Bill's Transcripts

Press Conference: Sydney - National security; Tony Abbott’s attack on Australia’s Shipbuilding industry;



SUBJECT/S: National security; Tony Abbott’s attack on Australia’s Shipbuilding industry; High Court ruling on Temporary Protection Visas; Tony Abbott’s royal commission into trade unions.


BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Last night ASIO independently determined that the national terrorism public alert should be raised. Today the Government has appropriately communicated this fact to the Australian people. This is a most serious decision and when it comes to fighting terrorism we are in this together. Since the current alert system started in 2003 four major terrorist attacks on Australian soil have been disrupted and the participants prosecuted, convicted and jailed. Labor has full confidence in our security agencies. I believe our men and women in our security and police forces do an extremely professional job extremely well. While we remain vigilant Australians are a smart and resilient people and I know that we won’t let threats interfere with the way we live our lives nor undermine our tolerant, inclusive society. For the average Australian these changes should not impact their daily lives. Labor will continue to support the Government in its most important responsibility, ensuring the safety of Australian people. If anyone notices anything out of the ordinary we encourage you to contact the National Security Hotline on 1800 123 400 or indeed contact local police directly. When it comes to fighting terrorism we are in this together.


I also want to briefly make some remarks on President Obama’s significant statement. Labor welcomes the leadership displayed by President Obama in responding to the atrocities that we are seeing in northern Iraq and Syria. ISIL and other terrorist groups represent a bad enemy of peace using the trappings of religion. An insatiable appetite for cold ruthlessness, deliberate ruthlessness, armed with weapons to commit violence and crime. This is not a distant crisis for us. It is absolutely in our national interest that ISIL be defeated.


I thank the Prime Minister for his willingness to engage with the Opposition. The Prime Minister and I are partners when it comes to national security, which is exactly what Australians expect of us. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten have you had a recent security briefing in relation to any actual, sort of, threats?


SHORTEN: The Opposition has been briefed about these matters and whilst I won't reveal all of the content of those briefings, I wish to put on record my appreciation of the Prime Minister's willingness to engage in briefing with me directly. The Prime Minister and I are partners when it comes to matters of national security and protecting Australians. We are in this together.


JOURNALIST: Do you have any fears that the various sort of moves to engage possibly in Iraq and Syria, should the Americans [inaudible] do you feel that could make Australia more of a target to terrorist acts?


SHORTEN: Australia would still be a target regardless of what we did in that region. Our way of life, our tolerant, diverse society makes other people jealous and threatened by our very actions. So no, I do not believe that any action of the Government or Australia in recent days has changed the set of events that we face now.


JOURNALIST: Do you think taking the threat level to the level it is now is the appropriate action?


SHORTEN: I’ll answer that a bit first and I might also ask my Shadow Attorney-General to answer that in more detail. But what I do believe is that this raised threat level has been undertaken independently by ASIO and our intelligence agencies. It is a view that based on the best evidence and security intelligence they have, that there is an increased likelihood of a threat occurring in Australia. I might hand over to Mark to further supplement that answer.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: And I'd just like to make clear that we accept the advice of ASIO. Our very skilled intelligence agencies, the Director-General of ASIO has made it clear today that this raising of the threat level was not because of any specific plot, but in respect of a body of intelligence, a whole set of circumstances that has led to the decision being made by ASIO last night.


JOURNALIST: Was it appropriate for the outgoing ASIO chief David Irvine to make those comments to ABC indicating that the warning level would be raised?


SHORTEN: Yes, I compliment the work of the outgoing ASIO chief. It's been a distinguished period of service. I have full confidence in our security and intelligence agencies. Our men and women who work for them do a great job and when it comes to fighting terrorism, let me be plain, we're all in this together.


JOURNALIST: When was the Opposition briefed, and to what extent can you tell us any of the details about the actual briefings that were received in terms of the extent and timing of those briefings?


SHORTEN: The Opposition has been briefed in recent days and I acknowledge that the Prime Minister has briefed me directly in recent days and I thank him for his willingness to engage. We are partners, the Prime Minister and I when it comes to national security. When it comes to fighting terrorism we're most certainly all in this together. In terms of the content of those briefings, I will not reveal them.


JOURNALIST: Are you also content with the various changes to the terror related laws and procedures, such as in some cases the possibility that people will be required if they're heading to parts of the Middle East to prove that they weren't engaged in any sort of a terror-related activity when they return? Are you happy with those arrangements?


SHORTEN: I'm satisfied that the Government is acting appropriately when it comes to national security. In terms of specific legislation and briefings, I'll ask my colleague the Shadow Attorney-General to answer that question further.


DREYFUS: Yes, we're of course still waiting to see the bill which will contain the proposals that the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and the Foreign Minister announced at a press conference on the 5th of August. We're hoping that that draft bill will be available not only for our consideration, but for public consideration in the very near future.

SHORTEN: I'm confident that the Government means what it says about consulting us.


JOURNALIST: Is there some Islamic groups and also some plain old civil rights activists are concerned that this seems to be part of [inaudible] what they would regard as diminutions of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, do you not have any concerns at all that we're heading down a slippery path of encroaching in on a lot of those fundamental values that we hold in this democratic society?


