21 February 2018

Speech Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton: National security and border protection key priorities

Australians may be cynical towards their politicians, but they pay on results. And in this portfolio we have delivered impressive results. We promised to implement a plan to secure our borders and to keep Australians safe and we have delivered on that promise. In four short years we reduced the number of children Labor put in to detention centres from 8000 to zero. Labor opened 17 detention centres, we have closed them. We have not had a successful people smuggling venture in more than 1300 days, meaning the deaths at sea have stopped. 1200 innocent people drowned under Labor.

Labor put people on Manus and Nauru and we are getting them off. We promised to make Australians safer and we have delivered. On my watch, the Government has cancelled the visas of over 3000 dangerous criminals, including 61 murderers, 135 rapists, 260 child sex offenders and 170 criminal motorcycle gang members. We have cancelled five times more visas of non-citizen criminals in the past two years than Labor did in their entire six years in Government. In doing so we have made suburbs like Albany Creek, Strathpine and Dayboro; in fact every suburb across the country a safer place. That success in working with the eight police services to identify the top criminals holding visas and through 16 agencies working together under Operation Sovereign Borders was the catalyst for the creation of the Home Affairs Department, bringing our national security, intelligence and emergency management agencies into one seamless effort.

Australia has had Home Affairs departments in various forms since Federation in 1901, but none has had the focus nor faced the challenges of the portfolio I now have the honour to lead. Our organisation consists of 23,500 people who share our desire for a safe and secure Australia and I am extremely proud of their work. This reform is the most significant change to Australia’s law enforcement and domestic security arrangements in decades and Australians expect their Government to keep them prosperous, safe and secure. It is as far-reaching as it is necessary. Too often Governments are forced to act in the midst of crisis or its immediate aftermath – John Curtin in the summer of 1941-42; the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11; and European governments grappling with the mass exodus of migrants from Syria and Africa.

In contrast, the Turnbull Government is acting now to protect Australians and their interests, in a security environment few imagined 20 years ago. Think of these sobering facts. Until 2008 only two people had been convicted of terrorism offences here. Yet in the past three years our agencies have foiled 14 imminent terrorist attacks and 85 individuals have been charged in relation to terrorism operations.  In July last year, Australia narrowly avoided a sophisticated terrorist attack on an A380 airliner departing from Sydney that would have killed hundreds. Crime today is more serious and organised than ever and it’s costing Australians about $36 billion a year.  The personal cost is even greater for families affected by the scourge of illicit drugs or abhorrent child exploitation. Our nation, its institutions and its sensitive information are targets for foreign espionage and influence, as events involving former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari have shown.

It is also true that the opportunities to boost Australia’s prosperity abound. Our tourism and education sectors are benefiting from rapid growth in visitor and student numbers, both up more than ten per cent in recent years. Trade agreements secured by the Coalition Government have helped to boost export opportunities for Australian businesses. Last financial year alone, our Border Force officers processed nearly 44 million travellers, screened 42 million air cargo consignments and issued 8.4 million temporary visas. In the years leading to 2020-21, we expect this volume to grow by as much as 22 per cent for passengers and 34 per cent for air cargo, bringing benefit to our economy and our people. This growth also poses real challenges as growing volumes put pressure on the finite resources that must facilitate the licit and stop the illicit. In this way, Australia’s security and prosperity are inter-twined, as must be our efforts to achieve both.

Not surprisingly then, past reviews of Australia’s domestic security and law enforcement arrangements have called for better coordination and cooperation between agencies. In establishing the Home Affairs portfolio, the Government is doing just that – seeking to develop and entrench a more integrated approach to our nation’s security and prosperity.  We are bringing together the agencies responsible for our domestic security, law enforcement and border security, as well as those that facilitate trade and the legitimate travellers and migrants on whom our economy depends.

The new Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs will support the coordination of a federation of agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force, AUSTRAC and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.  The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation will move into the portfolio after the passage of legislation that will preserve the role of the Attorney-General in authorising ASIO warrants. Australia’s Home Affairs model is more akin to that of the UK’s Home Office than the US’ mega-Department of Homeland Security. But we have drawn from the experience and advice of both – and both welcomed the Government’s decision in my meetings with counterparts last year. If the new portfolio is to be successful, it must be more than a bureaucratic construct. It must make a real difference to the prosperity, safety and security of Australians. As Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, I see three broad priorities for the portfolio:

  • it must protect Australians against immediate and developing threats;
  • it must help build a more resilient and cohesive nation; and
  • it must help the nation grow ever more prosperous.

