DENIS NAPTHINE:

Thank you very much, and it’s an honour and a privilege to be here with Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Australian Federal Government. Minister Bishop has just been briefing the Victorian Cabinet about current issues with regard to the heightened terror alert status and also about issues following her recent visit to the United Nations. It was also an opportunity for myself as Premier and the Victorian Government to thank Minister Bishop for her leadership on the terrible tragedy of MH17 where so many people were affected, particularly here in Victoria.

With regard to the terror situation, can I say that we here in Victoria last week had a terrible incident where two police officers, a Victoria police officer and AFP police officer, were seriously injured and one young man was killed. I've visited the two police officers and wished them all the very best and offered our thanks on behalf of the Victorian Government, of the Victorian community and indeed the Australian community, and those officers are recovering but they were very seriously injured and their recovery will take some weeks and months.

But it does highlight to us here in Victoria of the concerns within our community and we've made it very clear from the Victorian Government's perspective that we want to send a strong message that this is about the alleged behaviour of an individual, and we as a community in these circumstances need to come together and recognise that one of the greatest strengths in Victoria is our diverse multicultural, multi-faith community. So, we shouldn't allow these incidents to divide our community. We should use them to bring the community together to make our community safer and stronger.

The other point I would make is that we need to recognise that Melbourne and Victoria, by world standards, are very safe communities and people should go about their business in the normal way. We've just seen a great weekend in Melbourne with the Grand Final parade and the Grand Final. Great events and they were conducted with a high level of security but were safe and people were able to enjoy themselves and go about their business. So, the message I would say to Victorians is to go about your business in the normal way. We need to work together as a community and recognise the best way to have a safer, stronger community is by recognising that our multicultural, multi-faith diversity is one of our strengths and that will make us better and stronger.

I'll hand over to the Foreign Minister.

JULIE BISHOP:

Thank you, Premier. And I do appreciate the opportunity to brief you and your Cabinet colleagues about the current security situation in Australia caused by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. Australia is a wonderful nation, we're an open, tolerant society and we're multicultural, multi-faith, welcoming people from all corners of the globe as Australian citizens and residents. It is unthinkable that young people in particular should be drawn to the violent extremism of terrorist organisations like ISIL and its ilk but, tragically, a number of young Australians have decided to leave this beautiful country, and seek to fight in the conflict on the side of the terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria and beyond.

So it's very important that we reach out to the communities that they come from, and work with them to prevent young people being radicalised and being drawn to this violent extremism. This is not about religion per se, this is about violent extremism and we should seek to combat it from many angles on all fronts. The Federal Government is introducing legislative reforms to give our intelligence agencies the capability and capacity they need to take preventative measures. We have a tranche of legislation that will be introduced shortly that gives me as Foreign Minister greater powers to take preventative action in relation to the cancellation or suspension of passports. And we will also seek to declare particular areas so that if people are going to those areas they need to have a legitimate reason. These are areas currently held by terrorist organisations in the Middle East.

I want to thank the Premier and his Government for the calm and measured way that they have approached the recent tragedy that occurred last week when a young man was killed after attacking policemen, who I understand are on the road to recovery. The Victorian Government is partnering with the Australian Government in seeking to reach out to communities, to work with communities, to work with religious leaders to ensure that we can maintain safety and security in this State, in this country. The United States and other nations have formed a coalition to combat ISIL and its ilk on the ground in Iraq, in Syria and Australia has offered to be part of that international coalition.

During the course of this week the National Security Committee of Cabinet will meet to discuss the invitation from the Iraqi Government for Australia to take part in a mission to support the Iraqi Defence Forces defend the country. That's a matter that will also go to our Cabinet, and Australia will do what we can - a proportionate, prudent role to help combat violent extremism as we're seeing in the Middle East.

Again, Mr Premier, thank you for the opportunity to speak to your Cabinet and the final matter in relation to MH17, again we extend our deepest condolences to the families in Victoria who lost family and friends on that tragic flight, MH17, that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Last week at the Security Council, I spoke with the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Frans Timmermans, about the progress of the independent investigation into the causes of the crash and that independe

nt investigation is under way. We will continue to support the Netherlands in its quest to find out who is responsible for this tragedy and to hold them to account. And we owe that to the families of those who died from Victoria, we owe it to the 38 Australians who were on board that flight. And I look forward to working with you in relation to our counterterrorism work but also in relation to the MH17 tragedy.

