - the detailed steps that will be embraced in relation to each of those proposals.

We have agreed on a review of this legislation after five years, and a sunset clause after 10 years. In addition there exists at present under the uniform COAG endorsed intelligence and search warrant arrangements, there exists at present a provisor whereby the Queensland PIM, Public Interest Monitor, established in the wake of the Fitzgerald enquiry has a role in Queensland, in relation to those things and that will continue in relation to these new arrangements in Queensland, in Queensland only.

The stop, search and question powers have been agreed. The proposals and all the other proposals, counter-terrorism proposals put forward by the Commonwealth have also been agreed. I also indicated to the meeting that the Commonwealth would fund up to about $20 million a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear research facility, centre rather, to be established at the Australian Federal Police premises, to sit alongside the existing Bomb Data Centre. And as part of this proposal we’ll establish throughout Australia a network of laboratories which will have the capacity to analyse chemical substances in the context of our counter-terrorism behaviour.

In addition we’re going to ask the National Counter-Terrorism Committee, which is chaired by Duncan Lewis, the Deputy Secretary of my Department to commence work on developing a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear strategy – bearing in mind the potential challenges of those agencies and properties in the terrorist environment.

We also discussed the implementation of the Wheeler Report and his recommendations have been warmly endorsed. And I can report that we’ve reached agreement to establish a unified policing model at each of the 11 counter-terrorism first response airports that the Commonwealth will fund under the unified model, a full time community policing presence of AFP officers wearing AFP uniforms under AFP command, at all of those 11 centres, and this will solve a long running issue, and I want (inaudible) difficulty and I want to thank the… well my Premier colleagues for their cooperation in relation to this. Recruitment and selection of the airport police commanders will be undertaken by a panel that will include state and territory representation.

Can I simply say that this has been a very positive meeting. I want to thank the Premiers and the two Chief Ministers for supporting the Commonwealth’s proposals. Can I say that we have agreed today on unusual laws for Australia. We’ve done that because we live in unusual circumstances. In other circumstances I would never have sought these additional powers, I would never have asked the Premiers of the Australian states to support me in enacting these laws. But we do live in very dangerous and different and threatening circumstances and a strong and comprehensive response is needed. I think all of these powers are needed; they go no further than is needed, but they go the necessary distance to do all we can to protect the Australian public.

I cannot guarantee that Australia will not be the subject of a terrorist attack; no law can guarantee that. But I can say as a result of the decisions taken today that we are in a stronger and better position to give peace of mind to the Australian community. And that is our responsibility and I want to thank my colleagues for the cooperative and constructive way in which they have all approached this meeting.

PREMIER BRACKS:

I could agree with the Prime Minister and say that not only was this a very productive meeting, but it was a meeting that was required and obliged because of the changed circumstances that we found ourselves in post 2002 when we last forged the counter- terrorism measures between the Commonwealth and the States, and when we ceded powers to the Commonwealth and we agreed on counter-terrorism administrative arrangements. Of course since then we’ve had the experience of Madrid, since then we’ve had the experience of London and since then we’ve had more intelligence which leads us to the position that there are gaps in our law. And those gaps have been filled by the recommendations which have been taken by the Prime Minister to COAG today, and which we have agreed and supported.

And importantly we’re only here and we’re only doing this because we have to be here. This is not a choice, there’s not a choice to have a security summit and to have a revamp of the laws. We are required and obliged to do it because we need to have the best possible security arrangements we have to prevent terrorism and to assist in the recovery of terrorism if it ever occurs in our country.

I’m very pleased in the framing of these new laws that individual liberties of Australians and Victorians have been protected. Judicial oversight has been a principle which has been supported by the Prime Minister, the Premiers and the Territory leaders, and there is complete judicial oversight over these new criminal sanctions which will be in place. There’s also legal representation for individuals, which is a principle which is a very important principle which needs to be supported. And I’m pleased that there is now a sunset clause after 10 years with a compulsory re-examination therefore of these laws and review within that of five years as well.

I think these laws are necessary, they’re important, they are certainly supported by Victoria. Not only have we experienced between the last COAG and this COAG, we also of course are a major international player in all levels – in culture, in sport, in trade, in investment and we need to make sure that we therefore have the best possible security arrangements. I’m very pleased that we’re able to reach this agreement today.

