STATEMENT ON NATIONAL SECURITY
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
THURSDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER 2016
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Thank you, Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for updating the House.
And I thank the Chief of Defence Force for the briefing he provided to me an hour ago on this matter.
It is important for our Parliament that this chamber continues to be a public forum for discussing matters of significance.
The loss of innocent lives to terrorism has become an all too familiar story on the evening news. The toll grows across the world on every continent, in nations of all faiths.
And I would say to the Prime Minister and to all Australians, that the cooperative bipartisan approach that Labor took to questions of national security in the 44th Parliament will continue in the 45th Parliament.
I wish to acknowledge Prime Minister Abbott’s consistency throughout his stewardship in talking to myself and the Opposition about national security.
Under my leadership, Labor has consistently sought to be a constructive contributor to Australia’s national security effort.
Every single member of the Labor Caucus engages with this issue in a respectful, thoughtful way.
In the last Parliament, Labor supported and indeed improved and amended every set of national security bills
Members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, from all parties, worked together to deliver more than 100 amendments to the original legislation.
But I do wish to acknowledge, briefly, the painstaking work of the quiet achiever, the Member for Holt, on this committee.
Labor will continue to take the same constructive approach in the 45th Parliament to the measures that the Prime Minister has mentioned this morning.
It is timely to update the House on counter-terrorism measures and the impacts here.
The Opposition notes the counter-terrorism amendment bill has been reviewed by the PJCIS and that the Government has accepted the changes recommended from the committee.
We understand this bill will be presented to the Parliament in the next sitting week. The Opposition awaits further bills about national security and the importation of guns in future weeks to be presented to the Parliament.
But as I said, at the outset of my response, the Chief of Defence Force has briefed me about the proposals on targeting which the Prime Minister’s statement dealt with.
The view of the CDF and the ADF is that it is necessary to update domestic law to be consistent with international law.
International law makes a distinction between civilians and members of terrorist organisations. The domestic law has a narrower definition which hasn't been updated to deal with the developments of state-like terrorist organisations such as Daesh.
Our ADF has a robust targeting policy and protocols.
They have implemented their missions and they have degraded the enemy with no civilian casualties to this point. This reflects very well on the leadership and professionalism of our Australian Defence Force.
What we also recognise, though, is that based on our operations over nearly the last two years, the ADF has secured and been part of a coalition response to degrade Daesh, who have had losses in materials, people and land. But Daesh has the capacity to evolve. They are hierarchical in their leadership, they are a state-like organisation without a state to administer and they are committed to promoting war-like and terrorist activities wherever they can.
Currently, we're able to target the vehicles and the positions, able to go after those Mad Max style vehicles which the terrorists use in Iraq. Of course we have been able to target infrastructure and headquarter positions.
Always our ADF operates proportionate with international laws, the Geneva convention and other such protocols. But as I said, it has become clear to our Defence Forces that there may be an ambiguity between international law and our domestic laws.
It is important that we understand that when we're dealing with Daesh, that the factories where they make their equipment, where they cache their supplies, where they get the fuel trucks and the logistical element, it is important that we deal with this issue to make sure that our ADF, by some quirk of domestic law anomaly, should not be subjected to our legal repercussions merely because we didn't deal with the issue and update our laws just as the ADF are dealing with an updated, difficult environment.
This is an issue, though, which is not just one which Australia has to deal with, it's an issue which all Western nations have been grappling with.
Our people in the field make split-second decisions in a dangerous and dynamic environment. We do not want to put them in harm's way because of our inability to review and modernise our laws.
This is not an am ambiguity by design, but just as history evolves we have not had to deal with State-like organisations with terrorist activities.
Certainly, based on the initial principle that we heard, the principle of targeting all members of Daish is a sound principle, and of course we will need to see how the law and the drafting works.
But as I said, our CDF has made it clear that they want to make sure that when we ask our young men and women and our professional ADF to carry out the missions which Australia deems to be important in our national interest and the interests of the people of Iraq, that we don't set them up to head into a legal minefield.
