Today I will update the House on our national security. I will outline the actions the Government is taking to make Australians and our interests secure at home and abroad.
The threats we face are regrettably very real. And they are evolving.
But my message today is one of reassurance: The Government, the Parliament and our agencies are resolutely committed to ensuring Australians remain safe, secure and free.
We are constantly reviewing and strengthening our capabilities to ensure our armed forces and security agencies have all the powers they need - including important new measures that I will detail shortly.
Since the Parliament last met on 5 May the world has witnessed a seemingly constant barrage of terror attacks. Nice (84 killed, 201 injured); Orlando (49 killed); a Church in Normandy where a priest was slain by a teenager; and 47 killed at Ankara airport and 23 in Dhaka, with both attacks specifically aimed at foreigners. The list goes on.
In the last year alone, there have been around 40 Islamist terrorist attacks against the West or western interests. These attacks have resulted in over 700 deaths. Many of these are assessed to have been directed or inspired by Daesh.
And Daesh’s attacks against civilians continues across the Middle East and Africa, resulting in the deaths of thousands, mainly Muslims. In July we saw the deadliest single attack conducted by Daesh in Afghanistan, with around 80 killed and 230 injured by suicide bombers in Kabul.
Reports of attacks inspired, encouraged or instructed by Daesh (and other terrorist groups) have become a regular feature in our newspapers and news bulletins.
Now Daesh, and the broader threat from terrorism, is not the only security challenge we face.
Indeed, today, we live in an uncertain and complex strategic environment: from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, to Middle East conflicts, tensions on the Korean Peninsula and instability in parts of Africa, broken borders in Europe - as well as threats of pandemic disease, financial crisis and climate change.
But Daesh is presently the most immediate security challenge that directly affects us all: our military and police; our communities; our youth - and it is therefore my focus today.
We cannot pretend Daesh-related terrorism is merely a distant problem - a scourge that threatens people in places less fortunate than our own.
In Australia, it is now two years since the national terror threat level was elevated to the level now known as “probable”. This increased threat was largely a consequence of the traction Daesh was getting from a growing number of Australians.
Since then, there have been three terrorist attacks in Australia and in each case the attacker claimed allegiance to or was inspired by Daesh.
In those two years our law enforcement and security agencies have successfully disrupted a further ten terrorist attacks. Nine of these featured individuals with some form of allegiance to Daesh. In this period, 47 people have been charged as a result of 18 counter-terrorism operations around Australia. That’s over half of all terrorism related charges since 2001.
In order to defeat this despotic and barbaric movement we are working closely with our friends and allies to destroy it at its core: - its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
Daesh framed its rapid territorial expansion to create the false illusion of inexorable conquest, while its declaration of a caliphate helped it to generate delusions of religious legitimacy and historical grandeur.
To promote Australia's safety our first objective must be to expel Daesh from its occupied territories and destroy its pretensions of statehood.
This is why a 400-member Australian Defence Force Air Task Group is conducting airstrikes over Daesh strongholds in Iraq and Syria, and a similar number of ADF personnel are training and assisting Iraqi ground forces.
In February, I updated the House on the Coalition’s efforts to halt Daesh’s momentum. I noted that to do more than just stem its advance, and to see an actual turning point, we needed to demonstrate that Daesh was being defeated in the field. The tide has now turned in the Middle East fight against Daesh.
Thanks to the efforts of the Iraqi armed forces and their Coalition partners, including the ADF, Daesh has lost close to half of the territory it held in Iraq and up to 20% of its territory in Syria. We estimate its numbers of fighters have been cut by about a third. This is no small achievement - and it’s due in part to Australia’s military contribution.
The terrorist group’s monthly income has fallen by an estimated 30% since the middle of last year. In June, Daesh suffered its highest net territorial losses in over a year, including key ground near the Turkish border and the last city it controlled in Iraq’s Anbar Province, Fallujah. Iraqi forces raised the Iraqi flag over Fallujah on 17 June and Iraqi military leaders announced the city’s full liberation on 26 June.
