Press Conference with Attorney General Nicola Roxon and US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Canberra


NICOLA ROXON: Thank you very much for coming here today. My name’s Nicola Roxon and I’m the Attorney-General and it’s wonderful to be here with Secretary Janet Napolitano and of course my colleague Jason Clare, the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs.

What you’ve just witnessed is the signing of four very important agreements between the United States and Australia and what this really does is further our already very strong cooperation in the important areas of national security, but really takes another step in some of the areas of growing concern where cooperation and increased cooperation is going to be very important to both our countries.

So we’re delighted that you’ve been able to be here to work with us on these projects, in particular in the area of the agreement that I signed, Secretary, which is dealing with countering transnational crime. We are very keen to work closely with the US as the administration agencies already have strong relationships because we do see that a range of criminal activity now is, of course, occurring across national waters and the source of information that we share, the risk that we need to be alert to, the professionalism and techniques that various of our officials and law enforcement agencies need really can be enhanced by sharing expertise, advice and, where appropriate, information.

And this agreement allows us to continue working as commenced in some areas, but really needs to be strengthened in other areas.

In particular, the Secretary and I also talked about sharing between our countries investments and strategies to counter violent extremism and to be able to share information really about what sorts of things we should look for, what might lead individuals down a path of radicalisation.

So, for example, the agreement will allow us to share findings from research and ways to tackle, counter violent extremism, experience best practice techniques. Both our countries have relatively new programs in this area that are starting to prove some success and we want to be able to share that information with each other.

We also, of course, by strengthening this relationship can improve information about the threats to our countries. Some of those threats are ones that are home grown, some of those threats are international ones and being able to share more information with each other is very important.

And of particular interest, I think, to many people who have been following recent developments in the last couple of days, being able to identify the sort of violent or extreme information which is distributed through the internet is increasingly becoming an issue of concern to both countries. So enabling more cooperation in detecting and addressing extremist messages which can be sent across our borders is going to be very important.

We do, as I also mentioned, want to be able to share information about ways that we can reach out to communities that might be vulnerable and at risk of radicalisation. And, again, there’s no magic answer to the way that we do that in our communities, so being able to share the experiences that different agencies and governments and communities have is, I think, something that will improve more of our efforts.

I’m looking forward, Secretary, to a visit to Washington just in two weeks’ time. I know that a number of these issues will be able to be furthered there, but we’re delighted that you’ve been able to be here for this visit, and I might ask you to make a few comments, if you’d like, before our Minister for Justice.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Very good. Thank you Attorney-General; Minister Clare. I am pleased to join you today and I thank you for your strong commitment to enhancing cooperation between the United States and Australia.

Our two nations have a strong partnership that goes back well over a hundred years. We share an unwavering commitment to the security of the Asia-Pacific region and the need to protect our citizens from threats of terrorism and violent extremism.

We recognise the importance of robust trade and travel between our countries and their links to the global economy. And we believe in the fundamental rights and liberties of all of our peoples and the need to protect privacy as we work to enhance security.

The joint statements we have signed today will advance our goals in each of these areas. We will collaborate more closely to protect the global supply chain that not only connects the economies of the United States and Australia, but the entire world.

By sharing information and best practices, we will seek to reduce the unlawful transport of dangerous materials across the supply chain, protect its most critical elements and enhance its resiliency.

By improving our cooperation on international targeting, we also will enhance our ability to share information to identify potentially threatening individuals and cargo and take appropriate action. Our collaboration on immigration and customs issues is already strong. This will strengthen it further.

We will also explore participation by our citizens in each other’s expedited traveller programs so that as we take steps to protect our shared transportation networks, we will continue to facilitate travel between our countries for Americans and Australians alike.

And we have agreed to share best practices and strategies with respect to countering terrorism and violent extremism. Both of our countries have suffered immense national tragedies at the hands of terrorists and violent extremists, on 9/11, in Bali and in other instances as well.

Today we stand together in our determination to combat these evolving threats and we will work together to make sure that they do not happen again.

The United States and Australia may be oceans apart, but we are tied to the same global economy and we both face threats that can only be confronted through sustained international collaboration and action.

We are grateful to have such a strong partnership with you and I look forward to working with both of you as we continue to ensure the security of our countries and the broader Asia-Pacific region.

