7 June 2017




MATT ABRAHAM: Simon Birmingham, if we can start with you, is it a wild dream to think that somehow any government can regulate or censor the internet to remove safe spaces for terrorists?


SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well look Matthew I think we have to be ever vigilant in trying to close down these opportunities as much as is humanly possible.


In the end we know nowadays that data drives so much, that big technology companies know so much about what it is that all of us do, what it is all of us look at, and that of course that knowledge provides also an opportunity to actually try to shut down some of these conversations, some of the connections that occur, that do promote terrorism, that are used by terrorists to advance their cause, or to plan these types of atrocities.


So, I think it’s absolutely appropriate that world leaders, that countries like ours, ought to be engaging in trying to find all possible ways to shut down these capabilities of terrorists, including their technology capability.


DAVID BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, other people say to me if North Korea can control the internet and China can control the internet, why can’t our governments at least crack down on these so-called safe spaces for terror?


BIRMINGHAM: Look David I think there’s a degree of that. Now clearly countries that promote free speech want to encourage free speech, but not the type of free speech that leads to the cruel and senseless loss of life.


So, Malcolm Turnbull asked the Attorney-General in May to start work on trying to find ways to better contain these types of activities online. I know those discussions are happening with our international partners to try to see what type of consistent approach we can all take to whether it is some of the very public social media platforms that are used, or some of the others so-called dark net safe spaces


ABRAHAM: Penny Wong, Labor Senator for South Australia,are we going to keep hearing these sort of mild mannered placating words? Because if you’re a Jihadist or a terrorist you think that’s great, they’re going to take the time, they’re going to take a broader approach to this, they’re going to work with other governments, they love that sort of stuff, that sort of crap, don’t they?


SENATOR PENNY WONG: Let’s deal with these things in order. First, in terms of the internet, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and other platforms for communication and dialogue, my view, as a matter of principle, we expect the media to behave responsibly…


ABRAHAM: What’s that got to do with the media?


WONG: ..sowe should also expect platforms that essentially communicate information and enable dialogue to also behave responsibly. Now, there are obviously challenges.


ABRAHAM: What’s that code for? Is that code for don’t retweet, don’t use information that terrorists put up?


WONG: I think it means that Facebook, Twitter and other platforms do need to behave responsibly when it comes to enabling discussions, conversations, dialogue, advocacy for violent extremism, of course. And there are some arrangements in place and if they are insufficient, they ought to be addressed.


BEVAN: Is there space for us to move into? Is there potential for us to be much better at controlling this sort of communication?


WONG: I’m sure technically there’s space for us to do more online. I’m not an expert in the area but I’m sure there is. But I think there’s, more broadly, space for us to make sure we confront these extremist ideologies, Islamist extremism, but recognise there’s a vast difference between those individuals, who are criminals, let’s remember they are criminals, and the vast majority of the Muslim community around the world.

BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, do you agree with Chris Kenny, who writes in The Australian today, that we need to see a link between terror and radicalised refugees and their children?


BIRMINGHAM: I think there are indications in some of the data of the arrests around terrorism and so on that show some linkages. And we shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging that where we are bringing in refugees – and Australia’s a generous country in doing so – we should have very strong screening processes, which is what we have been applying.


BEVAN: He argues that ASIO’s denial of that link undermines confidence in our security agencies.


BIRMINGHAM: I haven’t read Chris’ piece today, but I think we have to be honest about the challenges there and that is firstly, screening those who enter Australia and having a very rigorous process there …


BEVAN: We’re doing that aren’t we?


BIRMINGHAM: .. and running very successful resettlement process. And overwhelmingly Australia is an incredibly successful country in terms of resettling migrants from around the world, including many, many refugees.


But we have to be aware to the threats that are present nowadays and confront them realistically and that is why we’re prepared to put more into those types of screening processes and why we also have to invest in the types of reforms the Turnbull Government outlined to support English language services and to make that a very clear expectation. That people in terms of coming to Australia understanding the cultures of Australia, the responsibilities of Australia, and living effectively in Australian life, English language skills are a core part of those attributes.


