PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning, everyone. I’m joined by the Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews and also by the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw and FBI Legal Attaché at the US Embassy Anthony Russo, and welcome, gentlemen. It’s good to have you with us today.
Today, the Australian Government, as part of a global operation, has struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but one that will echo around organised crime around the world. This is a watershed moment in Australian law enforcement history. And at the heart of what our Government has been seeking to do ever since we first came to Government. When we first came to Government, one of our first actions was to ensure that Alex Vella went. Then, the head of one of the most notorious outlaw motorcycle gangs in this country was cut off from Australia and he’s never returned. We fought that in the courts and won. Ever since that time, that has set the tone of our Government’s approach to dealing with organised crime in this country.
Since then, we have set up the anti-gang’s taskforce. We’ve updated Australia’s telecommunications legislation to ensure our agencies can track and take down criminal networks. We boosted the AFP’s capabilities to detect, deter and disrupt terror threats and transnational crime with an extra $500 million. Our 2020 Cyber Security Strategy set down $90 million for the AFP to better protect Australians against cyber crime. We have set up the AFP-led Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. In our most recent Budget, we gave the AFP more than $1 billion for a seven-year plan that will help them effectively tackle the risks our community faces from organised crime, criminals and terrorists. Everything we’ve been doing has been to keep Australians safe.
When I became Prime Minister, I said we needed to keep Australia strong, we needed to keep Australians safe and we needed to keep Australians together. And while the country has faced so many challenges in recent years – floods, fires, cyclones, and, of course, the pandemic, we have never taken our eye a day from the threats that are presented, not only by organised crime, but the threats of terrorism to this country. We have maintained the pace. We have maintained the urgency and we’ve maintained the application. Our investments to back in our law enforcement agencies, in particular the Australian Federal Police, has enabled them to work as part of major partnerships all around the world and take a leading role to spearhead this assault against organised crime. This has been made possible by not only our belief in our law enforcement agencies, but by backing up that belief with the serious resources they have required to have the confidence to go forward and take part in these significant global operations. But not only take part, but take a leadership role and as I said to be the spearhead against organised crime indeed around the world, as a result of the support that we’ve provided.
Operation Ironside has now charged hundreds of alleged offenders. Seized millions of dollars in criminal proceeds. Removed weapons from our streets and saved lives. And will continue to. It is an ongoing operation. The operation puts Australia at the forefront of this fight against dangerous organised criminals who peddle in misery and ultimately, it will keep our communes and Australians safer. More than 4,000 police officers across Australia have been involved in this operation. And to their families, we thank them as well, it’s tough on occasion and many times, to be in the family of those involved in law enforcement. I know that and I’m deeply thankful to those families who provide some support to our police officers to enable them to do the great work that they do. Today, it is a day to be very proud, those families, of the work that those police officers, your fathers, your sisters, your uncles, your cousins, your mothers, you can be very proud of the work that they’re doing today. And I’m incredibly proud of all of those who are wearing blue in this country today.
I might leave it there to pass it on to the Home Affairs Minister to make further comment on the operation. But what’s important as we go forward from this point is not just the support that we continue to provide that you see in the budget, but we need to continue to provide our law enforcement authorities with the powers and the authorities that they need to do this job.
I’ll go into this later in questions, if you like, but there is a series of pieces of legislation that we’ve been seeking to move through the Parliament, not just in this term, but in some cases over three terms. They need these powers to do their job. The AFP and our law enforcement agencies and other agencies that support them, need the support of our Parliament to continue to do the job that they do to continue to keep Australians safe. Our Government won’t shirk from that and we call on all of those in the Parliament to back them in, as we have done for such a long time, and to get the results that in particular we’ve seen today. Karen?
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you, Prime Minister. Australians should be very proud of the Australian Federal Police. What has been demonstrated today is that here in Australia, we have world-leading policing capabilities. Our Australian Federal Police has worked hand in glove with the US FBI to bring down some of the most significant criminals – not just here in Australia, but right around the world. Of about 9,000 officers that have been engaged in this operation across the world, over 4,500 of those officers came from right here in Australia. The relationship that we’ve been able to draw on particularly with the FBI but other agencies across the world has led to the most significant operation in policing history here in Australia. Some of the statistics, and I will ask Commissioner Kershaw to go through those in more detail, but some of the statistics are, quite frankly, astounding. There have been over 500 search warrants executed. Already, there have been over 200 offenders who have been charged. And the charges laid amount to over 500 themselves. There have been 21 threats to kill that have been disrupted and stopped. 104 firearms have been seized. And there has been over $45 million in assets and cash seized. So this is a considerable operation. We are very fortunate in this country to have police enforcers that are of the capability of the Australian Federal Police. And I will ask now Commissioner Kershaw to add some more detail in terms of the operation that has taken place.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Commissioner.
