Prime Minister John Howard
Press Conference on Anti-Terrorist Measures
October 2, 2001
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a number of announcements to make arising out of
todays Cabinet meeting which devoted very considerable time to security
and other issues. Firstly I announce that following the September terrorist
attacks in New York and Washington you want me to start again?
Well following the terrorist attacks in the United States last month the Government
has decided to significantly enhance defences counter terrorist and incident
response capability. Weve decided that the terrorist attacks in the United
States pointed to the need to better equip the Australian Defence Force with
capacity to deal with terrorist attacks which were highly planned and coordinated.
And as a result the Government decided at its meeting today to effectively double
the counter terrorist capability of the special forces and to reinstate the
specialist incident response unit whose capabilities in responding to chemical,
biological, radiological and explosive incidents were in place during the Olympic
Games. I should note that while the White Paper had foreshadowed the increasing
involvement of the ADF in unconventional operations, the events of September
in the United States have indicated the need for a higher level of response
to the threat of terrorism.
The Government at this stage is unable for security reasons to provide further
details on the location or the nature of that enhanced capability which does
as I say represent an effective doubling of the counter terrorist capability
of the special forces.
We also during our meeting today had a very close look at our security arrangements.
We believe that generally the responses taken have been effective and that many
of the security measures already in place, particularly at Australian airports,
compare very favourably with those overseas. But we have nonetheless agreed
to some changes to legislation, which will be introduced if the Government wins
the election when that is held, when Parliament convenes after the election.
And they will be amongst other things designed to give ASIO greater powers to
question and thoroughly investigate and if necessary to hold people for short
time on a warrant obtained before a federal magistrate if they suspect a serious
security risk; define a specific offence of terrorism with a maximum penalty
of life imprisonment, specifically to cover conduct of a general terrorist nature
including violent attacks or threats of violent attacks; and to improve the
process and clearly link to terrorism the Governments power to seize and
freeze terrorist assets. The Treasurer already has general powers in this respect
but the improvement we will propose would add an additional terrorist specific
schedule to the proceeds of crime act. And dovetailed with this weve also
agreed that as soon as possible Australia should join the convention for the
suppression of the financing of terrorism.
Weve also had a closer look at airport and airline security. We believe
that in air travel security the first response in this country has been very
good. But improvements are always possible. Were particularly focused
on ideas being developed internationally through the International Civil Aviation
Organisation and have agreed to introduce the following measures which are currently
under discussion in ICAO. We have agreed to a policy of randomly placing security
officers on domestic flights and on international flights both into and out
of Australia to better assure the safety of the travelling public. These security
officers will be highly trained and will be armed. Weve asked that our
security experts in Commonwealth agencies and departments implement this as
speedily as possible. We're also putting in place ever more stringent baggage
security measures including full x-ray and physical search of cabin baggage
and increased examination of checked baggage. Were also looking at structural
strengthening of aircraft cockpits to better ensure their security.
Could I add in relation to those last measures in the situation and the new
environment we now find ourselves in theres always a dilemma. On the one
hand we dont want to move away from the relatively easy carefree approach
that Australians traditionally have adopted in relation to both domestic and
overseas travel. We want people to continue to travel, the last thing the Australian
tourism industry needs, the last thing this country needs is people to become
apprehensive about air travel. On the other hand we do need to take measures
to upgrade security. There will be debate in the community about the placement
of security officers who are armed on aircraft. We gave that a lot of thought
and on balance we believe that it is not only appropriate to randomly place
security officers on aircraft but also to arm them. We do live in a new environment,
and in a sense a government is damned if it does and it damned if it doesnt.
If we dont respond and an incident occurs people are entitled to criticise
us. And theres always the haunting worry of course that whatever response
is taken an incident might still occur.
The security assessments given to us are that Australia is more vulnerable,
but were not as vulnerable as others. Everybody has to accept that any
nation is more vulnerable in the new unhappy era in which we now find ourselves.
We dont want to overreact but we have a very heavy responsibility not
to be in any way complacent or to under react. The Government believes the measures
that it agreed to today and which Ive just announced both in relation
to the effective doubling of the counter terrorist capacity and also the new
measures in relation to security on aircraft and the foreshadowed legislative
changes, those three areas all involving further action by the Government, we
think that they are the right actions. Well keep the situation under surveillance
and if further action is needed then it will be taken. We think they do represent
a very important and appropriate response to the circumstances in which the
country now finds itself.
Is this because there are sympathisers to Osama Bin Laden here in Australia?