Allow me to address each of these in turn. Countering the threat from terrorism remains a key priority of the portfolio. Australia has been fortunate to date not to suffer at home the mass casualty attacks we have seen elsewhere, but there have been plots for such attacks and we remain a target. Since August 2014, the Coalition has strengthened our nation’s defences against terrorism. We have passed nine pieces of legislation covering matters including continued detention of high-threat terrorists and control orders to minimise the threat to the public from violent extremists. Our agencies are better resourced, with $1.5 billion invested in their capabilities since 2014. They are investigating around 220 people for supporting terrorist groups in the Syria/Iraq conflict and the Government has cancelled or refused the passports of some 230 aspiring foreign fighters. But even after the defeat of ISIS as a force on the battlefield, its capacity to radicalise individuals into perpetrators of indiscriminate carnage here and abroad remains a very real threat.

We must also contend with the prospect of returning foreign fighters. Of the 220 or so Australians who travelled to the Middle East to fight with or support terrorist groups since 2012, agencies estimate around 110 Australians are still active. The Government is determined to deal with these people as far from our shores as possible, to ensure that if they do return it is with forewarning and into the hands of authorities. The AFP, working with domestic and international partners, has obtained 20 first-instance arrest warrants relating to persons of interest to CT operations. Home Affairs agencies are working with their counterparts to detect foreign fighters returning to our shores and our region – where more Australians have died at the hands of terrorists than anywhere else and some of our key partners in the fight are to be found.  I will visit Jakarta next month to continue discussions with my counterpart, Minister Wiranto, following our meeting in November. And next month, counter-terrorism experts from around the region will meet on the eve of the Australia-ASEAN Special Summit, to strengthen our cooperation against terrorists.

I am confident that the Government has given our agencies the best tools to do the job.  But as terrorists (and other criminals) evolve their tactics, so must we. In this regard, ubiquitous encryption – a vital tool for secure personal banking and other communications including messaging – has become a significant obstacle to terrorism investigations. We know that more than 90 per cent of counter-terrorism targets are using it for communications, including for attack planning here. Decryption takes time, a precious commodity when threats may materialise in a matter of days or even hours. Law enforcement access to encrypted communications should be on the same basis as telephone and other intercepts, in which companies provide vital and willing assistance in response to court orders. Companies ought to be concerned with the reputational harm that comes from terrorists and criminals using their encryption and social media platforms for illicit ends. The Government is willing to work with these firms.

But we will also introduce legislation to ensure companies providing communications services and devices in Australia have an obligation to assist agencies with decryption. And as a society we should hold these companies responsible when their service is used to plan or facilitate unlawful activity. So we must continue to review and refine our laws to ensure they are fit for purpose. I am concerned that legislation to strip the Australian citizenship of dual nationals engaged in terrorism is not working as it should.  We know there are dual citizens among Australians fighting with terrorists in the Middle East and yet officials have so far confirmed that only one has lost their citizenship under the operation of the law. It is far easier to strip the Australian citizenship of a dual national who simply lied in their application to become an Australian citizen, for example, by failing to declare a criminal conviction. Indeed, some 20 dual citizens have had their Australian citizenship revoked since 2014 for child sex and other serious offences.

I don’t think the difference makes sense to Australians concerned by the prospect of battle-hardened extremists returning here and so I have asked for the application of the law to be reviewed by my Department. Despite the vital focus on terrorism our law enforcement agencies are working hard against organised crime and have made some significant arrests. Organised crime in this country is sophisticated, well-financed and increasingly based abroad – some 70 per cent of Australian criminal organisers operate from off-shore or have established off-shore connections. Whereas in the past crime groups worked within ethnic boundaries, we are now seeing collaboration across ethnic groups and, more troubling, involving individuals of interest to terrorism investigations. Several of the recent record seizures of cocaine and methamphetamine have involved sophisticated concealment, multi-national connections and the allure of significant profit for those involved, a reflection of Australia’s comparatively high street prices for illicit drugs. Seizures of a tonne and more say a lot about the brazen attitude of criminals targeting Australia and the scale of the threat to our country.