ABRAHAM: Sarah Hanson Young, Greens Senator for South Australia, what is your view on that?


SENATOR SARAH-HANSON YOUNG:  Firstly, I think is it important for us to reflect on the fact that the both on the incident in Melbourne, and also the incident in London this week – both horrific acts of brutality – the individuals involved were actually already known by the police.


I find it interesting that we have a knee-jerk reaction from politicians about now having to scour all Australians’ information online, when in fact these people were known to the authorities. I think we have to …


ABRAHAM: So you’re saying that they should have been able to stop something like the Brighton attack?


HANSON-YOUNG: Well I think that we should be looking at what didn’t go right. Why these people were able to get themselves into a situation where they could hurt somebody else – hurt some other individuals. The person in Melbourne is clearly a lunatic, obviously someone not okay, not safe to be left in that situation.


BEVAN: Well, we will talk about the parole laws in a moment. But can you address this issue: do you agree that we are kidding ourselves if we think there is no link between the radicalised children of refugees and terror?


HANSON-YOUNG: I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that radicalisation is something that is just left to one group of people. I think that is when we are kidding ourselves. I think that the ASIO. advice from the head of ASIO, saying let’s not just talk about people who come here for humanitarian reasons. The link, the common link is extremism. The common link is radicalisation. If we just focus on one group of people I think we really, really miss the bigger problem here.


ABRAHAM: Penny Wong, you were shaking your head.


WONG: Actually I was shaking my head because of how you formulated the question. Because I think it is really important we diagnose the problem. The problem is not a particular group of individuals. The problem is violent criminals who hide behind perverted Islam. The problem is Islamist extremism.


If we are serious about countering the radical extremism of individuals, remembering that not all terror attacks are from people who are children of refugees, demonstrably, then we need to make sure we continue to talk about the vast difference between the Muslim community who are our frontline against radicalisation threats, who have been our most important source of information to our authorities in thwarting attacks. We must make sure we clearly articulate the difference between that community and Islamist extremists.


BEVAN: But you can do both, can’t you?


WONG: As long as we do that. As long as we also remember that the majority of victims of this sort of violent terrorism have been Muslims around the world and we ought remember that. The setting up of a clash of civilisations, which some people seek to do is actually precisely what the terrorists want.


ABRAHAM: That is because the ideology of ISIS is not necessarily war on the west. It is war on those who will not wage war on the West as well.


WONG: Correct.


ABRAHAM: But that is war on the West.  So you terrify your own supporters so that if you don’t do the right thing we are going to come and behead you or your daughter or your son or whatever. There is not much difference there. The fact that they’re victims because that is the ideology of the madness of ISIS


WONG: Correct. And, it is a mad ideology and it is a violent ideology.


I’m making the point though that all of us, whether it is the two of you here in this studio or the three politicians online or any leader, we should not be trying to set up a division and clash of civilisations because that will make Australians less safe.


ABRAHAM: No. However, if the main source of support for anti-terrorism and working with the Muslim community is an issue – is a big bonus for us – is that the mums and dads, who were the first generation out here, while they are helping the police, the kids are on the internet being radicalised. I don’t know, is it the children? Is it the first? Is it the second generation?


WONG: I think the paths to radicalisation are not identical. And look, you’re correct, whether it is us or our allies and partners, the US, the UK or other nations that are seeking to confront this, we need to understand better what are the paths to radicalisation and how do we best prevent them. What we do know is that we are not going to do that by just getting into a finger pointing exercise and having a go at the entire Muslim community.


BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, do we risk getting into finger pointing, or do we risk just stating the obvious?


BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think we have to state the obvious when the obvious is backed by facts, David.


Now the facts are that Penny is dead right, not all violent Islamist terrorist extremists come from one particular background. They are not all radicalised in the same way. Are there some data points that suggest linkage to, perhaps, children of migrants? Well, yes, perhaps there are some but that is not the sole focus of any activity but we have to be honest about recognising that and ensuring that we do bolster the protections we can have there in terms of screening those migrants in terms of resettlement.


