Three upcoming terrorism studies masterclasses and a conference on the aftermath of ISIS

Some interesting terrorism-related academic events are coming up very soon in Canberra and Perth.

First, my intermittent co-author and podcast guest, Levi West, and his colleagues at Charles Sturt University have organised three masterclasses on terrorism studies, which have a number of international guests skyping in.

The first two classes in particular look fantastic and have great guest lecturers. Steven Tankel wrote this excellent book on Lashkar e-Toiba which I’ve drawn on in previous work, Craig Whiteside and Seamus Hughes are in my “must-read” list whenever I hear they have something new out, Sarah Phillips is possibly Australia’s top scholar covering conflict in Yemen, Mark Pitcavage does great work on the extreme right, and Christopher Anzalone is probably the person I read most on al-Shabaab. It’s rare to have this much international talent at a terrorism studies events in Australia, particularly at a teaching-focused event intended.

These classes are all taking place in Canberra this month. The first masterclass is on the history of terrorism (its coming up so try to apply soon):

History of Terrorism Masterclass 07-11 May

 

Followed by one on contemporary terrorism (try to apply before 10 May):

Contemporary Terrorism Masterclass 14-18 May 2018

 

And then one on the financing and resourcing of terrorism (try to apply before 20 May):

Terrorist Financing Masterclass 29-31May 2018

 

It’s a busy month. In Perth, the University of Western Australia is hosting a Conference on Radicalisation and De-radicalisation: Post-ISIS:

Three years ago, ISIS claimed a cross-border caliphate stretching over vast swathes of north-western Iraq and eastern Syria. Fascinated by its rise, Muslim youths from all corners rapidly joined its cause. After three years of shocking violence, ISIS has faced major setbacks and has been in retreat in those areas it formerly controlled. Many of its fighters have been returning. This conference brings together experts to shed light on the lessons on radicalisation and de-radicalisation in the context of the rise and apparent decline of ISIS and to offer insights into future trends. What would radicalisation and de-radicalisation look like in the future? What are the responses required? These are the questions at the heart of this one-day conference being organised by The Centre for Muslim States and Societies, The University of Western Australia. The conference will be useful for policy makers, law enforcement groups, academia, students and all those interested in countering radicalisation.

Its speakers are:

Professor Amin Saikal, Australian National University | The defeat of the ‘Islamic State’ and its impact on US foreign policy in the Middle East

Profess James Piscatori, Australian National University | The Umma post-ISIS

Professor Samina Yasmeen, The University of Western Australia | JUD, ISIS and Pakistan: future trajectories of radicalisation

Dr Richard Vokes, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia | The shifting contexts of jihadism in Sub-Saharan Africa: a comparison of al-Shabaab and the Allied Democratic Forces

Dr Ian Chalmers, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, The University of Western Australia | How have the jihadists coped with Indonesia’s de-radicalisation campaign?

Dr Leila Ben Mcharek, Research Fellow, CMSS, The University of Western Australia | Libya: a case of survival of Daesh

Dr Shehzad Saleem, Research Fellow and Vice President, Al-Mawrid Institute | Understanding ISIS’s ideology and its continued influence

Nava Ghalili, Journalist | Youth empowerment as a means to prevent youth radicalization?

Ridwan, PhD Candidate, The University of Western Australia | Transnational Islam and Threat of Radicalisation in Indonesia

Farooq Yousaf, PhD Candidate, University of Newcastle, New South Wales

This is quite a different event to the masterclasses above, but it similarly looks excellent. I’m much less familiar with the work of its speakers (except for Samina Yasmeen, Amin Saikal and Ian Chalmers), but generally the scholarly background of the speakers looks to be area studies and Islamic Studies rather than terrorism studies, which is good change of perspective (I’ve gone on a bit before about how something as complex and contentious as terrorism requires a range of approaches).

It is also extremely affordable ($50 for students, $100 for others) and it’s this Friday, so if interested you’ll need to be quick.

 

And in a smaller bit of news, back in February post I mistakenly wrote that Talal Alameddine would be sentenced on 2 March for supplying the handgun used to murder NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng in the Parramatta terrorist attack. He will actually be sentenced on 18 May.

Four announcements

Four bits of news relevant to readers of this blog.

First, one of the founders of modern terrorism studies, Bruce Hoffman, is briefly coming to Australia. He will give a public talk in Canberra on 30 April, organised by Charles Sturt University:

hoffman event

Second, Kate Grealy and I have released a new episode of Sub Rosa, for the first time in over a year.

