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The two national security threats that should be at the top of government's to-do list

By Anthony Bergin

Over the course of the federal election campaign we've seen jihadist terrorist atrocities in lraq, the US, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

But this brutal global jihadist insurgency didn't even rate a mention by either major party during the entire Australian eight-week campaign.

Two areas will require immediate attention from a new government: countering home grown violent extremism and airport security.

Since September 2014, when our terror alert level was first raised to "probable" (a terror attack is likely), Australia's experienced three attacks and nine disrupted plots to date. Our security agencies are now investigating about 400 terrorism cases.

We need fresh measures by a new government to counter efforts by extremists to radicalise, recruit or mobilise our youth to violence and to address the conditions that allow violent extremist recruitment and radicalisation.

We're going backwards right now.

Current measures to develop a nationwide infrastructure of support to local community efforts are insufficient to effectively counter the spread of extremist Islamist ideology in Australia.

 Our efforts are disparate and unco-ordinated and we don't know what's working.

To effectively conquer the threat of online (the target audience are digital natives) and offline violent extremism, a new Australian government will need to engage more with our Muslim communities, the private sector and non-government bodies.

 It will need to communicate more with local government, mental health professionals and parent-teacher networks to fight violent extremism.

A new government should empower credible messengers and influencers. This will require stronger federal partnerships with state governments' departments of education, health and human services to co-ordinate efforts to counter violent extremism.

A new Australian government should resist those who argue for verbal censorship and suggest we reject terms like "Islamist" extremism. Critics suggest we use euphemisms to minimise any "us-and-them" stance.

But this walking on eggshells approach, where the term "Islamaphobe gets thrown around, isn't just political correctness.

Not linking Islamist terrorism to its religious roots just makes it more difficult to counter jihadist ideology. It's not good for us or our Muslim communities if they don't recognise jihadist violence is coming out of their communities. This shouldn't be confused, however, with One Nation's contemptible demonisation of Muslims and Islam.

The second priority for a new government should be airport security, specifically the "landside" spaces where people gather before and after flights, prior to them passing through screening.

The attacks in Brussels and Istanbul airports highlight the problem of keeping people safe in the landside parts of the airport. It's no longer just about securing the aircraft.

Apart from educating the public at airports, ("if you see something, say something"), we may need to restrict visitors in departure and arrival halls to reduce the size of the concentrated target, asking families to say goodbye at home, although we'd need to be careful that we aren't just moving the target somewhere else.

We often forget that the most important people in aviation security are the lowest paid people at the airport.

Private security guards are the ones we rely on to assess security situations and make judgments about suspicious behaviour. After any security incident they're critical in first aid and crowd control.

Consideration should be given to arming security guards at our major airports, subject to appropriate screening and training. ATM and cash collection guards already carry weapons.

But what happened at Ataturk airport reminds us that the number one priority is to make sure that we stop any terrorist reaching our airports (or other places of mass gathering).

That will require optimising the sharing of sensitive intelligence between Australian government agencies and state-based bodies, including airport authorities at the twenty one leased federal airports on Commonwealth land.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Originally published: Sydney Morning Herald. 8th July 2016

Originally published by: Sydney Morning Herald on 08 Jul 2016