Topics: AFP assistance to NSW Police in the investigation into the disappearance of William Tyrrell; Morrison Government’s new guidelines to assist universities counter foreign interference.
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday I speak to Home Affairs Minister; Cabinet Minister; 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. There’s been big news this week regarding the renewed search for the remains of little William Tyrrell who went missing in 2014. I understand you’ve got some news about that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes. Absolutely. Clearly the search continues, but today there are specialists from the AFP’s forensic unit – they’ve been deployed to Kendall and they will start a very targeted search of several key locations today. So that is great news that the AFP are now part of the search, and they will bring in the very specialist capabilities.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, well, obviously we’re going to need every expert in Australia on this. The AFP’s got that amazing expertise, and we saw what they did in cooperating with the West Australian Police with little Cleo and helping find her. But seven years… DNA evidence and those things after seven years… it’s pretty hard, you need the top people on that.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. The AFP certainly has a very specialist and very experienced forensic unit; and it’s the AFP’s forensic unit that have now been deployed to help with the search. So it’s hopefully going to be a breakthrough very soon.
NEIL BREEN: How does this all work? Do NSW Police request the AFP? Or do the AFP say to them “we can come and help”? Because we all watch American crime shows, and they all hate each other – the CIA and the FBI and the local coppers.
KAREN ANDREWS: There’s obviously different roles for the various police forces that we have. The Australian Federal Police is always there to support state policing – and sometimes they are requested to come and join; other times they lean in and offer their support. So clearly the AFP has got the back of the state policing forces right across Australia, and of course, as a federal government we back in the AFP. So it is working very well together, and as you’ve said, AFP certainly lent in and assisted with the search for little Cleo, and as they’re doing today – they’re assisting with their specialist forensic unit with the search for William Tyrrell; so hopefully in the case now of William Tyrrell there will be a breakthrough. But the AFP has quite unique skills and experience there; they have quite unique capabilities; so the AFP is always available to assist state policing to get the best outcome for Australians.
NEIL BREEN: I’m really interested in this announcement you’re going to make today on foreign interference in Australian universities. What are you going to do?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, it is actually a big issue. The government has worked very closely with universities on issues of foreign interference. So what we have developed is refreshed guidelines that the universities will be implementing to make sure that there’s a balance between being able to conduct the research – particularly with international partners – and Australia’s role in conducting international research is very important. But we also need to be mindful – and that’s the second part of this – we need to be very mindful of the risks of foreign interference. So these guidelines have been developed in conjunction with the universities to make it clear what the risks are and what things can be put in place to mitigate the risks of foreign interference. I mean, we know that our universities are very attractive targets for foreign spies – that has not changed – and, if anything, that’s likely to increase over time, particularly with the work that we are doing in a number of areas that are technology focused.
NEIL BREEN: I suppose one of the key things in universities, you can get young, impressionable minds – not everyone at university will be able to be swayed – but they’re at that time in their life where they’re thinking and developing their thought processes, and this is the target, right?
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely, and we know that Australia is a target for foreign interference from multiple countries around the world. So what we do need to do is make sure that we are working with our universities – because their researchers are very focused on the job that they have to do. We want them to also be mindful of the national security implications of the work that they are doing; because it’s very easy for researchers to be fully focused on what they’re doing, but other nations in particular have an active interest in what they’re doing and in some cases it’s not the researcher that is the immediate target; it is the friends and associates of that researcher that can be subject to foreign interference.
NEIL BREEN: So you’ll be doing that today. The Prime Minister will be speaking about plans to bring forward the development and production of critical technologies today. He’s talking about quantum, drones, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, advanced 5G and 6G communications. Most of it will go over Australians’ head but I’ve been reading between the lines and it looks like he’s talking about China.
KAREN ANDREWS: China is one nation that we have to be very mindful of, but there are multiple nations out there-
NEIL BREEN: Russia?
KAREN ANDREWS: There are many out there, so we’re very mindful. We do have a lot of technology capability here in Australia. We know that that is attractive to many nations overseas. We have to be looking after things such as our critical infrastructure, but importantly for the Prime Minister’s announcement, it’s also looking at what our critical technologies are that we have to be protecting. So what you’re seeing from the Morrison Government is a very broad approach to cyber security, to making sure that we have the proper defences in place, that we’re look after critical technologies, critical infrastructure, supply chains. This is all about keeping Australians safe.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. Just going back to William Tyrrell for a sec before I let you go. Was the AFP involved in uncovering any of the new evidence which sparked the search?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I can’t go into the details of that, but I can tell you that the Australian Federal Police have long been engaged in various searches and provide advice in a very timely and appropriate manner.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. Good on you, Karen Andrews. Thanks very much.