Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan
Topics: Internet regulation; Brighton terror attack; Sam Dastyari and foreign donations
Matthew Abraham: Labor Senator for South Australia Penny Wong, who’s the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and leads the Shorten Opposition in the Senate. Welcome to our studio, here on Super Wednesday.
Penny Wong: Good to be here with you.
Matthew Abraham: Thank you for coming in. Sarah Hanson-Young, Green Senator for South Australia, Spokesperson for Finance and Trade and Education. Welcome to Super Wednesday.
Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.
Matthew Abraham: And Simon Birmingham, also out in the field for us. Liberal Senator for South Australia and Education Minister. Welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, everybody.
Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, if we can start for you. Is it a wild dream to think that somehow any government can regulate or censor the internet to remove safe spaces for terrorists?
Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew, I think we have to be ever vigilant in trying and closing down these opportunities as much is as humanly possible. In the end, we know now days that data drives so much that big technology companies know so much about what it is that all of us do, what it is all of us look at. And that of course that knowledge provides an opportunity to actually try to shut down some of the conversations, some of the connections that occur that do promote terrorism, that are used by terrorists to advance their cause or to plan these types of atrocities. And so I think it’s absolutely appropriate that world leaders- that countries like ours’ ought to be engaging in trying to find all possible ways to shut down the capabilities of terrorists, including their technology capabilities.
David Bevan: Well Simon Birmingham, I’ve had people say to me; look if North Korea can control the internet and China can control the internet, why can’t our governments at least crack down on these so called safe spaces for terror?
Simon Birmingham: And look David, I think there’s a degree of that. Clearly in these countries that promote free speech, that want to encourage free speech, but not the type of free speech that leads to the cruel and senseless loss of lives. And so Malcolm Turnbull, asked the Attorney-General, in May, to start work on trying to find ways that we can better contain these types of activities online. I know those discussions are happening with our international partners to try to see what type of consistent approach we can all take to whether it is some of the very public social media platforms that are used or some of these other deeper, darker, so-called safer spaces.
Matthew Abraham: Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia. I mean are we going to keep hearing these sort of very mild mannered placating words? Because if you’re a jihadist or a terrorist you think; that’s great they’re going to take their time, they’re going to take a broader approach to this, they’re going to work with other governments, they love that sort of stuff- that sort of crap, don’t they?
Penny Wong: Well, let’s deal with these things in order. First, in terms of the internet and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and other platforms for communication and dialogue, my view is – as a matter of principal – we expect the media to behave responsibility- I’m sorry, we expect the media to behave responsibly. So …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well, what’s this got to do with the media?
Penny Wong: No, so we should also expect platforms which essentially communicate information and enable dialogue to also behave responsibly. Now, I hope- there are obviously challenges …
Matthew Abraham: So, what’s that code for? Is that code for don’t retweet, don’t use information that terrorists put up?
Penny Wong: I think it means that Facebook, Twitter and other platforms do need to behave responsibly when it comes to enabling discussion and conversation, dialogue, advocacy, for violent extremism. Of course. And there are some arrangements in place, if they are insufficient they ought to be addressed.
David Bevan: And is there space for us to move into? Is there potential for us to be much better at controlling this sort of internet communication?
Penny Wong: I think there’s space for us- or I’m sure technically there’s space for us to do more online. I’m not an expert in the area but I’m sure there is. But I think there’s – more broadly – space for us to make sure we confront these extremist ideologies – Islamist extremism – but recognise there’s a vast difference between those individuals who are criminals – let’s remember they are criminals – and the vast majority of the Muslim community around the world.
Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, do you agree with Chris Kenny, who writes in The Australian today; that we need to see a link between terror and radicalised refugees and their children?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think that there are indications in some of the data of the arrests around terrorism and so on that show some linkages. And we shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging that where we are bringing in refugees – and Australia’s a generous country in doing so – we should have very strong screening processes which is what we’ve been applying …
David Bevan: Well, he argues that ASIO’s denial of that link undermines confidence in our security agencies.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I haven’t read Chris’ piece today. But I think we have to be honest about the challenges there. And that is firstly, screening those who enter Australia and having a very rigorous process there …
David Bevan: We’re doing it aren’t we?
Simon Birmingham: … [indistinct] very successful resettlement processes. And overwhelmingly Australia is an incredibly successful country in terms of resettling migrants from around the world, including many, many refugees. But we have to be aware to the threats that are present now days and confront them realistically. And that is why we’ve invested more in those types of screening processes and it’s why we also have to invest in the types of reform the Turnbull Government outlined its support. English language services and to make that a very clear expectation that in terms of people coming to Australia, understanding the cultures of Australia, responsibilities of Australia and living effectively and happily an Australian life, English language skills are a core part of those attributes.
Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, Green Senator for South Australia, what’s your view on that?
Sarah Hanson-Young: First thing I think it’s important for us to reflect on the fact that, both in the incident in Melbourne and also the incident in London this week – both horrific acts of brutality – the individuals involved were actually already known by the Police. I find it interesting that we have a kind of knee-jerk reaction from the politicians about now having to scour all Australians’ information online, when in fact; these people were known to the authorities. I think we have to have a look …
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] So you’re saying they should have been able to stop something like the Brighton attack?
Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, I think that we should be looking at what didn’t go right. Why these people were able to get themselves into a situation where they could hurt somebody else – hurt individuals. This- the person in Melbourne was clearly a lunatic – obviously someone not [laughs] okay, not safe to be left in that situation. [Indistinct]
David Bevan: [Talks over] Well, we’ll talk about the parole laws in just a moment. But can you address this issue: do you agree that we’re kidding ourselves if we think there’s no link between the radicalised children of refugees and terror?
Sarah Hanson-Young: I think what- I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that radicalisation is something that is just left to one group of people. I think that is when we’re kidding ourselves. I think that the ASIO advice and from the head of ASIO saying let’s not just talk about people who come here for humanitarian reasons, the link- the common link is extremism. The common link is radicalisation – that is what we have to beat ..
David Bevan: [Talks over] Penny Wong, you’re shaking your head.
Sarah Hanson-Young: … If we just focus on one group of people, I think we really, really miss the bigger problem here.
David Bevan: Penny Wong.
Penny Wong: See, I was shaking my head – with respect – because of how you formulated the question. Because I think it’s really important we diagnose the problem. So the problem is not [indistinct] particular group of individuals; the problem is violent criminals who hide behind perversion of Islam.
Sarah Hanson-Young: I agree with you, Penny.
Penny Wong: The problem is Islamistic extremism. And if we are serious about countering the radicalisation of individuals – and remember, not all terror attacks are from people who are children of refugees, demonstrably – then we need to make sure we continue talk about the vast difference between the Muslim community – who are our frontline against radicalisation threats, who have been our most important source of information to our authorities in thwarting attacks – we must make sure we clearly articulate a difference between that community and Islamist extremists. And we also …
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] But you can do both, can’t you?
Penny Wong: Yeah- and as long as we do that, and I think we also should …
David Bevan: [Talks over] But you can do both.
Penny Wong: … as long as we also remember that the majority of victims of this sort of violent terrorism have been Muslims around the world. And we ought to remember that. The setting up of a clash of civilisations, which some people seek to do, is actually precisely what the terrorists want.
Matthew Abraham: Well that’s because the ideology of ISIS …
Penny Wong: [Talks over] Correct.
Matthew Abraham: … is not necessarily war on the west; it is war on those who will not wage war on the west as well.
Penny Wong: Correct.
Matthew Abraham: But that is war on the west. So you terrify your own supporters that if you don’t do the right thing, we’re going to come and behead you, or your daughter, your son, or whatever – there’s not much difference there, the fact that they’re victims, because that is the ideology of the madness of ISIS.
Penny Wong: Correct. And it is a mad ideology. And it is a violent ideology. I’m making the point though, that all of us – whether it’s the two of you here in this studio, or the three politicians online, or any leader – we should not be trying to set up a division and a clash of civilisations because that will make Australians less safe.
Matthew Abraham: No. However, if the main source of support for anti-terrorism information and working with the Muslim community is an issue, is a big bonus for us, is that the mums and dads, who are the first generation out here, and while they’re helping the Police, the kids are on the internet being radicalised? I don’t know. Is the children? Is the first or is it the second generation?
Penny Wong: I think the paths to radicalisation are not identical. And, look, you’re correct; we- whether it’s us or our allies and partners – you know, the UK, the US or other nations who are seeking to confront this – we need to understand better what other paths to radicalisation, how do we best prevent it? But what we do know is we’re not going to do that by just getting into a finger pointing exercise and having a go at the entire Muslim community.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, do we risk getting into finger pointing or do we risk just stating the obvious?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think we have to state the obvious when the obvious is backed by facts, David. Now, the facts are that Penny is dead right; not all violent Islamist terrorist extremists come from one particular background – they’re not all radicalised in the same way. Are there some data points that suggest some linkage to, perhaps, children of migrants? Well, yes, perhaps there are some, but that’s not the sole focus of any activity. But we need to be honest about recognising that and ensuring that we do bolster the protections we can have there in terms of those screenings of migrants in terms of resettlement services. But then we need to do as we started the conversation, look at then how radicalisation occurs. And radicalisation occurs obviously online; it also occurs out of a sense of disconnection or dysfunction from society. So how do we make sure that kids going through school see that they are included, that there are opportunities for them, that there are ways they can participate in society? All of those different factors – there’s not one single silver bullet to this. [Indistinct]
David Bevan: [Talks over] No, no, no, I don’t think anybody is suggesting there is. Before you leave us, Penny Wong, have you spoken with Sam Dastyari about his links to China?