Thank you.

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you, Secretary.

Just a few comments from Minister Clare and then we’ll take your questions.

JASON CLARE: Well, welcome Secretary Napolitano. We’ve had some great meetings today.

You mentioned the strong partnership between Australia and the United States and it is a strong partnership, we’re great friends and our law enforcement agencies have a very strong partnership as well. They already work very closely together and the agreements that we have struck today are about making sure our law enforcement agencies work even more closely together.

We talked in our meeting about the importance of intelligence and sharing intelligence. It’s something I talk about all the time, the importance of gathering criminal intelligence and using it to fight crime and the importance of sharing that intelligence, sharing it between state authorities and federal authorities, but also sharing it between authorities from different countries.

Because in an age where drug dealers are seeking to import drugs between countries and all around the world, it’s the information that our law enforcement agencies share that help to tackle that at its core.

So, the agreements that we’ve signed today are about making sure that we increase the amount of information and intelligence we share and improving the way in which we target and risk assess and profile cargo and passengers.

The other important agreement I wanted to draw attention to is the work we’re doing to make it easier for Australian and American frequent travellers travelling between our two countries.

Australia has a system at our major international airports called SmartGate and it means that when you’re coming into Australia or for Australians coming home from overseas, they can scan their passport instead of waiting in a queue to have their passport stamped.

And the agreement that we’ve struck today means we’re going to work together for frequent American travellers to be able to get access to that system. It means getting through customs easier and getting to the business meeting that they want to do in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide, Perth or Brisbane.

Likewise, America has a system called Global Entry and we’re working together to see if we can enable frequent Australian travellers to the United States to get access to the Global Entry program. It means getting through LAX quickly, it means getting into the United States quicker to do business and it’s another example of our close relationship, our strong partnership.

We’re working together to make sure that our borders are strong and that the business people, Australians and Americans, working here and overseas get to do that work that they want to do as quickly and easily as possible.

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: First, Secretary, what can Australia and others learn from the release we’ve just seen of the Osama Bin Laden papers?

And a question for you, Minister. What is the risk of home grown terrorism here?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well I think the release of the Bin Laden papers, they, in some respects, speak for themselves. But I think we all recognise that the killing of Bin Laden was a significant event and a significant degradement in al-Qaeda’s capabilities, but certainly not the end of those capabilities nor the end of terrorism at large.

So as we look forward and realise that we live in a world involving threat, terrorist threat and the like. That’s why we put such a premium on the intelligence sharing, the information sharing, the other kinds of things that are represented in the agreements we signed today.

NICOLA ROXON: With respect to home-grown terrorism, our agencies have already been on the record and the situation hasn’t changed that that risk is still real. We can’t pretend in Australia that we are immune from the threats that exist in other countries and it’s why we’ve been so determined to make sure that we do have all of the necessary intelligence in place, that we do work closely with anyone from overseas. We have Australians travelling to and from countries all the time. Some of those might be of risk, a concern to communities and others here.

And we know – we’ve had one through our courts and we’ve had convictions where we’ve been able to foil home-grown plots of terrorism to cause harm against Australians, and we know that this is something that is a small risk but with deadly consequences. And that’s why we’re so determined to make sure that we use all of the options available to us to make sure that our police agencies have the powers that they need, that we respond, the really good work that Minister Clare’s been doing and working with the states and territories in dealing with gun issues and bike crimes and others.

Some of these are very local, some of them have strong international links that we have to be aware of and is why we are keen to make sure that our – already very close and cooperative working relationship with the US and other partners continues because that way we can identify and take action when we find people in Australia who are intent on causing harm and do all we can to stop it.

JOURNALIST: Madam Secretary, could I just ask you, several weeks ago there was an incident in England, an Australian citizen was leaving an airport there – her name’s Jennifer Robinson, a Rhodes scholar and the former lawyer for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. There was some issue with her leaving, there were suggestions obviously that it might have had something to do with the American Intelligence Community, they were interested in what she was doing. Can you give us an assurance that the American Intelligence Community didn’t have anything to do with that? And if I could also ask the Attorney-General, this kind of increased intelligence cooperation tends to also lead to increased sharing of the information of Australians [unclear] information on Australian citizens. Have we seen today with the signing of these agreements, will more information be shared between the two countries?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I have to say I’m unfamiliar with the incident that you referenced and so I care not to comment.

