Topics: Continuing threat of terrorism; high-risk terrorist offenders legislation; Digital Passenger Declaration; COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday I speak to Home Affairs Minister, Member for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Cabinet Minister as well, Karen Andrews. Good morning Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m very well, thanks. Can you please update the listeners of 4BC Breakfast on your quarantine status?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, so home quarantine continues for me until tomorrow night. Today is day 13; day 14 tomorrow, so I will be out and about on Friday.
NEIL BREEN: Do you get a text from Queensland Health when you’re allowed out? Or do they just give you a time and say, “you’re free at this time”?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I’ve been given a time. There’s quite a few calls that get made from Queensland Health – that’s to check on the welfare of people who are in quarantine. Also to make sure there are no issues; to make sure we’re being tested as we should be. I had my day 12 COVID test yesterday – which has already come back a negative, which is good – so I confirmed with them that it’s Thursday night for me to come out of quarantine.
NEIL BREEN: You’ll be back on the streets of the Gold Coast?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes.
NEIL BREEN: Hey, earlier this week you spoke about the terror threat we face here in Australia. As Home Affairs Minister, does it keep you up at night? You know after September 11, I would wake up every single morning and instantly check if there’d been a terror attack overnight.
KAREN ANDREWS: I understand that. I can still remember where I was – what I was doing when I first heard about the attacks; you know that’s very much seared in my brain; as it would be on many others as well. A horrendous set of circumstances… and it’s been 20 years – a lot of things have changed – but many things have not changed. One of the things that has not changed is the risk of a terrorist attack. In Australia the threat level is at ‘probable’, and what that effectively means is that our agencies have credible intelligence there are individuals or groups out there with the intent and the capability to conduct a terrorist attack. That’s the circumstances in which we’re living at the moment and people would be very aware of some of those terrorist activities – including the Lindt Café – so people are very much aware there is a terrorist threat. What we need to make sure of is that we’re not complacent – of course during COVID we know there were a lot of people who were at home, they were online looking at things they shouldn’t have been. Radicalisation – and the opportunities to radicalise – have increased during COVID. Of course as we start to open up and border settings change and large groups of people start to gather we have to be very vigilant.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, one of the things that sort of took my attention when I was reading about these things you were doing this week was that prison commissioners and prison bosses – as well as police bosses – were involved in what you were doing, and trying to work out terrorist activities in Australia. There’s 51 convicted terrorists behind bars and another 32 before the courts; I thought it was interesting that the prison bosses had to be involved because behind bars – you know what I mean – they could still be cooking up a scheme?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely – it’s certainly not one agency that has sole responsibility for this. It is actually a very strong cooperative effort. Whilst these individuals are in prison, then they are constantly being monitored, and the people who are responsible for their supervision are obviously aware of the potential – they know what sorts of things to look for. There’s a lot of work that is done to maintain the information and be able to put together how we’re going to manage these people when they come out of jail. We have the opportunity to look at continuing detention orders – so to keep some of these people behind bars; we have the opportunity to continue to do that.
For those people who are going to be released out into the community, we need to make sure that we’ve got all the tools available to our agencies to make sure that those people will be properly supervised and under very strict orders as to what they can do; where they can be; who they can associate with. We have currently before the Parliament, high-risk terrorist offenders legislation and that actually provides for what’s known as ‘extended supervision orders’; they’re tailored orders that can be made, depending on what the particular threat that an individual – who is about to be released – poses, we can go back to the courts and make sure they put in place things like, an individual can’t go to hardware stores, or they can’t access certain information online, or they have to be at home during certain hours. There’s restrictions on whether or not they can go anywhere near particular high-risk events or activities.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, I’ve been reading about this. Now, I don’t know when it’s going to affect Queenslanders because – you know – we’re still living in a bit of a hermit state here; but the rest of Australia is on the move. Your department is developing the Digital Passenger Declaration. This is about travel into Australia – I’m not sure about leaving Australia at this stage – but I read it’s going to replace the physical Incoming Passenger Card – I’ve always found that card funny, I go “surely in this day and age do you still need this?” Can you tell us about the new Digital Passenger Declaration?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely and I’m with you on the paper cards. The Digital Passenger Declaration will actually deal with that – and the COVID Australia Travel Declaration which is a web form – it will replace both of those. We’ll be able to collect the data up to about 72 hours in advance of the flight coming home; so before people board we’ll be able to put together a whole heap of information to make the transition much smoother and to make sure authorities have the information they need when these people come into the country. I’m delighted this work is well underway now; it’s an important part of us smoothly re-opening the borders – understanding that we’ve got a significant reduction in numbers coming in internationally, but that is going to escalate as vaccination rates increase – and that is happening, certainly New South Wales is well ahead in terms of its vaccination rate. It’s certainly getting towards the 70% and then up to the 80%; and other states will follow. We are making sure that when we are ready to reopen our international borders – when it’s safe to do – that we will be able to bring passengers in and out of the country.
NEIL BREEN: I’ll make a prediction for you Karen Andrews, talking about vaccination rates: Queensland won’t get to 80%.
KAREN ANDREWS: That would be incredibly disappointing.
NEIL BREEN: I know; I would be incredibly disappointed too. The language hasn’t been strong enough throughout this year. Too many people can find an excuse to not get the vaccination. The regions of Queensland are difficult. We saw how they voted in the election – they voted just to be left alone at home forever and a day with no visitors from interstate because they’ve got nothing on the line. New South Wales will hit 80% single vaccination today; they’ve had a big outbreak; they were frightened and people who were on the borderline got it; in Queensland I’m not so sure we’re going to get there and I think our government’s got a big job ahead of it.
KAREN ANDREWS: The progress has been slow – without a doubt – in Queensland; there is a lot of vaccine hesitancy.
NEIL BREEN: There’s stacks of it. I get the emails all day, every day – “should I get Astra-Zeneca?” – people just write all day.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes – and as you rightly said – in New South Wales there is a strong sense of urgency to get vaccinated because there are outbreaks there. That hasn’t been the case in Queensland and there are people in Queensland that are comfortable with there being no one coming across the borders – they’re not affected; their businesses aren’t affected – but for those people whose businesses are being decimated by no people being able to come into Queensland; it’s devastating, absolutely devastating for them. I seriously would like to encourage all Queenslanders to please roll up their sleeves – you know you need it; your family needs it; your friends need it; all the shop owners need it; all the stores need it; we need to reopen; we cannot be a hermit state.
NEIL BREEN: For life, just for general life… relatives interstate… the whole thing. Karen Andrews, Home Affairs Minister, thanks for your time this morning. We’ll talk to you next week when you’re a free person, and it’s going to be good to have you out and about spending some money.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely! I’m up for that.