04 Jul 2019
Why is the Morrison Government pushing for new terrorism legislation?
By John Coyne
This week's terror raids provide the public with further evidence that Australia's counter-terrorism settings are on target.
Let's not forget that this kind of operational success isn't isolated either. Australia's police and intelligence agencies have disrupted a significant number of terror plots since 2014.
So why then is the Morrison Government calling for new terrorism legislation?
Is there a case for new legislation?
The National Terrorism Threat Advisory System has been set at 'probable' since September 2014.
This means that the Government has credible intelligence to suggest that there are individuals or groups that have both the capability and intent to undertake a terror attack in Australia.
Thankfully this legislation doesn't appear to be linked with any changes to Australia's terror threat level.
It's also not because Australia's police or intelligence agencies have failed to keep us safe. Our intelligence agencies had been watching the alleged offenders involved in this latest plot for months.
Our highly trained and well-equipped police, were able to undertake a complex operation involving six locations and detain three offenders.
And this was all done without loss of life nor injury to the public, law enforcement nor the alleged offenders.
Australia's police and intelligence agencies once again proved that they could monitor suspected terrorists, and when necessary execute warrants and arrest offenders.
But rather than celebrating this success, the Morrison Government is using it as an opportunity to push for further legislation and greater powers.
More specifically, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is calling for bipartisan support for the Counter Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Order) Bill 2019.
What would the changes achieve?
Broadly speaking the changes will provide Mr Dutton with two new powers.
Firstly, a temporary exclusion order (TEO), which may be used to prevent an Australian citizen aged 14 years or older who is overseas from returning to Australia for up to two years at a time.
Secondly a return permit, under which the Minister may impose conditions on the person's entry into Australia, including conditions with which the person must comply for up to 12 months after re-entering the country.
Most terrorist narratives seek to establish within their current and potential members a sense of persecution, discrimination and isolation.
And could they make things worse?
This narrative argues that the terrorist group offers a person a community, a place to belong and some greater purpose.
Australia's terrorism-related citizenship loss provisions already unintentionally support this narrative.
If a person's citizenship can be cancelled or suspended, then surely their citizenship is worth 'less than' that of those born in Australia.
These circumstances can be easily crafted into a narrative that will resonate with those who are already feeling like they are not part of Australian society.
The application of exclusion orders, especially against children will only add further fuel to the this flame.
The Morrison Government's proposed changes may mitigate the risk from one terrorist, but the act itself may contribute to the radicalisation of many more Australians.
The devil is in the detail
There's also no guarantee that the terror threat posed by a foreign fighter is mitigated by excluding them from returning to Australia.
The Bali Bombings clearly illustrate that Australia's terror threat is not geographically limited.
An Australian citizen excluded from returning to Australia under the proposed legislation may still represent a threat to Australians and Australian interests offshore.
Alternatively, if the return of these individuals can be managed, a range of security, legislative and community-based measures can be applied to mitigate the risk that they might pose.
The proposed return permits, may be of great value here, but the devil is in the various details.
I am not arguing that we should subscribe to an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach to terrorism legislation. Terrorist organisations are disturbingly adept at innovating, so policy makers need to regularly review their assumptions.
But on this occasion, it's not clear why the Government wants to move so quickly on these amendments, and their deeply contentious nature demands a cautious approach.