But no act exposes the pure evil of organised crime more than the systematic exploitation of children for online pay-per-view pornography, sexual abuse and much worse. Worldwide, webpages showing the sexual exploitation of children appear every nine minutes At any one moment there can be thousands of people in Australia viewing this horrendous material – some of it transmitting in real time acts being perpetrated in countries in our region. The viewing of child pornography is not a victimless crime.  Children suffer humiliation and physical and psychological pain lasting a lifetime. Some even lose their lives, and all for the fleeting and perverse gratification of depraved viewers. I have always fought for the protection of children and combating child exploitation will be the most important priority of the Home Affairs portfolio. But the sheer scale of the threat from child exploitation, as well as illicit narcotics, fraud and other organised crimes, demands a more strategic approach. The Government will appoint a senior AFP officer to oversee the whole of Government effort against serious organised crime. The Government has changed the law to enable cancellation of paedophiles’ passports and we will build on this to target the cyber networks and financial flows that enable their heinous crimes. We are also advancing tough new laws to undermine the profitability of criminal enterprises.

Loopholes in the law, highlighted in recent cases in Western Australia and Queensland, may allow criminals to keep property where improvements, maintenance or mortgages on the property are paid with the proceeds of crime. This is an insult to ordinary hard working, law abiding Australians and the Proceeds of Crime Amendment (Proceeds and Other Matters) Bill 2017, which is before Parliament, will close these loopholes In a challenging security environment, resilience is vital. Resilience and social cohesion then and today is more than a technical or systems capability to confront, defeat and then recover from threats – as important as these strengths are.  It is grounded in national character: resilient nations are sure of their core values; their people committed to a shared future and determined to achieve it.

Australians hold dear their freedom, democratic principles and respect for the rule of law. The foundations of these values were the intangible cargo brought to these shores by the First Fleet 230 years ago: the traditions of Westminster, the Magna Carta and a belief in the inherent rights of citizens (albeit limited then by property, gender and race). Over time the foundations were shaped by the uniquely Australian experience; by the mix of convicts and free-settlers, Catholics and Protestants, indigenous and new settlers, and later, the gold-rush migrants. Autocratic rule of Governors gave way to the rise of a free uncensored press with the publication of Andrew Bent’s uncensored Hobart Town Gazette in 1824… …we sought an alternative to British sectarianism with the Bourke Church Act of 1836 which established equitable funding for churches… …justice became more colour blind with the trials of white settlers for the massacre of indigenous people at Myall Creek in 1838… …and we developed more recognisably democratic systems of government, initially in NSW in 1843 and with women’s suffrage in South Australia in 1894 and nationally in 1902 – far ahead of Great Britain.

The land itself promised opportunity that drew in early explorers and pastoralists, revealing riches and teaching harsh lessons, then as it still does today. By the time of Federation, we knew enough of our values to reflect them in the institutions of our nation and a deepening commitment to build a society based on the principle of a fair go. And since then, we have welcomed people from all cultures and regions and we have built a remarkable country. In the past seven decades, more than seven million people have migrated to Australia. More than a quarter of our citizens were born overseas; one in two has a parent who was born overseas.

Not since the nineteenth century has the proportion of foreign born Australians been so high, nor, I suspect, the cultural and linguistic diversity so great. Our diversity has enriched our nation, but it is not what holds us together.  Rather, our success is underwritten by our values, our mutual understanding of our rights and responsibilities as citizens, our national language and our respect for each other, regardless of race, sex or religion. These form the lynchpin of our resilient nation.  It’s why Australians appreciate straight talking and reject political correctness and social engineering at odds with our heritage. It’s why terrorists and extremists target our institutions and seek to foment dissent and disagreement among us, but they will never succeed. And it is why, in an age of high-speed internet that enables people to live virtually in societies or social groups whose norms are at odds with our own, we need to nurture our core values.