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Prime Minister and Minister. The AFP’s Operation Ironside has allowed the AFP to inflict maximum damage to serious organised crime, with devastating consequences to those who seek to do harm to Australians and Australia’s interests, and today, Australia is a safer country because of this unprecedented AFP-led operation. As the Minister stated, more than 4,000 officers from law enforcement in Australia have been involved in executing over 525 search warrants in every mainland state in Australia. And Ironside has arrested and charged, who we allege, are some of the most dangerous criminals to Australia. We allege they are members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, Australian mafia, Asian crime syndicates and serious and organised crime groups. We allege they’ve been trafficking illicit drugs into Australia at an industrial scale. Sadly, criminal gangs are targeting Australia because it is one of the most profitable countries in the world to sell drugs, and for three years, this operation has been covert. Australian law enforcement has been arresting and charging alleged offenders and we have prevented tonnes of drugs from coming onshore. We have arrested the alleged kingmakers behind these crimes, prevented mass shootings in suburbs and frustrated serious and organised crime by seizing their ill-gotten wealth.
As of today, we have charged 224 alleged offenders, including 525 charges laid, shut down six clandestine laboratories and acted on 21 threats to kill, including saving a family of five. And seized 104 firearms and weapons and almost $45 million in cash. And these figures are likely to increase over the coming days. Collectively, these alleged offenders are facing jail terms that could run into hundreds of years and some of the charges they are facing carry life imprisonment.
Can I thank the Police Commissioners across Australia who have provided their support and resources for this unprecedented operation in the AFP’s 40-year history. And Operation Ironside has been enabled by the extraordinarily smart individuals within the AFP and the unique global reach the AFP has with law enforcement based in 33 countries. Globally today, this operation has seen over 9,000 law enforcement officers deploying to the effort and essentially, the long arm of the AFP has to get longer to keep Australians safe at home and develop the next Ironside. This Operation was brought out of the close long standing relationship between the AFP and the FBI. Our relationships and international networks were mobilised and it is these partnerships that have made this operation a success. Partnering with the AFP, the AFP had access to a new encrypted application named ANOM. And began running it without the knowledge of the criminal underworld. And the AFP provided the highly skilled technical staff and the capability to decrypt and read these encrypted communications sent over ANOM, real time. Giving law enforcement an edge that it had never had before. Essentially, we have been in the back pockets of organised crime and operationalised the criminal takedown like we have never seen. The use of encrypted communication apps presents significant challenges to law enforcement and ANOM has given law enforcement a window into the level of criminality that we have never seen before on this scale. This was a small platform compared to other encrypted platforms and we know that other bigger encrypted communication platforms are being used by offenders to carry out their crimes, and we will work with governments and other agencies to combat the enduring threat of organised crime, ensuring we can continue to innovate and have the technology to disrupt and arrest those who seek to do Australians harm. And I have a message for the criminals targeting Australia and Australia’s interests – the AFP will be relentless. We will outsmart you. We will be a step ahead. Operation Ironside is just the beginning. And the AFP is living up to our maxim of keeping Australians safe.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Commissioner. I’m going to ask Anthony Russo to make some remarks.
