Questions about Counter-Terrorism Preparedness

 Ms RYALL (Ringwood) — I grieve for all who value peace, freedom, safety and our way of life. The latest London attacks of terrorism bring to the fore the lengths that those who hate what we value will go to to destroy it. This is a war. It is not a conventional war, but it is nonetheless a war. We are under attack, and it is an attack on the very freedoms and way of life that our diggers fought for so that we may have those freedoms. If those men and women could see now that what they had fought so valiantly for is under attack, they would want us to stand, they would want us to fight and they would want us to hold strong to what they fought for. That in itself means that we have an obligation to fight just like they did for our continued freedoms and our continued way of life, because the alternative cannot be countenanced. It cannot be contemplated. If we do not, then what our diggers fought for and died for would be in vain.


Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the shocking act of terror in London where two Australians were murdered by freedom-hating terrorists and other Australians were injured. For us in Australia the fight must not stop; more must be done. We cannot assume that we are safe tucked away on an island where our freedoms are protected. Our freedom of speech — like our freedom of association, our freedom to come and go as we like, our freedom to love and the freedom of our way of life including our democratic freedoms, our political freedoms, our economic freedoms and our religious freedoms — can never be taken for granted. People are being killed just simply because they are living the very freedoms provided by those who fought for them, and that reveals an obligation to prevent terrorism in all its forms.


Andrew Hastie, the federal member for Canning, wrote this weekend just past that since 2014, $1.5 billion has been invested in border security and terrorist threat protection, and he referred to federal legislation empowering our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that has been enacted to ‘disrupt our enemies upstream’. ‘ASIO, our shield against unseen arrows, is doing a superb job of disrupting terror plots in Australia, and it works 24/7 to keep us safe’, he said. We also need to be able to respond immediately if and when these inhumane savages — these Islamist jihadists, these extremists — strike.


It is reported that three terrorists were shot by London police within 8 minutes of notification, and that response will be reviewed and learned from, which is standard practice for any emergency response. That response was immediate, and should be immediate, in relation to those attacks because you need to deal with the imminent threats that come upon us and the imminent threat to so many more innocent people.


That brings me to the MH128 Malaysia Airlines flight which returned to Melbourne after a man tried to enter the cockpit and threatened to blow up the plane. The London attacks bring this closer to home when we think what if that had been a terrorist incident? Reports out of London as this most recent attack unfolded were that they were uncertain in the initial stages as to whether it was a terrorist event, but regardless it was treated as such. Many including those on board MH128 have rightly stated their concern, and that was about being left sitting on the flight on the tarmac for a period of time while no-one really knew if the device was a bomb or not. And who would not be concerned? I am not sure I would have been as calm as perhaps some of them were in relation to being fearful of whether a bomb was on board and just accepting the silence and the sitting.


The point is that our lives are in the hands of those brave and courageous people who are trained to respond and rescue us, and if anything delays what they know needs to happen and what they know they are wanting to do, then we have a problem. The question remains: did anything get in that way? That is the question. Was standard operating procedure followed? And if not — —


Ms Neville interjected.


Ms RYALL — I will pick up that interjection. The Minister for Police said the standard operating procedure was followed. If not, the question is: did that delay place anyone at risk?


Miranda Devine, in her piece on the weekend titled ‘In-flight terror — looks like we’re on our own’ identifies standard emergency practice. She says:


If the threat is made in the air, the pilot lands and taxis to an isolated spot on the tarmac, to ‘deplane passengers immediately and move them to a secure area’, as stated in Los Angeles airport’s emergency procedures manual, the Global Aviation Information Network’s Cabin Safety Compendium and any number of aviation security guides.


She goes on to illustrate nine cases internationally in the last 12 months where that very action has occurred around the world — on two flights in Dubai, and one each in Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Kolkata, Bangkok, Brisbane, Gothenburg and New York.


Today in the Herald Sun it was reported that a bomb scare on a Virgin Australia flight from Sydney to Albury led to a deplaning immediately upon landing. The bomb threat was left on a note on a sick bag in the aircraft toilet, as reported by the Herald Sun. That was found, as reported by the Herald Sun, 15 minutes prior to landing. It appears that flight MH128 in Victoria was handled a bit differently, and I simply raise the point: why would the minister, or indeed the Premier, try to shut down anyone who might raise a question about the delay in deplaning? I note that the minister berated the Leader of the Opposition.


Ms Neville interjected.


The SPEAKER — Order! Without the assistance of the Minister for Police.


Ms RYALL — I just note for the record that the Minister for Police is continually interjecting and trying to interrupt what I am saying. Richard Willingham quoted the minister in a tweet as having said, ‘to question the operational tactics are appalling’ — that is what the minister said — and demanded that the opposition leader apologise to staff.


Ms RYALL — The thing is, Minister, he is not the only one raising concerns or questions. I raise concerns and questions, as do many Victorians. I think it takes a certain type of arrogance to slam those who are genuinely concerned, those who want to know if — just if — the reason for leaving a plane full of passengers on board for 90 minutes, without knowing if the bomb threat was real they want to know if it was the right thing to do. The Chief Commissioner of Police and the Leader of the Opposition are as one on the necessity to review and take any learnings from that to improve. That really highlights the problem, like the Premier, with this government: they are always defending the status quo, whether it be parole, bail, sentencing or in this case dealing with threats to safety.