I'm confident this can be done in a cooperative and bipartisan way.
The safety of Australians, but also support for our ADF and the security of our nation is bigger and more important question than any of the other political differences that we perhaps spend more of our time on.
Terrorism, in all its forms, is a crime aimed specifically at the innocent.
At its fundamental level, it is motivated by nothing more complex than a cowardly hatred of who we are and the way we live.
We live in a remarkable, peaceful and prosperous country and all of us here understand our good fortune. We don't just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it, we embrace it.
We are a nation constantly striving for equal opportunity. Our citizens are free to be their best and free to be themselves.
These are liberties which we admire, rights which we all enjoy. Responsibility, therefore, falls to all of us to ensure that we defend these rights, preserve them and uphold them.
That is why, as I've always said, when it comes to fighting terrorism we're all in this together, Labor and Liberal.
In recent weeks many of us have participated in a host of commemoration ceremonies for previous generations of Australians who have made the extreme sacrifice in defence of our nation and in doing that, I'm sure all of us think of Australians currently serving the cause of peace around the world.
And it is important, as I've said, that we support and recognise the work of our military personnel. As the Prime Minister has indicated, progress is being made.
Daesh is losing territory in Iraq that it can control, 50 per cent of what it controlled has been taken from it. In Syria, 20 per cent.
Thirty per cent of its resources have been impacted, undermining the ability of Daesh to organise its operations.
There is some confidence that the tide is turning but I have no doubt there can be complete confidence that defence personnel from Australia are playing a critical part, along with our international partners.
I do believe that our Australian troops are doing valuable, important work assisting the people and the Government of Iraq, not just our air support, repelling advances and claiming ground from the well-armed enemy but from training and construction, building a more capable Iraqi army.
Of course, winning the battle against Daesh demands that we build the infrastructure of peace.
Not just holding elections but upholding the rule of law. Ensuring schools are open and accessible and a future free from violence is seen not just as desirable but achievable.
But let us not kid ourselves. The progress which has been recorded is real. But the strong threat still remains.
Daesh is adaptive. As I said earlier, it evolves constantly and it does have a significant support base. Draining the swamp of terrorism will require more than military means alone.
Just as our troops battle violent extremism overseas, our security agencies guard us against that threat at home.
We have seen the human cost of extremism on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. And our agencies’ every waking minute, their every unseen effort is dedicated to keeping all Australians safe. We know theirs is no easy task.
The propaganda arm of terrorism seeks to reach out through new digital platforms, yet the attacks themselves are more often than not low tech, carried out by lone wolf actors with little direction, using unsophisticated means whose footprint or profile as a threat may be very difficult to detect.
This is an emerging global trend where individuals radicalise quickly, and act under a vague sense of broad direction from extreme terrorist groups rather than from specific instruction.
And in these circumstances the traditional threat indicators and the old mindset for identifying risk may not assist us.
The individual may not have a history of extreme political ideology, or extreme radical pronouncements.
There may be only very tenuous links between them and overseas organisations, or no visible connection to broader movements at all. There may not even be evidence of an individual acquiring the components needed for complex weapons.
After all, Man Haron Monis, the person who plunged Sydney into a grip of terror and fear, he had a history of mental illness and family violence and criminal convictions. He had written hate-filled incomprehensible letters of widows to the Australians killed in Afghanistan.
But his abuse of women and his history of family violence failed to raise the red flags in terms of his capacity to carry out violence in other silos of criminal behaviour. He was never formally identified as a national security threat in the way in which he emerged.
As the Prime Minister has referred to, it is more important than ever that our National Security Agencies are working together, are well connected and are sharing all relevant information including from non-traditional sources.
Our national security agencies, our law enforcement agencies, our border protection agencies must all be working as one, preventing those at home and from those outside our borders from seeking to do us harm.
We do need to ask ourselves, are the current levels of coordination and cooperation strong enough and fast enough in the age of cyber-attacks?