I see a role for the Home Affairs portfolio in this effort, through its work on multiculturalism, management of our migration and citizenship programmes, and efforts to counter violent extremism. The traditional focus of this work has been to engage new migrants – Australia’s settlement services, for example, are recognised as world leading. We ask aspiring citizens to pledge and affirm ‘loyalty to Australia and its people, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey’. And the overwhelming majority of migrants do just that: pledge their loyalty, uphold our laws, integrate and make an enormous contribution to the success of this nation. But when second and third generation Australians are over-represented among the legions of foreign fighters, and our nation is being tested by foreign espionage and interference, there is a need to broaden the scope of this work.

This is why the Government moved to reinforce the importance of evidenced integration and the English language in the steps to acquire citizenship. In opposing this reform, Labor opted for cheap political opportunism against the interests of this nation in ensuring aspiring citizens share Australian values and have the linguistic and other means to integrate successfully. I can assure you that the Government remains committed to this reform, and will work with the crossbench on the basis of a new package of measures, flagged at the end of last year. In my view, there is a place for the pledge in a broader, rejuvenated civics effort with school age children, regardless of their background. In fact it behoves all sections of society to reaffirm our nation’s core values through our words and deeds. An ability to speak frankly is a crucial core value presently under attack.  It was borne out at the beginning of the year with a discussion about violence in Melbourne, perpetrated by Sudanese gang members. We are not going to be shouted down by people who want to re-write history or pretend a problem doesn’t exist in the present. Australia has a stronger future if we don’t hide from our past. We must be proud of our indigenous heritage and of British and European settlement in more modern times, of mistakes made, of lessons learned, but which has provided the foundation stone of our democracy and our resilient world view.

Beyond our social and cultural resilience however, we also need to strengthen our technical resilience to emerging challenges, in particular cybercrime. Cybercrime is a threat that increases with every additional digital connection we make. Each time we engage through social media, acquire more IT hardware or integrate connected devices such as fridges and TVs into our homes or businesses, we open up new potential vulnerabilities. Yet those same connections are indispensable for business and families – some 94 per cent of adult Australians use the web to bank, pay bills or buy and sell goods and services. Cybercrime is pervasive because it is low risk and offers high return for its perpetrators, whether they are trying to steal your identity, banking details or business secrets. Criminals are mounting sophisticated and discrete attacks employing ransomware, credential-harvesting and social engineering.

Our national and economic interests are the subject of targeted attacks from state and non-state actors, often taking advantage of supply chain contractors’ access to sensitive information and weak safeguards. Research by Telstra indicates nearly 60 per cent of organisations in Australia detected a business disrupting security breach in 2016. But not every cyberattack is cutting edge: many employ rudimentary techniques to exploit well-known vulnerabilities for which there are equally well-known patches. Clearly, if we are to boost our cyber-resilience, there is a need for us all to become far more cybersecurity savvy.  This is in part why the Government launched the Australian Cybersecurity Centre and developed a Cyber Security Strategy, which was updated last year and will be prosecuted by the Centre and the Home Affairs portfolio. We are working with businesses in partnership to boost cyber resilience, including through the Brisbane-based Joint Cyber Security Centre.  The public’s access to and dependence on cyber space has become almost akin to its access to other services, such as the supply of water. And like the public’s expectation of water supply, they will soon expect their access to the online world to be clean and free from bugs and threats, in particular to the on-line safety of their children. Internet service providers are obviously key to meeting this expectation, but the Government will also promote online safety and security. And the public should themselves take those simple steps – such as patching, virus protection software and effective password management – to help ensure national cyber resilience.

The third focus of the Home Affairs portfolio is to support Australia’s continuing prosperity through its management of the migration programme and trade facilitation. A well-managed migration programme is one that focuses on the national interest, but which makes necessary adjustments to serve the interests of Australians. This is why the Turnbull Government has maintained the Howard Government’s decision to focus the migration programme on skilled migration. Skilled migration helps business to fill skill gaps, in turn enabling them and our economy to grow faster than might otherwise be expected. Indeed, the Productivity Commission argues that migration delivers a demographic and economic dividend, but the benefits are greater in a system that attracts younger and more highly skilled migrants. The Government has acted on this advice in adjusting some settings of the permanent migration programme, such as age limits and higher English language for certain skilled visas. Properly managed and well-targeted skilled migration expands opportunities, improves living standards, increases productivity and helps us reduce the Budget deficit. Temporary migration is also boosting our economy.

