Terrorist-spotting

Back in 2013 and 2014, I had some involvement with this radicalisation information booklet. The Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) had ultimate editorial control, but it was delivered under contract from Monash, and involved consultations with people from other institutions and some community groups. It was not intended as some sort of spot-the-terrorists guide. Then, this week it was released by the government as part of an extremely worrying announcement that teachers would be encouraged to identify whether students are potential terrorists.

Which was a big surprise.

I’m planning to write about this sometime soon, but not sure when, so this is just a post to flag it. I plan to discuss two issues:

1. Why this apparent idea of encouraging teachers to try to spot early-warning signs of terrorism is a terrible idea. There’s a real risk of Australia going down the UK path and that’s very dangerous. Australian counter-terrorism policy has been heading in a bad direction for some time, and this would likely make things even worse.

2. The big questions this whole thing raises about academic involvement with government initiatives. As readers will know, I’m not opposed at all to engagement between academia and government in the national security space. From 2010 to 2013 I was employed in an ARC Linkage Project at Monash that included AFP, VicPol, Vic DPC and Vic DoJ as partners, a period of my life I’m extremely proud of. Engagement does pose dilemmas (see some interesting discussions here, here, here and here) but can benefit society enormously. However, it’s important to be clear-eyed about the risks involved. With this AGD booklet project, I wasn’t.

More on all this later.

 

Update 1: I made some changes to this post on 4 October 2015. I initially wrote that the AGD “consulted with several of us at Monash”, but it turns out that wasn’t an accurate description so I’ve rephrased it. I also initially wrote that my involvement was in 2013, but realised that a community consultation I participated in actually happened in 2014, so I had some involvement in both 2013 and 2014. Also in the last sentence of the first paragraph I changed plan to announcement, as what the government announced through the Daily Telegraph is not necessarily the government’s actual plan (judging from media releases and official statements), which is another thing I want to look at in the first piece I’m writing.

A few readers have been asking when the articles are coming out. The first one should hopefully be done soon. The second article will take quite a bit longer, it’s going in some interesting directions, including looking back at academic-government engagement in the Vietnam War and even back to World War Two, and becoming a bigger task than planned. In short: first article shouldn’t take much longer, second one will.

Update 2: The first article is now published.

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