We need to ensure that the right information is getting to the right people at the right time, that our prevention and response capabilities are adequate and adaptable.
Recent reports of increased cyber-attacks against both government and non-government agencies and institutions should be cause for concern.
Protecting sensitive government information and networked architecture is critical to maintaining our national security.
Continuing, and in some cases successful, attacks on Austrade, the Bureau of Meteorology and Defence, must force us to ask if the current level of resources are adequate to deal with this evolving threat.
In government, Labor opened the Cyber Security Operations Centre and adopted Australia's first comprehensive cyber security strategy and we are working cooperatively with the Government on what more can be done to improve Australia's defences.
This principle of better, faster sharing of information and enhanced cooperation between agencies also needs to extend to our region and our wider world.
Mr Speaker, we must constantly strive for stronger links with our partners in peace.
The security threats we face are common and our responsibility to counter them is shared.
As an international community, we need to work together to deprive terrorist organisations of their funds and resources.
Because the splintering of Daesh in the Middle East poses the risk of demobilising an army of extremists at large in our region, armed with new combat skills and equipped with old hatred.
As one of the leading foreign policy thinkers in Jakarta has said:
“the conflict in Syria has captured the imagination of Indonesian extremists in a way no foreign war has before.”
This alarming reality demands Australian leadership, particularly through multilateral institutions.
As a key architect of APEC, as a founding member of the East Asian Summit and the first ASEAN dialogue partner, we need to work together at modernising treaties, conventions and export controls to reflect the fact that we live in a world where people can Google bomb-making instructions and 3D print a gun.
We need an international framework that recognises international terrorism can be downloaded at home and its weapons home-made.
In part this regional international focus is the inevitable product of our confident, outward-looking national character.
We are a people who love to travel, work and live overseas.
9.7 million Australians spend time abroad each year - and the reality is that the greatest threat to our citizens comes from being targeted indirectly or directly when they are in a foreign country.
New York, Bali, Jakarta, Mumbai, Tunis, Nairobi, London - so often when we stand in this house to send our condolences to a friend or an ally, we mourn Australians too.
The review by the Australian counter-terrorism coordinator, Greg Moriarty, commissioned by the Prime Minister in July following the deadly attack in Nice, will be important in considering how we engage with partner nations to defeat lone wolf attacks.
One of the strongest and important safeguards against the division and fear of terrorism does not wear a uniform or carry a gun. It is a united, cohesive nation.
Demonising difference, fostering hate speech, talking about instigating bans and building walls are threats to our national security as well as our national harmony.
In particular, we think of our great and generous Muslim community whose leadership in denouncing crimes of violence as alien and foreign to the ethos of Islam is so important.
I won't forget the advice of the former director of ASIO who said:
‘the strongest defence against violent extremism is the Australian Muslim community itself.’
I think our Parliament can count itself fortunate that in the Member for Cowan we now have among us an internationally-recognised expert on countering extremism, because this is a differently-perceived, but equally important, form of national security.
There can be no tolerance, no apologising for the murder in the name of any faith or under any flag, be it religious extremism, be it right-wing or left-wing extremism.
And if the lure of extremism for disengaged young people, or those who perhaps are grappled by mental illness, is a sense of power and purpose and identity, we must counter that with a simple message. There is no honour, no courage, no reward in throwing away your life to claim the lives of others.
We must reach out to engage those who are marginalised and feel that mainstream society offers them no solutions.
The greatest argument against everything terrorism represents will not be heard in this chamber.
Instead, it lives beyond the walls of this building.
It is, and always has been, the country we love.
Free people, an inclusive, diverse, peaceful and equal society.
We are proudly home to all faiths and traditions but our belief in Australia unites us all.
In our kitchens and our lounge rooms can be heard the languages of every nation on Earth but in our love for this country we speak with one voice.
As a parliament, as a people, we will meet the threats and challenges ahead. United, resilient and resolved.