Penny Wong: I certainly spoke to Sam around the time there were the revelations about him having his- an account paid, which led to him resigning from the front bench – which was the right thing to do.
David Bevan: So are you satisfied you know everything there is to know about Dastyari and China?
Penny Wong: [Laughs] I know what he’s told me and I know what- which is on the public record.
David Bevan: And what have you asked him? Anything beyond the public record?
Penny Wong: Oh, come on, hang on.
David Bevan: [Talks over] I mean, this is pretty serious allegations aren’t they? Have you- I’m asking you, have you sat down and had a conversation with Sam about his links to China?
Penny Wong: No, I haven’t on every point, no. But he has resigned from the front bench, as is appropriate. And I hope, if we’re going to play politics on this, you’ll point out that a member of the Cabinet took a job with an organisation and was started to be paid before he’d even left the Parliament. But, leaving aside politics, I do – and in my current job, obviously, that’s a particularly present issue for me – I do worry about the influence of other powers in Australia’s sovereignty and Australia’s democracy. And I think there are a number of things we ought to do; one, Bill has proposed for some time – and the Government has not agreed – the banning of foreign donations, we should proceed to do that. Second, we should actually look at – and Bill suggested to Mr Turnbull a reference to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security – we should more broadly what other legislative and practical things we can do to ensure that the democracy is safeguarded.
David Bevan: Have you expressed these concerns to Sam Dastyari?
Penny Wong: He’s not part of the discussion. He’s not a member of the Shadow Cabinet. He’s not a member of the leadership …
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] No, he’s not [indistinct] influential in Labour
Penny Wong: Well, no, hang on …
Matthew Abraham: … he’s a bit of a mover and shaker. Is he not?
Penny Wong: He’s a back bencher and these are discussions that are conducted by the Shadow Cabinet and leadership group. [Indistinct]
Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] [Indistinct]
Penny Wong: He’s not the person making policy on these issues.
Matthew Abraham: Yeah but this is not necessarily, well, it’s not necessarily about policy though is it? Because this operation …
David Bevan: [Talks over] It’s about influence.
Matthew Abraham: This is about two-fronts. But it’s also within the Labor Party and these are the joint ABC Chris Uhlmann investigation with Fairfax that revealed fresh links with Chinese lobbyists and backers.
Penny Wong: Look, I don’t think anything in the paper- in the Four Corners program was not- in relation to Sam, was not something that had already been made public. There were certainly things in relation to Andrew Robb which had not been previously public.
Matthew Abraham: Well, let’s put it to Simon Birmingham.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, are you happy that some- with the way that Andrew Robb has conducted himself?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think it is right that we ban donations from foreign entities, not just into political parties …
David Bevan: [Interrupts] What about walking out on Cabinet to work for a Chinese company?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, there are codes of conduct around how it is former ministers are meant to engage and the types of work they can undertake …
David Bevan: [Talks over] Yeah, yeah, are you happy with them?
Simon Birmingham: … They ought to be followed. I haven’t looked precisely at the- what work Andrew Robb has done post-Parliament. But I think we need to make sure that certainly whilst we are all there in Parliament, we have the absolute tightest processes in terms of how it is that we actually receive donations. But not just political parties, also to entities like unions, GetUp!, others that influence the democratic outcome of elections here and that’s the type of legislation the Parliament will be bringing forward later this year.
Penny Wong: Well, let’s reduce the threshold for disclosure. That when you have consistently voted against that, we have said; let’s disclose everything over 1000 The Liberal Party , why don’t we ensure that we have greater transparency?
Matthew Abraham: Can you do that now, Simon Birmingham?
Penny Wong: Against it.
Simon Birmingham: [Indistinct] donations later this year. The Prime Minister’s already made crystal clear foreign donations will be banned but we’re not just stopping it at political parties. We need to make sure that it cuts out the influence …
David Bevan: [Audio skip] Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and also on the line, Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.