Interview with ABC News24 Breakfast

March 23, 2016
Transcripts

PRESENTER:

Let's get the response from the Australian Government now. We're joined by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, from Sydney. Mr Turnbull, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

PRESENTER:

What's your reaction to those terror attacks overnight?

PRIME MINISTER:

All Australians condemn these cowardly terrorist attacks in Brussels and the Belgian people, Belgian people, have our thoughts, our prayers and our resolute solidarity in this battle against terrorism and I endorse everything the American President has just said. We are all united in this battle against terrorism. We cooperate. We exchange information and intelligence. We are allies in this battle.

Indeed, Australia is allied with Belgium in this battle just as our forebears were 100 years ago in the fields of Flanders, in the First World War. We are absolutely shoulder to shoulder with Belgium and the people of Belgium in this fight against terrorism.

PRESENTER:

Is it worrying to you that these terrorists have attacked soft targets, an airport terminal, a metro train station and also that it's a clearly coordinated attack just five months after that coordinated attack in Paris?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes and of course the coordinated attack in Paris had its origins with terrorists based in Belgium, as you know. Yes this is a feature of these terrorist attacks. They are utterly cowardly attacks, attacking innocent people but we need to be constantly vigilant, vigilance is the key. We have, we are in a stronger position from a security point of view in Australia than the Europeans are.

As you know, there are - for all intents and purposes - no internal borders in Europe and their external borders are very porous. We have strong border protection in Australia. We have a much greater insight into people who we would regard as being threats or likely to pose a risk to the safety of Australians. We’ve a much greater insight into them than the Europeans do and while we obviously cannot guarantee that there will not be terrorist incidents in Australia and that's why the threat level is probable and has been so for 18 months, nonetheless, we have very strong measures in place and I've been through them all again this morning with our acting Director-General of Security, that's the head of ASIO, with the Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, with our Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Mr Moriarty, Greg Moriarty, the Attorney-General and other officials. So we are remaining very closely on top of this and I’ll be meeting with them again later today, because we learn a great deal from terrorist incidents wherever they occur in the world. The more we learn about the techniques and methods of these murderous terrorists then the better we are able to protect Australians.

PRESENTER:

We'll get more detail of those local measures in just moment Prime Minister but firstly has the Australian Government been able to ascertain whether any Australians were either killed or injured in those attacks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well so far we have no news of Australians being killed or injured. I’ve spoken with our ambassador in Brussels, Mr Higgie, this morning and he’s been making inquiries naturally, diligently and so far we have no news of Australians being involved. However, Brussels is a big international city and so there are many foreigners in Brussels and inevitably foreigners will be caught up in it.

We have reports of nationals of other countries other than Belgium being injured. So we will just have to wait and see but so far - thank God - no news about Australians being involved.

PRESENTER:

And given the events, it's a city, it's a country, the Australian Government is urging Australians for at least the short term to stay away from?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the advice is that Australians, as of right now, that Australians should reconsider their need to travel to Belgium at this time, so if it's not essential travel or you can postpone it, we're encouraging you to do that. Australians who are in Belgium - and there are many Australians in Belgium - should follow the advice carefully and to the letter of local authorities. And I might just add, if I may, that if you have concerns for family and friends in the region, please contact them directly. If you're unable to contact them and still hold concerns for their safety, you can call the Department of Foreign Affairs 24-hour emergency call centre and the numbers there are 1300 555 135 or if you're calling from overseas, 61 for Australia, 2 6261 3305.

PRESENTER:

In all of these consultations, all of these meetings today by security chiefs Prime Minister, do you see that terror threat being reviewed and possibly raised from probable to something higher?

PRIME MINISTER:

The advice from ASIO is that the threat level is at an appropriate level. In other words the advice is not to change the threat level. It is at probable but clearly this is something that is reviewed all the time and I’ll be meeting with the same officials later on in the day.

PRESENTER:

Will there be increased security at Australian airports?

PRIME MINISTER:

The AFP's advice to me is that the security levels are appropriate but again, we'll review that, as it is reviewed all the time, I want – Australians should understand that there are thousands of people in our police and security services working day and night to keep them safe and that is my primary responsibility to Australians as Prime Minister.

So we reconsider these issues, security levels, security threat levels, we reconsider them all the time. Vigilance is the key. Complacency, there is no place for that. So yes, we’ll be considering all these issues later today but the advice from the Australian Federal Police, through their Commissioner Andrew Colvin, is that the threat levels - is that the threat levels remaining where they are, this is ASIOs advice as well and that the security levels the AFP presence at airports is appropriate in the circumstances.

If we felt - if the security advisers - security services felt it should be increased obviously it would be.

PRESENTER:

Mr Turnbull the worrying thing many travellers and many Australians would be getting from this is that these bombs were detonated before they were checked in or indeed if they were going to be checked in, because as we know at most airports, there isn't screening until after the check-in process. Do you think we could get to a situation at Australian airports where there's tighter security at the entrance to terminals to stop possible terror attacks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’ll be certainly taking advice on that but we have not got advice to make any changes in that regard at this stage but all of these, every single one of these attacks, wherever it is, anywhere in the world, we learn from and we make adjustments and we reassess the circumstances in the light of the new intelligence we receive.

You know our enemies, our foes, these terrorists are very, very agile. Look at the way they use technology. Look at the way they use social media to propagate their vile messages. What we have to be and we are, we have to be as agile as them and so we have to respond quickly and innovatively to the threats as they emerge.

PRESENTER:

And finally Islamic State in a statement overnight said it was going to carry out further attacks on countries that have forces in Iraq and Syria. Of course Australia, heavily invested in the attacks in both countries. Should Australians waking up going to work, going to school this morning be worried about the prospect of the violence we saw in Brussels being visited upon them today, in the next few months, few weeks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australians should always be vigilant but let me say this, what the terrorists want us to be is frightened. They want to be scared. They want us to change the way we lead our lives. They want us to turn on each other and we must do none of those things. We will remain strong, confident, optimistic, we'll go about our lives in our usual ways and we know, we should be reassured, that the government and the security services, the men and women, the thousands of men and women whose job it is, 24 hours a day to keep us safe, are constantly focused on this, constantly learning from experiences elsewhere in the world to ensure that we keep Australians safe.

We have disrupted - we've had six major disruptions of terrorist activities in Australia in recent times. We have very good intelligence. Clearly as I said, the threat level is probable. You cannot guarantee that there will be no terrorist incident but I can assure Australians that our security systems, our border protection, our domestic security arrangements are much stronger than they are in Europe where regrettably they allowed things to slip, allowed security to slip and that weakness in European security is not unrelated to the problems they've been having in recent times.

PRESENTER:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull thanks very much for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

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