This progress is critically important because it demolishes Daesh’s myth of invincibility and inevitable victory. Far from sweeping across Europe to stable their horses in the Vatican, Daesh is now on the defensive, losing territory, resources and lives. Would-be recruits can now see that travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight with Daesh is joining a losing side. They can see it will result in almost certain death on the battlefield. Only yesterday there were reports that Daesh’s chief propagandist, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed in in Syria.
And all indications are that Daesh will lose control of Mosul in the near future. When Mosul and al Raqqa are liberated we can start talking about the destruction of Daesh’s so called “Caliphate”.
Importantly, however, its destruction will not mark the end of this conflict.
It will, instead, mark the beginning of the next phase - establishing order; maintaining stability; a form of peace - and this could be an even more difficult and protracted struggle.
Once the so-called Caliphate is destroyed it is difficult to predict how Daesh’s remnant forces will react and mutate.
The experience of al Qaida and its offshoots may be instructive.
In the last few weeks, Jabhat al Nusra has restyled itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and announced an “amicable split” from al Qaida in an attempt to gain trust from, and become a leading player in, the opposition forces which are battling against the Syrian regime. In practice, nothing will change. It will remain committed to the violent ideology of al Qaida.
This development shows that terrorist groups continue to adapt to survive. To defeat them, so must we adapt.
We cannot take winning the peace and stability for granted.
The U.S. and its allies are a formidable war fighting machine but we have had mixed success in helping to reestablish political order.
This is why I have been so resolute that the right soldiers on the right ground are crucial to giving the Middle East stability and the best opportunity to succeed.
It is not simply the victory, but the manner of the victory that is crucial. Daesh needs to be defeated by Iraqis and by Syrians. Our air support, our trainers, our special forces are of vital importance. But it is essential that Syrians and Iraqis take the lead, win the victory and then keep the peace.
The retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah are good examples. This is the context in which we expanded the mandate of our Building Partner Capacity training mission to include Iraqi law enforcement agencies. Iraq’s law enforcement agencies will have a key role in defending, holding and stabilising areas liberated from Daesh. Helping train these law enforcement agencies to hold and stabilise territory will assist Iraq to take responsibility for its own security and provide security for Iraq’s citizens as they return to their cities.
That’s why we will be in the Middle East for a while yet.
But first we must disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh.
And to do this we must allow the ADF, on the frontline of this fight, to have the powers they need.
We must target Daesh at its base. And with lethal force. No exceptions.
In January this year, as we were on our way to visiting our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Chief of the Defence Force advised me of a legal anomaly which meant we were not empowering the ADF, in particular our Air Force, to be as effective as they could be.
Under international law, all members of an organised armed group such as Daesh can be targeted with lethal force, subject, of course, to the ordinary rules of international humanitarian law.
This is a reasonable and conventional approach adopted by the armed forces of our key allies across the world.
But there is a legal argument that Australia’s domestic law is more restrictive than international law. This legal risk posed a major challenge to the effectiveness of our operations. It meant that the ADF’s targeting base in Iraq and Syria was restricted, and we could not operate as freely as our coalition partners.
So I can announce that the Government has reviewed its policy on targeting enemy combatants and earlier this year made an important decision to ensure our forces are empowered to act against Daesh in Iraq and Syria – to the maximum extent allowed by international law.
And we will move quickly to introduce the necessary amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code that will bring our domestic laws into line with international norms.
This means that ADF personnel will be supported by our domestic laws. They will be able to target Daesh at its core – joining with our coalition partners to target and kill a broader range of Daesh combatants – which is consistent with international law.
This will ensure that our efforts in Syria and Iraq are resolute and effective, and our forces are fully empowered to roll back Daesh.
Let me make myself very clear to those who contemplate joining Daesh.
Take up arms against us and you will join the over 60 Australians, and thousands of other combatants, who have already been killed in the Iraq and Syria conflicts.
In the short term, unfortunately, the risk of terrorist attacks is rising as our battlefield success against Daesh grows.
