SUBJECT/S: Sydney siege inquiry; Counter-terrorism; Letter to attorney-general.
THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
SKY NEWS PM AGENDA
THURSDAY, 28 MAY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Sydney siege inquiry; Counter-terrorism; Letter to attorney-general.
DAVID SPEERS: With me now is Mark Dreyfus. Thank you for your time this afternoon. Can I just clear up: what do you believe the Attorney-General George Brandis actually did wrong?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We were asking questions today in Parliament to find out what was changed by the Government some weeks after the terror alert – the national terror threat alert level – was raised to its highest ever level. That happened on the 12th of September. And at the time the Prime Minister invited every Australian to change their behaviour. Invited every Australian to report to the relevant authorities, to security agencies, anything that was suspicious. We think it’s an absolutely appropriate and serious question to ask – what changed in the Attorney-General’s office? Because regrettably from the answers given today by Julie Bishop representing the Attorney-General in the House of Representatives, nothing changed. And that’s a real concern.
SPEERS: Well we didn’t really get a specific answer on whether there had been any change, that’s right. What should have changed, in your view?
DREYFUS: Well that’s why I’m saying “it appears”, David. Because we didn’t, despite many questions, get any really straight answers from the Government on this. It appears also that the Government, the Attorney-General and his office, did not refer this letter from Man Haron Monis to any of the security agencies. And I have to say - it also appears that the Attorney-General did not talk to the Director-General of ASIO about this letter until today.
What should have happened is that there should have been some changes in the protocols in the Attorney-General’s office and in the Attorney-General’s Department. And when you’ve got references to, for example, Caliph Ibrahim the leader of Islamic State, because that’s the language Monis used, that ought to raise a red flag. That’s a recognition of the declaration of the caliphate.
SPEERS: That’s true. Are you saying it should have been referred by the Attorney-General’s office to ASIO or the AFP. He did refer it obviously to his department and they obviously made a decision on how it should be handled.
DREYFUS: Well it came into the Attorney-General’s Office. The Attorney-General, as is every minister, is responsible for handling everything that comes into his office. I’m not for a moment suggesting that every single bit of paper and every email to the Attorney-General has to be personally examined but we’ve got ministerial responsibility in this country. Ministers are responsible for the way in which their department and their ministerial offices behave, and I would have thought that, particularly after the Prime Minister’s exhortations to Australians on the 12th of September, that more should have happened, that we should have seen a change in protocols.
SPEERS: But specifically what is what I’m trying to establish here. Should it have been referred to ASIO or the AFP?
DREYFUS: I think it should have. This is a man who is a convicted felon, who has been released on bail, at this point the 9th of October 2014, for serious violence offences and has been in serious litigation with the Commonwealth, well-known to the authorities. As most Australians probably know, also had been under surveillance by ASIO at an earlier time. All of that, when he is writing to the Attorney-General, the minister responsible for national security, referring to his wish to contact, his intention to contact, the head of Daesh or Islamic State, that ought to have raised a red flag, that ought to have rung alarm bells.
SPEERS: To be fair though, the Attorney-General did refer this to his Department. Surely they are the experts in the field that would decide whether that should go to ASIO or the AFP or whether any red flags should raise.
DREYFUS: The issue here is one for the Attorney-General. It’s for the Government generally, that’s why I asked Julie Bishop today in the Parliament what had changed following the raising of the terror threat level to the highest level ever. And it appears that nothing changed.
SPEERS: Okay, but this is important though Mark Dreyfus. If he’s referred it to his Department and his Department has made a call, you’re saying that’s not good enough, that’s inappropriate?
DREYFUS: Well you can conclude from that that there haven’t been any changes to any protocols, there hasn’t been any increased alertness on the part of the Attorney-General or his office or the Department. That’s got to raise a concern, when we’ve got the terror threat level at the highest level ever, when the Prime Minister has gone and given nationally-televised press conferences to call on all Australians to do more, it seems that the Government itself wasn’t doing more in this sense.
SPEERS: Okay, but what we don’t know is what actually happened at the department level at that point. The Department may well have run the name through a system, spoken to people, we don’t know. They may well have formed a judgment that, as many obviously did during this period, the guy is a weirdo not a national security threat.
DREYFUS: But we know that he had been already convicted of what I regard as terribly serious offences in relation to sending deeply offensive letters to families of deceased servicemen, we know that he was on bail for serious offences of violence, and that’s a change from the earlier part of this man’s history. But what’s most important is it’s just after the terror threat level has been raised, and that’s why we’re inquiring. And I think rather than hurl abuse, which is all we got from Julie Bishop today, there are some serious answers to be given to serious questions about what did happen in the Government in terms of protocols, in terms of alertness, after the terror threat level was raised to the highest level ever.
SPEERS: As Julie Bishop pointed out this afternoon, as George Brandis has as well, Man Haron Monis also wrote to Labor in Government, to Julia Gillard, to Robert McClelland and apparently to you as well. Are you able to tell us about the letters that were written and obviously this is before the terror alert level was raised, but I mean was he a serial letter-writer? Could this have been the Department’s reaction here as well, that this guy’s always writing letters?
DREYFUS: Obviously I’ll look into what letters were written in earlier years, because that is what we are talking about, but this is not at the time some weeks after the terror threat level has been raised and it’s certainly not at a time when this convicted felon was referring to, in his words, Caliph Ibrahim the leader of the Islamic State. The caliphate having just been declared in June 2014.
SPEERS: Indeed, they had not declared the caliphate at that point. But the letters to you, can you shed any light on what he may have been writing about, what he may have been inquiring about with you or Julia Gillard or Robert McClelland.
DREYFUS: Well I’ll have to wait to see what those letters are. In my case, they must be from before September 2013. In Robert McClelland’s case they must be before he resigned as Attorney-General at the start of 2011, so we’re talking about some distance back.
SPEERS: But he may well have been a serial letter-writer is what I’m getting at.
DREYFUS: He may well have written quite a number of letters to Government and the report of the head of the Prime Minister’s Department and the head of the Premier’s Department in NSW indicates that he wrote a number of letters. What’s different here is that this has come after the raising of the terror threat alert and after the declaration of the caliphate and this man with a history of violence, on bail for serious violence offences, has directly acknowledged, in his words, Caliph Ibrahim after the declaration of the caliphate. There’s got to be some concerns and that’s why we’re asking what was changed in the Government after the terror alert level was raised to its highest level.
SPEERS: Okay, let me finally ask you a fairly blunt question here. This has become quite a heated issue this afternoon. You are saying mistakes were made in relation to this, but are you saying if those mistakes weren’t made, then the actual siege could have been prevented?
DREYFUS: I don’t think we can ever know and nor should we seek to speculate on that, David. What we’re inquiring about here is with this as a focus, because it’s come to public attention having been introduced in evidence at the inquest into the Sydney siege on Monday, what has changed in the Government? What did the Government do? Has there been a change in protocols? Has there been a change in the alert level internally in the Government to pick up what of course in hindsight can be pointed to as a sign.
But that’s why I ended my questions today before Question Time was shut down and before the Government refused to answer this question. I asked if another letter comes in from a convicted felon who’s on bail for violence offences, indicating support for Islamic State or Daesh, what will the Government do that time? What will the Government do if this happens again?
SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus we’ll have to leave it there, thank you for joining us this afternoon.
DREYFUS: Good to be with you David.