REPORTER:

Ms Bishop, why is it taking so long for Australia to commit to air strikes in Iraq and what exact bureaucratic procedures need to take place before we actually go in?

JULIE BISHOP:

I'm surprised people are asking why it's taking us so long. We've said all along we would be prudent and measured. We will go in at the invitation of the Iraqi Government but there are many nations, many nations, that have offered to support or have been invited by, the Iraqi Government and we want to ensure we have in place the appropriate legal framework to cover the immunities, privileges and protections that our personnel would need. Our Defence Minister, Senator David Johnston, has been in Baghdad recently and he's spoken with the Iraqi Government.

It is a new Government, they currently don't have a Defence Minister, they don’t have an Interiors Minister, so they are cautiously working through the requirements to have foreign forces in their country. So the United States has carried out some air strikes but the United States has had an agreement with the Iraqi Government for some time now. So new governments are working with the Iraqi Government to ensure we have the legal framework in place. In the case of Syria, that is a different situation altogether. We've not been invited in by the Syrian regime. I don't expect that we will be working with or cooperating with the Syrian regime. The United States and Arab nations are conducting air strikes in Syria under Article 51 of the United Nations charter - the principle of collective self-defence of Iraq.

We've not been invited to take part in that. Our invitation is from the Iraqi Government and we're working through what's necessary before our –

REPORTER:

When is NSC and Cabinet meeting?

JULIE BISHOP:

There's a public holiday in Canberra today. We are all heading to Canberra today and I imagine there will be an NSC meeting this week. There's a Cabinet meeting this week.

REPORTER:

What day is Cabinet?

JULIE BISHOP:

Tuesday.

REPORTER:

Is it more dangerous for Australians to travel now overseas, when you look at the death of Sayed Habib Musawi?

JULIE BISHOP:

It's important that Australians take care whenever they travel overseas, and I would recommend they log on to the Smart Traveller website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - www.smartraveller.gov.au- to get the latest travel advice that’s provided by our intelligence agencies. Our experts provide us advice on the threats in each country that people might be travelling to.

But if people are thinking of travelling to Iraq or Syria, they are very dangerous places. Parts of both countries are in the hands of terrorist organisations and in due course, we will have a new offence relating to declared zones and so people must be very careful to ensure that the places that they're going will not be covered under the declared zone legislation when that's introduced.

REPORTER:

[inaudible]

JULIE BISHOP:

I'm not going to comment on that.

REPORTER:

Do you have information that that Afghan-Australian was murdered in Afghanistan because he was Australian.

JULIE BISHOP:

I don't have any information on that. This is a difficult matter to gain information on because it occurred in a Taliban-held area. It is going to be difficult for us to get information for some time.

REPORTER:

Do you agree with comments by President Obama that the world has underestimated ISIL?

JULIE BISHOP:

I think that countries have been taken aback by the speed with which ISIL has managed to claim territory. Territorial aspirations are not usually the hallmark of a terrorist organisation, but I think countries have been somewhat surprised by the speed and the success ISIL has had in taking over territory. But it has used social media in a most perverse way to terrorise people, through its depiction of beheadings and crucifixions and the like but also as a magnet for recruitment, and I think that this perverse and hideous use of social media has also been a shock to people around the world.

REPORTER:

So do you agree the West has underestimated ISIS?

JULIE BISHOP:

I don't think the West has ever underestimated terrorism. Some have. Some thought that the threat from terrorism was over, but we've always been concerned about national security and the potential threat for violent extremism to raise its ugly head at any time. There have been terrorist organisations proliferating in the Middle East for decades now - in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, Afghanistan - it goes on and on. So, Australia has maintained its focus on counterterrorism.

Regrettably, we didn't have focus in the last few years that we should have. That's why the Australian Government has announced $630 million in additional funding to ensure that our intelligence agencies and others have the capability and capacity to deal with a heightened terrorist risk.

REPORTER:

Would we ever work with Syria if we were invited in to try and deal with IS?

JULIE BISHOP:

I can't envisage the circumstances where that would occur. The United States and the Arab countries that have formed that coalition are focussing on Syria. If Australia were to become involved it would be a completely different discussion and debate that we would have within this country, and we would have to take our own legal advice on Article 51. But our focus has been on Iraq. That's where the Iraqi Government has asked for help, and if we are able to starve ISIL of funds and foreign fighters and resources from outside and within Iraq, then that will have an appropriate flow-on effect into Syria.