PREMIER IEMMA:

In the spirit of cooperation and the determination to reach a national agreement and take a national approach to the threat of terror. Our overriding responsibility is to protect our citizens, to better secure our citizens and that’s what today’s outcome will do. At the same time, we’ve proven that it is possible to get tougher laws on terror and at the same time, protect individual liberties. And the protections, the safeguards that are part of this package are important to our way of life and as Steve and the Prime Minister have mentioned, judicial oversight with reporting to Parliament, meeting those key principles that we came here with. And as we received further detail today, particularly on detention orders and particularly also with preventative detention, we saw built into that package judicial review and the right to challenge the orders for individuals and the right to receive legal representation. So we have a national agreement, a spirit of cooperation to have us with a set of laws that will better protect our citizens from the threat of terror and at the same time, protect individual rights.

PREMIER BEATTIE:

In many senses, the laws that we’ve agreed to today are in fact draconian laws but they are necessary laws to protect Australians. I was in Britain last week and they’re still shell- shocked from what happened on the London tube. The important though to highlight is that normally I would never agree, or my State would never agree to such laws. If it wasn’t for the threat of terrorism, we would never agree to such laws as we have here. That’s why the review after five years is important, and the sunset clause of ten years is also very important. In essence, what we’ve agreed to today is tough on terrorism, but it’s also fair and balanced when it comes to accountability. I’m particularly delighted that my colleagues, the Prime Minister and my Premier colleagues and Chief Ministers have agreed that Queensland will be able to continue its PIM process. That is a very important process because it enables a public interest monitor to be represented when these matters are before a judge and to in fact represent the public interest. This is an important accountability mechanism in Queensland and will enable the PIM to obviously report to our parliament as well. So what I can say to Queenslanders is that these are tough laws but they are balanced by appropriate accountability. Final thing I wanted to highlight is this. That what we’ve shown here again is a level of maturity in Australia where the Premiers and Chief Ministers can work with the Prime Minister in the national interest. I’d just remind you that there are many in this room and elsewhere that have said in the past that because of our political differences that’s not been possible. I think we’ve shown today that when the interests of the nation are put to the test then the leaders of this country can actually work together with the Prime Minister. And I thank the Prime Minister for the way today was conducted. This is a difficult exercise, a very difficult exercise for all the State and Territorial Leaders. But the spirit of goodwill that exists here is in the national interest.

PREMIER GALLOP:

I think today’s meeting has been a very, very successful one. I know that I can go back to Western Australia, look the Western Australian people in the eye and say that what we’ve done today has made for a safer Australia, but we’ve done it with due concern for the types of checks and balances that are needed in a democratic society. There’s no doubt that we do face a challenge. We’ve seen from the reports that have been written about incidents that have occurred in other jurisdictions that there are gaps in communication, there are gaps in terms of Government agencies work, there are gaps in terms of the legislation that we have to deal with – this new environment we face. And I think we’ve worked through each of those issues in a methodical way to make sure our community’s safer, but at the same time to preserve the checks and balances that we so cherish in a liberal democratic society. So I think it’s been a very, very successful meeting, a good spirit of cooperation, due concern for the issues that are raised by many people in the community about how you administer these types of laws. I think we’re now going to have in Australia a legislative framework, and an administrative framework that means our community is safer as it faces the challenges of the future.

PREMIER RANN:

Thank you, well we strongly in South Australia support today’s outcome. I mean you can’t pussyfoot around when you’re dealing with the threat of mass murder. And that’s what terrorism is. And so we have to be vigilant, we came together after the Bali tragedy and as a nation put together a series of changes to federal and state and territory laws. But it was quite clearly necessary after what’s happened in Britain for us to revamp that and that’s why I think it’s also important to set up a structure where we review what we’ve agreed upon today, five years from now, and the of course have a sunset provision in 10 years from now.

The bottom line is that the safeguards are in the place, judicial review, but a series of accountabilities, a series of safeguards being established by statute. The other thing I think that was important was that we all support tough action to strengthen the security and safety of our airports and that’s why we support the secondment of state police over to a unified command structure under the Australian Federal Police. I mean this is not new; we did it with the Solomon Islands taskforce and we did it with East Timor and I think that they’re great examples of again how we can work together.

