Interview with David Speers – Sky News – 03 July 2013



03 July 2013

Topics: Customs reform; asylum seekers; reshuffle

DAVID SPEERS: Welcome back to PM Agenda. Thanks for your company. Securing our borders has once again become a very hot election year issue. Yes. The influx of asylum seeker boats was always going to be a big issue. But securing our borders really is about a lot more than just boats. We’re talking here about drugs, about weapons, about crime syndicates, and indeed about terrorism as well.

And when you look at the figures, this risk – this threat of all of this sort of stuff is potentially going to grow, because the estimates are that the amount of air cargo in the coming years, coming into Australia, will grow by more than 200 per cent. The number of international travellers coming to Australia will also grow by more than 20 per cent.

Now, it’s all against the backdrop of course of some problems that we’ve seen in the Customs and Border Protection Agency, most notably in recent months for Customs officers being charged over alleged drug traffic and corrupt behaviour at Sydney Airport. Today, the Customs and Border Protection Agency has released a blueprint for reform of how it does its job.

This is a five year plan. It’s been 18 months in the works. It is about more than just tackling corruption. But on that front a number of steps are being taken: putting AFP officers embedded in the customs agency. Also putting restrictions on how long people can hold a particular job so they don’t become too cosy working on the waterfront, or whatever it is, and leading to potential corruption. The CEO of Customs and Border Protection, Mike Pezzullo, explained it this way:

MIKE PEZZULLO: You break up those little clicks where the local corrupt leaders indoctrinate the new people who come in and then they manage their careers, if you like, as part of their criminal enterprise. And as in New South Wales and as in our service, we need to break up those clicks.

DAVID SPEERS: But there is a whole lot more in this blueprint for reform unveiled today. To make the Customs and Border Protection Agency a more professional organisation, and move a lot more into the space of intelligence as well. I spoke to the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Jason Clare, just a short time ago.

DAVID SPEERS: Minister, thanks for your time. This blueprint is about a lot more than just tackling corruption. But let’s start there. You’ve already taken some steps for the cases identified earlier in the year. This plan would also see Australian Federal Police officers embedded at Customs, or working as liaison officers at Customs. Explain to me what they would do, and would they be working undercover?

JASON CLARE: Thanks David. This is more than just about reforms to tackle corruption. I said in December that customs needed major and comprehensive reform. That involves changes to the structures and the systems, new training, and new equipment, and most importantly a change in culture.

What you’ve pointed to there is changing the way that we do our investigations of illicit goods coming into the country. At the moment the Federal Police do investigations of tier 1 goods; things like narcotics.

Customs do a lot of investigations of other illicit goods; tier 2 goods. Now, criminals, major organised criminals who try and import things into the country don’t just try and import one type of illicit good.

One day it’s drugs, the next day it might be illegal tobacco or precursors. This change, a strategic partnership with the AFP and with Customs is saying that working together, they will triage all investigations. We will also get an AFP commander to work in coordinating all of these investigations inside Customs. So the two organisations work more closely together. We’re going to trial it. We think it will be more effective.

DAVID SPEERS: Reading through the blueprint – moving on to some of the other things this blueprint tries to do. One of the key areas in reform is in the approach to intelligence. Now, it says you’ll develop processes for the collection, management, exploitation, storage, use and sharing of information and intelligence. Who will be collecting and exploiting this intelligence, and what sort of intelligence are we talking about?

JASON CLARE: We’re talking about criminal intelligence, the sort of information that law enforcement agencies collect. Whether it’s State Police, Federal Police, or information that we get from international law enforcement agencies like the DEA and the FBI, all of this information is critical to stopping drugs and other things getting into the country.

DAVID SPEERS: [Interrupts] Do we have the ability to broadly, track international travel data and that sort of thing for all passengers?

JASON CLARE: We already do that. Before people get on a plane and come to Australia we’ve already got a lot of information about the people that are getting on that plane. Sharing information is the key here. The more information that we share between law enforcement agencies, the more effective we will be, the more drugs we’ll seize, the more people we’ll arrest.

About 85 per cent of the drugs that we seize at the border are based on criminal intelligence – information that police get from crooks before the shipment arrives in Australia. If you get more information, you get more arrests. That’s the logic behind this new $30 million National Border Targeting Centre.