REPORTER:

President Obama said we over-estimated the ability of the Iraqi army to fight IS. With Western support, will they be able to do that now?

JULIE BISHOP:

That's the plan. That's the idea, to support the Iraqi Government, support the Iraqi Defence Forces so that they can defend themselves against this murderous terrorist organisation, but also support the Kurds in the north of the country to be able to defend that territory as well. So, we are offering Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi Defence Force so that they build the capacity and capability to defend the country.

REPORTER:

Premier, can I just very quickly ask; a local Islamic leader said yesterday - basically warned - the fatal shooting of the alleged extremist could further divide the Islamic community and he raised the spectre of the Cronulla riots. Are you concerned that there is a growing, I suppose, angst within the Islamic commune in Victoria?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I and my Government are concerned, as is the Chief Commissioner, concerned about the heightened level of anxiety within our community, and we are working hard both at the Chief Commissioner's level and at a Government level - and particularly through Matthew Guy the Minister of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship - to say to the broader Victorian community it's not a time for division, it's a time for coming together, it's a time for celebrating what is the benefits in terms of safety, security and quality of life from our multicultural, diverse faith community.

It's also we're working very hard with leaders of the Islamic community. Again, the Chief Commissioner, also my Minister and myself are working very hard with the Islamic leaders and the Islamic community to say that: ‘you are very much a part of Victoria and Australia, you are very proud Victorians and we’re very proud of you. And we want to make sure you feel included in our society, and this inclusion is about making sure that we are a stronger, safer community’.

JULIE BISHOP:

I would like to commend the Premier and his Government for the way that they have reached out to the Muslim community. And we acknowledge the words of the Grand Mufti of Australia and other Muslim leaders who have distanced themselves from the activities of ISIL and its ilk, who have made it quite clear that this criminal behaviour is not in the - should not be done in the name of Islam, and it's not about religion, this is about violent extremism using religion as an excuse for their violence. And I want to commend the Victorian Government in the way they have worked with the Muslim community in Victoria and we certainly will continue to do that throughout this country.

REPORTER:

Minister Bishop, back on Syria, Iraq's ambassador to Australia wants the West to work with Bashar al-Assad, while the US is training 5000 Syrians: which do you think is the better option?

JULIE BISHOP:

The United States has chosen to operate in Syria under Article 51, which is about the collective self-defence of Iraq. And the United States has built a coalition of Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, the Emiratis, Bahrain and Jordan, Qatar to assist it in that regard. Whether the United States seeks to work with the Assad regime is a matter for the United States. Australia’s focus is on Iraq. That's where we've been invited to operate. And that’s what we’re considering at present.

REPORTER:

President Obama has described Syria as ‘Ground Zero’ for jihadists. Does that influence Australia's position at all on whether to engage in Syria?

JULIE BISHOP:

We haven't been invited by the United States, by any Arab nation. We have not been invited by Syria. We have been invited by the Iraqi Government, and that's what's under consideration.

REPORTER:

The air strikes that have occurred, how effective have they been at stopping ISIL?

JULIE BISHOP:

I understand the air strikes over Syria have been very effective. I also understand the air strikes in northern Iraq have been effective. The French Air Force also took part in strikes that I understand from my discussions with the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, were effective in that they hit their target. What they're seeking to do with the air strikes is take out the resources that are available to these terrorist organisations. They are very well resourced, very well equipped, very sophisticated military weaponry and they have a lot of money. And so that’s why our focus has to be on starving this terrorist organisation of weapons, of foreign fighters and of funds and that's how the international coalition will ultimately defeat ISIL.

REPORTER:

Minister, will you be briefing all the States on the terrorism threat, or is it Victoria-specific?

JULIE BISHOP:

No. I hope to have an opportunity to meet with other Premiers, but in this instance the Premier invited me to address his Cabinet and I appreciated the opportunity to do so.

REPORTER:

Are any of the states lagging on complimentary legislation or necessary legislation that’s needed to deal with the threat?

JULIE BISHOP:

I should also point out it is a fact - this has already been made public - that the number of foreign fighters and the number of passports that I have cancelled, have focused on New South Wales, then Victoria, then Queensland. So other States are not facing the same immediate risks as News South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Hence our focus is here and, no, I haven't got any information that any state has not risen to the occasion.