I interviewed David Schaefer, who is now at King’s College London, about Australia’s dependence on US space technology and how this impacts our military alliance and the risks of conflict entrapment. Click here to listen to the episode:

Episode 13: Space technology and the US-Australian alliance, with David Schaefer

dave schaefer kingsIn this episode, Andrew talks to David Schaefer about developments in space technology and how they are changing long-held assumptions about the military alliance between Australia and the United States.

David Schaefer is currently a PhD Candidate at King’s College London. When this episode was recorded in September 2017, David was based at the University of Melbourne, working for AsiaLink and Ormond College.

We spoke about his research on how technological changes have impacted the US-Australian alliance in ways that haven’t always been widely recognised in Australia’s national security debates. We also spoke about how this potentially makes Australia’s exposure to great-power conflict more complex and ambiguous than during the Cold War, particularly in the context of US-China rivalry and the prospect that any new conflict could open with cyber-attacks against information networks shared between Australia and the United States.

Third, the Monash Gender, Peace and Security group has released an interesting new resource which maps gender provisions in peace agreements. Take a look here.

Fourth, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is hiring a new National Security / Counter-Terrorism Analyst. You can apply here before 29 April. They have also announced openings for their six month paid internships, you can apply here before 6 May.

Enjoy!

Did any Australians join the jihad against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

I’ve often written about Australians who have joined jihadist groups abroad, but have rarely come across evidence of Australians fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Intuitively, you could expect that some Australians were involved in fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The 1979 Soviet invasion prompted tens of thousands of Muslims across the world to travel to Afghanistan and join the fight throughout the 1980s. This was the world’s largest jihadist foreign fighter mobilisation until the Syrian civil war.

Given Australians have joined jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere since the 1990s, it would be surprising if there had been no Australians involved at all in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Yet I have only occasionally come across indications of Australian involvement, such as a section in Irfan Yusuf’s book Once Were Radicals, where he states that in the 1980s a friend of his, Kamal, “seemed to know a lot of what was happening there [in Afghanistan], and he also knew people who had gone from Australia to fight in the jihad” (page 151).

Another example is that an Australian woman, Rabiah Hutchinson, travelled to Pakistan in 1990 and based herself in the village of Pabbi (near the Afghan border). She stayed under the auspices of Abdul Rassul Sayyaf (who trained many Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists) and interacted with Osama bin Laden. But this was after the Soviets withdrew, and bin Laden was (according to Hutchinson’s biography, The Mother of Mohammed) surprised to encounter an Australian. He reportedly said “Australian – that must be a first!” (page 191). This anecdote suggests that Australians were absent during the 1980s, but we can’t read too much into it. The story might not be true, and Bin Laden was not then the central figure he would later become, so we can’t assume he would have known the nationality of each of the thousands of volunteers who traveled to join the conflict.

So there has generally been extremely little information around on any Australians fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

However, Thomas Hegghammer recently sent me some interesting things he has found.

He found that “there were people in Australia reading al-Jihad and writing letters to the editor”. Al-Jihad was the magazine produced by Abdullah Azzam’s Services Bureau. Hegghammer provided this image of al-Jihad’s 18th issue, page 41:

AlJihadLetterToEditor.jpg large

He added that the “same guy is mentioned in the next issue (p.45) as having sent money.”

Hegghammer also showed that the book Jihad in Afghanistan Against Communism refers explicitly to Australians among the mujahideen at the time:

JihadCommunismBookCover.jpg large

 

JihadCommunismBookPage.jpg large

Hegghammer helpfully adds to the extremely small body of public information on any Australian involvement in the 1980s foreign fighter mobilisation against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a few Australians had been fighting the Soviets, but information on it is hard to come across, and I will let readers know if I hear of anything else.

 

Update 1: (added 29 March 2018) Anthony Davis from IHS-Jane’s has sent the following example. As with the examples above, I am not personally in a position to verify it, but I greatly appreciate it for adding to the small and fragmentary body of information on this topic:

l met a young Australian fighter called Yusuf while working in the northern Kunduz-Khanabad area in the late summer of 1982 with a group of mujahideen of the Jamiat-i-Islami party. He had served in the ADF and later married a Muslim woman from Malaysia and converted to Islam. He was actually less interested in killing communists than in fulfilling his duty as a Muslim to perform jihad. He took his religion extremely seriously rather to the amusement of his Afghan comrades-in-arms not all of whom prayed five times a day and many of whom enjoyed the odd joint of good local hash. They nick-named him “Sheikh” in a back-handed compliment to his religious rectitude. But with a full beard, long hair and turban, he otherwise fitted in well enough. At the end of the year he turned in his AK and joined me on the three week trek back to Pakistan. As far as I’m aware, he then returned to his wife in a kampong in northeastern Malaysia, having successfully ticked the ‘jihad’ box.