Whether it is Nice, Orlando, Wurzburg, Istanbul, Jakarta or Sydney - Daesh is inspiring, encouraging and directing many more attacks now than when it was expanding its territory in Syria and Iraq.
As Daesh loses ground, it will try to find new ways to incite fear and division and propagate the illusion of momentum.
Clearly, Daesh’s propaganda and the extremist narrative appeals to different people for different reasons.
For some the attraction is ideological. They believe in a narrow and extreme interpretation of Islam where there cannot be compromise with anyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, who does not submit to Daesh’s will.
In many cases Daesh is deliberately and directly sending operatives to other countries to undertake attacks.
In others it is acting opportunistically by recruiting, radicalising and enabling individuals who are already in-country and have had no prior history with terrorist organisations.
Some of these lone-actors and small groups are not deeply engaged with the Islamist ideology but are nonetheless, due to a range of reasons, including mental illness, susceptible to being radicalised rapidly.
We cannot close our eyes to this reality.
In the aftermath of Nice, I asked Greg Moriarty, the Commonwealth Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, to engage with our agencies to examine the challenges posed by so called lone attackers and how we are placed to thwart these attacks. I will receive and consider the findings of this review shortly.
As Daesh suffers military defeats it is expanding its networks into Europe and also into our region.
It is quite possible that the next mass casualty attack on Australian victims will be somewhere in Southeast Asia, where Daesh propaganda has galvanised existing networks of extremists and attracted new recruits.
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Bangladesh have suffered terrorist attacks over the past year. Many are expecting further attacks.
And I know many of these Governments are concerned about the implications of returning terrorist fighters, just as we are alert to the risks posed by returning fighters in Australia.
I and my Ministers have been active in reassuring our regional neighbours that Australia will work with them to further strengthen cooperation to mitigate the risks. We are committed to working with our regional partners to preserve the security and stability in our region.
And the threat is not just confined to the Middle East, Europe or Southeast Asia.
The perpetrators who carried out the three recent attacks here at home - the Martin Place siege, Endeavour Hills stabbing and the murder of Curtis Cheng - are all dead.
But there are still people outside our country, and some within it, who hate the freedoms that we enjoy and would seek to threaten them and undermine them with violence.
Around 200 people in Australia are being investigated for providing support to individuals and groups in the Syria/Iraq conflict.
So we must not only attack the disease at its source in the Middle East but redouble our efforts at home.
I’ve often said strong borders provide a foundation of public trust upon which our successful multicultural society depends.
The same principles apply with counter-terrorism. Our security agencies rely on public trust and strong national cohesion to keep our country safe. Community trust is becoming even more important as encryption technology enables terrorists and sympathisers to ‘go dark’ with their electronic networks. This is why I choose my language carefully. We should not be so delicate as to say Daesh and Islamist terrorism have ‘got nothing to do with Islam’.
There's nothing controversial about this. I've said it before. It's a self-evident fact that underpins much of our national security efforts at home and abroad.
We won’t hesitate to label Islamist extremism when we see it.
At the same time there is nothing to be gained by rashly fixing labels and pre-empting the findings of complex investigations.
We all work hard to preserve the mutual respect that makes us one of the most liberal and diverse multicultural countries in the world.
We must not link all Muslims with the crimes of a terrorist minority – that is precisely what the extremists want us to do. I am committed to continue working closely with Australia’s Muslim communities, as I am with all communities. And I’m pleased to report that my agency heads say we are making considerable headway. But there is work to be done. Other established terrorist groups with longstanding grievances against the West have not disappeared. And there has also been a resurgence in far-right extremism directed against Muslims.
In fact, the most recent terrorist attack disrupted in Australia involved a plan by such an extremist.
Australia is better placed than many of our counterparts in dealing with the threat of terrorism:
- Under the Coalition we have regained control of our borders. The importance of this has been brought home with what I've described as ‘the perfect storm’ attacking Europe, where Daesh and others have successfully taken advantage of porous borders and uncontrolled humanitarian flows.
- Our security agencies are among the most professional and vigilant in the world.
- And we have implemented stronger laws to give them the tools they need, taking five tranches of legislation through Parliament since August 2014.