Our Attorney-Generals are meeting, our Justice Ministers are in touch with each other, there's a very high level of cooperation between every State and Territory Government and the Federal Government in relation to security issues, and the terrorist threat that Australia is facing. This is the most significant domestic security threat that Australia has faced in some time, and all Governments are taking it seriously.

REPORTER:

Premier, do you believe Numan Haider was acting alone that he’s not part of some loose network or a firm network?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Those are operational matters part of the investigation being undertaken by Victorian police with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO, and that is being overseen by the Victorian Coroner and IBAC. It is not appropriate to comment on those operational matters.

REPORTER:

Ken Lay said there was a possible meeting before he met the police officers. Do you have any evidence?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I will leave those comments to Ken Lay to comment on the operational matters and on the investigations being conducted. What I want to do with Minister Bishop, is highlight the fact that we invited Minister Bishop to talk and meet with the Victorian Cabinet, because of the issues directly affecting us last week in Victoria and Endeavour Hills. Plus we know from what Minister Bishop has told us that Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, as she said, are the areas of significant concern.

REPORTER:

Minister just a question on Ebola, has the World Health Organization asked for any extra support or money from Australia to help contain that outbreak?

JULIE BISHOP:

The World Health Organization has not asked for Australia to send health workers to West Africa but they are looking for more support. That's why Australia provided an additional $8 million, in addition to the $40 million that we have provided to the World Health Organization this year - an additional $8 million. We are continuing to work with partner countries, partner organisations in relation to this very serious threat.

REPORTER:

Will you be sending any more doctors if they ask for medical personnel?

JULIE BISHOP:

Australia is not yet able to put in place evacuation plans that would enable Australian health workers to be safely evacuated back to Australia. And this is on the advice of our Defence Force and our Health Department - that Australia cannot safely evacuate back to Australia, Australian health workers. So, the Australian Government is not about to put at risk Australian health workers in the absence of credible evacuation plans that could bring our people back to Australia. We haven't been asked for health professionals by the WHO, and we have provided funding to organisations that are already on the ground and are already addressing the issue in West Africa.

REPORTER:

Are you able to say how many Victorians have had their passports cancelled?

JULIE BISHOP:

I don't give out those numbers but it is public that I, as Foreign Minister, have cancelled about 50 passports based on security grounds. So, I cancel passports for a number of reasons but based on national security grounds about 50.

REPORTER:

Are you seeing any drop-off in the need to do that --

JULIE BISHOP:

No.

REPORTER:

-- are people heeding the message?

JULIE BISHOP:

Last week there were another three passports that were cancelled, but this a matter we have under constant review. I'm in constant touch with our security agencies. If they have evidence that reaches the appropriate threshold that someone presents as a potential national security risk, either by leaving the country or coming back to the country and I receive that advice then I'll act.

REPORTER:

You thought Numan Haider was a risk in terms of going overseas?

JULIE BISHOP:

I don't go into details of the passports that have been cancelled. That's not information I make public.

REPORTER:

Premier, can we ask you about the tunnel, what did you think of the Supreme Court decision in? I haven't heard about the High Court yet.. It's still going. What do you think of the Supreme Court setback?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

My understanding is the Court of Appeal made a decision this morning. The Court of Appeal made a decision on two matters: one was a technical matter with regard to the previous hearing of the High Court saying that further work should be done by the High Court and referred it back to the High Court. But it was also of note that representations were made to the Court of Appeal to put in place an injunction to prevent the signing of a contract for the East West tunnel, and this was rejected, again, by the Court of Appeal. So, there is no impediment from the Court of Appeal for the ongoing work of the government to sign a contract.

REPORTER:

So you’re determined to sign in the next few weeks?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, there is a matter before the High Court at the moment.

REPORTER:

Are you planning to sign it tomorrow?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

We’ve said all along we have a schedule to sign a contract, and we are on that schedule, and we’ll be signing that contract as soon as possible, because this project is really important for Melbourne and Victoria. It’s about decongesting Melbourne, improving transport productivity and efficiency, and creating many, many thousands of jobs. This is a great project for Melbourne and Victoria and we want to get on with it.

REPORTER:

Is that contract ready to go? Are you just waiting on the outcome of the court?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, we've done the work that's required and we're ready to sign a contract at the earliest available opportunity.

REPORTER:

So, are you confident that the High Court rejects the application for an injunction …

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, I'm not going to pre-empt a decision of the courts. Far be it for me, for a country vet to start making judgments about the High Court's decisions.

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP:

Thank you.

[ends]

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555