Its not specifically because of the presence of people who are sympathetic
to that or any other terrorist organisation. It is because in the new environment
in which we live we think its necessary to take these measures. As I said,
we cant afford to be complacent. We dont want to overreact. We dont
want to interfere needlessly with the freedom of movement of Australians. On
the other hand they expect that we take all the measures that we can to provide
them with a higher degree of protection and thats what were trying
When you say effective doubling does that mean personnel or money?
Capacity. There will be more money involved. In the short term that money will
be absorbed, in the longer term there could be some additional expenditure.
How does that relate to the White Paper, compared to what the white paper has
Well as I say, in the short term it will be absorbed in the longer term, the
longer term meaning the next year or so, there could be some additional expenditure.
How many agents will be put on flights? Dozens? Hundreds?
Well, no, no, no. A modest number.
ASIO will have power to hold
A period of 48 hours. For questioning and the warrant would be attainable before
a Federal Magistrate.
Will they have the power of arrest ?
Well if youre going to detain somebody, yes.
Are they secret police?
No theyre not secret police. You cant do it without getting a warrant
from a Federal Magistrate.
How soon will these agents be on airplanes?
Well I cant give you an exact estimate in days or weeks. Were going
to start the process. I cant imagine that there would be any reason why
the process could not go forward during any caretaker period into which the
Government of this country might move at some time between now and Christmas.
So theres no reason why work cant proceed. And I would imagine its
a measure that would have the total support of the Opposition.
life imprisonment for terrorists - what was it previously?
Well the specific offence I dont think exists under existing law.
Are these guards soldiers or are they going to be private...
No, they will be people essentially drawn from the police area. They wont
be soldiers. It is not the job of the military to deal with these situations.
When you said before that Australia was vulnerable - can you be
Well any country is, any western society is potentially vulnerable.
Have we identified particular threats .?
Well we have not been told that there is a specific identifiable terrorist threat
at the present time. What we are being told is that every country is potentially
more vulnerable and we therefore have to take steps. It is just therefore unreal
for a country like Australia to pretend that it just cant happen here.
Prime Minister Kim Beazley is talking about establishing a Ministry for Home
Affairs, based on the British Secretary for Home Affairs, is that something
that Australia needs?
Well you need real responses not bureacratic changes. Ive announced some
real responses. The question of whos ministry it falls into is an argument
over your patch. Its not a reponse to the problem.
Is the Attorney General able to co-ordinate those measures?
Of course, theres no can I tell you the thing that really matters
is what you do not how many ministries you have or how many bureaucrats you
have or a turf war between shadow ministers.
On counter terrorism the SAS officers are all highly trained over a long
period of time, how quickly can you double their capacity?
Well what you do is to add capacity to already highly trained people.
Mr Howard you talked about Air Marshals ?
Well I prefer the Australian nomenclature and that is security officers. They
will be placed randomly on both domestic and, domestic Australian flights, and
also on Australian carriers into and out of Australia.
Are you not concerned that this would be seen by the travelling public as an
No I dont think it will be. No I dont. Im sorry to interrupt
you but I didnt say. I said some will criticise. But I think the travelling
public will be reassured by this.
QANTAS over the weekend were doubtful - will you have talks with them?
I know that. I dont agree. I dont agree with Qantas. We will have
talks with Qantas but security matters in the end are the responsibility of
the Government. Qantas pursues its objectives. Qantas has its commercial objectives.
But we have overall responsibility and if Qantas is unhappy with this decision
well Im sorry about that. Well take the opportunity of explaining
the basis of it, but we think its the right decision.
Was the option there to strengthen the baggage holds or cockpits?
We havent looked at strengthening the holds of planes. We are looking,
as other countries are, at strengthening the security of cockpits. All of these
things sound rather alien and so forth to us but were living in a different
environment. I dont like it any more than many of you will. I dont
like the idea of having to have security officers on planes. I dont like
the idea of having to have all of these additional security checks. But the
Government has a responsibility. If we dont do anything and just assume
shell be all right, and then incidents do occur, people are entitled to
say weve been recreant to our responsibilities. Im not going to
have that allegation made against this Government. I regret that we have to
do these things but we all regret the circumstances that have brought it about.
In relation to CHOGM will you be meeting ?
Ill be seeing Mr McKinnon shortly after this news conference.
Will there be a decision as to when CHOGM might be postponed to?
We havent gone beyond my discussion with him of the desire of the Government
to host CHOGM in Brisbane in the early part of next year. I will repeat that
when I see him and I will hope that he will be able to put arrangements in place
for that to occur. I would certainly like the CHOGM meeting to take place. Its
regrettable that because Mr Blair and others said they couldnt come that
the meeting had to be cancelled, had to be postponed rather. But I certainly
hope it takes place in Brisbane early next year.
Do you have a possible date in mind?
No I dont have a date in mind Tom. Ring me up tomorrow, I might have it
worked out by then.