 

Guest post: the incarceration of radicalised prisoners in New South Wales

In this guest post, Katrina Zorzi discusses changes to the management of radicalised prisoners in New South Wales and what this might imply for Victoria and other states.

In the past year, the New South Wales government has ushered in a raft of changes to the management of radicalised prisoners. This post provides a short outline of these changes and offers some thoughts on an inspection by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services, some recent changes that have been either implemented or proposed, and some of the national security and human rights dilemmas raised by this issue.

Goulburn Supermax

The rise and fall of the Islamic State’s ‘Caliphate’ and the apprehension of Australian-based IS supporters has increased the need for a workable, sustainable policy on incarcerating terrorists. In NSW, discussions around the incarceration of radicalised prisoners frequently centre on Goulburn’s ‘High Risk Management Correctional Centre’ Supermax facility.

There are reportedly 40-50 prisoners housed within the Goulburn Supermax. Not all are radicalised or terrorist inmates who are thought to be risks to national security (Ivan Milat, for one, is reportedly an inmate at the Supermax) though more than half are there on terror-related charges. In 2016 NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin told The 7:30 Report that: “Supermax was built for extremely violent offenders… It wasn’t built and designed for people who pose a threat to national security.” The decision to house a broader array of radical inmates there reportedly dates from August 2015, when radical preacher Junaid Thorne – who was jailed for booking airline tickets under a false name – was transferred there. Individuals arrested in 2005’s Operation Pendennis, for example, which disrupted two terror cells in Sydney and Melbourne, were already housed in the Supermax.

Goulburn Supermax has gained a lot of media attention in the past few years, generally focused on the convicted and accused terrorists housed there. In 2016, anonymous senior counter-terrorism officials told The 7:30 Report of their concerns that youth terrorism suspects held within Goulburn’s Supermax facility were being further radicalised by extremist adult inmates. In April 2017 The Weekend Australian featured an article by Paul Maley, who had been given access to Goulburn Supermax, which featured insights from the Supermax’s intelligence unit and detailed the day-to-day living conditions of the radicalised prisoners. Last month it was reported that a prisoner within the facility had attacked and injured two guards.

One aspect that has not been reported on for some time is the inspection announced in 2016 by the NSW Inspector of Custodial Services.

The not-yet-public inspection

The NSW Inspector of Custodial Services (ICS) is a statutory agency tasked with “providing independent scrutiny of the conditions, treatment and outcomes for adults and young people in custody, and to promote excellence in staff professional practice”. The ICS has jurisdiction over all correctional facilities in NSW and an inspection can be initiated by either the Inspector, the Minister for Corrections, a Parliamentary Joint Committee or a public authority or official.

In April 2016, the ICS was tasked to undertake an inspection on the “Management of radicalised prisoners in the NSW correctional centres”. The centres identified to be examined in the inspection were: the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, the Mid North Coast correctional Centre, the Lithgow Correctional Centre, the Goulburn Correctional Centre and its High Risk Management Correctional Centre.

However, it is not clear what has come of this inspection. In October 2016, the ABC reported that the review was expected to be handed down to the State Government in November. And, presumably, for it to be made public sometime after this. However, as of early March 2018, the report is still not publicly available on the ICS’s website. The ICS still lists the inspection into the management of radicalised prisoners as a ‘current inspection’.

Yet the ICS’s 2016-2017 annual report mentions the inspection in past tense, articulating that:

Pursuant to a request by the Minister for Corrections and in accordance with section 6(1)(f) of the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2012, a review of the management of radicalised inmates in NSW prisons was commenced on 22 April 2016… The inspection examined approaches and practices relating to the risk assessment, classification, designation, placement, and management of inmates, conditions within centres, and offender programs and services. Over 200 CSNSW staff were consulted, as well as executive and specialist staff.

If it is not reading too much into the use of past tense it would suggest that the inspection has long been completed.

