Interview with Steve Chase – ABC News Radio – 23 May 2013

ABC NEWS RADIO WITH STEVE CHASE

TOPICS: Boston bombings; London attack; Scherger Detention Centre; Customs reform; 3D guns; Drugs in sport.

STEVE CHASE: Well, as emergency meetings continue in London in the wake of the killing of a soldier outside a military barracks, authorities here have been quick to assure the public that our defence bases are secure. But after the attack in London and the recent bombing of the Boston Marathon finish, how prepared are we for similar attacks? The Home Affairs and Justice Minister is Jason Clare and he joins us now. Minister, good afternoon.

JASON CLARE: Good afternoon, Steve.

STEVE CHASE: What preparations are you making and what advice are you seeking in the wake of these incidents in Boston and London ?

JASON CLARE: Our law enforcement agencies are working closely with their counterparts in the UK and the US. We’ve got Federal Police agents based in London as well in Washington and they work closely with their counter-terrorism counterparts. They’re being briefed on these events and what the potential implications could be for us in Australia. In addition to that, I’ll be meeting up with the United States Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, as well as the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, in the next few weeks, to get briefed firsthand by them on these events so I’m in a better position to look at what more we might need to do.

STEVE CHASE: Specifically, what sort of briefings do you get? Not specifically, but can you tell us the general areas of interest? Is it home-grown terrorism, for example, one of the topics?

JASON CLARE: All of that. Australia’s been quite fortunate. We haven’t had a major terrorism event on our soil in a long time. But we’ve had more than 100 Australians killed by terrorist attacks in the last decade or so. The most obvious example of that is the 88 people that were killed by the Bali bombing. But the work that our law enforcement agencies do here in Australia’s helped to foil four major terrorist attempts in the last few years. There is 23 people in prison who attempted to commit those acts. That reminds us all that the risk is real. We can’t be complacent and we need to talk to our counterparts overseas to learn from their terrible experiences.

STEVE CHASE: We had that aborted attack we’re told on the Holsworthy Army Base in Sydney. What lessons did you take out of that? Were they valuable ones?

JASON CLARE: Not only that, but the conspiracy to attack the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. Other attempts to blow up the electricity network in Sydney. I think the key point there is that there will always be people, in our community that will try to commit these acts of terror and don’t care if they kill large numbers of people. Our law enforcement agencies always need to be up to the task. The key to stopping these acts is intelligence; the collection of criminal intelligence to help to foil these plots. The things that we learn from what’s happened in the UK and the US could be crucial in that regard.

STEVE CHASE: Well, it’s probably not your portfolio but I wonder if I could ask you about this escape of seven Vietnamese Nationals from the Scherger Detention Centre at Cape York?

JASON CLARE: Sure.

STEVE CHASE: Do you consider that a security threat?

JASON CLARE: It’s not my portfolio and the Minister for Immigration has sought an urgent explanation from Serco, the private company that manages Scherger, and asking for an explanation from them about what action they’re going to take to prevent escapes like this from occurring. He’s also asked the Department of Immigration to commission a full independent review into this.

STEVE CHASE: But being the Minister for Home Affairs, you’d be worried that it’s Vietnamese involved in this one. But it could have been other nationalities, say Afghanis or people like that.

JASON CLARE: Well, put nationalities aside, Steve. This is about making sure that our facilities are secure and people who are supposed to be inside them don’t get outside. That’s the issue here. Serco’s got a responsibility to ensure that that occurs. It appears they’ve failed in that regard here and it’s important that this doesn’t happen again. That’s why the Minister has asked them for an explanation.

STEVE CHASE: And what sort of punishment is available to – against Serco if they’re found wanting in this area?

JASON CLARE: I suspect under the contract there are different penalties that the Government can impose. The most important thing here is that we shouldn’t need to do that at all. Serco need to make sure that they manage these facilities in a way that ensures that people don’t escape.

STEVE CHASE: Speaking of detention, a report you launched today with the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, shows that Aboriginal deaths in custody are on the rise again. What’s being done about that?

JASON CLARE: What the report shows is that there’s been a drop in the number of people that’ve died in custody over the last few decades.