ANTHONY RUSSO, FBI LEGAL ATTACHE US EMBASSY: Good morning everyone. I’m proud to represent the FBI and stand here today with our Australian colleagues. As you’ve heard this morning, the law enforcement action that has taken place throughout Australia are as a result of significant multi-agency, multinational investigative activity. In today’s world, crime continues to transverse international borders. The threats we face are too diverse and too complex for any one organisation to tackle alone. The FBI and our law enforcement partners across the globe recognise this significant challenge and continue to evolve to overcome the complexities presented by the transnational crime that affects us all. Over the years, we have learned that working together is not just the best option – it is the only option. Partnerships are at the fore of everything we do. In just a few hours, you will be hearing from our partners at Europol, including the FBI Assistant Director from our criminal investigative division to discuss what has been happening in Europe during the course of this investigation. And, when you wake up tomorrow morning, the press conference in San Diego, California will have already concluded. Special agent in charge of our San Diego field office, Suzanne Turner, will have explained the origins of the investigation and you will know how we got to where we are today. It has been said that the most effective weapon against crime is cooperation. So, I want to close by thanking the AFP for their commitment to fighting organised crime, their partnership and dedication to addressing this global threat. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Mr Russo. Just in conclusion and then we’ll take questions on the operation, while Mr Russo and the Commissioner are with us. People sitting at home might be thinking – ‘what can we do to help the AFP, in this battle against organised crime in this country?’ I want to make a few comments about illicit drug use in this country. There’s nothing social about illicit drug use in this country. It fuels organised crime in this country. It fuels human misery in this country and in many parts of the world. There’s nothing social about it. It’s dangerous. And all of us have a responsibility, all of us have a responsibility in our own relationships and our own families, in our own communities, to be doing what we can to encourage positive behaviours. Positive behaviours that don’t indulge illicit drug use. Illicit drug use ruins lives and it fuels organised crime. You heard it from the Commissioner himself – the reason Australia gets targeted by these criminal gangs is because they believe they can sell their wares. They believe you will be a customer and that you would be inviting them to come and peddle this in our country. On our streets, in our cities, in our regional towns, this reaches right across the country. It’s a very serious issue. The AFP will do their job and we’ll make sure that they’re resourced to do their job. But we all also have a job to do. We all have a role to play. Let’s keep Australia safe. Let’s ensure that illicit drug use in this country does not steal our futures and particularly for our children. Let’s take questions on the operation, of course the Commissioner and Mr Russo will join us to answer any of those questions.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, who actually set up this app? Was it set up by law enforcement? Or did they later gain access to it? And is it legal or ethical for law enforcement to be controlling an app which uses [inaudible]?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: First of all, it’s legal. And we did use the TOLA passed in 2018 for the first time, that’s that legislation that we have here in Australia, in combination with a legal authority from the FBI. So there were legal authorities used in relation to this app.
JOURNALIST: Who set it up?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: So the FBI had the lead on this. We provided a technical capability to be able to decrypt those messages.
JOURNALIST: Initially, the FBI could not actually analyse what was being communicated. That’s where the AFP stepped in?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yeah, as Anthony Russo said, we worked in partnership and we provided a technical capability to be able to do that.
JOURNALIST: Was it true as we read in the paper today that it was done over a couple of beers, from 2018 between the FBI…
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: I wasn’t there, but apparently, as you know, some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers and that’s [inaudible].
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, if it was so effective, why reveal its existence now? Why not let it run?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Part of it has to do with legal authorities. And also, just the scale and the speed of the organised crime and the threats to life and the harm that was being done, it was an operational decision made jointly with all the international partners, including the Europol Operation Taskforce, which is run out of The Hague.
JOURNALIST: Can you expand on the legal authorities part of your answer? Was it that the FBI or the AFP or Europol only allowed this operation, or only authorised it to run for a set period of time? Can you explain that?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: That might be something later on. There is going to be a technical briefing by Assistant Commissioner Ryan. But yes, there was a legal time frame on this operation.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the people you were targeting had any idea that you were listening and watching?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: No, and these messages… Let me be clear. When you get access, and it will come out in court, you’ll see that all they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered. A whole range of things. So there’s nothing about… It would be like, “I need 1,000 kilos at this price.” Very brazen. We haven’t seen it done like that. No attempt to hide behind any kind of codified kind of conversation.
JOURNALIST: It was there to be seen?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: It was there to be seen, including we’ll have a speedboat meet you at this point, this is who will do this and so on.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, when this began, did you have any concept of how big it would become?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: We always had intelligence, with the ACIC, ABF, our other Home Affairs partners and state and territory police on the scale of organised crime. But what we’ve seen is that our targets offshore are moving at an industrial scale. So this is a business, a global business. So for us, we’re going to be attacking their three main arms, which is their logistics, their finance arm and their comms. And the communications, knocking out their communications has been a key part of us disrupting the organised crime and keeping Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, you said that you disrupted a mass shooting in a suburb. Is that a terrorism prevention, can you explain that?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: It’s organised crime. So that particular case will come out later on where they were using a machine gun and potentially at a cafe where people would have been no doubt harmed. We were able to, with the cooperation of that particular state police force, take out that individual before they were able to do that.