But then we need to do, as we started the conversation, look at how radicalisation occurred. And, radicalisation occurs obviously online and it also occurs out of a sense of disconnection or dysfunction from society, so how do we make sure that kids going through schools feel that they are included, that there are opportunities for them, that there are ways that they can participate in society. All of those different factors contribute. There is not one single silver bullet to this.


BEVAN: I don’t think anybody is suggesting there is. Before you leave, Penny Wong, have you spoken to Sam Dastyari about his links to China?


WONG: I certainly spoke to Sam around the time there were the revelations about him having an account paid, which led to him resigning from the front bench, which was the right thing to do.


BEVAN: Are you satisfied that you know everything there is to know about Dastyari and China?


WONG: I know what he has told me and I know what is on the public record.


BEVAN: And what have you asked him – anything beyond the public record? I mean this is pretty serious allegations aren’t they? I’m asking you, have you sat down and had a conversation with Sam about his links to China?


WONG: No I haven’t on every point, no. But he has resigned from the front bench, which is appropriate. And, I hope if we’re going to play politics on this I will point out that a member of the Cabinet took a job with an organisation and was started to be paid before he even left the Parliament.


But leaving aside politics, I do, and in my current job it is a particularly present issue for me, I do worry about the influence of other powers in Australia’s sovereignty and in Australia’s democracy. And I think there are a number of things that we ought to do.


One, Bill has proposed for some time, and the government has not agreed, the banning of foreign donations. We should proceed to do that. Second, we should actually look at, and Bill has suggested to Mr Turnbull the reference to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, we should look more broadly at what are the legislative and practical things we can do to ensure that the democracy is safeguarded.


BEVAN: And have you expressed these concerns to Sam Dastyari?


WONG: He’s not part of the discussion. He is not a member of Shadow Cabinet; he is not a leader of the Leadership Team.


ABRAHAM: He’s pretty influential. He’s a bit of a mover and shaker is he not?


WONG: He’s a backbencher and these are discussions conducted by the Shadow Cabinet and the Leadership Group.


ABRAHAM: He’s an out, he’s a spent force.


WONG: He’s not the person making policy on these issues.


ABRAHAM: Well this is not necessarily about policy is it? This is about two fronts. It is also within the Labor Party, this is the joint investigation with Chris Uhlmann and Fairfax, has revealed fresh links with Chinese Lobbyists and backers.


WONG: Look I don’t think anything in the Four Corners program in relation to Sam was not something that had already been made public. There were certainly things in relation to Andrew Robb, which had not previously been published.


BEVAN: Well let’s put that to Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, are you happy with the way that Andrew Robb has conducted himself?


BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, I don’t think it is right that we ban donations from foreign entities not just into political parties.


BEVAN: What about walking out of Cabinet to work for a Chinese Company?


BIRMINGHAM: Look there are codes of conduct around how former ministers are meant to engage and the types of work they are meant to take and they ought to be followed. 


I haven’t looked precisely at what work Andrew Robb has done post Parliament but I think we need to make sure that, certainly whilst we are all in Parliament, we have the absolute tightest processes in terms of how it is that we actually receive donations. But not just political parties, but also entities like unions, GetUp! and others that influence the democratic outcome of elections. That is the type of legislation that the Parliament will bring forward later this year.


WONG: Well let’s reduce the threshold for disclosure. You have consistently voted against that. We have said let’s disclose everything over $1,000. The Liberal Party and you in the Senate have consistently voted against that. Why don’t we ensure that we have greater transparency?


ABRAHAM: Can you do that now Simon Birmingham?


BIRMINGHAM: That is all under consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and there will be a full response to all of those matters around donations later this year.


WONG: You voted against that more than once Simon.


BIRMINGHAM: The Prime Minister has already made crystal clear foreign donations will be banned. But we’re not just stopping at political parties. We need to make sure that it cuts out the influence right across political action groups in Australia.


BEVAN: Simon Birmingham, thank you, Liberal Senator for South Australia and Federal Education Minister. Penny Wong in our Adelaide studio, Labor Senator and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, and also on the line, Sarah Hanson Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.