Topics: Law enforcement success in Queensland; Scams Awareness Week; COVID-19 misinformation.
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday I speak to the Minister for Home Affairs; Cabinet member; MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast; Karen Andrews. The Minister joins me on the line – good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m very well, thanks. Well, down your way there was a big story this morning involving the Federal Police – the arrest of Sydney fugitive Mostafa Baluch. He was trying to get into Queensland on the back of a truck that was coming to Queensland; it had a container on the back; a Mercedes inside the container; and he was in there. This guy’s a big time crim, and the Federal Police were keen on catching him Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. This is just another example – but a great example – of the terrific work that the Australian Federal Police does in supporting state policing – so in this case, New South Wales and Queensland police. So it’s a real credit to everyone involved that this individual has now been arrested and taken into custody, and, you know, look; he tried his best to get away, but this is just further evidence that at the end of the day the long arm of the law will get you.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, well, he tried his best. He was on charges of importing 900 kilograms of cocaine; 270 million bucks worth. He was let out on a massive bail and – of course – he cut off his ankle bracelet and then took off, and there was all sorts of conspiracy theories. Just bear with me for a sec, Minister. Have a listen to Rob Critchlow, Superintendent from New South Wales Police on Ben Fordham’s show earlier.
ROB CRICKLOW: …and police being diligent – as they are, searching under vehicles – they found a truck with a container on the back which appeared to be suspicious – it wasn’t properly secured. They banged on the side of the truck and someone banged back. They opened it up and he was sitting inside a Mercedes inside the container on the back of the truck.
NEIL BREEN: He banged back, Minister! I shouldn’t laugh. This is a bad guy.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, look, you know, crims aren’t smart, are they? Well, I’m laughing now – happily.
NEIL BREEN: I know. He went to so much effort to get away and then he banged back. It’s amazing.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, ‘here I am’.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, well, this is on the back of what happened in West Australia last week – where the police were so heavily involved in finding Cleo Smith, the Federal Police helping the state police – that’s how all our agencies should work – so well done to you and to the Federal Police. The AFP’s done a lot of work in Queensland in recent times cracking down on crime. One of the big targets were the Hells Angels bikies gang.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, the Australian Federal Police do a tremendous amount of work right across Australia, but they have been particularly active here in Queensland. A lot of this comes off the back of Operation Ironside – which was the operation that we did in conjunction with the FBI that took out a serious number of underworld figures, particularly those from big drug cartels. So what we will see is an increasing number of arrests that are linked to the work that was done under that particular operation; and, of course, what we’re seeing is that there’s quite a bit of drug activity on the Gold Coast and in some parts of Queensland. Queenslanders – Australians – have a pretty big appetite for drugs. So it’s a pretty big pull factor for drugs to come into the country. But we have seen a number of arrests just recently here on the Gold Coast. So there’s more to come, without a doubt.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, bikies are always a concern, particularly for Queenslanders. We’ve seen so many problems on the Gold Coast in the past. There was that big skirmish not last weekend, the weekend before, and people were getting belted in nightclubs and fire bombings in houses. Do Queenslanders need to be worried about the rise of bikies again?
KAREN ANDREWS: Queenslanders should always be concerned about what the bikies are up to because it’s never any good. So they are serious criminals, and the things that they do are just unacceptable. They do it for money. They do it for a whole range of factors, but none of it is helpful to our society. So, yes, Queenslanders should be very concerned about what the bikies are up to.
NEIL BREEN: It’s Scam Awareness Week this week. We spoke to our money guru – Olivia Moragna – about it yesterday. But you’ve recently launched a new campaign to increase cyber security in Australia?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep, absolutely. So that’s ‘beat cybercrime in your downtime’. So basically whilst you’re sitting there – maybe watching Netflix, watching TV – do things like change your password to a passphrase; make sure you’ve got all your updates happening automatically on your phone. But it’s not just your phones; there’s a whole range of electronic devices that all need to have a level of protection on them now – TVs, WIFI routers. You know, particularly with social media accounts – look at your settings on those. I mean, we do know that people are very vulnerable when they don’t have the right cyber security and the right defences in place. So this campaign is all about encouraging them to take the time to update their passwords, update everything they can to secure their data – because what they don’t want to do, is have their identity stolen.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, because there’s all sorts of ways… you know obviously some people can have their identity stolen, it’s just bad luck – you know, the use of a credit card transaction here or there and someone else gets a hold of the information – but others people fall for these traps, and I get messages through my social media, Minister, like basic stuff. Like, I got one yesterday through social
media that said, “Hey, how are you? Are you still in Oz or have you gone abroad?” Now, you know, well, who’s gone abroad? And secondly, I know that person’s trying to get me to say, “Oh, who is this?” and that’s how they suck you in.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely, and you know, it is a big concern because quite often people look at something as a message coming through or an email and they think, “oh yes, that’s legitimate,” and they respond or they click on a link; and all of a sudden they’re finding that their identity’s been stolen; been sold on the dark web; and that they’re up for – in some cases – it’s over a million dollars that they’re liable for, and that they will never, ever get back.
NEIL BREEN: No, they never will. Hey, Facebook is where a lot of misinformation has been around. A lot of the indigenous community in Queensland has been scared off vaccinations because of what they see on Facebook. You know, we’ve got a federal election coming up. Is the government worried that Facebook in those places – I know you’ve done so much work to try and hold them to account like traditional media is held to account – can they be stopped? Like, should they show more responsibility?
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. The social media companies do have a very important role to play in moderating the content that is on their platform, and whilst they have always shown a level of reluctance in doing that, they actually do have a social responsibility. They call themselves ‘social media businesses’. Well, there is a social component to what they do, and they have a responsibility. They just can’t stand back and say, “We’re just providing avenue for people to give their views.” Where there is serious misinformation that’s being given – and it has a detrimental impact on people’s health – for example, with the misinformation that came through from COVID-19, then absolutely the social media companies have to step up and be responsible. So we are taking action, and we’ve done quite a number of things to make sure that the social media companies are being more accountable. Just in the period from mid-March 2020 through to the end of October this year, there were over two and a half thousand instances of online COVID misinformation that were referred to various companies for their removal. I mean, that’s a significant amount. So obviously that’s not a breakdown of the comments; that’s actually just the misinformation that was there. Now we do know that in Australia – and particularly in Queensland – the misinformation out there feeds into vaccine hesitancy. Now in Queensland that’s not the only thing that fed into vaccine hesitancy, but the social media companies certainly need to be accountable for what they’re allowing to go on to their platforms.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, we’ll talk to you next week. Thanks for your time.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Take care.