"Those that do fight overseas face up to life in prison upon their return to Australia"
Building a safer roof over all our heads: Hon. Anthony Roberts MP speaks to the M E Times.
The Middle East Times international sat down for an interview with the Hon Anthony Roberts MP, the NSW Minister for Counter-Terrorism and Corrections and a former minister for Housing, Planning, Resources and Energy. He shared his views on issues he has to face in his current portfolio as Minister responsible for Counter-Terrorism as well as with former portfolios that he had occupied.
QUESTION: you have been minister for counter tourism and corrections since April. How difficult or different has it been as minister compared to the previous portfolios of housing, planning and energy that you have held?
ROBERTS: I’ve got to say it is different. It is a lot different to most of my other portfolios but the similarities are in the ability to do good for the people of NSW and the ability to reform; for example, in the current corrections environment where you have a high level of reoffending or cynicism, how do you get people not to reoffend? We’re not in the business of getting repeat business; we want people the court sentenced, to send them to jail. Our job is to keep them in jail but hopefully, while we have them in jail train them, give them opportunity so when they leave jail they become law abiding, tax paying citizens rather than going out and reoffending and come back into the prison system. There are some huge challenges there that we’re working on. It’s like every portfolio I’ve had; it’s full of challenges. But I always love rising to the challenge of providing reform and innovation.
QUESTION: should former ISIS fighters be allowed back into the community?
ROBERTS: Under Commonwealth law, it’s illegal to fight in overseas conflicts including Syria. Those that do fight overseas face up to life in prison upon their return to Australia and people who are suspected to be foreign fighters are considered by law enforcement and security agencies on a case-by-case basis. Our priority is to keep our community safe.
QUESTION: if you had a message for members of the Middle Eastern community, what would that be?
ROBERTS: That every person, regardless of their background, continues to feel safe and they have a place in NSW. NSW is an incredibly strong and connected society. Some individuals in our society spread messages of fear about other people in our society. We don’t agree with this and we don’t agree with those misconceptions being spread. Hate and division will not be tolerated; it doesn’t matter what your background, what your belief is. It’s about keeping respect and ensuring that we have a strong resilient community. 99.9% of people out there live in this country because they love it and they want to protect it. There will always be small percentages that are out to destroy the strength of our communities. That is why it is important for us to be strong and united as a community no matter our background.
QUESTION: given the recent tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand, is there enough coverage given to the threat posed by the far right or other forms of extremism, not just religious. In your view, is enough being done at state and federal level?
ROBERTS: All governments in Australia are committed to building the resilience of our communities against violent extremism. The far right or far left cannot be tolerated. We are a nation of individuals that are very much middle of the road; we respect each other. When you have extremists on either end of the spectrum, there has to be the laws in place to protect the great majority. No matter whether it is left or right, this government is totally committed to tackling particularly violent extremism so that everyone who lives in NSW continues to feel safe.
QUESTION: given recent increases in youth crimes in parts of the country, is there a need to bolster rehabilitation efforts?
ROBERTS: Many of these young children lack role models in their family. The young people that go out and commit crimes quite often do not have a male role figure or else you have the parents under stress. It is important for us to engage these individuals early but also there has to be correction, re-education. If they are playing up, there needs to be early intervention to ensure that they’re put on the right track backwards. But some of these kids are violent, who come from violent backgrounds, and that is where police have intervention programs that engage these young people, like the PCYC, and steer them back on the right track.
QUESTION: as a former housing and planning minister, what is your view on the Sydney apartment evacuations? Do you agree with other observers that the situation is much worse than it appears? Do you think greater federal oversight will be required?
ROBERTS: There needs to be, for example, stronger codes nationally particularly around building materials. I think it would be helpful to have a stronger national code around design and construction. The two issues we’ve seen, at Opal and at Mascot; I don’t think reflect the broader developments that we have seen. I think these are different examples. On one hand you have Opal with its design, construction and use of materials. In Mascot, you have a very interesting GI dynamics with the water table and sandy soil; the building appears soundly built but there has been building going on around it which may have upset the water table or the actual foundations around it. So there will be investigations but I think there will always be shifts in these minor modifications or structural defects that occur in any building. Then again they’re covered under the Government warranty for major and minor faults.
QUESTION: NSW and Australia appears to be grappling with a growing energy supply problem. Do you think nuclear power may need to be considered at some point? If so, what would that pose extra concerns from a counter terrorism point of view?
ROBERTS: At the moment nuclear power facilities are banned under Commonwealth law so until the Commonwealth changes that law _ and both the prime minister and the Federal Energy Minister have indicated a change _ the ban is not being considered at this time. For us that’s not something that we need to look at for the time being. However, with our other energy infrastructure, I can assure you that there are robust established arrangements to protect the energy supply for NSW.
Well done. Thanks for your time.