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Howard Pays Tribute To ASIO And Federal Police For Terror Arrests

John Howard has paid tribute to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police for their role in the overnight arrests in Sydney and Melbourne of men suspected of planning a “catastrophic” terrorist attack.

Adopting a subdued tone, the Prime Minister did not openly capitalise on his apparent vindication over last week’s announcement of an impending terrorist threat.

Transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Parliament House, Canberra.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming along. I’ve just called this short news conference to make some comment on the events that have occurred overnight in both Sydney and Melbourne. You will be aware of what has occurred and I do not intend to comment on the operational details. Those are best left to the Australian Federal Police Commissioner who will be making comment later today and also his two counterparts in New South Wales and Victoria. I point out that amongst the people apprehended a number have been charged with a variety of offences, including acts preparatory to a terrorist act.

I want to pay particular tribute to the leadership of this operation by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police and to the two heads of those organisations, Paul O’Sullivan and Mick Keelty. But in doing so in no way do I diminish the crucial role played by the Victoria Police and the New South Wales Police and the very close professional harmony and cooperation that has existed over a long period of time between the three police commissioners. This has been a splendid example of agencies at a commonwealth and State level working together for a common purpose and that is the protection of the people of Australia.

I also want to thank the Premiers of the States for their prompt support for the change that was made to the law last week. Without their prompt support and cooperation it may not have been possible to effect that change in the expeditious and effective way that transpired. I also record my thanks to the Leader of the Opposition for the position that he took in relation to that change.

In relation to that change and in respect of claims of manipulation that have been made by various people, I draw their attention to the remarks made by the Victoria Police Commissioner this morning, the link she drew between the police activity and that change. Also the remarks made by the Victorian Premier on 3AW this morning and also the remarks of the New South Wales Police Commissioner. I don’t want to say anything more about that matter except to repeat what I said last week that we were advised that the change would strengthen the capacity of the authorities to respond to the situation that had been identified and it is the view of the two police commissioners and the Victorian Premier that that is precisely what happened.

The final thing I want to say is that this country has never been immune from a possible terrorist attack. That remains the situation today and it will be the situation tomorrow. It’s important that we continue to mobilise all of the resources of the Commonwealth and the States to fight terrorism. That is my commitment and it will be my commitment in cooperation with the Premiers of the various States. Can I also say that the proper processes of the law will be followed. The people charged are entitled to a presumption of innocence and the less that is said about operational details by me and by others in political positions the better, lest there be any possibility of anything being said that may prejudice a proper trial or in any way hamper the ongoing investigation.

Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, should people in Australia now be alarmed?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to play words, play word games. We’re dealing with a particular situation, we’re dealing with events that have occurred and I am trying as best I can to give an overview, to express my ongoing support for the law enforcement authorities at both the Commonwealth and the State level, to thank the two Commonwealth agencies for the work they have done, and also the state police.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, does it disturb you that there was such as element of scepticism toward your announcement last week?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I don’t really, things have moved on. That really is in sense a totally – well it is a totally academic question.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think people will have a better understanding now of comment you made last night and previously – damned if you do, damned if you don’t from the experience …..?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that remains the position, it’s the challenge that you sometimes have in these situations. But at all times I have tried to do the right thing by the Australian people. When it comes to the safety of the Australian people and the security of this country there is no room for political manipulation and I have not sought to do that in relation to this issue and I will not in the future.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) got away on this one by the skin of your teeth given that the legislation, the appropriate legislation wasn’t in place until as late as Thursday night?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Jim, if you raise questions of speed they can only go to the veracity of what the Government did.

JOURNALIST:

When were you told of the operations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to get into that. If you want to ask things like that well I think you should speak to the relevant authorities and see if they will tell you. There is nothing to be gained by my going into that, I do not intend to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Have you received any advice that the public announcement last week had any impact on the operation this week?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the sense that it may have hampered it?

JOURNALIST:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, certainly not. Certainly not.

JOURNALIST:

Advice to the opposite?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t seek advice on that but I have not been told in any way that it hampered it. And let me put it this way. What I said last week was a collection of carefully chosen words, and they were said with a view to not doing any damage to operational matters. They did not, they have not. And I wouldn’t in any circumstances use language that might reasonably be expected to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, is it not a fair question to ask when the Prime Minister of Australia was told about the raids?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s a fair response to that question for me to say that I am kept continuously informed on matters that go to sensitive issues of national security.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, there’s been quite a debate about home grown terrorism, but there’s also been a debate within Australia about supporting, particularly people who are naturalised citizens who are linked to terrorist activity. Would you support….

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to say anything about future changes to the law in the context of a news conference about some matters involving people who have been charged with particular offences. Because however much you may disconnect it and I might disconnect it, I do not want my answers to be in any way read or seen in the context of the proceedings that are now pending.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) Under the current laws, these people can only be held for 48 hours…

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Under the current laws, these people can only be held for 48 hours. Is that adequate in this case because you have asked for extensions?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look once again that is not a question I choose to answer at the moment. As to how these people are now dealt with and what the powers are, that is a matter for the police and for the Crown Law Authorities. I said last night when being interviewed on your programme that I do not direct the police. The police act independently and they have acted independently on this occasion. They have acted against the background of the law that applied when they took the action last night.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner Moroney indicated this morning Prime Minister that there would be some action still to follow in coming weeks. Is it from your knowledge that people still need to be, or the public still needs to be concerned….

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a question that I don’t intend to respond to because I regard it as an operational issue. If police commissioners want to talk about that they can.

JOURNALIST:

You spoke of an imminent threat though last week. Is there still….

PRIME MINISTER:

That was in the …well I spoke of, I used particular words. I don’t know that I used that word. In fact I’m sure I didn’t. You did.

JOURNALIST:

Can I swap it for specific?

PRIME MINISTER:

Now you’ve disturbed my train of thought Mr Parry.

JOURNALIST:

The question was sir is there still, should the public still be concerned that there is some residual element of this specific threat?

PRIME MINISTER:

All I can say is that police inquiries continue.

JOURNALIST:

If the authorities have been able to move effectively to pre-empt an attack as they have this morning, does the Government still need the further powers that it’s planning in the Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

The powers we seek in the counter-terrorism bill are certainly needed. And the proposition that one particular action exhausts the need for generic changes to the law that are needed because of changed circumstances is an incorrect proposition.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) possibility of an attack in Australia. This is quite a significant number of people. Are you surprised at the scale of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t care to express surprise about anything in relation to this matter. I just say again that nobody should assume for a moment, nobody should be so complacent as to imagine that we are in any way immune from a terrorist attack. I don’t think we are as at risk as other countries. One of the reasons is that we do have very good law enforcement agencies. They do a very good job and we have a population that is sensible about the potential dangers. But we can only do our best. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen, but I can guarantee that if I get any information as Prime Minister that requires me to act to further protect the public I will, irrespective of any criticism that is made.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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