JOURNALIST: Can you reveal where that was?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Not at this stage because of the fact that we’re still compiling and arresting people in relation to that, and also, there’s some matters before the court already.
JOURNALIST: A family of five, you mentioned?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes, a family of five. That was part of the 21 sanctions that we saw. What we call threat to life.
JOURNALIST: Was the family removed? Can you elaborate?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: We were able to get that individual off the street.
JOURNALIST: What information was held back over the years because you didn’t want to give away and show your hand?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: We did about approximately… we’re still getting the stats. There was probably about 100 relevant arrests over the last couple of years in relation to this operation. Just they weren’t necessarily attributed to the AFP and may have been state police arrests.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, from the feedback you’ve had from investigators over the past little while, I presume now some of the people that you have got in custody are learning about how it is that they came to be arrested. Just how furious are the criminals that they have been duped?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, they all turn on each other. The other thing that we learnt is that they actually do a lot of business behind each other’s backs, including the presidents of various groups and organisations for personal wealth. So there’s going to be a whole lot of disruption there, and our state police colleagues are on alert for that. Because there’s no doubt going to be some tension within the whole system about who owes what drug debt and so on. So that was pretty brazen to see that they were actually disloyal to their own groups.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask the Prime Minister a question. You’re heading overseas to G7. How can Hakan Ayik, who has been on the radar for ten years and everyone agrees that this is one of the people who has been targeted is in Turkey and has been there for quite some time. And he’s still operating as an organised criminal. Have you taken this issue up with Turkey, the Turks, and to try to get him back to Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: I wouldn’t go into any specifics other than to say that whether it is there or anywhere else, Australia uses all of its agency to ensure that we can seek to protect Australians. And so, whether it’s there or anywhere else, whether it is trying to ensure that we are countermaning any terrorist or any criminal threat, there are multiple engagements we’re having at any given time on any number of issues.
JOURNALIST: We talk about this person all the time and he’s the kingpin, everyone says the kingpin and is still operating. Commissioner, what can be done about it?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: I think given the threat that he faces, he’s best off handing himself into us as soon as he can.
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: What you’re seeing is that he was one of the coordinators of this particular device. So he’s essentially set up his own colleagues. And my view would be the sooner he hands himself in and to look after his family, he’s a wanted individual, the better for him and his family.
JOURNALIST: So he’s marked at the moment?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Probably, yes.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask you, has Operation Ironside revealed weaknesses in our border control as far as drug importation is concerned?
PRIME MINISTER: There are three things that we need to do. One of them does relate to air and the transport security laws that are in this country. The first one is there’s a surveillance legislation amendment which is about identifying and disrupting, and the AFP and the ACIC powers to combat serious crime on the dark web, and in circumstances where anonymising technologies making detection and investigation of serious crime increasingly difficult. We have a law in the Parliament at the moment which does not have bipartisan support, which we need support for, to give them powers to do that. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment International Production Orders Bill. That’s cross border access to electronic data, enhancing the effectiveness of Australian investigations and protection of prosecutions of serious crimes, including serious terrorism offences. That bill is there. That does not have bipartisan support and we need it passed. And the third one is the Transport Security Amendment of Serious Crime Bill. That is the bill that is needed to stop organised criminals getting access to our wharves and to our airports. We have sought to have this bill passed through three successive Parliaments. And it still continues to be opposed by Labor. Now, this is critical to ensure that criminals don’t get on to our wharves. That they can’t access security credentials and things of that nature. I don’t know why they’re being protective. I can’t give you an answer to that. We want to shut it down. We’ve been trying to do it for three terms of Parliament and it’s time that these three bills get bipartisan support through the Parliament so the Commissioner and the other Commissioners around the country can better do their jobs. But that said, we have significantly increased our investment in detections at the border. We have significantly put in place the scanning technologies and the many other technological means, budget after budget after budget, to ensure that we can give not just the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, but also of the Australian Border Force, which we established, to do that very job. But when our laws, which we don’t have bipartisan support for changing, allow criminals to be able to get credentials and to be able to be on our ports, then that is something only the Parliament can shut down and that’s what we need to change and it should be passed now.
