National Security Statement

June 13, 2017



Mr Speaker, the global threat we face from Islamist terrorism has been cruelly brought home to us in the past two weeks with young, innocent Australians murdered in Baghdad, London and Melbourne.

In a relatively short period, we have also seen attacks in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Jakarta, and – grave concern – growing ISIL activity in the Southern Philippines, with ISIL affiliated terrorist forces besieging a city.

We have mourned the loss of four Australians killed in terrorist attacks in the last few weeks.

12 year old Zynab Al-Harbiya was killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq.

Kirsty Boden and Sara Zelenak were murdered in the London Bridge attack which saw two other Australians injured.

And only last week, a violent criminal – known to have had past links to terror groups – murdered Kai Hao, a husband and a father in Melbourne. The killer wounded three police officers as well.

Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families.

And we thank the police and security services who rushed to the scene to keep us safe - whether on London Bridge or in a Brighton street. They, together with the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, put their lives on the line to keep us safe. 

The Brighton murder was the fifth terror-related attack on our shores in three years.

All of us have asked how such a criminal with such a long and well-known history of violence and terrorism could have been allowed parole.

We are all entitled to feel safe and secure in our own country. And we are all entitled to ask the question - what more must we do? And we must also be resolute. We must be united.

My unrelenting focus is to do everything possible to keep Australians safe and maintain our way of life, our values and our freedom.

We must be clear eyed and recognise that this is the new reality we face.

The national terror threat level remains at Probable and we are not immune from the global impact of the conflicts in the Middle East and the instability around the world. 

But we should also be reassured, our law-enforcement agencies, intelligence services and Australian Defence Force are the best in the world - they keep us safe and they enable Australians to do what we always have - enjoy our freedom.

We lead our Australian way of life on our terms and will not buckle or be cowed by this scourge of Islamist terrorism.

Now today, Mr Speaker, I update the House and reassure every Australian on our strategy for taking this challenge head-on.

My number one priority, my government’s number one priority is to keep Australians safe.

We face real and growing challenges - from senseless terrorist attacks, hardened fighters returning to our region, to foreign interference in our country.  

Islamist terrorists are engaged in a systematic effort to weaken our societies and divide our communities.

We must remain united and remember that our best allies in the war against this extremist scourge are the vast majority of Muslims, leaders and their communities. At home and abroad we condemn the terrorists and their hate filled ideology and join with us in defeating them.

Now our adversaries’ methods and tactics are constantly evolving, and so must we.

That's why we are continually reviewing and adapting our laws and our approach to operations to thwart those who seek to do us harm.

Reacting is not enough. We must, we will, stay ahead of this threat.

Since August 2014, we have invested $1.5 billion in our law enforcement and security agencies to combat terrorism.

We have passed eight tranches of additional national security legislation.

Last year, for example, we strengthened our control order regime, allowing us to monitor and limit where terrorist suspects can go and with whom they can associate.

Last week the government accepted all of the recommendations relating to the Commonwealth from the Coroner's report on the Lindt Café siege.

And we have already been acting on the recommendations of the joint New South Wales-Commonwealth review undertaken urgently after those terrible events in Martin Place.

Our intelligence agencies, all the arms of government and the community must continue working together to ensure that we stay ahead of this threat.

Since the national terrorism threat level was raised on 12 September 2014 to Probable, we have seen five attacks and 12 disruptions of terrorist plots.

This included one of the most substantial in recent years, a plot to cause mass casualties by exploding devices in central Melbourne near Federation Square just before Christmas last year.

Once again, the combined efforts of our intelligence services and our police, prevented a terrorist atrocity.

We must never become complacent and that’s why we are investing an additional $321 million in specialist capabilities for the Australian Federal Police - the largest single funding boost to the AFP's domestic policing capabilities in over a decade.

And why we continue to address this issue as a bipartisan, national priority.

After I secured the support of the states and territories at the December 2015 COAG, we legislated to enable the continued detention of high-risk terrorist offenders who pose an unacceptable risk to the community after the expiration of their sentences.

Last Friday, we agreed at COAG that states and territories will strengthen their laws to ensure a presumption against bail and parole being granted to those who have demonstrated support for, or have links to, terrorist activity. The public needs the confidence that their lawmakers, their governments will put their safety first.

A special COAG will further review the nation’s laws and practices directed at protecting Australians from violent extremism.

And we continue to work with the states and territories to develop a truly national strategy for protecting crowded places – including sporting stadiums, major events, and civic spaces. And in that work we are working also with local government who are responsible for many if not most of these spaces and of course property owners, owners of malls, sporting stadiums and so forth.

It is a comprehensive effort to ensure that we have the highest standard of protection in these crowded places, places of mass gathering.

Now that strategy was recommended in the review I initiated in June last year after a series of overseas terrorist attacks, vehicle borne attacks and it is one that will constantly evolve and develop in the light of experience, each jurisdiction, each precinct learning from the other.

