A home affairs super ministry: Australia’s new national security framework

A home affairs super ministry: Australia’s new national security framework

Australia’s security apparatus is getting a makeover but when it comes to tackling the threat of terrorism is the UK’s Home Office really the best model?

The Australian Federal Government, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is set to restructure the country’s domestic security agencies – the largest shakeup in over 40 years. PM Turnbull attributes this decision to several key factors. The driving one: Australia’s confrontation with an increasingly evolving and complex security paradigm where the threat of domestic terrorism is aggravated by the export of global Islamist ideology.  

PM Turnbull’s stated goal is that having ‘all aspects of domestic counter-terrorism and security under the supervision of a single minister would result in more effective communication and co-operation within the domestic security architecture’.

The new centralised model, the Home Affairs Ministry – nicknamed the ‘new super-department’, will merge Australia’s Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Federal Police (AFP), and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), and is intended to reflect the United Kingdom’s Home Office, ‘a federation, if you will, of border and security agencies… consistent with arrangements made by other “Five Eyes” intelligence’ partners said PM Turnbull.

However, PM Turnbull’s paragon of the UK Home Office is itself largely a by-product of decades of political fights and failures, a reincarnation of political policy rather than a modern-designer government department.

Australia’s ability to wake up in a year’s time with its own ‘Home Office’ appears vague as PM Turnbull failed to articulate a well-oiled plan to get there. Whilst departmental mergers have a chequered history as employees are typically distracted by the usual range of HR issues.

Therefore, the justification for this change is challenging to digest as Australia’s operational counterterrorism apparatus is regarded as largely successful – there has been one successful terror attack perpetrated on home soil in 2017 which resulted in the death of one civilian and the perpetrator and multiple foiled attacks.

In contrast, the UK in recent times has suffered four domestic terror attacks that has resulted in tens of casualties. The most recent at London Bridge on 3 June 2017 has sparked an inquiry regarding how the Home Office, police and intelligence agencies dealt with information concerning the perpetrators.

Whilst calls for Home Secretary Amber Rudd to release potentially concerning details of a report into foreign funding and support of extremist groups in the UK remains unheard.

The milieu in which the UK Home Office finds itself is far from inspiring – it therefore remains unclear as to why Australia’s new Home Office is an organism where national security arrangements will be enhanced. Some will argue ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, there is something in the effective communication and cooperation argument, particularly whilst there is an increased blurring of the remits of ASIO, AFP and the DIBP as terrorist entities continue to re-engineer their modus operandi.

Meanwhile, the USA’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to wrestle with the threat of domestic terrorism and perceived terror threats emanating from inbound airplanes, the later articulated by John Kelly, formerly US Secretary of Homeland Security and new White House Chief of Staff. The competition between home grown terrorism against the imported version is largely confused. This tension as to where to focus resources is further challenged by issues pertaining to DHS organizational structure and leadership.

Last week, Congress approved the first reauthorization bill since the inception of DHS in order ‘to update the authorities to successfully complete our mission today’ Kelly said. The challenges attached to US national security policy and the DHS, whilst incidents of terrorism occur often enough on US home soil do little to illustrate that the DHS model is ready for export.

Australia, the UK and the US’s national security mandate ultimately aims to protect the population over which it presides. Australia’s model, old or new, will continue to strive for just this – emulating the UK Home Office, or not, for which there are both arguments for and against.

Ultimately, under PM Turnbull’s rationale of an enhanced platform to further mitigate the threat of homegrown terrorism, amongst few articulated others, Australia’s counter terrorism strategy is strong and should remain so as it continues to navigate a complex national security paradigm.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

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