Subject: Counter Terrorism


Kieran Gilbert: And for local reaction now I’m joined by Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham.

A lot to discuss this morning Senator Birmingham. First of all, this Newspoll that says 76 per cent of people believe it’s either likely, very likely, or inevitable that a Paris-style attack will be carried out here; that is, there’s obviously a very strong level of concern in the community.

Simon Birmingham: And Kieran, I understand and appreciate that concern. We have seen over the last couple of years a number of lone wolf-type attacks occur in Australia. But people should know that we are doing everything within our powers, both domestically and internationally, to prevent such attacks from occurring. Our security services have had success in intervening and intercepting in cells that might be in operation in Australia on a number of occasions, and to ensure that they are preventing these types of attacks. And of course, Prime Minister Turnbull’s discussions over recent days at the various international fora he’s been attending have been very focused on how it is that we counter violent extremism, how it is that we can enhance cooperation with those in our region in particular, especially the Muslim nations within our region, to make sure we are all working as one to prevent such attacks from occurring.

Kieran Gilbert: With the numbers we’re talking about, is Australia simply in a better position because we don’t have as many individuals of concern as countries like France do, is that the bottom line?

Simon Birmingham: Look, Australia is in a good position because we have very strong laws, we have significant investment in our security services, we have strong cooperation arrangements in place with many nations already. So it’s those sorts of things that ensure our nation is well-placed to continue to ensure the safety of Australians. We operate, yes, at a high level of risk, but that is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that there are sadly those who would attack us, simply because of our way of life. But the laws that this Government has passed through a series of reforms, the increased investment of more than $600 million or so in counter-terrorism activities and in national security activities, all of that is designed to help make Australians safer, and we are certainly doing everything we possibly can to act on all of the advice of our various national security agencies.

Kieran Gilbert: Do you believe that a terror attack is likely? Do you agree with the vast bulk of those people surveyed by Newspoll?

Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful for senior members of the Government to offer probability assessments on these things. We have a risk rating, a terrorist alert level that is developed and designed by our security agencies, they’re the right people to determine the potential of risk. They’re the right people to also keep us safe, and we are always looking to see what else we can do to ensure the safety of Australians. And that’s why Prime Minister Turnbull’s discussions with the leaders of Malaysia, and Indonesia, and other world leaders about how to counter violent extremism – not just through traditional methods of security services but also through countering their messaging in new platforms. It may well be that the type of approach that Daesh and IS have is quite barbaric, but the way they actually appeal to people and communicate their message is quite modern, and uses much of the latest technology. So we need to make sure that we are keeping up in terms of countering their messaging online, as it appeals sadly to too many young men around the world, and ensure that we are getting counter messaging our as well.

Kieran Gilbert: Now the poll today also looked at the views about the prospect of boots on the ground. The opinion is split on that, 42 per cent in favour 45 per cent opposed. But you’ve got senior – former senior figures of the Coalition Government, today the former Defence Minister, Kevin Andrew, writing in the Financial Review, saying a concerted campaign by coalition special operations forces and related personnel is required to defeat IS. He’s prosecuting the case, just as Tony Abbott did last week, that we should have boots on the ground. This is a, up until recently, an Australian Defence Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Kieran, look I understand where Kevin is coming from. Kevin would well appreciate that Australia acts within a mandate that is provided to us through invitation of the Iraqi Government to undertake operations in Iraq, to undertake airstrikes into Syria where that poses a threat to Iraq and of course that we act in a way that is consistent with our partners. Australia does not take unilateral action in these areas of sending troops in. Australia works with the United States, we hope to see greater co-operation with Russia as a result of discussions over recent weeks. All of these activities are the way in which we get the job done in terms of Syria.

Kieran Gilbert: But does it help to have a former up until recently as I say senior members of the Coalition Government putting their two bobs worth in, as did Tony Abbott last week and now Kevin Andrews this week, doesn’t it undermine the authority of the Prime Minister?

Simon Birmingham: No it doesn’t hurt at all Kieran, I think the fact that we are having open discussions about the challenges we face can only increase the understanding that Australians have for the battle that is occurring there in terms of defeating Daesh. It is really important that we make sure that all the appropriate military and political and diplomatic strategies are required to defeat them on the ground and it will of course be a political solution in the end that is required in Syria in particular as well as military action that helps to combat Daesh and we’ve seen strong commitment from the United States and others to get the job done and Australia is already of course a huge contributor- the second largest contributor to this multilateral international force.

Kieran Gilbert: Well when you look at the decisions being made by Obama based on advice from the Pentagon, Mr Turnbull based on the advice of our defence forces, then the question is upon what analysis is Mr Andrews’ assertion and that of the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott?

Simon Birmingham: Well there are of course many expert commentators and others out there who offer differing views as how best to combat these types of elements like Daesh and we will listen to those experts but of course ultimately our advice is informed by the evidence provided by our own national security experts just as it would have been when Kevin was the minister.

Kieran Gilbert: And my final question relates to your portfolio – a story yesterday, in the weekend papers, on family day care you’re going to crack down on individuals who run family day care on the one hand but then have their children being cared for by other carers, so essentially receiving a subsidy as their children are being cared for by other individuals.

Simon Birmingham: Child swapping for the generation of government rebates and subsidies is completely unacceptable and we have regulations now in place to prevent that. They are subject to a disallowance motion that the Greens are putting forward in the Senate this week and I will be talking to the Greens today to hopefully get them to understand that the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars that are being wasted as a result of this practice. We’re trying to introduce a nearly $40 billion child care package to make it more affordable for Australian families who rely on childcare, who need childcare and that is a very generous package for those families who are working and we want to provide more support to them by stamping out these types of practices.

Kieran Gilbert: Education Minister Birmingham, appreciate your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much, Kieran.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy 0447 644 957
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