Topics: End of travel exemption requirement for fully vaccinated Australians travelling overseas; ongoing threat of terrorism in Australia; capability of the Australian Federal Police.
NEIL BREEN: Minister for Home Affairs, Cabinet member and MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews. She joins me every Wednesday. Good morning to you, Minister. I’m reading this morning… there’s breaking news everywhere – the TGA’s approved the Pfizer for booster shots for those aged 18 and over; the Queen’s not going to Glasgow; we’ve learned this morning that Australians – from November 1, which is next Monday – won’t have to apply to leave the country, which has been a longstanding thing through the pandemic; you couldn’t leave without permission.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve announced that fully vaccinated Australians won’t require an exemption to depart Australia from the 1st of November – that is very good news for Australians, particularly those that have done the right thing and rolled their sleeve up and been vaccinated. As of the 1st of November, they won’t need to go through the exemption process to leave Australia.
NEIL BREEN: I think – more importantly – is when they return on November 1, especially if you’re coming in through New South Wales, you’ll be able to be double vaccinated with a negative test and just go home; you won’t have any form of quarantine. It’s brought about a situation now, Karen Andrews, that Australia’s running at two speeds – there’s two levels of society. Some people have got enormous freedoms and others – like Queenslanders – well you’re from the Gold Coast, you can’t go to Tweed Heads.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes. It’s very difficult for Queenslanders to be in the situation they are now. You’re right in terms of people crossing the state borders here, let alone people coming back internationally. It is very difficult and of course Queenslanders will be so disappointed now, as they see the rules significantly changing for New South Wales and Victoria.
NEIL BREEN: Well, it seems a long way away. I know that November 19, Queenslanders who are stuck interstate and have been denied permission to go home – which is what’s happened; they’ve been denied permission simply just to go home – they’ll be able to come home and quarantine at home. It’s not until December 17 that they’ll be able to come in freely with a double-vaccinated test. I just feel as though we’re slipping behind the 8-ball here in this state, Karen Andrews, pretty quickly.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, certainly we are and I’m so disappointed on behalf of all Queenslanders that that is the position Queensland is in. Look – I did all that I can, and so did my Federal colleagues – to encourage people early, to go out and get vaccinated. The Queensland government have made their own decisions along the way and so we’re in the situation that we are now. No all I can do at this point is encourage Queenslanders to go out and be vaccinated, because then the state border – it appears – will be opened by the Queensland government as soon as it possibly can; maybe from mid-November; maybe from mid-December.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, let’s hope. Since we last spoke you chaired a national Ministerial meeting on counter terrorism and organised crime. There were some key concerns from the state Ministers, they were telling you about them, specifically here from Queensland. What did you learn during those meetings?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, it was a meeting of all police ministers, and I chaired that as the Federal Minister for Home Affairs. The focus was on counter terrorism and transnational, serious and organised crime. So we are all concerned about what the impact of will be of movement of travellers, what will happen when there are largescale gatherings of people – of crowds – because we know that is what terrorists look for. This is not to frighten people – and in many ways we should be able, through this process, to reassure people that our law enforcement agencies are well across the issues – but we do recognise that there is a risk that large crowds are exactly what terrorists look for. So as we start to gather again, we need to be vigilant and need to be aware of our surroundings.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, we sure do. There’s reports from the AFP that children as young as 13 have been caught planning catastrophic terror attacks here in Australia. This came up I think under questioning in Parliament. Reece Kershaw, the Federal Police Commissioner, spoke about this. It was kind of alarming that people that age-
KAREN ANDREWS: Very, very alarming. So a couple of things have happened with COVID; as we know, people have had much more time to be at home and to look at online material. We know there are people out there that are being radicalised; what we are now finding out is that people at a very young age – and in some cases 13; and we don’t know, maybe there are people younger but we definitely know at 13 – there are kids who are out there being radicalised. That is very concerning because in many ways that sets them up for a lifetime of activity in terror.
NEIL BREEN: What about in Australia? Since the fall of the Taliban, is there any chatter, you know what I mean? Are things happening?
KAREN ANDREWS: Let me start by saying to begin with, that our threat rating is at ‘probable’, where it has been from 2014. That means there are people out there with the capability and the intent to undertake a terrorist attack; so we know that is happening. We also know the likes of ASIO and the AFP are very much across what is happening, and that’s why they’re picking up the people as young as 13 being radicalised. So we know that there are people out there with the capability and the intent to do that – that hasn’t changed. What we will see as people start to gather, is the probability of this happening – it escalates – because the terrorists are looking at large crowds as a likely attack target for them. So we know that that is likely to happen, but what we also know is that we do have very good law enforcement agencies here – in particular – as well as our intelligence agencies. A lot of work actually has been done to disrupt events; so there have been 21 disruptions of major potential events. So it goes to people being – I guess comforted and reassured – that the Australian Federal Police has their back.
NEIL BREEN: Any specific events in Australia? Any that you’re concerned about?
KAREN ANDREWS: That are being planned? Look, we’re concerned about a range of issues at the moment. The border reopening is one that is a concern; people going in and out of airports is a concern; it’s a concern as to what they might be bringing in to the country – as more flights start to come in – that could be not only drugs; that could be weapons that are coming in. So we are concerned about that, and that’s why we’re putting in place again all that we need to do with the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police at our airports. We are monitoring what is happening with people that we know are potentially going to be planning activities.
NEIL BREEN: The disappearance of this West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith, the Prime Minister when he was talking on Perth radio – I think it was last night – he said the AFP was using top-secret technology and tactics to try and find her. I know you can’t talk about top-secret technology and tactics, but it’s very intriguing.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, it is, and let me start by saying, I have absolute respect for the Australian Federal Police – just over the last few months when I’ve been in the role as Minister for Home Affairs, and I have had the opportunity to speak with them and to see what their capabilities are. It is really impressive. So – yes – there is a lot of capability there for AFP. They actually did take me through some of the things that they do when they’re conducting searches. We covered off on that actually a couple of months ago. They’re very sophisticated with how their planning is – to make sure that they’re covering the areas that are to be searched. They’ll be working with West Australian Police, but it’s not just the search; it’s also the intelligence work that they will be able to do; assistance that they’ll be able to provide – with people who have potentially moved in and out of various areas. I mean that’s the sort of work that the Australian Federal Police is able to do, to provide that information to state policing authorities.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. Karen Andrews – Home Affairs Minister – thanks so much for your time on 4BC Breakfast. It’s a busy time. The Prime Minister’s off tomorrow.
KAREN ANDREWS: It certainly is. There’s a lot happening at the moment, but it’s all in Australia’s interests. Take care.