But let’s not kid ourselves. As you say, Steve, there’s evidence here that there’s been an increase recently and rates of incarceration are still way too high. I think in the statement that we released today, we identified that the number of indigenous prisoners has almost doubled since the Royal Commission into deaths in custody. While ever there are high rates of indigenous people in custody, there’s going to be a very high risk of deaths in custody. Fixing this is bigger than just the work that we did to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, it’s bigger than what we do in law enforcement. If we’re going to fix this, we’ve got to fix the entrenched disadvantage that we see in indigenous communities.

STEVE CHASE: You’re listening to ABC News Radio Drive. Steve Chase with you and the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, is speaking with us. You’ve been talking, Minister, a lot about guns lately and efforts to get them out of the hands of criminals and I’m assuming that you’d be concerned with the development of these so-called 3D guns that the New South Wales Police Commissioner has been talking about today.

JASON CLARE: It is a threat. It’s a threat that law enforcement agencies have identified, that they’re acutely aware of. Any gun, whether it’s a plastic gun or a metal gun in the hands of a criminal is a threat. And this is one of the challenges that technology creates. The internet creates great opportunities for all of us, but it also creates opportunities for criminals and in this case, the potential to create a lethal weapon by downloading information and producing it from scratch.

STEVE CHASE: Again, you’re also the Justice Minister as well as being the Home Affairs Minister. Any scope for tightening up the law in this area to prevent the duplication, so to speak, of these 3D guns?

JASON CLARE: It’s already illegal to do that. It’s illegal to manufacture these weapons whether they’re made of plastic or steel and here in New South Wales the maximum penalty for doing that is 20 years in jail. The key is enforcing that – catching the people that do this, and again, it’s a common theme here, Steve, but it’s intelligence. It’s the information that police and other law enforcement agencies collect that’s the key to catching criminals who might want to do this. As part of that, what the Crime Commission’s doing – I spoke to them about this today – they’re bringing together analysts from different Federal law enforcement agencies as well as state police across the country to look at the potential risks and threats that this 3D technology can present. Not just in terms of the production of firearms, but other potential weapons as well.

STEVE CHASE: Earlier this year you were telling us about an overhaul of customs, amid claims that it’s under-resourced. How’s that going?

JASON CLARE: Late last year, you’ll remember, Steve, that one customs officer was arrested, alleged to be involved in importing drugs into the country. He’s one of 20 people that’ve been arrested over the last few months. Four customs officers in all. I remember at the time, I announced that, I had a phone-call in my office from a customs officer who said he’d been working for customs for 20 years, went into the same coffee shop every day proudly wearing his customs uniform, and that day he put a t-shirt over his uniform because he was so disgusted by what he’d heard a customs officer had done on the radio.

I made the point that there’s no place for corruption in our law enforcement agencies. Where we find it, we’ve got to weed it out. The Federal Police, customs and our corruption watchdog are doing a good job in making these arrests. But the next step is reform. Big structural and cultural reform and that’s being led by Justice James Wood, the man who headed up the New South Wales Royal Commission into Police is heading up the Customs Reform Board and I’m expecting to get their first report in the middle of this year. They’ve met four times already and they meet for a fifth time next week.

STEVE CHASE: You also presided over the announcement of the Crime Commission investigation into the activities of certain players with certain substances. How happy are you with the investigation so far?

JASON CLARE: It’s protracted. This investigation is taking time. It’s occurring…

STEVE CHASE: Too long?

JASON CLARE: It’s occurring quicker with the AFL than it is with the NRL. I understand that in the case of Essendon, the interviews with players are about halfway through. They’ll take a couple more weeks. The latest advice to me is it will take longer with the investigation into the NRL.

The investigations will take time but the change in behaviour has been immediate. We’ve seen a drop in the importation of these performance-enhancing drugs recently. We’ve seen one of the clinics that was providing these drugs to professional sportspeople close and not re-open.

The NRL have set up an Integrity Unit. The AFL have banned players from injecting substances and we’re getting players come forward. The Crime Commission’s also collected more information on the links between organised crime and professional sport. The investigation will take some time. I’d like it to be as quick as possible. But the change in behaviour’s been immediate.

STEVE CHASE: We’ve covered some ground this afternoon, Minister. Thanks very much for being with us.

JASON CLARE: We have indeed. Thanks very much, Steve.

STEVE CHASE: Jason Clare, the Home Affairs and Justice Minister, speaking to us live on the line from Sydney.