13 September 2001

JOURNALIST: The Howard Government is continuing to pledge its support to the United States and moves are underway to guard Australia against similar attacks. Defence Minister, Peter Reith, says security around the country's border controls will need to be upgraded.

REITH: One area where we are very close is in respect of intelligence matters and we don't talk about intelligence matters but you can imagine we would work closely with the US on those sort of matters on a day by day basis.

JOURNALIST: Well, having raised the question of intelligence that appears to be one of the problems in the United States at the moment, they did not have any advance intelligence of this attack. Are you concerned by that?

REITH: Well, I suppose of course we are concerned about that although it's a bit hard to be judgemental about a set of facts when you don't really know what all the facts are and I'd prefer to sort of wait and see what the circumstances were, who knew what and when etc before making any judgements. But it certainly points to a simple reality and that is that there will have to be more resources into intelligence and security and border protection, I should say, in the future because there's just no question we have got to do more to make sure this can't happen in the future.

JOURNALIST: And, of course, this means in Australia as well. So a greater emphasis on intelligence gathering and a greater emphasis on border protection in Australia?

REITH: The Howard Government has already been putting more money into some of these areas. That was one of the strong points about the White Paper, why we have been saying it should never be cut back because, you know, we have poured more additional resources into these areas and you have got to have the technological edge, the knowledge edge as we call it for this whole area of security and the like. And so that is certainly a very high priority for us.

JOURNALIST: But it does appear that Australia's borders are very easily penetrated?

REITH: They are certainly too easily penetrated and that is why we have been taking a very strong stand on this issue. That is why in the Federal Court today, the full Federal Court, we will be putting the proposition in laymen's terms, I should say, that we should be able to use the Defence Forces to deal with people who are coming into this country illegally. That is why we thought that the decision of Mr Justice North is wrong. I think it was bad for Australia, it might be good for people smugglers but it's certainly bad for Australia and quite frankly if we can't use a defence force to protect our territorial integrity what can we use it for. So, no, these are very significant issues. Jim Kelly, I should say, who is the number two to Colin Powell for our region was in Jakarta only 10 days ago saying that it was very important to tighten up on entry into Indonesia otherwise it could be used as a launching pad for terrorist activities. And that was before, you know, the last couple of horrific days. So those issues, security and border protection go hand in hand, there's no two ways about it and that's certainly one of the reasons that the Howard Government is taking a very strong stand on the issue.

JOURNALIST: So perhaps then the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, is on the right track when he says we need a Coast Guard?

REITH: Oh look, a Coast Guard is just a complete waste of time. I mean, why would you want to take the Australian Navy out of the equation. I mean, I just, I find that a completely unbelievable proposition. It would cost you a whole lot of money on using his own methodology it would cost you a billion dollars and you'd be taking the Royal Australian Navy out of protecting Australia's waters.

Now, quite frankly, if you are looking for a deterrence what's more, and what's a greater deterrent to illegal activity? Well, I say it's the Royal Australian Navy and the dirty great big Navy ship instead of some Coast Guard manned by a whole army of bureaucrats. This is a crazy idea. We are totally opposed to it. He's just putting it up because in the first instance he thinks it sounds popular but it's a very bad idea and he himself when he was responsible for this issue a few years ago said it was a bad idea. So, no, it's not going to do anything for us. In fact, it'll cost us a packet and it would be less effective than the most effective thing you can do and that is put the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force into the job of protecting our coastline which is the job that they are paid to do.

JOURNALIST: Peter Reith, thank you very much.

REITH: Thanks John.


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