- At our international airports, Australian Border Force-led counter terrorism unit operations have stopped a number of people and over $3 million reaching Daesh.
- The Government is establishing a $100 million visa risk assessment capability to better detect travellers who might threaten our security long before they set foot on our shores.
- And we are rigorous in our efforts to ensure that guns are not illegally imported into Australia and our strong gun control laws are strictly enforced.
All of these elements provide strength and reassurance.
But we cannot afford for a moment to become complacent.
We have to continue to reform our national security laws in this ever-evolving security environment, made even more challenging by rapid technological change. And that is what we are doing.
I have initiated two important measures to further strengthen our counter-terrorism laws and meet the challenges of the evolving threat environment.
First, we are developing a post-sentence preventative detention system to enable a continuing period of detention for high-risk terrorist offenders. It will be a court-supervised process similar to the arrangements that apply in a number of jurisdictions for sex offenders and for extremely violent individuals.
States and territories have all given in-principle support to this legislation; I thank them for their constructive engagement. The Attorney will introduce this legislation in the next sitting week.
Second, my Government has accepted all the recommendations of the review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill, which we introduced in the Senate in November.
Among other measures, this Bill will strengthen our control order regime and address the regrettable trend of increasingly younger Australians being susceptible to the lies and propaganda of Daesh and extremist ideology.
We will re-introduce the revised Bill also in the next sitting week.
These two decisive steps are necessary to strengthen and update Australia’s counter-terrorism laws. They are also proportionate - balancing the need to keep the community safe with concerns for privacy and individual rights.
Also in the next sitting week, we will introduce legislation to strengthen penalties for those found guilty of trafficking illegal firearms – a crime that fuels the violence associated with terrorism and poses a threat to the safety and security of all Australians.
Together, these measures are designed to deter, prevent and reassure.
They will provide reassurance that Australians can and should continue going about their daily lives and enjoying their freedom because the Australian Government and our agencies are doing everything possible to keep them safe.
Daesh is not the only security challenge we face.
My Government’s Defence White Paper, launched earlier this year, details how our strategic environment is becoming more crowded and complex, particularly in our part of the Indo-Pacific.
The White Paper commits us to meeting these strategic challenges by working more closely with the US, and our other defence partners, while working more systematically to develop new defence capabilities of our own. Our Defence Industry Plan, in particular our continuous shipbuilding program, is doing just that. Espionage is also an ever present national security threat. And our new Cyber Security Strategy launched in April addresses the strategic and security challenges that are arising in the cyber domain.
Our national security strategy, supported by an appropriately sized defence budget, enables us to play our part in reinforcing the international rules-based system upon which regional stability and prosperity depends.
We are positioning ourselves to confront existing threats, proactively mitigate those we can foreshadow and be agile enough to respond to those which are harder to predict.
But I’ve chosen to focus on Daesh-related terrorism because it is the most pressing national security threat that our citizens face today.
We cannot be bystanders. We are all affected.
This is why Australia must continue to lead locally, regionally and globally.
The Australian Defence Force and our intelligence agencies are making a real difference in the global fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
It is my firm commitment as Prime Minister to ensure that our serving troops will continue to have the resources they need and the support they require in this conflict.
Similarly, I am just as committed to supporting our veterans, of this current conflict and all those that preceded it, when they return home.
We must combat all of Daesh: including its financiers and propagandists.
It is why we must give our agencies the powers they need. To detect. To disrupt. To arrest. And to target.
Safety and security at home will always be the government’s first priority.
Success requires strong laws, modern powers and, importantly, it requires social unity. I believe security and freedom are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually reinforcing.
We cannot be effective if we are creating division; whether by fomenting distrust within the Muslim community or inciting fear of Muslims in broader society. Division begets division. It makes violence more likely, not less.
The aim of extremists, including those committing violence through a warped and nihilistic interpretation of religion, is to divide us and to turn our citizens against each other - but we will not let them win.
We are stronger when we stand together. We will defeat division and weakness with unity and strength.