Tue, 19 Dec 2023 - 11:13



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




19 December 2023


TOM CONNELL: Convicted terrorist Abdul Benbrika will be released. He's been held in either detention or prison since 2009 due owing to terror offences. Joining me live now is shadow government Services Minister Paul Fletcher Thanks for your time. The government said it pushed for the strongest possible measure in the circumstances, this is going to be a supervision order with dozens of conditions on it. What's your reaction to that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, what we've seen is that this government does a very poor job at keeping Australians safe. We saw the immigration minister release over 140 dangerous hardcore criminals into the community. On this occasion, there's no reason that Australians should have confidence in the actions that the Attorney-General, Mr. Dreyfus has taken. The fact is that Mr. Benbrika is one of Australia's most dangerous terrorists. He was convicted of plotting to carry out very dangerous attacks in public places like sports grounds and so on. And Australians would rightly be wondering, why is somebody like this being left to run free in the community?

TOM CONNELL: There was one witness saying he had those specific plots in mind. I should mention his convictions were not around specific plots, but nonetheless, you go to whether he is one of the most dangerous terrorists in the country. This is what the judge has had to say today. The Supreme Court judge, she said that of Mr. Benbrika, um, he has made substantial progress towards Deradicalisation. The risk of offending is now low enough. It can be managed by Mr. Benbrika living in the community on a strict ESO. Do we need to have confidence in the Supreme Court judge on that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, I think the question that Australians will be asking is whether the Minister for immigration and the Commonwealth Attorney-General have taken sufficient steps to keep  Australians safe from, uh, the threat posed by somebody who was charged and convicted of very serious terrorist offences. What we know from the way this government has conducted itself over the past several months is that it was asleep at the wheel in terms of having a response ready to go when the High Court came down with a judgement. What we know is that the Immigration Minister, released initially more than 80 hardcore criminals into the community. That number ballooned to over 140.  And the government, the Albanese Labor government, was very resistant to taking any steps to protect the safety of Australians until the opposition insisted that changes be made, made to legislation and indeed we drafted many of those changes. So Australians would rightly have real doubts as to whether the Attorney-General, the Minister for immigration and the Albanese Labor government, in fact, are committed to keeping Australians safe.

TOM CONNELL: Is it important, though, not to unduly concern the community? You described before Abdul Benbrika as the most dangerous terrorist in Australia The judge has said the evidence clearly establishes this is after listening to a lot of evidence, which I haven't been in court for. I'm assuming you haven't looked through at all. The evidence clearly establishes Mr. Benbrika has been making substantial progress towards De-radicalisation in recent years, and he's now a low enough level of risk. Don't we need to factor that in to to comments about this case?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the clear point is that under a coalition government, we were very alive to the risks, presented by people who had come to Australia in particular circumstances. And of course, in the case of Mr. Benbrika, the then Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, removed his Australian citizenship under legislation we had passed to allow that to happen,

TOM CONNELL: Which was knocked out by the courts, though?


TOM CONNELL: that was found to be unlawful.

PAUL FLETCHER: Indeed. We considered that to be an appropriate policy response. But of course, now what we have is a government that is -

TOM CONNELL: But not a legal one.

PAUL FLETCHER: now we have a government that is not focused on these risks that has been passive and reactive, rather than being proactive on these matters, as we saw with the extraordinary spectacle of the government being caught flat footed and not having a plan, and in the result, releasing more than 140 hardened criminals into the community. And it was only at the opposition's insistence that they took some measures such as requiring monitoring devices, ankle devices,  to be applied to these people. So, um, unfortunately, Australians have every reason to be very sceptical of the commitment of the Albanese Labor government to keeping the community safe

TOM CONNELL: Want to ask you about where we're ending the political year on what's obviously improved fortunes for the coalition, according to the polling. You've done relatively well at, uh, not bringing down the labor government but bringing down its reputation, I suppose. Do you consider it? Are you going to go for a sort of small target strategy, or will we see a lot of bold new policies from the coalition to try to not just wean voters away from Labor, but attract them to the Liberal Party again?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the first thing we've been doing is every responsible opposition does is to hold the government to account and point out the contrast between what they promised. $275 reduction in power prices was promised. What they've delivered is $1,000 increase in the typical bill. They were promised that Australians would be better off. We've seen cost of living pressures right across the economy. Mr. Albanese promised that quote "mortgages will be cheaper under me." Instead, we've seen some 12 increases in interest rates, mortgage interest rates in a row under this government. We've seen a government that is chaotic when it comes to dealing with the challenges that every government faces, such as a High Court decision on immigration detention. And the government was caught flat footed and took weeks to have a response. And we've seen a government that's completely chaotic on matters like for example, should Qatar Airways be permitted to have additional flights, thus offering additional choice to Australians? The minister, Catherine King, rejected that application. She's now just granted an application for Turkish Airlines now that, on its face would seem to be a good thing to do, but it's very unclear as to why there's been such inconsistencies. So in a whole range of areas, I think Australians is that they've seen the way this government has operated, are increasingly losing confidence, and the opposition has worked to highlight the failings of this government. Of course, we've also rolled out responsible policy suggestions and will be continuing to develop policy in the next year and in the period up to the next election.

TOM CONNELL: Paul Fletcher, appreciate your time. Thank you, thank you.