01 June 2017
Subjects: Malaysia Airlines incident in Melbourne, terrorism
Question: Firstly your response to what has happened in Melbourne with this plane hijacking. It would be quite a terrifying experience for those on board.
Darren Chester: Well first of all, I have to acknowledge that it was a worrying event, particularly for the passengers and crew on board, and I’m sure they have been through a pretty tough evening. What they thought was going to be an uneventful flight ended up with an incident which involved subduing a passenger and returning to Melbourne. So I am very thankful that the passengers and the crew worked well together, as I understand, to subdue this individual. From the early reports it appears that one of the passengers has attempted to gain access to the cockpit, he didn’t manage to achieve that—and keep in mind we have security protocols on board our planes with hardened cockpit security doors—but it would have been a worrying event for all involved.
Question: But what does this say about the security procedures in place that this man was even allowed on the flight?
Darren Chester: We need to wait until the dust settles over this and we fully assess what has actually transpired. The early reports aren’t always the most accurate reports in these types of incidents. We have all seen some footage and some photographs of what occurred, but we need to actually understand what has transpired. The early reports indicate that a passenger attempted to gain access to the cockpit and he was unsuccessful and he was subdued, certainly by passengers and maybe crew as well.
Now, as I understand it, the review of the security screening arrangements indicated that the equipment was all working so 100 per cent of passengers and luggage on board the aircraft were screened, as this occurs in the routine course of business on major airports here in Australia. So the message, I guess, to the Australian travelling public more generally is that if they’re travelling for business or travelling for pleasure, we have excellent security protocols here in Australia, but from time to time incidents do occur and we respond appropriately.
Question: Will there be a formal investigation into this?
Darren Chester: We are constantly reviewing our security protocols and constantly reviewing any activities that are deemed to be a threat to the travelling public, so that is an ongoing process. In terms of this actual incident, we will do a full and thorough assessment of what has occurred from the moment the passenger got on board the aircraft, to what occurred on the aircraft, and then the response from the security agencies. So naturally our number one priority is the safety of the Australian travelling public and we want to make sure we have got our best possible security protocols in place to ensure the safety and the wellbeing of the passengers and crew on board our aircraft.
Question: This is yet another incident involving Malaysia Airlines; does this raise any further questions about the protocols in place with that airline specifically?
Darren Chester: No, not at all. I think Malaysia Airlines has had a pretty tough time. MH17 was obviously a strike from a missile which was just extraordinary; the MH370 mystery continues and obviously that is extraordinarily troubling for the families of the passengers and crew on board; and now MH128, but it could have been any aircraft in the sense that it was an unruly passenger seeking to gain access to the cockpit. The police have been quick to indicate that it doesn’t appear to be a terrorism related offence, it seems more of a mental health issue. So the passengers and the crew have worked to subdue this individual, the passengers and crew have all returned safely and this is very, very positive news for us all.
But in terms of my role, and in terms of the Office of Transport Security, it is important that we assess the incident and get a better understanding of what occurred, and whether any changes need to be made in the future.
Question: Do you agree with Tony Abbott’s suggestions that there is some pussyfooting around the link between terrorism and Islam?
Darren Chester: Look, I think we have got to call it out for when we see it. If you have got extremist activity which is leading into terrorism related activities, call it out when you see it. But at the same time, you can’t label people on the basis of their religion across the board. There are people who claim to practice a wide varieties of religions around the world who do bad things and I wouldn’t want to label people because they are associated with a certain church.
Question: In that regard, you are suggesting that it is delicate issue and therefore it is something you should pussyfoot around then?
Darren Chester: Well I don’t think I’d use the word pussyfoot. My view of it is: if you have people who are extremists, preaching violence, doing the wrong—whether they be involved in the Islamic faith or other faiths—they need to be called out for that. That doesn’t mean you pussyfoot around the issue, it means you call out people who are doing the wrong thing. In my experience—I am nearly 50 years old this year—the vast majority of people want to live a peaceful, calm life, loving their family and friends, and want to get on with it. They don’t want to be involved in this extremism which seems to have infected some aspects of the Islamic faith.
Question: He said that Muslims living in Australia need to live by our rules; do you agree with that sentiment?
Darren Chester: Well we have one set of laws in Australia and we all need to live by them. That is a pretty self-evident fact, I would have thought. We don’t have rules for one people and rules for others in that regard. I believe that the vast majority of people in the Australian community just want to get on with living their lives; they want a government which delivers the services they need, which provides for the public infrastructure they want; and they want to live a safe and orderly life. Now, that is what the vast majority of Australians expect from their government and expect from their community.
Question: On the issue of terrorism, do you think Tony Abbott knows better than the head of ASIO?
Darren Chester: No, I don’t.