Since May last year we have also been reviewing how Defence supports our national counter-terrorism arrangements. This review of laws that have not been updated in 16 years will soon be available to government.

And I will also soon receive the review of the Australian Intelligence Community that I tasked last year. This is a regular review and is a critical look at how our world class intelligence agencies and structures must adapt to stay ahead of the threat, anticipate evolving challenges and continue to reassure us of our future security, freedom and opportunities.

I will report back to the House with the Government’s response to these initiatives, and seek bipartisan support in the knowledge that we should all be united on public sovereignty, public safety and national sovereignty.

Mr Speaker, we must continue to fight to cut off terrorism at its source and that is why, complementing our relentless pursuit for domestic security, we are contributing to international efforts to fight terrorism.

We have changed the law so the Australian Defence Force is able to target and kill terrorists in the Middle East whether they are fighting on the front line with a gun in their hand, financing in the back office, or recruiting fighters through the malignant Islamist ideology they disperse online.

In Iraq, we have trained 22,000 Iraq Security Forces personnel and our Air Task Group is providing significant air support to the anti-Daesh operations over Iraq and Syria, including over Mosul.

The Coalitions efforts are working.

Daesh or ISIL has lost around 55% of the territory it previously held in Iraq and Syria. Over four million people have been liberated from Daesh control; 1.5 million displaced people have returned home and 250,000 children have returned to school. Daesh’s revenue is at its lowest since 2014, following 2,600 strikes on Daesh-held gas and oil targets and 1,500 strikes on tanker trucks.

In Afghanistan, we are increasing our deployment to 300 ADF personnel to continue to build the local capability to hold territory and deny Islamist terrorists a base of operations.

Now this week Mr Speaker we are introducing legislation to change our visa and citizenship requirements to ensure that new members of our society will embrace our values and positively contribute to our Australian society, regardless of background or religious belief.

I urge the Opposition and all members of this House to support this vital strengthening of our citizenship laws.

We are the most successful multicultural society in the world.

We do not define our national identity as many others do by reference to religion, race or ethnicity but rather by a commitment to a shared set of political values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality of men and women, mutual respect.

We must not take that success for granted.

There is no more important title in our democracy than “Australian Citizen”.

And we should make no apologies for asking those who seek to join our Australian family to join us as Australian patriots - committed to the values that define us, committed to the values that unite us.

Now our success as a multicultural society is built on strong foundations, which include the confidence of the Australian people that their government and it alone, determines who comes to Australia. Uncontrolled irregular migration flows have posed an existential threat to many countries where as Honourable Members know they have fuelled anxiety and political disorder.

Now our Government has secured Australia’s borders - there has not been a successful people smuggling expedition to Australia for 1052 days.

And when we accept refugees into Australia - and we have one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world - we take great care with security checks, as we have done with the 12,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict zone. Those checks are only possible if the Government determines which refugees are admitted and if the security of the border is not outsourced to people smugglers.

Now Mr Speaker, adapting to our changing environment has sometimes meant taking tough, even controversial changes.

We have not stood aside while criminals and extremists sought to divide us by exploiting technology platforms designed to bring us together.

Instead, we have taken the necessary decisions, including establishing a mandatory data retention scheme.

As the global outlook has worsened, the value of these changes is becoming more apparent. Other countries are now looking to our reforms.

Metadata has proven vital in nearly every serious criminal investigation conducted today, from organised crime, child sex offences to counter-espionage, cyber security and counter-terrorism, including all of the 12 major disruptions of terrorist plots since 2014.

The Internet and the digital technologies it has enabled are breaking down national boundaries and distance. Billions of people now have in their pocket a device that potentially connects them to everybody else in the world.

Not so long ago only States and large corporations had megaphones powerful enough to address a nation - now a tweet or a YouTube video can reach millions, if not billions, and do so in seconds.

And reflect on the pace of these changes. The first iPhone was launched in 2007, Facebook, with 1.5 billion accounts worldwide, began in a Harvard dorm in 2004 and it has 200 million accounts in India and 100 million in Indonesia alone.

But these remarkable technologies are also being used by those who seek to do us harm.

We need even stronger co-operation from the big social media and messaging platforms in the fight against terrorism and the extremism which spawns it.

Encryption for example is a vital piece of security for every user of the Internet, protecting all of us as we go about our lives, from shopping, to banking, to chatting online.

However encrypted messaging applications are also used by criminals and terrorists - at the moment much of this traffic is difficult for our security agencies to decrypt, and indeed for our Five Eyes partners as well.

Most of the major platforms of this kind are based in the United States where a strong libertarian tradition resists Government access to private communications as the FBI found when Apple would not help unlock the iPhone of the dead San Bernardino terrorist.

The privacy of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety. Never.

An online civil society is as achievable as an offline one. And the rights and protections of the vast overwhelming majority of Australians must outweigh the rights of those who will do them harm.

And that is truly what balancing the priority of community safety with individual liberties is all about.

My government is committed to this.