The 2016-2017 annual report also asserts that: “The ICS publishes all reports and responses to reports on its website”. That the inspection report is not publicly available might be for a few reasons. It might simply have not been posted on the ICS website as an oversight. It is also possible that publishing has been withheld on national security grounds, provisions for which are built into the Inspector of Custodial Services Act 2012. The lack of even a public statement on the inspection or a redacted version is disappointing, given the potential for ICS reporting to bring transparency to the way in which NSW deals with radicalised prisoners.

The remit of the ICS’s inspection into radicalised prisoners in NSW would suggest that they are housed in a number of prisons across the state, not just in Goulburn’s Supermax facility – despite the fact that most media reporting tends to focus on that prison. This relatively high level of media reporting might be due to the notoriety increasingly attached to that facility or a prison management decision to sporadically permit or encourage such reporting. Maley’s article thus offers a rather unique insight into the prison. In this way, Goulburn Supermax has perhaps been more subject to media scrutiny than other prisons situated within NSW corrections housing terrorist or radicalised inmates.

There have also been several changes announced in the NSW government’s approach, though it is impossible to know if they are a result of the ICS’s inspection.

Recent change: extended detention

In October 2017, ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on counter-terrorism in Canberra, the NSW government announced its intention to usher in measures that would allow the ‘indefinite detention’ of radicalised prisoners. In November the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill 2017 was passed in NSW state parliament, which complements laws introduced at the Federal level in 2016. Under the changes, an inmate in a NSW prison could be designated as a radicalised national security threat and be jailed for up to an additional three years. Radicalised inmates would undergo a rehabilitation assessment and a medical assessment presumably to determine whether they were still ‘radicalised’ and posing a threat to the community. The process to initiate this would be done at the behest of the state’s attorney general to the Supreme Court. There is the potential for these extensions to continue in perpetuity.

At the time, NSW Counter Terrorism and Corrections Minister David Elliott explained that evidence would be gathered from a range of agencies to determine whether a prisoner was radicalised and thus representing an unacceptable risk to the community. Such evidence “would include radical behaviour, letters, interactions, treatment of staff within the corrections establishment, treatment of other inmates”. Elliott went on to assert: “It is unfortunate that we have to introduce what are potentially the toughest anti-terrorism laws in the world – but what would be more unfortunate is if somebody who was radicalised in a prison and was then released and did harm.”

Why up to three years? It is not clear what the logic is behind this. Presumably it would be much more difficult for the NSW government to muster support for longer extensions to prison sentences given the human rights issues potentially at play. Whether there are current or viable future ‘deradicalisation’ or disengagement programs being run in the NSW prison system that authorities believe can work in three years or less is another potential consideration.

Another issue is that the concept of radicalisation – and thus the nature of what it means to be ‘radicalised’ too – is contentious. What the threshold for determining whether an individual is ‘radicalised’ and so constitutes an ongoing threat to national security is unclear. Whether there is room in this approach for an inmate to maintain a radical political ideology but disavow violence is also unclear. No doubt any declaration of the sort would be greeted by authorities with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Proposed change: new facility

The scale of this is set to increase, following the announcement last year that the NSW government was spending $47 million to build a new ‘mini-max’ facility within Goulburn’s Supermax for radicalised inmates. A logical inference would be that this is intended to address the problems raised by Severin (that Goulburn Supermax was built for violent offenders, not offenders who pose a risk to national security).

This is supported by Maley’s reporting in April 2017, which highlighted that Corrective Services NSW was looking at a ‘differentiated’ approach of separating radicalised inmates (presumably from the broader prison population) and also anticipated that the ICS report on the management of radicalised prisoners would make recommendations in favour of this too.

That $47 million will now be spent on a specialised facility within the Goulburn Supermax would suggest that, at least in part, the practice of centralisation and separation for radicalised inmates is being given a boost.

Proposed change: juvenile justice strategy

The changes continue, as in February this year the NSW government announced that it intended to create a ‘countering violent extremism’ unit within the juvenile justice system to designate and monitor youth inmates who constituted national security threats. It would also work to identify inmates ‘at-risk’ of radicalisation and involve them in ‘deradicalisation’ programs. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian highlighted that “this new strategy complements other initiatives such as our post-sentence detention scheme and stronger parole provisions”.

Further thoughts

The NSW government’s approach is not the only way to address this issue. There are some good media articles which articulate the different approaches taken by New South Wales and Victoria to managing offenders convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offences. ANU’s Dr Clarke Jones and others have commented publicly and written at length on this topic. However, Severin expected that changes in Victoria might bring it closer to the NSW model. And recent reports also quote Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as being supportive of having a federal prison facility solely for terrorist prisoners – in direct contrast to Victoria’s existing arrangements.