That will help us to fuse together in the one room, in the one facility, the information from Federal Police, the Crime Commission, ASIO, DAFF, the old quarantine service; as well as the passport office inside DFAT and transport security.

DAVID SPEERS: [Interrupt] This is about more than just stopping drugs and guns, isn’t it? It’s still about the terrorist issue as well. When you talk about cooperating with partners like the United States in sharing this intelligence, are you able to say whether any of the controversial prison data from the United States will be used here?

JASON CLARE: No. I can’t, David. But what I can point you to is this. Last year I met with Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary in the United States. And I said, look, it doesn’t make sense that the United States, Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and China, and Canada don’t get together and meet as Homeland Security Ministers every year. We do it in Defence. We do it at an Attorney-General’s level. Let’s make sure that Homeland Security Ministers meet on a regular basis.

She agreed and in two weeks time I will head to the US for the first of those Five-Eyes Homeland Security Minsters meetings. One of the things on the agenda will be what happened in Boston, what happened in London, what we can learn from that. But another thing on the agenda will be the exchange of criminal history information. We do that now with New Zealand. There are opportunities to do that with other Five-Eyes countries as well.

There is an important reason to do it, David. If you ask our law enforcement agencies or the same ages in America, the UK, or Canada, who are your top 20 criminal organisations you’re targeting, you will find we’re all targeting the same organisations. Crime has become multi-national.

DAVID SPEERS: [Interrupts] As you know, there’s been a lot of controversy around how this data is collected in the United States – this prism system that Edward Snowden’s revealed. Just to be clear, have you said – what you’re saying here is that it may be the sort of stuff that Australia uses in cooperation with the United States, or not?

JASON CLARE: This is very separate to the type of information that’s shared between our law enforcement agencies as opposed to our security agencies. I’m not going to go down that path and provide that detail. What I’m talking about here is criminal history information and the sort of criminal intelligence that our law enforcement agencies use to catch criminals and stop crime.

DAVID SPEERS: But are you ruling out the use of this other intelligence – national security intelligence?

JASON CLARE: No. What I’m saying is that’s a separate matter. Those are discussions that happen between our security agencies. I don’t have responsibility for those. I don’t think it’s appropriate on Sky to be talking about the sharing of information between those agencies which are outside my portfolio responsibility.

DAVID SPEERS: Do you have any concern about the potential for using that sort of information?

JASON CLARE: I’m always concerned about making sure that we do whatever’s necessary in national security to keep our citizens safe, and to keep the people who work to keep Australians safe. Now, that’s the bottom line. That’s why the sharing of criminal intelligence is so important.

The same criminals that are trying to import drugs into America are trying to import drugs into Australia as well. If we don’t work together, we won’t be as successful. So, learning from experience overseas will make us better at our job. I’ve been to the US, seen the type of systems that work there, and now I’m implementing them here in Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: Can I turn to the asylum seeker challenge, which is making up much of the workload facing Customs and Border Protection at the moment. Would you like to see greater cooperation with Indonesia in tackling this challenge?

JASON CLARE: The key to success here is cooperation across the region. That’s Indonesia, that’s Malaysia, that’s Thailand. That’s all of the countries where asylum seekers make their way through and it goes all the way back to the UAE. A lot of people that are coming from Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan go through the UAE first before they get to Malaysia or Indonesia.

Remember, David, almost 40 years ago when Saigon fell and Vietnamese refugees fled Saigon, that it was the UN working with countries like Malaysia, and we talk about Malaysia a lot. It was critical back then as well as the Philippines and Thailand that set up refugee camps, helped to solve that problem, and ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize for the work they did.

If we’re going to fix this, we need two things. First, we need the poisonous politics that exist on this issue in Australia to move aside, and for there to be a general agreement that the government; whether it’s Labor, Liberal, or Callithumpian, should be given the powers it needs to fix this problem. Secondly we need to work together with the countries of the region to work together to fix this issue.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, it may sound simplistic, but I guess one of the obvious ways of fixing this would be intercepting boats as they leave Indonesia. Is there any way in your view to encourage Indonesia to do that – to intercept boats – asylum seeker boats that are leaving its shores?