Some other issues of course today that I’ve sort of flagged with support from the Prime Minister and other colleagues that at our next meeting next February we should also look at Australia’s preparedness to deal with the threat of a pandemic, similar and related in some ways but quite different in others. But this is a very good outcome, we have to be tough but we also have to make sure the safeguards are in place and today we did the right thing by Australia.

PREMIER LENNON:

I have a very firm view that there can be no greater responsibility for State Premiers, Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister than the protection of the freedoms that the Australian people have come to take for granted. You can’t have freedom without a high level of personal safety and there’s no doubt that the threat of terrorism threatens that level of personal safety. Therefore there was a need to strengthen counter-terrorism measures in this country and that’s what has happened today. I came here determined to support enhanced measures and unanimously agreed by us today has been increased measures with proper checks, necessary checks. The ultimate check of course is the sunset clause after 10 years, quite appropriately, unanimously agreed.

So, I’m very pleased with what’s happened today. I can go home safe in the knowledge that we have appropriately responded to what happened in London and what happened in Madrid before it, of course, and hope that those sorts of acts don’t occur here in Australia.

CHIEF MINISTER STANHOPE:

Thank you. I came to the meeting today concerned about the implications for our accepted - the Australian accepted notion of the rule of law and our commitment to liberty, civil liberties and human rights. I had indicated that I would be seeking from the Commonwealth, through the Prime Minister, a detailed explanation and justification for the proposed new regime of law, and that it was a proportionate response to the threats we face from terrorism.

The Prime Minister, assisted by the Director General of ASIO, the Director General of the ONA and the Commissioner of the AFP, provided that detailed security briefing and a detailed update on the issues that they faced, the lessons that have been learned from London and other places and provided, I believe, a strong justification for a range of new laws.

In addition to that I had publicly indicated and released the eight critical human rights safeguards and legal safeguards that the ACT would be seeking to achieve today, particularly in relation to preventative detention. They were a requirement that preventative detention only be applied to people reasonably suspected of having committed or being likely to commit a terrorist offence and where immediate detention was necessary to protect public safety; the Commonwealth has responded positively to that. Effective judicial oversight including the right of detainees to know the reasons for their detention and the right to appeal their detention; that’s to be incorporated in the legislation. The principle that detention should be kept to the minimum period consistent with public safety; the period of detention will be determined by a judge and will be a period of 24 hours up to 14 days. And I’m satisfied with that response. That detainees have access to their lawyer of choice; that will be incorporated in the legislation. That detainees have the right to contact their family and their employers and where relevant, their consulate; those rights will be included within the legislation. The right to humane treatment preferably in accordance with published protocols; the ICCPR and subject to independent monitoring, those are features of the legislation and the Prime Minister has indicated today that the legislation will be monitored by the Ombudsman; there will be a right of appeal to the Ombudsman in relation to the decisions taken and there will be annual parliamentary oversight of the operation of the scheme. The right to a fair trial in the event that charges are ultimately laid indicating that questioning and the continuation of a criminal investigation through questioning or interrogation would not apply during a period of detention; and that will be the case.

And finally I expressed the desire for a sunset clause and that too has been agreed. From the ACT Government’s point of view I did come here with significant concerns around preventative detention and whether or not it was proportionate response to the issue we faced. The Commonwealth has responded to every issue that the ACT Government put on the table and the ACT Government is supporting willingly this new approach to national counter-terrorism.

CHIEF MINISTER MARTIN:

I think I’m just about the final contributor as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is the youngest jurisdiction in Australia and I think I’m really pleased today to go home tonight and be able to tell Territorians that what we did today was all about prevention of terrorism and I think that’s where the real focus is. The laws, and Peter Beattie has talked about draconian laws that we normally wouldn’t even consider, but the laws we’ve put in place are about prevention, about stopping terrorism happening and I certainly think it’s tough but fair action. The principles of judicial oversight, of legal representation and also that substantial review and sunset clauses are all about the balance I think we’ve achieved today. You might say from a point of view of Canberra that Darwin’s a long way away, but in fact flying to Bali for us is closer than flying to Canberra and Territorians are very conscious of the impact of terrorism and we were very shocked when the Bali bombing happened. So this is important legislation for the Territory and now in my fourth year of being Chief Minister, I’ve been to a few COAGs Prime Minister and we’ve had some tense moments, but I’d certainly say this was the most cooperative COAG I’ve been to, I think that’s been reflected by the other leaders. And certainly on an issue like counter-terrorism, about taking effective but fair action, I think we are really united in this. And I think we’ve done very well today. So thank you colleagues.

