Transcript - 24206
Joint Doorstop Interview, Gold Coast
Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015
Release Date: 18/02/2015
Release Type: Transcript
Transcript ID: 24206
Subject(s): Visit to Bravehearts
ASSISTANT DEFENCE MINISTER:
Thank you all for coming along. Can I first of all thank my very good friend, the Prime Minister, for coming here to the northern Gold Coast and, of course, my great champ, Hetty, for generously hosting the Prime Minister here at Bravehearts.
The Prime Minister, as you know, has been to the Gold Coast numerous times in the last few years and he is extraordinarily welcome here. The people of the Gold Coast have a great affinity for a leader who stands up and confronts the difficult challenges and comes forward with the right solutions.
So, boss, thank you for the opportunity to come along and, Hetty, thank you for so generously hosting us here this morning.
It’s a pleasure.
Thank you so much.
Stu, it’s great to be here on the Gold Coast and it’s good to be with Hetty Johnston and the team from Bravehearts. It’s also good to be here with Dan Tehan who is the Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security.
I’m here to do two things, first, to acknowledge the work of Hetty Johnston and Bravehearts. We like to think of ourselves as a generous, decent, caring society and yet far too many young people are subject to the loss of innocence at the hands of people who should respect them, yet they abuse them. Hetty has been an absolute force of nature when it comes to standing up to protect our kids and I want to say thank you, Hetty, congratulations. The whole country owes you a massive, massive debt.
The other thing I want to say is that it’s very important if we are to protect our kids that the police have access to appropriate telecommunications data. We all know that people who want to abuse children often feed their habits online. It’s very important that we have the information that allows this kind of horrible crime, this kind of horrible behaviour to be tracked and prosecuted and that’s why the metadata retention legislation which is currently before the Parliament is so important.
After Hetty’s said a few words, I’ll ask Dan Tehan to say a few words as chairman of the Committee which is currently looking at that legislation. But, if we are serious about protecting our society from a whole range of criminal conduct, we need this metadata retention legislation. There are very few crimes these days that don’t require access to metadata in their resolution. That’s why it’s so important that this data which the companies used to keep but which increasingly are not keeping, is kept. It’s very important to protect our society from a whole range of criminal behaviour that we keep this information and that’s what I hope the Parliament will do swiftly in the weeks ahead.
Thank you, Prime Minister. I’m very grateful that you have come here today, so thank you, and welcome to Bravehearts headquarters, and Margie, thanks for coming along, Stuart.
Look, for Bravehearts it’s all about protecting children, it’s about making sure that this country is the safest place to raise a child and for a lot of cases, there’s not much we can do, but in too many cases there is something we can do and we have to make a determined effort to do it and this is one of them. We work very closely with police right around the country. We know how important this data is for police to find the children who are being harmed and to find the offenders who are harming them. And so from our perspective around the child protection issue, this is a no-brainer and that’s why we are so very proud to support this and thank you for bringing it to the table.
Thanks so much, Hetty. Thank you. Dan?
Thanks, Prime Minister, and pleasure to be here with you and Margie, with Hetty, with Graham Ashton, the Deputy Commissioner. It is very important current work that the Committee has undertaken. Obviously, we’ve put through two very important pieces of legislation to do with international security. This is the third piece of legislation. Both the previous pieces of work we have done have been bipartisan. As Chair of the Committee, I’m looking forward to reporting at the end of February with another bipartisan report so we can make sure that the legislation goes through in the Parliament in March.
So, Prime Minister, thanks again. Can I congratulate Hetty. She gave evidence to the Committee, took the time to tell us about the wonderful work that she’s doing on behalf of children and also put her case very simply and plainly as to why police and our security agencies need access to metadata. So, it’s a pleasure to be here with you on the Gold Coast and I look forward to getting back to Canberra and doing the work so we can get the report finalised by the end of this month.
Thanks so much, Dan. Ok, do we have any questions?
Prime Minister Abbott, any update on the Bali Nine situation?
Look, I will take general questions at the end, but I'd prefer while Hetty is with us to take metadata and child protection questions.
In that case, how do you foresee this legislation making a… what sort of difference do you see this having?
Until quite recently, we had a relatively small number of telecommunications providers and they kept very comprehensive records for quite some considerable period of time. What we've seen in recent times is an explosion of different providers and a whole lot of different modes of communication. For instance, a lot of people don't even use mobile phones that much these days, they use Skype and things like that.
So, metadata and its retention is more important than ever if we are going to be able to track what criminals are doing. Whether it be criminals who want to commit terrorist offences, whether it be criminals who are committing corporate offences, whether it be people who are committing child abuse offences, so much of this kind of activity is being conducted online and that’s why we need to keep this data – this metadata, data about data, the information that the system generates rather than the user generates – we need to keep it for two years in order to be able to protect our community against a whole range of crime.
Prime Minister, what do you expect the costs of retaining that data will be over two years and how do you balance the privacy concerns? There must be concerns about privacy violations for people who aren't the target?