JOURNALIST: In Australia’s ports and airports caught up in this operation, were communications with these people nabbed in this?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes. So, I can’t go into specifics because that’s ongoing. But we’ve certainly established that serious and organised crime have been able to infiltrate that supply chain. And that’s something we’ll be working with the Border Force, Home Affairs and the ACIC on the wash-up as part of our intelligence and there probably, as I said, will be more arrests in relation to this.
PRIME MINISTER: Can I just add to that. And further to your earlier answer. There was a 2019 assessment done in December by the ACIC. It identified that 227 individuals holding an ASIC or MSIC, the security permit required to work in sensitive areas of airports and sea ports are recorded on the national criminal intelligence target list, including 167 outlawed motorcycle gang members and associates. That’s why we need to change that law. And that’s why I need it supported by the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, did this uncover any corruption?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: When you say corruption?
JOURNALIST: Like police officers or other high-ranking individuals?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: We have been working with the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. So where we had intelligence in relation to that, we passed that on to them. That will be something again that down the track, we’ll be able to come back to you on with what’s occurred there. But, we have seen that trusted insider threat and we’ve identified some entities and some individuals.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, is it fair to say that there were police officers or law enforcement officers who had downloaded this app or were using a handset, thinking that it was an encrypted app?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: To my knowledge, not law enforcement officers, no.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, what kind of inroads has this operation allowed you to get with ransomware? Because obviously that’s cutting edge in terms of organised crime at the moment.
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, obviously, ransomware is probably a whole different, cyber crime and we know that that is on the increase. We just encourage Australian individuals and businesses to report it. We think that it is under-reported. There’s some allegations and we have the Bureau here, but I don’t want to get Mr Russo out here to answer this, but we know that there’s some state-sanctioned ransomware attacks by organised crime and we know that they live in hostile countries. But again, we’re working in a partnership way with all of our international agencies when we get a complaint.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a couple of years ago, Australia passed in some circles considered a controversial legislation to do with accessing encrypted messaging apps. Is it the case that America has chosen us as a partner in this operation because of our, perhaps, legal capability, rather than our technical capability? In other words, were we able to do things that other countries were not able to legally able to do?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll leave it to the United States in their various media statements to say what they wish to say. What I know is that the Australian Federal Police and our state law enforcement forces are the best in the world. And that’s why countries such as the United States choose to partner with us. And certainly, as a Government, we make no apologies for ensuring that our law enforcement authorities have the powers and authorities they need to stop criminal thugs and gangs.
JOURNALIST: You said in the statement there that there’s likely to be extradition requests and we were talking about a certain individual earlier. But can you go into any more detail on who will be sought from overseas jurisdictions?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Look, not at this stage, given the fact that there’s resolution happening within Europe and across the world. So once that’s complete, we’ll be in a better position to be able to put something out publicly or once we do go overt on some of those targets.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, are you able to clarify on those laws whether Australia was in a better legal position than many other countries to assist with this operation?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: I think that we’ve used the laws, operation and successfully, to protect Australians. That’s a start. And as the Prime Minister stated, we’re really encouraging the Parliament to pass that select bill in particular and the IPO bill, because we need to be ahead. We need to be a step ahead and encrypted comms and going dark on the dark web, as you know, there’s multiple crimes. If you go on there right now, you can purchase whatever you want. There’s proliferation of child sexual abuse material on the dark web. It’s an absolute disgrace. So for us, that’s a criminal marketplace that we can’t actually penetrate without that legislation.
JOURNALIST: Were these arrests carried out already in Europe and other parts of the world? Or in the States, since this?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: In Europe, yes, there has. And they’ll put out their statistics because there’s about 18 different countries who have been involved in this operation.
JOURNALIST: And arrests have been made in those 18 countries?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, a question for you and the same question for Mr Russo immediately afterwards, please. This must provide for law enforcement, a huge reset for organised crime – not only that they have had this app taken away from them right now, but everybody will be looking over their shoulder wondering who has been compromised by your capabilities right now and wondering who they can deal with. You would imagine that business is going to slow very, very quickly, at least for some time?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yes, so it will be interesting to see what the response is. But to give you an idea, too. One local chapter we discovered an RMCG were making $20 million net a month out of the peddling of drugs into this country. So we know that that is going to hurt them. And it will be interesting to see what the response is. But one of the things we’re going to do now is, as I said – this is just the beginning for us. We’re going to push through now. There will be more arrests. There will be a whole range of things we’re going to be able to do as a result of the success of this operation and working with the Bureau.
