Topics: Continuing threat of terrorism; address to Australian Strategic Policy Institute; extended supervision orders legislation.
LIAM BARTLETT: Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, joins us on the program. Minister, good morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, how are you?
LIAM BARTLETT: I’m good. Thank you for your time this morning. The timing on all this – a day after the 9/11 commemorations and just two weeks after the Taliban take back control of Afghanistan – no coincidence, is it?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’ve been very conscious as a government about the need to make sure that people understand: the threat of terrorism has never gone away; it’s been with us for 20 years, even more. Yes, we have just marked 20 years since the 9/11 attacks – where almost 3,000 people lost their lives, including 10 Australians. We do have the issues in Afghanistan; and closer to home we had the issue a week or so ago of the terrorist attack in Auckland where seven innocent people at a supermarket were injured, some very seriously.
LIAM BARTLETT: That was extraordinary, Minister, because the police had him under surveillance, didn’t they, at the time?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. The police were with him and were able to take action pretty much immediately. But still – in that very short space of time – seven people were injured. What we want to make sure in Australia, is that we have the right legislation in place, and we do have strong legislation already – with continuing detention orders to keep offenders in jail – but we’re also looking at extended supervision orders, so that when these people come out of jail – and they will at some point come out – the police have the powers they need to be able to keep other people in the community safe from those offenders.
LIAM BARTLETT: When you say the threat level at the moment is listed as ‘probable’, what do we really mean by that, without being alarmist?
KAREN ANDREWS: It means that there are people out there who do want to do us harm; that they exist. They could be lone actors – and ASIO would say the greatest threat that Australia has at the moment is for a lone actor, rather than an orchestrated attack – and it means it’s probable that we can pretty much expect something will happen at some stage. Look, I don’t want to scare people, but I do want people to be alert and I do want people to understand that during COVID, when it’s been very difficult for people to travel around – not impossible, but harder – for the terrorist offences to take place. Of course, during COVID people have had a lot of time at home and they have been online and they have been subject to radicalisation. We have to be really concerned about what the future holds for us here and be very much aware that we cannot be complacent; the threat hasn’t gone away.
LIAM BARTLETT: And on that subject of thinking about people in the community currently, we know Minister that some 230 Australians left the country during the rise of the ‘Islamic State’ and they travelled to known conflict zones involving that group. Do we know exactly how many of those 240 came back?
KAREN ANDREWS: We don’t have precise numbers. It is something that is very important to us though. We certainly want to make sure people aren’t going overseas to fight, and we’re very conscious there is increased interest from people to head over to the Middle East now as a result of what has happened in Afghanistan. So I’m very conscious of any applications for an exemption to leave the country depending on where these people are going and whether they are known to us. Certainly we’re very conscious of anyone who might be seeking to come back to Australia who has been fighting overseas, because clearly they are radicalised already. The prospect of those people being able to come back into our community is very slim. Very slim.
LIAM BARTLETT: And when we talk about people being radicalised through the ideology of their chosen religion or faith or whatever conduit they use, are we doing enough to de-radicalise them, or is that even possible?
KAREN ANDREWS: For some people it would be impossible to de-radicalise them. For other people, yes; there are options that we work through. That includes earlier intervention; it means working with various communities in Australia to make sure we have the community support and they are working with these people to stamp out the radicalisation. But it is a day-by-day issue for us, and sometimes we don’t know what is being planned by a lone actor. We can become alerted to that sometimes at the very last minute; other times we are aware of the associates that individuals have and that can assist us. Lone actors are actually quite difficult for us to detect, so we do need to be in there working with communities and trying to approach de-radicalisation through community means.
LIAM BARTLETT: So, Minister, do you think once they’re wired that way that’s pretty much it; they can’t be unwired?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think the evidence is that it’s very difficult to unwire them, and for some people it will be impossible for them to be unwired. We do what we can; we also act on deterrent means –so whatever we can do to deter people from taking any action, we do. But the early intervention is the best that we can possibly do to try and get to them before they become radicalised, or too radicalised.
