THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
THURSDAY, 28 MAY 2015
SUBJECTS: Sydney siege inquiry; Counter-terrorism; Letter to Attorney-General.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Today in question time I asked a number of questions of Julie Bishop, who is the Minister in the House of Representatives representing the Attorney-General George Brandis. We didn't get many answers to what I regard, and what my colleagues regard, as very serious questions about the way in which the Government of Australia, departments in the Government of Australia have responded to the increase of the terror threat level to the highest level ever in the history of our country.
We do think that there should have been some change to protocols for dealing with correspondence that is received. It appears that there wasn't any change. We do think there need to be different procedures in place so that when we get warning signs - and on any view a letter received from a convicted felon who was on bail for serious violence offences, who had been in litigation with the Commonwealth of Australia all the way up to the High Court. When letters received from a man like that who is indicating some degree of allegiance to Daesh of Islamic State because he referred to his wish, his intention to write to Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State. That is the way Man Haron Monis chose to refer to the leader of Daesh. That should have sent up some kind of red flag. It appears from the inadequate answers that we had today from Julie Bishop that no such change in protocols had occurred. Nothing had changed.
JOURNALIST: What would you have done in that position? What do you think specifically had you been in Government and received that letter? What do you think you would have done ?
DREYFUS: When you have got a raising of the terror threat level to the highest ever level that we have seen in this country, I think that references to Daesh in the way it was referred to in this letter, ought to have rung some kind of alarm bells. Something more was needed than simply sending the letter off to the Department for a stock standard answer. I don't agree with the Attorney-General who described this yesterday in Senate Estimates as a piece of routine correspondence. I think what shapes this is the increase in the terror threat level to the highest ever level and what was known about Man Haron Monis.
JOURNALIST: When you say something more, what is more? What should be done if a similar letter like this is sent again?
DREYFUS: I think when you have someone who is a convicted felon who is on bail for serious violence offences, is known to the Commonwealth authorities, and that it very clear from the preliminary inquiry that was done by the head of the Prime Ministers Department and the head of the Premiers Department in New South Wales, when you have someone like that writing to the Attorney-General, who is the chief minister for national security matters, and it refers directly to Caliph Ibrahim, the leader of the Islamic State, who this man wants to write to, that is something that ought to have been further investigated; something that ought to have been referred to ASIO and the Federal Police. Again I don't know definitively but it appears that from the answers given by Julie Bishop today in the House of Representatives that it didn't happen.
JOURNALIST: The Government says you are taking a cheap political shot by bringing this up and constantly using Question Time to put these questions forward?
DREYFUS: I can't think of a better place than the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament to ask questions about what the Government of Australia is doing to deal with the highest ever threat level in our country's history. I think it is absolutely appropriate to ask questions about what the Government has done. What changes the Government has made to procedures? Whether, in fact of the case of this particular letter it was referred to the director-general of ASIO or to the AFP. It appears that the first time the Attorney-General of Australia chose to speak to the Director-General of ASIO about this letter was today. I don't think that is good enough and I think what we have to be always concerned with, and that's why we make these inquiries, we have to make sure that as far as possible when there are warning signs that are apparent; when there is something that should put us on alert, we have got processes that pick up those matters.
JOURNALIST: Did those processes fall over when the Opposition was in Government and received similar letters from Mr Monis?
DREYFUS: I think we are talking about a very different time. Letters that might have been received from Mr Monis, that I have not seen, by definition have to be before September 2013, and in the case of Robert McClelland, who it was suggested had received a letter from Mr Monis at an earlier time - he stopped being Attorney-General in early 2011. So we are talking about three and a half years earlier.
JOURNALIST: But Mr Monis made claims in support of various terrorist groups and the like?
DREYFUS: But the Government hasn't produced those letters. I haven't seen those letters. And what is important here is the timing. We have letters here written by Mr Monis, a convicted felon some nine weeks before the Sydney siege but within weeks of the terror threat level having been raised to its highest ever level, and he has referred directly to something that didn't even exist in 2013, which is this declared caliphate of so-called Islamic State, Daesh, that he refers directly in his letter. That's the point of this inquiry. We are dealing now as the Government has said over and over again since last year, particularly since August last year - that Australia is facing very changed circumstances and that is why as a responsible opposition we are inquiring what the Government itself has done. It is one thing to call, as the Prime Minister did, on the 12th of September last year for all Australians to be more alert - all Australians to report anything suspicious to appropriate authorities. We are asking well what did the Government do that has changed? What processes did the Government change to match that call the Prime Minister was making of the people of Australia?