Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Radio National

Prime Minister

: What began as an ordinary Saturday afternoon for the hundreds of people at Westfield Bondi Junction in Sydney’s eastern suburbs turned into a nightmare survivors will never forget. Just after 3pm, 40 year old Joel Cauchi began a stabbing rampage that left six people dead and another 12 injured before he was shot dead by a senior police officer who was first on the scene. The victims, a security guard, a refugee, a new mother, the daughter of a multi millionaire, are as diverse as Australia itself. As the nation grieves, there have been tributes for the bravery of staff who moved quickly to protect shoppers and the woman who took down the attacker. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese laid a wreath for victims yesterday and he joins us this morning. Prime Minister, welcome back to RN Breakfast.


KARVELAS: What are the questions we need to be asking as a nation as we search for answers to how this could have happened?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the Monday morning after what, as you have rightly declared, is a nightmare for Australians that has broken so many hearts, it is a time to grieve the lost ones. It’s a time also to give due recognition to the New South Wales Police Inspector Amy Scott who ran towards danger and took down the perpetrator, thereby removing the threat which no doubt would have gone on to other people as well. But also those heroes who were ordinary citizens who provided incredible support and showed extraordinary bravery. These were extraordinary acts from ordinary Australians. It is, there will be a time, of course, for us to have a considered response to any security lessons that need to be learnt from an incident such as this.

KARVELAS: Terrorism was quickly dismissed as a motive. Five of the six people killed and nine of the twelve others who were injured were women. Do you think this was a gender motivated attack?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the New South Wales Police have said they’re looking at that as part of the investigation. The gender breakdown is, of course, concerning. Each and every victim here is mourned. This is, five of the names, of course, have been released and for their loved ones, our heart goes out to them today. I have spoken to some family members directly and this is a very distressing time, of course, for them. And as well, of course, we have the injured. Four people have been discharged from hospital overnight, but five remain in intensive care units in hospitals right across Sydney, one of those is in a critical condition. And we also pay thanks to the paramedics, the ambulance officers, the nurses and doctors and orderlies who provided support to no doubt save lives on Saturday evening and right through yesterday. And that ongoing support is there.

KARVELAS: Prime Minister, as you say, the police are looking at the sort of gender element here. But this morning I have been overwhelmed by text messages from people really concerned about that element. Some saying that we should be investigating whether the Bondi attacker engaged with misogynist networks and online forums. Is that something that you think needs to be looked at?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, all of that investigation will take place. It will be comprehensive and, nothing will not be looked at in this matter. I think the police have done an absolutely extraordinary job, the New South Wales Police, to get information out there very quickly at a time when there was some misinformation circulating as well. They got the information out there that there was a single perpetrator. They identified very quickly, along with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police and the security agencies, including ASIO, that the person was not a person of interest and that it was not an act of terrorism. It was terrifying, but it wasn’t ideologically-motivated terrorism. And so I think they did an extraordinary job. They should be, as I said, as early as Saturday night, they should be allowed to go about their important work in the professional way that they’ve shown. They certainly have not just the capability to do so, but we should be proud that we have police and agencies who are so professional, in amongst very difficult times, they have got that information to the public in a transparent way, in a very timely manner and they should be able to continue to do that.

KARVELAS: Prime Minister, social media was full of misinformation about the perpetrator and the motive for the attack. Particularly on that platform X, misinformation was spreading in a way I have not seen before during a tragedy like this. It was incredibly unreliable. And it seems that the broader social cohesion questions we’ve been tackling as a country in relation to, I think, the Jewish and the Islamic community were being accused here. Does that worry you?

PRIME MINISTER: It certainly does. I have spoken consistently about the need for social cohesion, about people in political life, to avoid feeding some of the division which is there, and for people to act responsibly. Social media can be a good thing, but it can also be a source of massive disruption. The fact that what social media has done is make everyone a publisher and some mainstream media also spread some misinformation –

KARVELAS: Yes Channel Seven.

PRIME MINISTER: – on Saturday night. And that’s entirely inappropriate. And that’s why I’ve said, and I continue to say on your program as well, that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. We should have a considered response here, follow the authorities and have faith and respect in their capacity to do their job professionally, because I believe they’ve certainly shown their capability, which I’ve never doubted. But I do think that they did an extraordinary job over the last couple of days, and it was an opportunity yesterday to thank the leadership of the New South Wales Police, just as I was able to personally engage with the AFP and these security agencies on Saturday evening.

KARVELAS: Is there an ongoing role here, Prime Minister, for the AFP? Do we need a review on mental health issues and policing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, an incident like this will provoke a necessary review that should be done in a considered way based upon a proper assessment, and that will take place.

KARVELAS: And do you think this issue, specifically on acute mental health issues and public safety, should be escalated and elevated as an issue to look at the cross-jurisdictional issues, the resourcing, all of it, should it be on the table?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are looking at mental health issues as part of strengthening Medicare and strengthening the health system on an ongoing basis. We provided some $586 million for mental health and suicide prevention in our last Budget. This is an issue which we need to deal with. You can never do enough in an area like that. There’s no question about that. I did think that yesterday it was evident at Bondi Junction there, clearly identified people providing mental health support. The fact that that was out there so early is a great credit to New South Wales Health and the New South Wales Government and their leadership.

