10 December 2020







SUBJECTS: Right wing extremism; National Stillbirth Action Plan; Political expenses; Mathias Cormann’s $4,300 an hour airplane; Stranded Australians; the Australian Labor Party. 


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Kristina Keneally thanks very much for your time. On the issue of white supremacists and that the terrorist risk from that cohort. The Government's now referred the issue to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, of which you're a member. You've been calling for that, so you'd welcome that outcome surely.


KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS:  Labor welcomes it. The Government have made this referral. Of course, Labor was preparing to move a motion in the House of Representatives to make that referral, and two weeks ago Mark Dreyfus the Shadow Attorney-General and I wrote to our counterparts Peter Dutton and Christian Porter to propose such a referral. I'd like to acknowledge that Peter Dutton worked with me - negotiated over the terms of reference, and ensured that we got a comprehensive and appropriate referral regarding extremism, particularly the new and emerging threat of right wing extremists.


GILBERT: He said that, Mr Dutton that is, I think for Senator Keneally and some others within Labor, probably at the moment speaking from a base of ignorance at the moment in relation to what's happening in efforts against combatting extremists. He said, so I think that that educative process is important, that Senator Keneally and others can learn more about what ASIO is doing. Do you see it as an educative process?


KENEALLY:  I'd like to make two comments about those remarks from Minister Dutton this morning. The first is that, there's been a great deal of consultation and consideration of the expert advice that's come before the PJCIS, as well as to me personally in my capacity as Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, in preparing this referral. And part of the challenge we face here in Australia, is that our proscription laws appear not to be fit-for-purpose to list right wing extremist groups. We're the only Five Eyes partner country that hasn't done so.


And that's the circumstance where there are groups listed in Canada and the United Kingdom that have local chapters here, and we haven't listed them. So it's reasonable to ask, "why?" There... 


We also know from ASIO that right wing extremism now accounts for some 40% of its counterterrorism work. And, ASIO has acknowledged in public hearings that some of the preventing radicalisation and community work that we've done in Islamic communities can't be directly translated to right wing extremists.


GILBERT:  So, 40% is its focus. We saw an arrest made yesterday, allegations against an 18-year old in Aulbury. Does this show to you - does this reassure you that they are on top of this?


KENEALLY:  Well, what I know from ASIO and from the AFP, and I can point to not just the private briefings I've received but also their public - their public testimony, is that they're alive to the fact that this is an increasing and accelerating threat. 


COVID has accelerated the threat of right wing extremism - it's been a near perfect environment for propaganda and radicalisation. But what we, as a Parliament have to do is determine, and take that evidence and determine if our terrorism tools - our counterterrorism tools - which have been geared toward Islamic extremism are fit-for-purpose for right wing extremism, and there's lots of evidence that that because the motivating ideology does matter, that the tools that we have could be altered and changed to meet this accelerate threat.


GILBERT: Ok, on the proscribing of groups though, is this an issue where it's importance is overstated, because I mean, if you've got, if you've got the agencies aware of the group and monitoring the groups, that's the most important thing, surely, and it's been put to me by some experts in the field that once you proscribe a group in this space they just change their name and morph into something else...


KENEALLY:  That's a really good question, I'm glad you asked it. Because proscription laws have a few consequences and objectives, and this is the case when the Howard Government brought them in. And is that... 


One, yes there is a legal consequence that gives our national security agencies legal tools they can use against the group. But it is also, and this is what was said by the Liberal Government at the time, proscription is a clear message about what we as a community reject. It sends a clear message.


We currently proscribe 27 groups, 26 are Islamist. One is the PKK. Of those 27 groups, there are many of them who have no presence in Australia, or have very little interest in Australia, but we proscribe them to send a clear message about what we reject.


The other possible change that might work in terms of right wing extremism, New Zealand proscribes individuals as terrorist entities. We can't do that under our laws. So New Zealand has proscribed Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter, as a terrorist entity - meaning you can't sell or pass on his manifesto, you can't use his name or image, you can't associate yourself with him, in any way. 


Now, that might be a very useful change in the context of right wing extremism, where they glorify individuals and their manifestos.


GILBERT:  On that New Zealand terrorist, the Royal Commission into that atrocity said that he was radicalised in Australia in the years prior to the attack. Has our response, and capacity in preventing that radicalisation improved since those events?


KENEALLY:  I'm not confident it's improved massively. I think what has improved is the awareness that our national security agencies have around right wing extremism. But our capacity to disrupt and deter people online, who are engaging with right wing extremist groups,  that's an area that that the PJCIS needs to examine, because these right wing extremist groups, some of them might operate on the dark web but a lot of them are operating in plain sight on Facebook and other social media platforms. 


They're using very positive, generally positive, notions of ethnic pride or pro-family or pro- or patriotism, but they're using them in ways that subvert people and massage them and nurture a more divisive and hatred-filled view.


And, and, in the United States, Facebook has worked with the Government there and the FBI there is very alive. In the United States, the majority of terrorist attacks that they have disrupted have come from right wing extremists. The FBI is very alive to this threat. And so they've been working with platforms like Facebook to disrupt and deter people when they're searching for certain terms or certain symbols online.