As we know, the first job of any government is protecting the safety of its residents, and when the alternative Premier raises a concern it is because he has the safety of Victorian residents front and centre in his mind. When the alternative Premier asks questions, he is asking them on behalf of all Victorians. Why? Because in the wake of yet another attack on our way of life in London and with the bombings we want to be sure that if an event like MH128 were to happen tomorrow, and if it was real, if it was real, God forbid, we want to know that those on board would have the best possible chance of survival.


Ms Neville interjected.


Ms RYALL — I think the minister did not listen to what I said — I said ‘if’. All Victorians want to be certain that the risk posed to those on board by leaving them for that extended period of time after taxiing to a secure spot — —


Honourable members interjecting.


Ms RYALL — Sorry, I am going to repeat myself, Speaker, because I cannot hear myself think because of the interjections from those opposite.


The SPEAKER — Order! Government members will come to order.


Ms RYALL — All Victorians want to be certain that the risk posed to those on board by leaving them on the plane for that period of time until the critical response members entered the plane was warranted. That is the right thing to do. It is okay to ask questions. It is extraordinary that those opposite are trying to shut me down for even raising the point that questions are okay.


It is about the systems, it is about the practices that sit behind counterterrorism preparedness and responses and anything that might impede or compromise those. Because the average Jo, like me — albeit I am someone who does have risk management experience and knowledge — is having trouble understanding what happened. We are asking ourselves, ‘Did someone get in the way of getting everyone off the plane in the soonest possible time? Was the right thing done?’. If it happened tomorrow and it was an explosive, would the same thing happen? This is not something that can wait for a review that takes an extended period of time. Reviews need to happen promptly. I certainly know from the emergency drills that we did in tunnels and on rooftops that reviews of those were done immediately, because you can never anticipate all of the moving parts in an emergency.


As I said, it is not something that can wait; it needs to be done now. Victorians need that assurance. They do not need the how, they just need to know: were there issues? Have they been rectified? And are we prepared? Are they assured? As the London terror attacks unfolded, as innocent people were mowed down on the pavement, it felt for me like the alarm and shock that we all felt as people were mowed down in Bourke Street. It is a different event, but as I monitored those events in London as they unfolded from that very first tweet, I was so grateful that the time from notification to authorities eliminating the three terrorists was 8 minutes. I thought, ‘Thank God it did not go on any longer’.


While members of the government will try and dissect what I am saying, as they have, and present it out of context, as they always do, it is incumbent on an opposition to ask questions on behalf of Victorians.


Ms RYALL — While the Premier and the Minister for Police may jump to attack anyone, as the Minister for Police is now, who dares question anything, it would be remiss of us not to ask questions. We would not be fulfilling our duty to the Victorian people as an opposition if we did not do this. A government that has a decent set of values at its core, that is competent and on top of governing and that takes seriously its primary responsibility and obligation to keep Victorians safe would not try to shut down debate but would try to give answers to reassure Victorians. Given the tragic events in Bourke Street, the loss of life, the horror, the heartache and the ongoing trauma experienced by those impacted, would we be able to respond in a similar time frame to the police in London if an event like that was carried out by an extremist?


One thing I will not resile from is asking questions. They are hard questions, I know. They are often difficult, but they are ones that Victorians want answers to. Victorians have a right to be confident that, if a violent terrorist attack happened on the scale of London, we would be sufficiently prepared and protected. That is a natural thing that people want to know. Many of us have family and friends who are police officers and who do an amazing job in incredibly difficult circumstances. They need to be confident too that they are not being second-guessed and that they have the authority, the direction and at times the discretion to do what they need to do.


Our courageous police put themselves in the line of fire, as they did in Brighton on Monday. They are heroes. They were ambushed by someone who should not have been on parole. If community expectations were the measure, that person should not have been on parole. The criminal not only killed an innocent man but also ambushed our police and shot three of them. This man had a long list of crimes to his name and terrorist links. The Premier said that the intelligence agencies have a very close working relationship with Victoria Police. He said that in Parliament. This man, in addition to having terrorist links, had committed a litany of crimes in the past, and many members of this house have gone over those.


Why should our brave and courageous police and counterterrorism officers sacrifice their safety and potentially their lives when we have got a justice system that is not up to the task of protecting them or Victorians from those who should be locked up and not on the streets? This is our state’s justice system, so I would suggest that instead of blaming Canberra, if the Premier cannot run a parole system that keeps Victorians safe, he should resign. He should give his job up.


In question time the Premier said that all the Callinan reforms have been implemented, but the first has not been implemented, and that is IT systems to enable the Adult Parole Board of Victoria to quickly assess relevant intelligence and understand the risk a person poses to the community. The Premier cannot have it both ways. On the one hand he says everything has been implemented, and on the other hand it is clear that it has not.


We are two and a half years into this government’s term — more than halfway — and I come back to where I started: our diggers, those who fought and died for our freedoms. We owe it to them not to run up the white flag and not to accept violent extremism as part of contemporary Australia but to do everything we can to protect our way of life.