KARVELAS: When there is an attack which is terrorist related, we do have a particular response, and I think for victims, they’d be thinking, and anyone who witnessed this, well, you said it perfectly, Prime Minister, it was terrifying for them. So, the motive, perhaps, you know, of course it’s relevant for law enforcement, but at the end of the day, you know, being attacked like that, whatever the reason, is terrifying and unacceptable. Should we also equally treat this kind of issue with the same level of investigation and resourcing?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are, Patricia. There’s an extraordinary investigation that’s taking place. All of the agencies immediately had assessments. The fact that very early on, on Saturday, there was, the announcement was able to be made. I was briefed that the person was not a person of interest, as they’re designated, was remarkable in a very quick period of time, and that information was then released publicly. And I thought that the New South Wales Deputy Commissioner’s press conference on Saturday was very clear. Very early on, he said what was known, but he also said what was not known, which was important as well, without jumping to conclusions. I then conducted a media conference on Saturday evening, very early. So, it was within hours of the attack with Commissioner Kershaw at Parliament House in Canberra. And that was after we’d received briefings from all of the security agencies. Everything that could be done was acted upon in a timely manner. Given that there was no warning of this attack, there was no indication that this was going to occur, and it was in one of Australia’s largest shopping centres and one that would be very familiar to people from Sydney, at a peak time as well. Saturday afternoon is where many Australians go and do their shopping, whether it’s for food or in a place like Westfield for clothes or for things for their kids. And they should be go with the confidence that there’s no risk to be had here. And unfortunately, and tragically, that was not the case.

KARVELAS: It’s just chilling for the nation, I think. Yesterday, I want to change the topic, Prime Minister, before I let you go, you put out a statement on Iran’s attack on Israel. You condemned it. President Joe Biden has reportedly told Israel the US won’t support a counterattack. Do you think that’s the right call?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s not my call to second guess the President of the United States. What my call is to do is to clearly and unequivocally put Australia’s position, and our position is very clear, to condemn Iran’s attacks on Israel. This escalation is a grave threat to the security not just of Israel, but of the entire region. It risks greater instability and devastation across the Middle East. We continue to support regional security, including that of Israel. We want to see there be less conflict, not more. And this adds to an incredible risk here. Iran’s flouting of international law, its threat to international security, its support for Hezbollah, its support for Hamas, its support for the Houthis and their acts of terrorism, in the case of too many examples, shows that it is playing a very disruptive influence in the region. And that’s why our Foreign Minister made it clear to the Foreign Minister of Iran as well that we did not want, we urged this not to occur.

KARVELAS: Are you preparing to impose more sanctions on Iranian diplomats? There’s been a call from the Opposition that you take stronger action on the Iranian embassy. Are you prepared to do that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have taken strong action, including –

KARVELAS: But will you be looking at further action?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have taken strong action and we don’t announce action during radio interviews. We have implemented Magnitsky-style sanctions on 85 individuals and 97 entities from Iran. We also, it must be said, I’m very concerned as well about Iran’s, as someone who cares about human rights, Iran’s use of police to arrest women for inappropriate dress, as it’s seen, is an extraordinary violation of the human rights of its own citizens and is a cause of much distress for the Iranian population there. But I know a source of distress for the Iranian diaspora who are here in Australia as well.

KARVELAS: That is very accurate. We get ongoing correspondence from members of the Iranian diaspora raising that issue and encouraging, at least they are asking the Government to take a strong line on Iran. I know you won’t make an announcement on radio, but is it under consideration expelling further diplomats?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, these things always need to be considered. That that is always the first thing that occurs is people say, “will you expel diplomats?” What that does is, though, limit and restrict your capacity to then have influence and to engage with them. So, there is, I know that it’s always something that’s put forward at a time like this. We have made it very clear what our position is on the Iranian actions and have condemned it. We’ll continue to engage with our international partners as well, but we urge Iran to cease being, playing a rogue state role in the region and disrupting. What we saw on the weekend with these missile and drone attacks was Iran doing something in its own name.

KARVELAS: They say that, they would defend, that it was a response because a retaliation in response to the bombing of an attack on the embassy in Syria. Do you, do you think that original action was justified?

PRIME MINISTER: I dismiss any of Iran’s so-called justifications here. This was an aggressive act of hundreds of drones and missiles which would have, had that been more successful, had a devastating impact on the Israeli population, innocent civilians, just as the work of their proxies through Hamas, led to the brutal murder of Israeli citizens who were going about their business, many of whom were attending a concert in southern Israel and a dance party. Iran’s actions continue to be irresponsible and place itself in a position where it’s quite rightly condemned by nations that are concerned about the rule of law and concerned about human rights issues.

KARVELAS: Prime Minister, just finally, Israel has said it has drawn up plans to attack Iran in response to Saturday’s missile and drone strike. Is that action justified?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we continue to on the Middle East across the board, we want to see caution exercised because that is important that that occur. Nations will defend themselves, of course –

KARVELAS: So Israel has a right to respond?

PRIME MINISTER: We do not want to see escalation. What we do is we condemn Iran’s actions in the strongest possible terms.

KARVELAS: Just finally, Prime Minister, oil prices have spiked as a result of this latest escalation. Ukraine is also warning the European energy prices will rise again. How worried are you about a return of inflation in the wake of this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re dealing with the largest energy crisis in 50 years has occurred as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and this just adds to it. That’s why the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss this attack on Israel. That’s why President Biden has convened a G7, which is the seven largest democracies meeting, to coordinate a united response.

KARVELAS: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us on what is a difficult morning for so many. Really appreciate your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Patricia.

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