GILBERT:  Well we'll stay in touch on that issue, because it's a very important one. Sadly not one that's going to decrease in terms of its relevance in the short term. Let's talk about a few other issues though. Today the Stillbirth National Action Plan has been announced, here in Canberra, it follows on from a Parliamentary Inquiry into Stillbirth, which you had a big part in, and it's an issue close to your heart. Are you comfortable with the outcome of this action plan?


KENEALLY:  Let me say first of all, I just welcome the fact that Australia finally has a stillbirth action plan and national action plan. That's what we need to drive a dedicated focus across all the states and territories, because six babies, a day, die of stillbirth in Australia, and that is a rate that hasn't changed in 20 years.


And so the Inquiry gave the first national set of recommendations. The Government and Minister Hunt today has delivered a stillbirth - National Stillbirth Action Plan. I have, I have a couple of areas that I hope that the plan, either addresses or, or leaves a pathway to address - because I don't think we've got quite yet nailed it.


One is around stillbirth autopsies. We don't fund them in Australia. And the number one way to reduce stillbirth in my view, sits with... Well, there's two ways they work in partnership: one, is prevention and education during pregnancy, and one is the investigation of every stillbirth after it happens.


So, we need to find a way to fund stillbirth autopsies in Australia.


And secondly, we cannot look past the fact that migrant women, Indigenous women and women in rural and regional communities have much higher rates of stillbirth, and that is something we have to take on tackle.


GILBERT:  So, work, work to do but as you said a good, a good start with the action plan in place.


Now on to a less worthy issue I guess, in the sense... The controversy around politicians' expenses. It always generates a fair bit of attention. And today, Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business has repaid eight and a half grand for business travel for his family to all the way back in 2012. He did it quietly in fact earlier in the year. Should politicians be upfront about this in order to pass the pub test, because it's, it's not a great look to be doing it under, you know, a cover of secrecy, is it?


KENEALLY:  I remember this story back when it broke a few years ago and Tony Burke spoke to it then. I haven't had a chance to speak to him today about his decision to repay the flights, but I think - my understanding is that the flights were approved by the parliamentary officials, but yet he took a decision it didn't meet community expectations, and he has decided in his conscience to meet up to community - what he judges are appropriate community expectations. So I applaud him for that.


You know, I have to say though, when I hear stories like this, and think about the fact that we all have to be very accountable for the use of public money. I'm just going to be blunt and say, you know, we've got Mathias Cormann flying around the world in a $4,300 an hour airplane, in order for him to apply for what is essentially a private job, not a government appointed job. And, yet we still have 40,000 stranded Australians who can't get a flight back. 


So if I'm talking about the use of public money for flights, I would like to see the Commonwealth Government create a federal quarantine facility, use its resources whether they be RAAF flights or, or sending out Qantas planes and get these stranded Australians home.


GILBERT: Well, they will haven't met that target. Just to stay on that issue of Christmas - for all those of us that 40,000 still remain stranded, what's your priority heading into 2021, is it beyond just Australians getting home? Because surely we have to start looking at other issue, issues like the issue of foreign students and that sort of thing, given the flow on economic impact?


KENEALLY:  So the borders closed 265 days ago. We have had the international, the cap on international arrivals came in about 150 days ago, and about 125 days ago Jane Halton handed the Prime Minister report on hotel quarantine. And yet the Government has not changed anything about hotel quarantine. And Jane Halton says, it's not sustainable. 14 days for everyone in a hotel is not sustainable.


Kieran, we need to find ways for people to be able to cross the border confidently and safely. We're going to be living with this virus for some time. Tourism, universities, and families need to have the confidence that they can get across this border.


GILBERT: Okay. And finally, Anthony Albanese his, his leadership's been the focus of a bit of attention lately. A lot of your colleagues believe he's not cutting through. One of your senior colleagues said to me this week, compared him to Simon Crean's leadership. What do you think he needs to do to revitalise his and Labor's prospects? And, you know, for the moment Scott Morrison look very hard to beat doesn't he?


KENEALLY:  Well you know the power of incumbency is a significant one during the COVID pandemic, and unless you're like, dare I say the United, the outgoing United States President, and you've mismanaged it so badly, that the public has lost confidence in you... But across Australia we have seen that haven't we? Leaders who are incumbent are enjoying a great deal of confidence from the community.


I have to say during the pandemic, I'm quite pleased with how Albo has led us because when some people might have felt we should have been more aggressive towards the Government, he rightly judged that the community expected us to be constructive. And now that we are moving out of the crisis phase of the the COVID, the health crisis phase, and into the economic implications, it's time to take it up to the Government, and that's what Albo is doing. When you look at the issues around you, the Morrison pay cut.


GILBERT:  So he can turn it around, you think?


KENEALLY:  Oh look, I think Anthony, we know one thing, he's a fighter. And he fights for people, he fights for families, he fights for childcare. You know the childcare announcement from Anthony just resonates in any family you talk to.


They know down to the penny, how much they're spending on childcare and how much they're going to lose if they work a fourth or fifth day. You know, the childcare calculator that Anthony's launched, launched, has helped families understand what it is that Anthony Albanese represents, which is support for working families, to be able to get ahead in the economic recovery.


GILBERT: The Shadow Home Affairs Minister there Kristina Keneally.