We will not take an ‘if it ain't broke we won't fix it’ mentality. This government does not simply set and forget. We are at the forefront of efforts to address future threats.

And with this objective, the Attorney-General will be in Canada this month to meet with his Five-Eyes counterparts, and discuss what more can be done among our like-minded nations and with the communications and technology industry, to ensure terrorists and organised criminals are not able to operate with impunity within ungoverned digital spaces online.

Now this is not about creating or exploiting “backdoors” as some privacy advocates continue to say despite constant reassurance from us. It is about collaboration with and assistance from industry in the pursuit of public safety.

Now in recognition that these threats constantly evolve, the Minister assisting me for Cyber Security and I have also set up a taskforce to drive fast action to improve Australia’s capability and response to cyber security and cybercrime threats and incidents.

The WannaCry ransomware incident in mid-May was a big wake-up call for everyone. We were fortunate not to have seen the widespread impact experienced in the UK and elsewhere.

So this taskforce will engage broadly with Commonwealth agencies, the private sector, as well as state and territory governments in bringing forward the new ideas we need to build national capacity and capability.

Now Mr Speaker, while there is currently no higher priority than defeating Islamist terrorism, our interests are also directly threatened by attempts by foreign states to compromise the integrity of our democratic institutions and processes.

We should all guard jealously the principles and the values of democracy that we practice here in this place.

Recent events overseas, including influence operations and cyber disinformation campaigns designed to manipulate the US and French elections, have brought the insidious threat of covert foreign interference into very public view.

Now interference and espionage are global realities which have potential to cause immense harm to the security of our people, our economic prosperity and to the integrity of the democratic institutions which sit at the core of our sovereignty.

My Government has already embarked on a significant programme of legislative and policy reform to ensure the Australian people and our national interests are protected from these threats.

We are implementing our comprehensive Cyber Strategy.

We have developed Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms, which will strengthen our telecommunications networks from threats of espionage, sabotage and foreign interference. We aim to pass these reforms in this sitting of Parliament.

We have established the Government’s Critical Infrastructure Centre to identify and manage risks of foreign espionage, sabotage and coercion to power networks, water supplies and other assets and systems that are vital to our national wellbeing.

And we are ensuring ASIO and Defence are working closely to ensure our sensitive Defence technologies, including our unprecedented naval shipbuilding investments, are secure from the threats posed by foreign intelligence activity.

We’ve asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to examine foreign donations as part of its inquiry into all aspects of the 2016 election.

And importantly, at the beginning of last month, I asked the Attorney-General to review our espionage and foreign interference legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose in the current threat environment. This will lead to the most significant counterintelligence reforms since the 1970s.

So we are strengthening the resilience of our democracy and shoring up vulnerabilities. This is action, not words, constantly improving and upgrading our defences. There is no place for complacency, no place for set and forget.

Now in addition to these immediate threats, our regional strategic environment is more uncertain than it’s been in 75 years.

Regional concerns over the South China Sea, the DPRK and terrorism, evident in recent attacks in Indonesia, and developments in the Southern Philippines are intensifying.

As I said in my address to the Shangri-La Dialogue a week ago, with the bitter memory of the Bali bombing, I am keenly alert to the risk that the next mass casualty attack on Australian victims could well be in Southeast Asia, where ISIL propaganda has galvanised existing networks of extremists and attracted new recruits.

We have to take responsibility for our own security and prosperity, but we must also recognise we are stronger when we are sharing the burden of collective leadership with trusted partners and friends.

We are helping to build the region’s capacity to confront these cross-border challenges, by building operational partnerships, by boosting regional capacity and by increasing the flow of information. At the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit next year, all of this will be a top priority.

Mr Speaker, we do not turn away from the many challenges we face.

Our national attributes, our pride in our security, our diversity, our freedom and the prosperity which they enable, mean we are well-placed to confront these challenges. But we can never be complacent or avoid hard truths.

We must be open to change and lessons from events at home and abroad.

We all have a part to play: Government, business and the community.

The last four years of Coalition Government have seen an uninterrupted program of proactive national security reforms that have been designed in response to the growing global threat environment and not in reaction to catastrophe or criticism.

The Government has a proven track record of getting the balance right between ensuring the safety and security of our nation and its people, and defending the liberties and the personal freedoms that are integral to our way of life.

And the success of the Government has been underpinned by the success of our agencies – the best in the world – which work tirelessly to keep Australians safe.

But there is no room for even a moment’s complacent satisfaction.

It is the first duty, the most solemn obligation of government, to keep Australians safe.

And I will not rest, the Government will not rest, in our relentless efforts constantly to improve our defences, our capabilities, our techniques, our technologies.

We must be faster, smarter and more agile than those who seek to do us harm.  Set and forget is not an option.

We live in an age of change unprecedented in its scale and pace and our security, and the threats to it, are no exception.

Mr Speaker, my commitment and that of my Government is never to rest as we do all within our power to keep Australians safe, secure and free.


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