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you. Look, when we say that we want to increase and improve cooperation, of course it still means that we will do that within the constraints of our laws, which means that information is shared where it meets particular thresholds. Of course we have for a long time and will continue to share information with other partners when someone is involved or we fear is involved in criminal activity. That sort of information, I think Australian citizens expect us to share with others. But there are very tight constraints around what can and can’t be shared.

This agreement doesn’t change that. But what it means is that we can continue to cooperate very closely in sharing where there are risks, what trends change, whether there are people of particular interest. And the US and Australia and our law enforcement agencies have had very strong partnerships for a long time. This enhances in an environment where we have new threats, new risks, more online activity, more information that’s obtained, more transnational crime which relies on activity that might travel through different countries. We need to be aware of all of that and that’s why we want to keep working so closely with the US in improving those relationships and I think these agreements today allow us to do that.

JOURNALIST: Could I ask both the Secretary and Minister, if you’re talking about the trade in drugs and so on, is there any evidence that – what evidence is there that the international drug trade is being curtailed by agreements like this and actions taken by [unclear]?

JANET NAPOLITANO: I think there’s a lot of evidence and the first place to look are the actual criminal cases that are being tried. We have in the United States brought more cases, seized more drugs, more contraband, more guns than ever before and we’re not sitting on our laurels and claiming victory, but we are showing that really good law enforcement work that’s based on good intelligence and information sharing can be very effective. Another example would be just pointing to the southwest border of the United States, [unclear] border Mexico and showing that the violent crime rates there either stayed the same or have dropped remarkably over the last several years even though there’s been a quite strong cartel presence within Mexico.

NICOLA ROXON: I’m going to hand over to Minister Clare particularly to comment on this because obviously the work of our customs agencies, which is responsible, is very much dependent on good information and intelligence from our partners overseas.

JASON CLARE: It’s a good question. Here’s a statistic that tells the story. Ninety-six per cent of the drugs that we seize at the border are from intelligence, criminal intelligence that we received before the drugs ever arrive in Australia. And the advice of the Federal Police is that most of that intelligence comes from overseas, comes from law enforcement authorities in other parts of the world, whether it’s America, South-East Asia or Europe. So it’s the information sharing between law enforcement authorities across the world that helps to stop drugs getting into all the different countries of the world. You’ve got to collect the information and share it with other countries if you want to stop drugs getting into Australia, America or anywhere else.

JOURNALIST: Does this agreement represent Australia wanting more information from the US? Do you think Australia will benefit from getting more information, more cooperation from the US, particularly in terms of drugs coming out of Mexico and so on?

JASON CLARE: What it reflects is that the more information you share, the better. I made in my introductory remarks the point that we already do that, we already work very, very closely together. The Australian Federal Police works very closely with the FBI, works very closely with the ATF. Our customs work very closely with American customs, and you don’t see the results of that every day on the front page of the newspaper but we see it coming past our desks, the work that’s done that stops drugs getting into the country, that helps to break up organised criminal syndicates. But what this agreement recognises is that there’s always more work to do here and the more closely we work together the more successful we all will be.

JOURNALIST: Perhaps I could just ask a question – I’m not sure if we’re going to be provided more information on these things, but the cooperative targeting assessment – agreement – could…

NICOLA ROXON: That’s one for Jason…

JASON CLARE: Yeah. And again, this – it goes to my previous answer about the sharing of information but it also goes to working more closely together in targeting and risk assessing people and cargo. The days of being able to open up the suitcase of every person who comes through a country are gone. The way of international travel now is that it’s done based on intelligence and it’s done based on risk assessment. You profile individuals. That’s just the way that it works, and by sharing information and techniques here, it means that we can do the work that we need to do to reduce the risks to both of our borders.

NICOLA ROXON: Okay, thank you very much. Look, I do understand you’re after more information. I don’t think there’s any suggestion that these agreements aren’t going to be released, we can provide that information to you. Thank you again, Secretary, for being here. We wish you a wonderful trip for the rest of the short time you’re here in Brisbane and elsewhere and look forward to seeing you in the United States in a couple of weeks’ time. Thank you very much.