LIAM BARTLETT: You know, you talk about the lone actor, this fellow over in New Zealand about 10 days ago; stabbed all those shoppers; was said to have been radicalised on the internet; is that something you worry about here?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes absolutely and of course during Covid – but not only just through Covid –people have had more time online; they’ve been looking at things they really shouldn’t be looking at. A lot of that is access to things that is happening on the dark web, but there’s a lot of information that is available out there for people who choose to look. So when we look at the legislation before the Parliament that deals with the extended supervision orders, some of the things we’re looking at are limiting the sites that these people can look at so they can’t access that material. We do monitor very closely what they’re doing; there are very specific guidelines for them as to who they can speak to; where they can go; what times they can be out of their house; what they can look at online.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s not even the dark web, is it? I wonder if we have better legislation than New Zealand, and I ask you that because New Zealand officials tried to deport that particular fellow for years. He had Islamic State propaganda; he was known to be accessing material; he had comments on Facebook sites advocating violent extremism – and yet authorities there seemingly were hamstrung.
KAREN ANDREWS: We do have differences in the legislation between Australia and New Zealand. We actually do take very strong action to cancel citizenship, and I know that for some people that’s actually been a fraught issue. I’m very clear and very confident that where we do have these people and they are dual citizens, then we will strip them of their Australian citizenship and we will send them home.
LIAM BARTLETT: And do it strongly in that way? I mean, make no bones about it; is that what you’re actually putting that on the table?
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. If we can; we will.
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you surprised that more Western governments have not denounced – loudly and clearly – the Taliban government in Kabul?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think most countries are watching with a significant amount of interest to what is happening in Afghanistan now; how the Taliban will shape its Government; what early actions they take. In Australia we’ve been very conscious of that and our intelligence agencies have been working very hard for years on issues in Afghanistan. I think we are certainly alert to what some of the problems may well be and many of our other like-minded nations have similar concerns. It is a case of monitoring and watching and seeing what unfolds in Afghanistan. One thing that we’re very clear on though, is that we don’t want Afghanistan to once again become a safe haven for terrorists.
LIAM BARTLETT: No, well, that’s the problem isn’t it. We don’t recognise them, do we – officially?
KAREN ANDREWS: We’re still working through what our various processes are going to be. The government has only just been established in Afghanistan and, of course, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will be leading that for Australia; but we are watching with a great deal of interest to see what happens in Afghanistan and what action we as a government here will take.
LIAM BARTLETT: You wouldn’t get a job on their cabinet; not in that all-male revue? It’s pretty depressing stuff.
KAREN ANDREWS: It would appear not. Look, it is very depressing and of course we are very concerned about what will happen to women and girls – in particular – in Afghanistan. We’re very mindful of that; watching that. They were certainly one of our priorities when we were looking at the evacuation from Afghanistan. We certainly did what we could to evacuate as many Australian citizens, permanent residents, and visa holders, but we were very conscious of the family units and evacuating women and girls, and the impacts that the future may hold for them in Afghanistan.
LIAM BARTLETT: I know you’re flat out today – you’ve got to deliver this major speech very shortly – so I won’t keep you, but just a final question if you don’t mind: we had a suggestion here in Perth last week from the AFL that a street parade for the Grand Final would not be entertained because of the risk of a terrorist attack. Is that reasonable?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think it’s reasonable to be alert to what the risks are going to be. Mass gatherings of people are always going to be potential targets for terrorists. That’s what they look for – they look for large gatherings of people where they can make a maximum amount of damage. So I think it’s wise to be alert to what the issues are and to take appropriate action. We don’t want people to be scared and to never want to go out into large gatherings – or not go to any gatherings at all – but we do want people to be very much alert to what the risks may be. Never be complacent – be alert and aware of your surroundings when you’re out.
LIAM BARTLETT: Minister, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Take care.