From a national security perspective, it is understandable that authorities are unwilling to risk releasing any individual they suspect still harbours violent extremist goals.

I am not convinced that complete transparency, for its own sake, is necessarily in the community’s best interest when it comes to national security. However, greater overtures could be made to transparency regarding the processes internal to the NSW government that have initiated these wide-ranging changes to policy and now practice. This is where the benefit of having strong mechanisms of oversight and public trust in institutions often kicks in. At the same time, of course, few people are going to be willing to go into bat for the rights and liberties of terrorists and the NSW government is probably quite confident of the public’s acceptance of such measures.

From a human rights perspective, things might look a bit different. Especially considering that some of these changes concern the incarceration of minors. We might expect that a new, purpose built facility for radicalised inmates will create qualitatively different conditions of life for inmates – for better or for worse. This aspect is much better commented on by someone with an advocacy, human rights or legal background.

But it is a good time to pause and take stock of the ways in which NSW deals with its incarcerated, radicalised population. We might also consider whether, for Victoria and other states, this represents the way of the future or a cautionary tale.

Katrina Zorzi is a sessional academic at Monash University, Charles Sturt University and Deakin University.

Security research round-up for International Women’s Day

To help celebrate International Women’s Day, this post presents a collection of security-related research by Australian women.

It covers research released in the past year or so. The list is not comprehensive, it’s a small selection of research by people whose work I happen to be familiar with, and deserves to be much larger.

Kate Barrelle
Does the Pursuit of Meaning Explain the Initiation, Escalation, and Disengagement of Violent Extremists? Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 34, May 2017 (co-authored with Rosleenda Ali, Simon Moss and Pete Lentini)

Helen Berents
Gender and Age in the Construction of Male Youth in the European Migration “Crisis”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Volume 43, Number 3, 2018 (co-authored with Lesley Pruitt and Gayle Munro)

Leah Farrall
Revisiting al-Qaida’s Foundation and Early History, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume 11, Issue 6, 2017

Michele Grossman
Community Reporting Thresholds: Sharing Information with Authorities Concerning Violent Extremist Activity and Involvement in Foreign Conflict – A UK Replication Study, CREST Research, 18 September 2017 (co-authored with Paul Thomas, Shamim Miah and Kris Christmann)

Amy King
A New Normal? The Changing Future of Nuclear Energy in China, Learning from Fukushima: Nuclear Power in East Asia, ANU Press, 2017

Sarah Logan
The Needle and the Damage Done: Of Haystacks and Anxious Panopticons, Big Data & Society, published online 27 October 2017

Sofia Patel
The Sultanate of Women: Exploring Female Roles in Perpetrating and Preventing Violent Extremism, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 13 February 2017

Alex Phelan
Engaging Insurgency: The Impact of the 2016 Colombian Peace Agreement on FARC’s Political Participation, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published online 20 Feb 2018

Natalie Sambhi
Indonesia’s Naval and Coast Guard Upgrades and Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, January 2017 (scroll to page 83)

Nina Silove
Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of “Grand Strategy”, Security Studies, Volume 27, Issue 1, 2017

Aim Sinpeng
Participatory Inequality in Online and Offline Political Engagement in Thailand, Pacific Affairs, Volume 90, Issue 2, 2017

Debra Smith
So How Do You Feel about That? Talking with Provos about Emotion, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published online 1 June 2017

Similarly, here is a far-from-comprehensive list of Australian women who tweet on security and many other issues who I recommend following:

Jessie Blackbourn: @JessBlackbourn

Leah Farrall: @allthingsct

Kate Grealy: @kategrealy

Sarah Logan: @circt

Clare Murphy: @ClareAliceMurph

Leanne O’Donnell: @MsLods

Sofia Patel: @laramimi

Alex Phelan: @Alex_Phelan

Natalie Sambhi: @SecurityScholar

Katrina Zorzi: @kmzrz

As mentioned, the list deserves to be much larger, so feel free to suggest more in the comments. It’s also important to remember that women are generally disadvantaged in academia, so many promising scholars don’t get the opportunities they deserve.

Three upcoming terrorism sentencings in Sydney

The NSW online court lists show that three men associated with two separate terror plots in New South Wales will be sentenced at the end of this week.

