To a lot of people, the extension of Peter Dutton’s powers and our increased militarism is nothing more than fear mongering. However, the awful truth is that these changes are needed to reflect the modern world.
With the announcement this week that Peter Dutton will now not only be responsible for matters concerning immigration, but also security and police agencies including ASIO, the federal police and border force, a fundamental question concerning Australia’s response to terrorism and the increasing powers of the military in Australia are likely to be asked.
While the interest may focus towards Mr Dutton himself and his rise through the Liberal ranks, perhaps a more poignant matter is that Australia’s policing, spy and anti-terror organisations will now be streamlined under one man’s domain. The new so-called ‘super portfolio’ – coupled with recently proposed statutory changes to give Australia’s military greater powers if a terrorist attack on these shores occurs – signals a radical upgrade in governmental and judicial protocol not seen in decades.
As the law currently stands, States must show that they have exhausted all abilities to defend themselves in instances of terror attacks. The new legislation would allow the military to be more readily deployed if the “Commonwealth interests” are threatened. The laws would also provide police tactical and response units with better training from the Australian Defence Force.
Perhaps saying the most obvious thing ever, Mr Turnbull said: “We have to ensure that every resource we have – legislative, military, police, intelligence, security – is always at the highest standard and able to be brought to bear to keep Australians safe.”
While of course this is true, it seems apparent that the recent spate of terrorist attacks in London, including the Borough Market attack that killed two Australians, has had a dramatic impact on the way in which the government sees its current practice for response to organised attacks. For instance, the ‘super portfolio’ is said to closely follow the structure of Britain’s Home Office – which is unlike the United States’ all ensconcing Homeland Security – and it appears that the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the UK has been enough for him to want to make sweeping changes.
Of course, the inevitable response from the PM’s political naysayers will be that this government thrives on the spreading of fear – an accusation regularly labelled at former PM Tony Abbott – and that the Australian people have nothing to fear but fear itself. Admittedly, it was difficult not to raise an eyebrow watching Mr Turnbull’s press conference at Holsworthy Barracks on Monday morning, announcing his changes to military powers, where he stood in front of six fully-kitted and masked ADF soldiers, wearing sunglasses and balaclavas and holding enormous assault rifles.
— Eddy Jokovich (@EddyJokovich) July 17, 2017
One of the ‘problems’, for lack of a better word, that the government faces in this regard, is that Australia is still yet to see an organised terrorist attack. Most Australians would say that the Lindt Café siege in 2014 was a terrorist attack, however, this was one of the only instances in the terror groups history where ISIS did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack and flatly refuted any association to perpetrator Man Monis. Therefore, the idea the super portfolio being put together under Mr Dutton, coupled with the increasing of military powers in terrorist situations may seem extreme and does nothing more than to create an uneasy tension among citizens.
To many, the changes are unnecessary. Nobody wants to see the military in our streets. Anybody who has been to Paris in the past two years will have seen the military and armed police patrolling the major tourist destinations: The Louvre; The Eiffel Tower; The Arc de Triumph. Nobody wants to get a selfie in front of the Opera House in Sydney with a member of the Navy Seals floating around in the background with an AK-47 slung over one arm. And until something significant happens, do we feel like this is all unnecessary? Do we still believe that the ‘Australian way of life’ is untouchable? That no harm could be done in such idyllic, peaceful, verdant surrounds?
To many, the changes are unnecessary. Nobody wants to see the military in our streets. For me, the changes are only a good thing. I would much rather have a military that is given the power to assist the State, than for the ADF to be hamstrung because the existing legislation requires the clearance of bureaucratic red tape from self-involving political figures.
Mr Turnbull suggested that between ASIO and the AFP, 12 terrorist plots had been thwarted and that they had led to hundreds of arrests and I, for one, am of the belief that if the general public was made aware of every terror plot threatened against Australia, if Australia’s secret organisations were made to be transparent, then an overwhelming sense of moral panic would exist in the streets of our major cities.
Australia, while not all-together dissimilar to the United States, still has an overt loyalty to the United Kingdom and to England in particular. Even more so in London. Every Australian knows someone living in London, who has been to London, who plans to visit London. It is a home away from home. We are almost desensitised to violence in America and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate home-grown violence with international terror. But when it happens in London, it’s all a little too close to home.
So when we see the iconic images of panicked Anglo-Saxons in pubs being told to get down on the floor by police, when we see the blue and red sirens flickering over Westminster Bridge and when we see two of our own countrymen needlessly slain by Islamic extremists; we are made aware that this can happen to anyone and anywhere. It seems obvious that the Prime Minister has seen the sites himself, met with the people who were praised for such quick response times, come back home to Australia and immediately implemented changes that mimic our closest ally.
For me, the changes are only a good thing. I would much rather have a military that is given the power to assist the State, that trains tactical police units and that can freely protect these shores than for the ADF to be hamstrung because the existing legislation requires the clearance of bureaucratic red tape from self-involving political figures. Of course, until we see these powers in action – and here’s hoping we never do – we’ll never know their full efficacy.