SHORTEN: I'll answer that in part first of all and then ask my colleague to supplement. ISIL and other terrorist groups, their insatiable appetite for violence, their deliberate cold ruthlessness is not a distant threat for Australia. It's our independent experts, our security and intelligence agencies, have formed the view the threat level should be raised. Labor thinks that this matter is well above your ordinary day-to-day politics. For the average Australian, this increased threat level shouldn't change their daily course of events. But when it comes to fighting these evil organisations, we're in it together and I do not share the concerns expressed in that question, but I might ask Mark to further supplement the processes.


DREYFUS: We have strong security agencies here in Australia. The strength of those security agencies, the strength of their powers, the resources they've been given has been demonstrated in the last few years by the foiling of four major terror plots which resulted in people being charged, convicted and jailed in a number of cases for lengthy periods. What's important in any consideration of the powers that are available to our security agencies is that we keep in mind the fundamental values, the fundamental freedoms of our democratic and strong society. We've got a bill that's going through the Senate at the moment, being introduced in the Senate by the Government. That's being considered by our Joint Intelligence Committee who've held a public hearing. We'll have their report probably in the next sitting week. That's precisely the kind of public scrutiny that there should be when the Government is proposing changes to the powers of our agencies. I think that's important to bear in mind something that the Director-General of ASIO has said at the Press Club a couple of weeks ago. He said the threat is real, he was talking about the current threats that we face, the threat is real, but it’s manageable and I think that's the right approach for Australians.


JOURNALIST: On the issue of submarines, have you had any concerns expressed to you either by any diplomats from other countries, or by business about the possibility of the Government buying Japanese submarines, as opposed to building Australian submarines here?


SHORTEN: Before I answer that question, are there any other questions related to national security, or the raised threat levels today? I'll come back to it.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about publicly and officially acknowledging the threat is real. What does the Government or the Opposition hope to gain from putting that public message out there? Obviously you don't want to scare the public. How are people supposed to remain more vigilant?


SHORTEN: I think it's right if the security agencies determine that the threat level should rise, we should be open with the Australian people. I don't think not telling the Australian people would be the right course of action. That's why I said in my opening statement it's appropriate that the Government let's people know and I think it's appropriate that Australians know and they expect it of the Opposition and on a matter like this we're working together and we are all in this together. I think it is appropriate, but I also listened carefully to the Prime Minister's remarks, the head of ASIO, the Federal Police remarks. Also what my own Shadow Attorney-General has informed me. It won't have an impact on the daily lives of Australians. It doesn't mean that Australians should stop doing what they do. It certainly doesn't mean we should be less tolerant and less inclusive, but these are facts and I think that people respond best when you put the facts in front of them. That's what Australians would expect us to say.


If there are no other questions on that I might go back to the earlier question on submarines. The answer to your question is no. And when it comes to standing up for Australians jobs, we will in the Opposition will stand up for Australian jobs. When it comes to standing up and making sure the Government keeps their election promises, we're not letting them off the hook. To have an accountable government they need to be held account for election promises. It was on May the 8th last year that the then Opposition, now Government, bald-faced, stood in front of the submarine corporation in South Australia and said "We will build submarines in Australia" and it was a bald-faced lie. I can make no apology for standing up for Australian jobs and we certainly will. It will be helpful if the Government who said that these submarines if built in Australia could cost $40 billion, $60 billion, there's been an unnamed source quoted as saying it could cost $80 billion. The Government should talk to the Australian Submarine Corporation and ask them how much they cost. I actually think it would be a good idea if the Government put such a major contract out to tender and then we can see who provides the best value and the best utility and outcomes and, of course, how do we ensure we get the most jobs in Australia?


JOURNALIST: What does the Opposition think of the High Court striking down yesterday of the Immigration Minister's policy to introduce to offer temporary protection visas for asylum seekers and furthermore, in the judgment it also outlined constitutional restrictions on mandatory detention, a policy introduced under Labor?


SHORTEN: I might ask my colleague, the Shadow Attorney General to answer that question.


DREYFUS: In relation to the last part of your question, we'll be looking at the judgment in detail. It does indicate that there are in the High Court’s ruling, limits on what mandatory detention should be, limits on the length of mandatory detention. We think that the Government should be trying to work with the law as determined by the High Court of Australia, not trying to work against it. It's about time that the Government abided by the High Court's now repeated judgments which have told the Government that it's not to keep looking for ways to avoid the obligations that Australia has under the refugee’s convention. It's really up to the Government now to act in a different way than it has been acting in response now to successive High Court decisions which have struck down attempts being made by the Government to get around the law.


JOURNALIST: Evidence came out in the Royal Commission into Union Governance recently that Sam Dastyari as ALP State Secretary knew at least three weeks before it happened that it was your intention to apply to the Federal Court to have HSU put into administration. Did you discuss with Mr Dastyari weeks before you acted that you were intending to take that course of action?


SHORTEN: As I've said with regard to the Tony Abbott Royal Commission into Trade Unions, that I'm not going to provide a running commentary on all the matters which are raised in it. People have their agendas and people have their stories. I'll leave that to the Royal Commission to determine.


If there are no other questions, thanks everyone, have a nice afternoon.