You have cleared the decks .?
How do you know?
Have you cleared the decks for the election?
Well look I will be calling the election. I will be seeing the Governor General
some time between now and the issue of a writs.
What is the latest on the boatpeople and talks with Nauru?
Well Ive been in a Cabinet meeting and my understanding is that the matters
being discussed in Nauru and thus far theres no change. We will continue
to require people now on the Manoora to leave and are taking what are appropriate
steps to find the way for that to happen.
Is it realistic that a government can stop a terrorist who is prepared to take
his own life ?
Tom thats a very hard question for me to answer. It is realistic that
a Government do everything that is consistent with our way of life to minimise
to the maximum extent possible the risk of what were talking about occurring.
No person, no Prime Minister, no government can give absolute guarantees in
an area like this. Nobody can. What I can promise you and promise the Australian
public is that we will do everything we fairly and reasonable and practically
can to minimise the risk consistent with not trampling on what are valuable
rights of the Australian people. We dont believe anything that weve
decided so far does that. It will cause some additional inconvenience. That
is a very small price for all of us to pay, all of us to pay, in return for
the additional security and the additional assurance. And I would hope it would
be adequate. But nobody can give an absolute guarantee, I certainly cant
and I dont think youll find anybody else in his right mind who can
purport to do so.
Has any decision been made on Australias involvement in US .?
Well we have indicated that we are prepared within the limit of our capability
to be involved. So in that sense the answer is yes, we have made a decision,
that was made by me shortly after the terrorist attack occurred. And we are
in discussion, our military people are in discussion with the Americans. The
chief of the defence force has been in Washington, hes returning home
to Australia shortly and Ill be seeing him in Canberra I expect on Thursday
morning to discuss the matter with him.
Did Cabinet advance .
The commitment to America in any way?
Well we discussed the matter, I dont have anything further to say beyond
that. But we have already decided that in an appropriate way at an appropriate
time well be involved.
Are you seeing the Governor-General this evening?
No Im going to a meeting of the Bennelong Federal Conference to make sure
that that seat remains safe for democracy whenever the Prime Minister calls
Mr Howard Econtech and Westpac have both forecast for 2002-03 of 400 to 500
million dollars. Are you still committed to a budget surplus
We are committed to running a surplus. But there wont be a lot of money
for anybody to throw around. Promises on both sides will need to be modest,
they will need to match the times. The times have changed, and both sides of
politics will have to take that into account.
Could you envisage pump priming of the economy like the U.S?
I thought youd been telling me for a year thats what Ive been
doing. Well some of your colleagues have youve been critical of some
of our budget measures but look Ill let that go over my shoulder. I think
the settings of fiscal policy in Australia are good. Weve paid off a lot
of debt. We will have a lower surplus this financial year and we will project
a lower surplus next financial year from that projected at Budget time. But
we will still project a surplus.
Well Im not going to get into anything more specific than what Ive
Two weeks ago you said that personal income tax was an important debate. Do
you think that will be a campaign issue?
Look, levels of personal income tax and the impact of rollback, and apparently
Labor is still committed to rollback, well the more you roll back the greater
squeeze you put on personal income tax. Even more so now that the budget position
is tighter. So its still a very important issue. But everything has been
effected by what has happened in the last few weeks. I mean the Australian economy
is very strong, its very robust, its performing extremely well.
But it will be effected by the aftermath of the terrorist attack, which is having
a negative effect on the American economy, in turn thats having a negative
effect on the economies of the world. And its going to be tougher managing
the Australian economy over the next year than it would have been had the terrorist
attack not occurred. That is self evident and that is going to have an impact
on what both sides should commit themselves to in the election campaign. There
will be less room because the budget position is necessarily going to be tighter
because theres going to be somewhat slower growth. When you have slower
growth thats accompanied normally by lower revenues and higher expenditure.
Would you like to have the air security guards in place before any action by
the US and its coalition?
Well the two things I dont think are directly connected.
Is there not more of a threat [inaudible]
Well the history of the last 100 years has told us that the greatest threat
normally arises when you dont do anything in the face of unprincipled
or unacceptable behaviour.
Preparation. The training of the people.
. during a caretaker period ?
Well that could occur too. Its not a new policy. I mean any policy announcement
made before the caretaker period gets implemented and therefore, and I just
assume that the Opposition would raise no objection. I mean I read something
about sky marshals and so forth in the papers this morning coming from the other
side. I cant imagine that the Opposition would have any objections.
Look I dont want to be more specific other than to say weve made
the announcement, there will be some training required, theres no reason
why that cant proceed. Just how quickly it can be implemented I cant
tell you. Well I would expect before Christmas yes, but I cant be more
specific than that. I would expect before Christmas.