JOURNALIST: Perhaps Mr Russo, from a global perspective, in terms of organised crime and the transnational link between Europe, Australia and Asia – how much will business slow now because of this?
ANTHONY RUSSO, FBI LEGAL ATTACHE US EMBASSY: Well, I’ll say this. The criminals should be on notice that law enforcement and partnerships all over the world are resolute in their dedication to collaboration and to continue to evolve our capabilities. And for any organisation to function, no matter what it is, legitimate, criminal or otherwise, the members of that organisation have to be able to communicate. And all of those communications cannot be in person. So when criminal organisations have to engage in the logistics of moving their illicit materials, their money, organising violence, all of that activity has to happen over a communications platform of some kind. And today’s announcement and the subsequent announcements over the course of the next day and a half or so, should put them on notice that indeed, there is a robust network of international law enforcement agencies that are resolute in combating this global threat.
JOURNALIST: They would tend to be paranoid by the very nature. We were just hearing from the Commissioner about people doing side hustles behind their boss’s backs. The fact that this has exposed so many names. Will this not have every criminal who might’ve been, or even who haven’t used this app, be wondering if someone they’re dealing with has, and whether they’re being looked at? It must create a good degree of paranoia and a freeze on business.
PRIME MINISTER: Well said! That is certainly our intent, and as a Government, our intention is to ensure our law enforcement agencies, working with their partners around the world, are attacking these organised criminals at every single point. Seeking to frustrate them in every link of the chain. And it is our intention that they are looking over their shoulder, because our law enforcement agencies and the partnerships we have around the world are bearing down upon them. That’s what we’re doing. We’re bearing down upon them. But you know, this isn’t over. This is a long way from over. Others will seek to rise up where others have fallen. And as they seek to take it out on each other as criminals inevitably do, there will be others seeking to take advantage. And that’s why the resources will continue to flow. The support will continue to be there. And the authorities that they need to do what they do every day and to ensure that Australia can keep winning this fight against organised crime, that will be provided by our government. Now, we’ve got probably time for maybe one or two more on this matter and there are other, as you can imagine, it is a busy day for the Commissioner and Mr Russo and I’ll have to excuse them in a sec.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, how many people in Australia were using this handset and app combination?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: So we identified around about 1,600 to 1,700, which is a decent figure. It’s only 5 per cent, though, of the encrypted comms used in this country. And then about 9,000 globally.
JOURNALIST: And has that number rapidly increased in recent months? When did you see a surge in the use of this?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: It has increased recently and that’s partly on the way that it is distributed, which is by hand. And you’ve got to know someone and you’ve got to pay a monthly fee to the syndicates who hand those devices out.
JOURNALIST: The irony of course is that the monthly fee was being paid to law enforcement, wasn’t it?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, we certainly… I can’t go into detail on that. But we certainly were able to see every handset that was handed out and attribute those to individuals.
JOURNALIST: You said 5 per cent, that means that there’s 95 per cent that’s not being monitored?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: Yeah you’ve got other platforms, other encrypted comms.
JOURNALIST: There’s a lot going on, so this is a start?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: It is, as the PM said.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the technical briefing but if we can ask you here. Can you clarify, was the app originally set up as a legitimate enterprise and subsequently taken over by law enforcement? Or was it entirely set up from the start by law enforcement as a sting?
REECE KERSHAW, AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE COMMISSIONER: This goes back to, if you remember, Phantom Secure, which was distributed from the US and the Mexican cartels and other organised cartels as a secure comms platform just for criminal networks. This is just the evolution of that product.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Commissioner. Thank you, Mr Russo for the tremendous work that you’ve done together. Time for just a couple more.
JOURNALIST: The Tamil family, how long are they going to remain on Christmas Island? When is a decision going to be made either way?
PRIME MINISTER: As you know, this is a matter going through the court’s process that they’ve initiated and there are some present medical issues involving the family. And they will continue to receive every medical care and that care and where they are treated will continue to be determined by doctors, by the medical professionals who advise us on these matters.
JOURNALIST: Minister Andrews, are you not allowed to intervene and make a humanitarian decision based on what they’re going through right now?
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: As the Prime Minister has said, there is already a matter before the court in relation to the issue with the young child. That child is now receiving appropriate medical care in Perth.
