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Security and resilience are natural portfolio partners

By Anthony Bergin and David Connery

The Australian, p30

Both main party leaders are thinking about how they'll structure their ministry after the election. One change that should be considered is realigning the responsibilities of the attorney-general and the minister for home affairs and justice, then renaming the latter as the minister for security and resilience.

This minister would unify the efforts of Australia's numerous security agencies and provide these matters with a clear voice in cabinet and its national security committee.

While it's clear which ministers speak to defence and foreign policy issues in cabinet, it's not always clear who is responsible for broader domestic security.

It is mainly the attorney-general, but that minister has about 60 portfolio responsibilities. Only about half of those are directly relevant to national security.

The minister for home affairs, who is also the minister for justice, has some domestic security responsibilities, but he is not an ex officio member of the national security committee, where those areas are normally the job of the attorney-general.

A minister for security and resilience at cabinet level would provide unity of command in areas related to counter-terrorism, organised crime, cyber security and emergency management.

A co-ordinated system needs someone with the authority to oversee the entire homeland security jigsaw and the time to place the pieces in the right places.

The new minister should not play second fiddle to the attorney-general.

Rather, the new minister would provide a single focal point for assessing and developing the wide range of elements that comprise domestic security, from counter-terrorism to cyber security and combating organised crime.

It would have the Australian Federal Police under its wing as well as the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. It might make sense for this minister to oversee ASIO, too.

The minister for security and resilience wouldn't require a new bureaucracy. The Attorney-General's Department could support them, just as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supports two ministers.

A new minister for security and resilience should have two parliamentary secretaries.

Given that we are likely to see more extreme and intense weather events, one could assist on emergency management. The second would be a parliamentary secretary for cyber security.

At present, the lead minister on national cyber security is the Prime Minister. But that means a minister who wishes to object to an aspect of cyber policy must oppose the Prime Minister: that's not a recipe for a healthy cabinet process (or a healthy ministerial career).

It also means the Prime Minister must focus on policy detail and lead the bargaining to make proposals stick.

The next prime minister won't need that extra work.

Our suggestion to split the operational security components of the attorney-general's portfolio responsibilities would improve accountability.

With much national security policy managed under executive prerogative, it would be wise to have one minister responsible for framing the law (the attorney-general) and another responsible for its enforcement (minister for security and resilience). That way, internal contestability over policy in the national security space is built into the structure of cabinet. The separation would establish clear advocates for security, and freedom (or budget priorities) when the time comes - as it did after 2001 - to consider new laws in the face of a fresh security challenge.

It's easy to see the cyber policy area as one that may need such advocates soon. The attorney-general's position will remain that of a politician within cabinet.

But our suggestion would allow the attorney-general to focus on the administration of justice, and strengthen the traditional role of the attorney as the commonwealth's first law officer.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute; David Connery is a senior analyst (strategic policing) at ASPI.