More than 443,000 foreign students have helped to make education our third most important export, worth nearly $28 billion in 2016-17. Migration must of course serve the interests of Australians, not just those of the migrants themselves. This is why the Government moved to abolish the discredited 457 visa programme last year. Its replacement with a temporary skilled visa, opens up opportunities for Australians to work, while better aligning the visa system to our strategic skill needs and enabling business to fill short-term gaps. We have also redesigned the system to enable us to respond to the needs of the employment market and business alike. More broadly, Australia’s visa system remains overly complex for users and administrators alike, and further structural changes to it are under consideration.

Last year, the Government held a public consultation on reducing the number of visas from 99 today to around 10, establishing clearer definitions for visa categories and the possible introduction of a new provisional visa. There was good support for these ideas in the consultations, a summary of which can be found on the Department of Home Affairs website. A key driver of these reforms and our roll-out of technologies such as SmartGates is the rapid growth in visitor numbers to Australia, to which I referred at the outset.  These technologies, including big data analytics, help to streamline border flows for legitimate travellers and traders, and to focus enforcement on the few who seek to do us harm. In 2016 the Government invested $100 million in a new Visa Risk Assessment capability that uses sophisticated analytical modelling of big data and recurring assessment of visa holders to identify and prevent potential threats from arriving. Similarly, Home Affairs will continue efforts to enhance the facilitation of licit trade across our borders.

Our Trusted Trader programme has grown significantly since we launched it in 2015, with more than 100 companies now recognised under the scheme. The success of the Trusted Trader model is now being considered for use in the temporary skilled visa space for those companies with a proven record of compliance. We are also looking at how we can apply the visa reform model to support goods trade. If pursued, this would go beyond our election commitment to develop a single window for traders, to encompass better risk assessment of incoming and outgoing goods. Again, this effort is being driven in part by the rapid rise in volumes of goods and the development of data analytics and other technologies that open up new opportunities to enhance the efficiency and security of our borders.

That security, as we know, is vital.  Australians are still paying for Labor’s border security mistakes which saw 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats. Australians are paying for the offshore processing of illegal migrants, the processing of the 30,000-strong legacy caseload and the enduring need for on-water vigilance. Regrettably, I can guarantee Australians will be paying for a long time into the future because not only has Labor put this nation on the people smugglers’ map, it seems determined to keep us there. This Government has turned back 32 boats carrying 800 people since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders. We have been remarkably successful in our on-water operations, but we have not extinguished the threat, which at least in part at this point of time is kept alive by a divided Opposition playing into the hands of people smugglers.

Labor’s equivocation on maintaining the Coalition’s successful border protection measures is good news for the ascendant Left of that party, as it is for unscrupulous people smugglers. After some comments that were made by Bill Shorten around Christmas time, we did see another boat which arrived with 29 passengers from Sri Lanka – all of whom were told they were going to New Zealand. The boat was stopped near Cocos Island. And it doesn’t matter to people smugglers whether their boats can ever get to New Zealand, what matters to them – and this seems to be the point that Labor misses – is the public comments that help them sell seats to the almost endless supply of potential illegal immigrants is what’s at stake.

Until Bill Shorten stares down the left of Labor, the prospect of a Labor Government will keep the hopes of people smugglers alive and should concern all Australians. Our nation is not in the midst of a crisis, but we face a far more complex security environment than we have seen for many years. We have a fundamental obligation to keep Australians safe and secure.  I said in my first speech to the Parliament and I have repeated the promise to the people in my electorate of Dickson at each election, that I will use my position to make our community and country as safe as possible.  We truly are a great country and there are exciting opportunities to recruit new talent to Australia and to grow our economy through trade and innovation. Seizing these opportunities while navigating the risks is a key challenge for our nation. In establishing the Home Affairs portfolio, the Turnbull Government believes we will drive the coordination and cooperation of our domestic security, law enforcement and border agencies that will keep our nation prosperous, safe and secure.

Speech to National Press Club, 21 February 2018