JOURNALIST: I asked though with the family when they will be released? Court or no court, does the Government have the discretion to make a decision on this?
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: We are going through the process now of investigating a range of resettlement options in relation to a number of different circumstances here in Australia. I can’t make public commentary on that at the moment because I don’t want to disrupt those negotiations.
PRIME MINISTER: And that applies across all cohorts, across all groups, not specifically.
THE HON. KAREN ANDREWS MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Yes.
JOURNALIST: We’ve seen the case of Victorians who are unable to go to Queensland even when, for example, a family member who is in ICU or people in Victoria, sorry, in the Queensland quarantine system, who are unable to access to see a new born child. Do you think that that treatment is cruel for those families?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve made comments on this in the past. These are decisions for the Queensland Government to make and for the Queensland Government to justify. And I’m not seeking to make any justification of those decisions.
JOURNALIST: They’ve got two cases today. It seems to be in control. Do you think that they should just push the button and open it up?
PRIME MINISTER: I make no secret of fact that I want to see restrictions lifted in Melbourne as quickly as possible. And as safely as possible. The case numbers today are, I think, are very welcome, and I’m sure that that is encouraging to people in Melbourne. In particular today, people can gain access to that Commonwealth disaster payment, the temporary COVID disaster payment and I’ll already note that this morning, many have. And that is available online now and through the information that has already been provided. We do want to see it open up as quickly as possible. We do want that to happen safely. And I think that we need to get some perspective, as I said yesterday. Daily in the UK, I’m just about to go and meet with G7 leaders. In the UK, there are 4,695 cases of COVID a day. In Germany, there are 3,026. In Canada, there are 1,962. That’s a day. In France, there’s 6,563. In Japan, there’s 2,510. In Italy, there’s 2,346. And in the United States, there’s 14,845. In each of those countries, people are dying every day. In this country, you know what the case numbers are. You know how Australians are living safely every day. And that is certainly something that we want to protect. But we’ve also seen today that S&P have upgraded Australia’s triple A credit rating because of the work that Government has done to support businesses and individuals around the country to take us through the COVID crisis, to ensure that our economy and our employment is bigger today than it was before the pandemic started. Australia is stronger today than before the COVID pandemic hit. Now, there are few, if any countries, that can make that claim and have it backed up by what we’ve seen in that evidence. That will continue so long as we get the balance of risk right in our judgements when it comes to any lockdowns. And it must be proportionate. It must be targeted. It must be temporary. And it must be relieved as soon as possible, and that further restrictions around the country should either not occur at all, or for a very, very narrow set of circumstances. That is how Australia will continue to be successful. And there can be no doubt that Australia has had great success because of great resilience and actions of Australians around the country.
JOURNALIST: Looking back, do you think that Victoria has gone too hard? We’re now almost two weeks. Do you think that it was disproportionate to what it should have been?
PRIME MINISTER: I wouldn’t draw that conclusion necessarily, and at the end of the day, that is a judgement for the Victorian Government to make. There is nothing to be profited from the Commonwealth Government and State Governments relitigating those decisions. They have to make them. They’re their calls and they’re responsible for them and it’s for state governments to explain and articulate that to their state populations. We are stepping up, once again, as we did during the most difficult days of the pandemic. With support to households and that household support is available right now based on the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer’s assessment of where there is a hotspot and that hotspot determination still remains in place for greater Melbourne.
JOURNALIST: A question about Afghan interpreters please. Translators employed by Australian troops have been put on a Taliban kill list. I’m sure you’re aware of this. What is your response for calls for them to be urgently granted protection visas? And what’s the time frame for processing humanitarian visas?
PRIME MINISTER: This is something that the Government is very aware of and is steadfastly working through. This is not the first time that we have had to support in these circumstances, bringing people to Australia under the appropriate visa arrangements for humanitarian visas that are in place. We have done this before safely. And we will be able to do it again. But it would be very unhelpful for me to elaborate any further on that issue. We are very aware of it. And we are working urgently and steadfastly and patiently to ensure that we do this in the appropriate way as we have done on earlier occasions. I was the Minister responsible at the time, last time we were doing this, when I was in Immigration, so I’m very well aware of the sensitivities and the need to move swiftly. But also, there are many issues that need to be covered off in how we achieve that.
PRIME MINISTER: I’m not going to offer any further comment than that. Thank you very much everyone, appreciate your time.