TRANSCRIPT

ABC Radio National - Breakfast

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate 

Transcription:
PROOF COPY E & OE

Date: Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Topic(s):
Brussels terrorist attack

FRAN KELLY

The world’s focus today is on Belgium with an outpouring of support for the nation that hosts the European Parliament and is now the latest victim of a terrorist atrocity. Australia’s Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann was born in the city of Eupen in Belgium. He grew up in German-speaking Eastern Belgium before he migrated to Australia in the mid 1990’s. Mathias Cormann thank you very much for joining us on what must be quite a distressing day for you and your countrymen.

MATHIAS CORMANN

It is an awful day. Our hearts go out to the people of Brussels and Belgium. It is a terrible attack. It is a terrible day.

FRAN KELLY

I know it is not about you and all of us sitting this distance away but I do wonder what it was like for you to look on and see your country Belgium and its capital Brussels ripped apart by suicide bombers.

MATHIAS CORMANN

My family live about 120 kilometres east of Brussels, so I knew they were safe. I spoke to them last night and indeed they are all ok. But I do have a lot of friends living in Brussels and you know, I have departed Zaventem Airport in Brussels from that same departure hall on many an occasion. I lived just a few hundred metres away from the attack on the Maelbeek subway station, which is really at the heart of Brussels, next to the European Commission headquarters. I’ve been to all those places. I have walked along those streets many times. It is quite confronting. 

FRAN KELLY

You left in the mid 90’s. I imagine that Brussels is a very different city from what it was then when you left, because it is really completely multi-cultural now. In fact I read a stunning statistic that said that people of foreign origin, largely from France, Turkey and Morocco make up 70 per cent of the capital’s population. So that’s a statistic that on the face of it looks like a successful multi-cultural experiment until then. Now you also see Brussels described as the jihad capital of Europe.

MATHIAS CORMANN

There has been some change in the 22 years or so since I have left, but Brussels for some time now has been the capital of Europe. It is where the European institutions like the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Council, all of the key European institutions are based, which means that there are really people from right across Europe who live in Brussels, as well as people from other parts, Northern Africa and the like. That is not a recent phenomenon. That has been the case even when I was living in Brussels. It might have increased in recent times, but the truth is, there is nothing to justify what happened there today. There is nothing to justify these sorts of attacks, whether that is in Brussels, in Paris or in Istanbul. These sorts of attacks are completely senseless and outrageous and obviously are condemned. 

FRAN KELLY

Of course, and there is nothing to justify it, but if you are trying to look for an explanation of it, I suppose you need to look at another quite startling statistic, which suggests that 500 of the 11 million citizens of Belgium have left to fight in Syria, most of them for ISIS. That is quite a high percentage of people. Is there an issue do you think with, maybe not so much multicultural cohesion in Brussels but perhaps alertness on behalf of the agencies, and also has the socio-economic situation there in parts of Brussels, and we look particularly at the area of Molenbeek allow this to ferment? Has the city or the country not been on high enough alert for these problems?

MATHIAS CORMANN

I’m not in a position to comment on internal considerations in Belgium right at this time. I’m sure that the authorities over there and the government over there will review very carefully what has happened and indeed there is a lot of activity underway by relevant agencies as we speak. I’m sure that in the weeks and months to come, these are the sorts of conversations that people will have. For me, from Australia, to look across to Brussels now and to make the sort of commentary that you are inviting me to make I don’t think would be appropriate.

FRAN KELLY

I understand that. I also heard another comment from just a bystander, just a person of, I’m not sure if they were in France or Brussels, but both countries now shocked by these terrorist atrocities in recent times, who said simply there is no security in Europe any more. As a European now living in Australia, do you look at Europe differently and do you, are we seeing a permanent state of insecurity there in Europe?

MATHIAS CORMANN

I hope not. I’m sure that authorities and Governments across Europe will do what they need to do to ensure that their populations are safe, the same as the Australian Government in Australia is focussed on making sure that our population is safe and secure. We do as an international community face a particular challenge right now, with the threat that emanates from Daesh. There is an international coalition taking action against that threat. As an international community we do have to do everything we can to get on top of it and that is what is happening. That is a serious challenge that will continue for some time.

FRAN KELLY

The French Prime Minister says that they are at war. The Belgium Prime Minister has echoed those comments. Do you feel that Belgians think that too? Have you spoken to your family and friends, particularly those perhaps in Brussels, in recent times, even perhaps before these bombings? Have you talked to them about how they are feeling there since the Paris bombings?  

MATHIAS CORMANN

Yes I have. Right now people in Belgium are in deep shock, but there is also a sense of defiance and a sense that people in Belgium and people across Europe don’t want to let this sort of atrocity get them down. They are very determined to press ahead and to enjoy their life as anybody would want to enjoy their life day to day and press ahead. 

FRAN KELLY

I know you are the Finance Minister and not the Security Minister in this country but this attack in the airport in Brussels, basically just in the entry hall has opened up a whole discussion about airport security, that maybe we need to have security in all parts of the airport, global international airports, not just once people go through to the baggage areas for instance. Do you see any implications for Australian security at airports, or are there any plans that you are aware of for our security cabinet to be meeting in the wake of this?

MATHIAS CORMANN

Relevant security agencies and relevant committees of the cabinet will look at what has happened and will see whether there are any implications out of this for Australia, as I am sure countries around the world will review what happened and assess whether there are any needs to take action as a result. You are right, the attacks happened in the departure hall of the Zaventem Airport, rather than behind the security arrangements that you would normally have at airports. These are all matters that I am sure in the ordinary course of events will be properly considered, properly assessed and judgements will be made on any action that is appropriate.

FRAN KELLY

Mathias Cormann thank you so much for joining us, I know you have got your mind on a lot of other matters at the moment but I am sure that this has really cut through, given your family and friends who are there in Belgium. Thanks so much for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN

Thank you Fran.

[ENDS]