Ok, well, the cost of losing this data is an explosion in unsolved crime. That’s the price of losing this data. For instance, there was a recent child abuse investigation in Europe, in the United Kingdom, which does have metadata retention legislation, about 25 per cent of the suspects were successfully prosecuted using, in large measure, metadata. In Germany, which doesn't have metadata retention legislation, almost none of them were successfully prosecuted. So, if we want to combat crime, we need this legislation and if we don't get it, it will be a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of criminals and the price of that is very, very high indeed.
Now as for the cost of actually retaining the metadata, we have done some work. There are a range of figures which have been taken to the Joint Standing Committee, but even at the highest estimate it's less than one per cent of this $40 billion a year and growing sector. So, we're talking about a $40 billion a year sector and even at the highest estimate we've got, the cost of metadata retention is less than one per cent of the total sector. So, it seems like a small price to pay to give ourselves the kind of safety and the kind of freedom that people in a country like Australia deserve.
And about those privacy concerns, though, how do you balance that?
We’re talking here about metadata; we’re not talking here about the content of communications, so, your web browsing history, what you actually say on phone calls, that’s not covered by this. It's just the data that the system generates. So, it’s, to use an old fashioned metaphor if you like, if you look at a letter, you've got the address, you've got the sender, you've got the date stamp, where it was posted and what time it was posted. It's the electronic version of what is on the front of the letter that we want to keep. The contents of the letter, well people can only get access to that with a warrant.
Is this one of the biggest challenges when you are trying to catch these criminals, technology? You know, it just gets more sophisticated, more advanced as each month goes on.
Look, it is a huge challenge and luckily, we've got extremely good and effective police and security services who are always trying to stay one step ahead of those who would do us harm. But in order to allow them to stay one step ahead, we've got to give them reasonable access to the tools they need and metadata is a very important piece of crime fighting equipment.
Ok. Hetty, do you want to step away? And Graham, perhaps you can be excused as well.
Bali Nine? Look, I am sick in my stomach at the thought of what may happen to these two unfortunate young Australians in a very short space of time if the Indonesian Government does not treat our representations on their behalf with the same respect that it expects its representations on behalf of its citizens on death row to be treated.
So, I am continuing to make the strongest possible personal representations to President Widodo. The whole of the Australian system is galvanised and energised to make representations on behalf of these two young Australians. Yes, they have done a terrible thing. Yes, they deserve a long, long time in jail, but they don't deserve to die. In fact, they have become, it seems, thoroughly reformed characters in prison in Bali and they are now helping the Indonesian fight against drug crime. So, it’s much better to use these people for good than to kill them.
How likely is it do you think that these men will survive? There must be promising signs from this delay?
This is an encouraging sign but that’s all it is. It certainly isn’t an indication that there is now a serious prospect of clemency. It might be an encouraging straw in the wind. Let's hope that Indonesia has realised that its own best values and its own best interests are served by not going ahead with these executions but, in the end, all we can do is keep making the strongest possible representations and that's what we're doing.
Did Australia play economic hard ball over this? Threaten sanctions?
We will be making our displeasure known. We will be letting Indonesia know in absolutely unambiguous terms that we feel grievously let down. Let's not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars’ worth of assistance; we sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief and Australians lost their lives in that campaign to help Indonesia. I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian Government: we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time.
And if they don’t, Prime Minister, what are the implications for the relationship?
I don't want to prejudice the best possible relations with a very important friend and neighbour, but I've got to say that we can't just ignore this kind of thing if the perfectly reasonable representations that we are making to Indonesia are ignored by them. We are doing no more for our citizens than Indonesia routinely does for its own citizens and if it's right and proper for Indonesia to make these representations, if it's right and proper for other countries to heed Indonesia’s representations, it's right and proper for us to make the representations and for them to be heeded.
Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Q&A last night. What did you make of his performance?
Look, it was a strong performance, as you'd expect. All my ministers are strong performers. They're all strong defenders of the Government and I encourage all of them at all times to be out there defending government policy.
He suggested that the decision to drop Ruddock was a captain's call. Is that correct?
Look, yes, but that’s now pretty old news and we're focusing on getting on with government. Last week we made an important decision when it comes to the screening of foreign purchases of agricultural land. Already this week we have made an important decision to ensure that there is more money in the pockets of part pensioners. We've got the metadata retention legislation coming before the Parliament soon. I’ve got a security statement to make in Canberra on Monday. So, we are getting on with government because that’s what the public elected us to do.
Mark Binskin’s come out and said that it might be better just to maintain our submarine fleet as opposed to getting a new one. Any thoughts?
We will be maintaining our submarine fleet for a decade or more, but some time towards the end of the 2020s, the Collins-Class submarine will have come to the end of their useful life and it's very important that they are replaced with the best possible submarine at the best possible price with the maximum Australian involvement and content.
But the one point I want to really stress is that we do need more submarines and more submarines means more jobs in Adelaide. That’s the bottom line. More submarines means more jobs in Adelaide and I'm looking forward to working with all parties to ensure that that’s exactly what we get: the best possible submarine deterrent, the best possible Australian involvement in the next generation of Australian submarines and, above all else, more jobs in Adelaide.