On Thursday 1 March at 2pm, Raban Alou and will be sentenced for his role in the October 2015 murder of NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng. He was accused of providing Cheng’s killer, 15-year old Farhad Jabar, with the handgun used in the attack. Alou pleaded guilty on 19 May 2017 to one count of “engaging in a terrorist act” for “aiding, abeting, counseling or procuring the commission of a terrorist act by Farhad Jabar Kahlil Mohammad”.

On Friday 2 March at 10am, Talal Alameddine will be sentenced for his role in the same attack. On 6 October 2017 he pleaded guilty to supplying the handgun that Alou gave to Jabar. He had some of the heavier terrorism charges withdrawn, but pleaded guilty to possessing the gun “connected with the preparation for a terrorist act, and being reckless as to that connection”.

On Friday 2 March, Tamim Khaja will be sentenced. He pleaded guilty on 29 October 2017 to “one count of planning, or preparing, a terrorist attack” for planning a mass shooting attack in Sydney, against targets such as “Timor Army Barracks at Dundas in Sydney’s north-west and the Sydney West Trial Courts at Parramatta”.

 

Update 1: (Added 7 March 2018) My mistake, Talal Alameddine was not being sentenced on Friday 2 March, he just had a sentence hearing.

Making sense of Home Affairs and counter-terrorism

Late last year the Department of Home Affairs was established as part of what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called “the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements in more than 40 years”. This post is to help keep track of what is being changed and what that means for Australia’s domestic counter-terrorism arrangements.

On 18 July 2017 Malcolm Turnbull announced that his government would create a new portfolio called Home Affairs, which would be responsible for all “immigration, border protection and domestic security and law enforcement agencies”. On 20 December 2017 the new Department of Home Affairs was formally established and its website became active.

However, new legislation is needed to complete the process, mainly to move the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) from the Attorney-General’s portfolio to Home Affairs. So on 7 December 2017 Turnbull introduced the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, which was referred on 8 December to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is still reviewing it at the moment.

One immediate impact of all this is that ministerial responsibilities for counter-terrorism have changed.

Since the 1970s, the most important ministerial position when it came to counter-terrorism (aside from the Prime Minister) was the Attorney-General, who was responsible for ASIO and the Commonwealth Police Force (later the Australia Federal Police). This began to change in May 2015 when Turnbull gave Michael Keenan, who was already the Minister for Justice, the added role of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism.

Now it has changed more radically, as the portfolios of Minister for Justice and Minister for Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter-Terrorism have been abolished and largely subsumed within the new portfolio of Home Affairs. Moreover, the Attorney-General’s portfolio has now lost most of its national security responsibilities, as they have been handed to Home Affairs. This puts most counter-terrorism responsibilities into the hand of the new Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

Dutton will have other ministers helping to run the Department: the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs (Alex Hawke), Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs (Alan Tudge), and the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security (Angus Taylor). However, it appears that none of these junior ministers will have a counter-terrorism role. At a recent PJCIS hearing the Department’s Secretary, Michael Pezzullo, said that “the counterterrorism minister is Mr Dutton—and solely Mr Dutton”.

While the Attorney-General’s portfolio will have very few remaining national security roles, it will still be responsible for approving ASIO warrants. The Attorney-General will also take responsibility for some key accountability mechanisms, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM). These bodies will be moved from the Prime Minister’s portfolio to the Attorney-General’s.

One question this raises is: what practical differences will these ministerial changes make for Australian counter-terrorism?

Looking from the outside, I would guess that it won’t change a whole lot. ASIO and the AFP will likely continue to function much as they were, as will bodies like the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and Austrac, as they are all statutory authorities. Also, much counter-terrorism is conducted by the States, coordinating with Federal agencies and departments through operational mechanisms like Joint Counter Terrorism Teams or broader structures like the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)’s Australia New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee.

However, with Dutton and Pezzullo in charge, I fear that the politics of counter-terrorism and national security will be dragged even more into the politics of immigration and national identity than they already are. James Button’s excellent Monthly article is worth reading for background on this.

There are also questions about whether creating this mega-department will reduce accountability, as former Attorney-General George Brandis reportedly alluded to in a recent speech to ASIO. Also, moving accountability mechanisms like the IGIS and the INSLM from the Prime Minister to the Attorney-General would appear to be downgrading their importance, and the IGIS is not keen on this move.

On the other hand, the Turnbull government has indicated that it would boost the powers and resources of these accountability mechanisms in line with the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review’s recommendations. We will have to wait and see what happens here.