JASON CLARE: Well, the short answer, David, is we already do it. The work that the Federal Police do with the SATGAS, which is the Indonesian Police, has led to the arrest, of over 100 organisers and facilitators of boats, as well as the interception and interruption of over 400 boats.

But, I think I’ve said this to you before. All of the work that the police do, that law enforcement does in Indonesia is like putting your thumb on the end of a hose. If we’re going to be effective here, you need to turn the tap off, removing the incentive to get on a boat in the first place. That means flying people back home. It’s worked in Sri Lanka – flying people back to Malaysia will help. A regional solution; working with countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, as well as the UAE.

DAVID SPEERS: But clearly there are many, many boats. You know, one or two each day, it seems, that are getting through – that are leading Indonesia without being stopped. So, is there more that can be done on that front? You talk about putting the thumb on the hose. Is there more that can be done to stop those boats leaving?

JASON CLARE: Well let me repeat that point, David. You can put your thumb on the end of the hose. It’s not the solution in and of itself. You’ve got to turn the tap off. Otherwise, for every boat you intercept there will be another that gets through. For every person you arrest, there will be somebody else that stands up to try and set up another people smuggling business to pedal more misery and put people to their deaths. If you want to stop it, stop people wanting to get onto a boat.

The way to do that, I say – the Government says – is flying people back. The risk of death hasn’t stopped people getting onto a boat. Flying people to Nauru or Manus Island hasn’t stopped people from wanting to get on a boat. But I tell you what has worked: flying people back home in a week. We’ve had a big drop in the number of people coming here from Sri Lanka, because when they get here they get flown home very quickly. We want to fly people back to Iran, but Iran refuses to take people unless they voluntarily go back. So the next best thing is fly them half way back – fly them back to Malaysia.

DAVID SPEERS: What about flying them back to Indonesia?

JASON CLARE: This is all part of the solution. You need to tackle it at a regional level. You need to work with all of those countries of the region. That’s what the Bali process is all about.

DAVID SPEERS: You would like to see an agreement to fly people back to Indonesia?

JASON CLARE: Well, we’ve got one with Malaysia. The only problem is the Liberal party and the Greens.

DAVID SPEERS: [Indistinct] from Indonesia.

JASON CLARE: Well, and also travelling through Malaysia. It’s all part of one pipeline: Indonesia, Malaysia, sometimes Thailand, the UAE. You need to tackle it as a group. You need to work with all of these countries of the region if we’re going to be successful.

DAVID SPEERS: But is there something that should between the two leaders during this week’s visit flying asylum seekers back to Indonesia?

JASON CLARE: David, I’m not going to pre-empt the discussions that the Prime Minister will have with the President of Indonesia. It will be a broad ranging discussion, tackling this issue, as important as it is. But also looking at how we can build our economic relationship which must be described as one of our most important relationships in the world.

Indonesia is our next door neighbour, a big trading partner, a very big population: 250 million people. We’ve got a very good relationship with Indonesia at the moment. And this is another great opportunity to build on that.

DAVID SPEERS: Just finally, Jason Clare, you were dropped from cabinet in this week’s reshuffle. You appear to have taken that on the chin. I just want to ask a question to clarify here. Did Kevin Rudd call you personally to talk about it?

JASON CLARE: He did. And I said to Kevin, Kevin, I want to stay in Home Affairs. I want to stay in Justice. This announcement I’ve made today is the reason why. I’ve been working on these reforms for 18 months. Today I’ve announced them. The next job I’ve got is to deliver them – make sure that they’re fully implemented, and I said to the Prime Minister, I don’t want to change portfolios at the moment and leave this half done. I want to make sure that this is fully implemented. I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate that need to be done as well. Let me see the job done. And I’m very grateful that the Prime Minister agreed.

DAVID SPEERS: Did he offer you something else to stay in cabinet?

JASON CLARE: I won’t go into the discussions that I had with the Prime Minister, other than to say I made it really clear that I wanted to stay in Home Affairs, and I’m grateful that he agreed.

DAVID SPEERS: All right. Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare. Appreciate your time this afternoon