COUNCILLOR BELL:

Thank you Prime Minister. Look, can I just say local government has certainly come to the table today basing our strong premise on our role in particular in regards to social cohesion. We certainly have that role and responsibility and we have been very aware of that role and responsibility and we have been very aware of, you know, the ability for social cohesion and good community harmony in working our way forward to a united nation. Can I say that the Prime Minister has today recognised the role of local leadership in the meeting and we certainly agree that local government, certainly as the strong local community activity is one area that has a great role to play in ensuring that there is new capital in our community, bridging capital between all of the spheres and sectors within our community. I just want to say on behalf of local communities, I just want to say my heartfelt thanks to the state and Australian governments for the way in which they’ve worked towards the response to emergencies and certainly the way that we’ve worked towards the response to surveillance. I am sure that our communities are going to be better served by the outcomes of today’s COAG meeting and I certainly want to congratulate the state and national spheres of government for making some tough decisions, decisions that have to be made on behalf of our communities and thank you all.

PRIME MINISTER:

Just a few questions. Michelle?

JOURNALIST:

Who will do the five year review?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Who will do the five year review?

PRIME MINISTER:

The five year review will be done by, initially by COAG officials and we’ll work that out in five year’s time.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any chance that terrorism will be diminished within ten years? Is there any chance of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can’t put a time on it but I think ten years is a long time, therefore, I think it’s a sensible compromise between people who think you shouldn’t have any sunset clauses and those who want a shorter sunset clause. I think ten years is a long time. I am not going to make any promises about what the world is going to be like in ten year’s time. But of course the sunset clause doesn’t prevent you re-enacting legislation and it is ten years.

JOURNALIST:

Is there a start date for all these new laws to start or do you just get the legislation through?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well they will start when they receive Royal Assent and the idea will be that drafts of the legislation will be available for jurisdictions to look at as soon as possible - I think in a matter of two or three weeks - and then when agreement is reached on that subject, to the individual legislative processes and there might be, it might be possible to have a uniform commencement, and it may not - we’ll have to look at that. But everyone having agreed on it, there’s no debate, everybody wants to go forward, we’re not going to have any delays, people are keen to get the legislation through but it’s going to vary a bit according to the legislative programmes.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) terrorism financing, about stopping money laundering?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes there is a reference in the communiqué to that yes.

JOURNALIST:

What was the (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER:

Anymore?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard what do the control orders cover, would they cover house arrest for instance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well do you mean, could somebody, well it would vary according to the circumstances?

JOURNALIST:

Do we know… have we got in the communiqué the detail of what it will cover?

PRIME MINISTER:

No we are not going to put limits on that.

JOURNALIST:

No limits at all.

JOURNALIST:

So it could cover house arrest?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it could but it would have to be a very serious situation. The grounds on which you can apply for a control order are that somebody is likely to commit a terrorist offence and there is reasonable grounds for believing that or that somebody for example trained with a terrorist organisation. But you have to satisfy the issuing authority who will be a judge or magistrate and that person’s decision of course can be revoked by the court that’s made it or it can be subject to review. And if you look at the procedural steps that are set out in one of the attachments to the communiqué, you will see that due process is respected, but I am not disguising the fact that these are unusual remedies for an unusual situation. I mean there is no point mincing words about that. If we weren’t living in a terrorist environment none of us would be here; they’re not the sort of things that any of us, whether we are Liberal or Labor, would want to be proposing in an environment where we didn’t face this shadowy, elusive and lethal enemy. Daniel. Mr Street.

JOURNALIST:

In recent days you and the Attorney General have indicated there was no need for a sunset clause, was this a concession by you today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh this is a compromise, I don’t think there is any need for a sunset clause, and others thought there was, ten years which is a long time, is a reasonable compromise. I mean life’s… it’s a sensible thing to do. I don’t think having a ten year sunset clause in any way weakens these laws and those who thought there was a case for a sunset clause feel that there is an added safeguard with that, well why not in a mature adult way, compromise. And we get the legislation for ten years before the sunset clause and who knows, those who are charged with authority in ten years time will look at the legislation and they will say, well we’re going to renew it if a threat if terrorism is still there. If the threat of terrorism has diminished, they might want to tweak it, the threat of terrorism, please God is gone by then, then they will let it operate; I think that is a sensible outcome.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) moving around up at places without a huge police presence but it sounds like we will now expect more police in airports. What sort of role will they play, are they there just to be visible, what sort of things will they do and is this the beginning of something like we now see in London where there are police everywhere?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what will happen Karen, is that you will have a greater policing presence for what I might call ordinary policing matters; community policing, that’s been the gap and I think the whole police presence will operate in a more seamless way. I don’t think you are going to see a sudden emergence of people running around with sub-machine guns and so forth and the atmosphere is not going to… Australian airports will still remain the friendly places where wonderful people congregate in anticipation of a holiday overseas or seeing some old friend in another part of the country or another part of the world. It’s, please let’s not over dramatise these things. The Australian way of life is often to understate that change and low key it and therefore it becomes more effective.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) sell your PIM model to your colleagues?

PREMIER BEATTIE:

Well I’m really delighted that we’ve got it in Queensland, I have to tell you. And since I don’t have any responsibilities south of the border, I am delighted that Queensland will maintain the PIM model, which has been around for some years and it does provide for extra accountability. Now I didn’t seek to take over the rest of Australia. That would be very assuming on my part and I’m unassuming as you know. I’m just quite happy for it to apply in the centre of civilisation and that’s good enough.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) meeting in the lead up, the Premiers were saying, we want concessions on safeguards, the Prime Minister was saying it’s always been our intention for those safeguards to be there. No one’s trying to claim the high political ground here, but was there any arm wrestling in this meeting at all?

PREMIERS AND CHIEF MINISTERS:

No.

JOURNALIST:

There were no serious disagreements at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

This was a very good meeting and I thank my colleagues because these are big changes but everybody’s gone along with them. And can I say in defence of the Commonwealth, we were never trying to pull swifties on judicial safeguards. I mean, we do believe very devoutly in the rule of law but we also believe in protecting the country against terrorism and we face an unusual, unprecedented threat and you have to take unusual, unprecedented action. Two more. Patrick Walters.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) London Bombings to produce this sea change in our security regime? Why has it happened now and not a year or two ago.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there are a couple of ingredients Patrick. I think the chilling reality that homegrown terrorists exist - a lot of Australians, I guess all of us, found that a bit hard to accept. We tended, because of the experience of the 11th September to see a possible terrorist threat being executed by people flying into the country covertly and attacking us in a devastating way and then trying to escape. As you all know, the London bombings were carried out by people who, in the main, grew up in the North of England, spoke English with a north-country accent and played cricket. And it was all quite atmospherically changing, it really was. And I think that, I mean that had quite an effect on me, and I was satisfied and I indicated to the meeting today that my experience of talking to the British Prime Minister, the British Police, the British Intelligence Services immediately after the London Bombing about the nature of the homegrown character - I think that’s had a very big effect. And the reality is that we are worried there are people in our community who might just do this. And we need the power to the extent that it’s possible to stop it happening. I can’t promise it won’t, nobody can do that. But I tell you what, I can promise I’ll do everything within my power to stop it happening and I’ve had the support of my colleagues today and I thank them for it. One more question.

JOURNALIST:

You said you went into the meeting with something of a sceptic. How decisive where the briefings from ONA, DGs of ONA and ASIO in your decision to support this?

CHIEF MINISTER STANHOPE:

They were significant. The point I make is that I had a double-bunger approach to what I was looking for today. One was a detailed justification and explanation apropos the last question of what is it that’s changed? What lessons have been learned? Why is it that at this point in our history we believe these laws are necessary? And the Prime Minister, with the assistance of the Director General of ASIO, the Director General of the Office of National Assessments and the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police; the three most senior officers within the Commonwealth of Australia with responsibility for investigating and responding to terrorists and to terrorism, provided through their briefings and their explanations that justification.

As the Prime Minister has just indicated, the advice which we received is that there are people in Australia of enormous concern. Not just of some concern. People of interest. There are people within Australia whom our officials have grave concerns about in relation to their intentions, their intentions, so you know terror in the context of terrorism. Faced with blunt advice from the head of ASIO, from the head of the Office of National Assessments and from the head of the Australian Federal Police that we do indeed face grave circumstances in Australia, it really isn’t possible for any head of government to turn away and to take some other advice or to make some personal judgement on how serious the situation is - the situation is serious.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

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