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Australian Politics

Australia creates counterterror super-ministry in most significant security reform for 40 years

The new agency, which will strip management of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation from the attorney general’s portfolio and federal police from the justice ministry, will need legislative changes to be implemented

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 10:48pm

Australia will create a Home Affairs ministry to boost anti-terrorism links between government agencies, in the nation’s biggest security shake-up in more than 40 years, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

To be led by current Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, the portfolio will be based on the UK’s Home Office and have oversight of federal police, intelligence agencies and border forces, Turnbull told reporters on Tuesday in Canberra.

“I am announcing the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements and their oversight in more than 40 years,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

“We are taking the best elements of our intelligence and national security community and making them better. As terrorists evolve their methods, we have to evolve our responses.

“This is driven by operational logic. You have a domestic security challenge which gets greater all the time.”

The government will also create an Office of National Intelligence to coordinate efforts and boost cybersecurity, he said.

We are taking the best elements of our intelligence and national security community and making them better
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Turnbull said the UK’s Home Office, rather than the US Department of Homeland Security, provided the template for the new ministry, which would be small enough to be nimble and would be consistent with arrangements made by other “Five Eyes” intelligence partners including New Zealand and Canada.

The new super-ministry, which will strip management of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation from the attorney general’s portfolio and federal police from the justice ministry, will need legislative changes to be implemented, he said.

Former police officer Dutton, 46, has been a federal lawmaker since 2001 and held ministry portfolios for health, sport and the assistant treasury before Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, appointed him to the immigration and border protection portfolio in December 2014.

One of the ruling Liberal Party’s most senior conservatives, Dutton was a strong backer of Abbott’s failed bid to keep the leadership in a September 2015 party challenge from Turnbull. With the Liberal-National coalition trailing in opinion polls, Dutton has been touted by some political analysts as a potential challenger to Turnbull’s leadership.

Turnbull, 62, denied the change was driven by political imperatives, including appeasing a conservative lawmaker in his coalition with a senior ministry position.

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“It’s not about politics, it’s about safety,” Turnbull said. “We have the best agencies in the world, we want them to work together.”

Canberra lifted the terror threat alert level in September 2014 and introduced new national security laws amid concerns of attacks by individuals inspired by organisations such as Islamic State.

Counterterrorism police have also made a string of arrests since late 2014 across the nation and say they have prevented 12 terror attacks on home soil in the past few years.

But several attacks have taken place, including a cafe siege in 2014 where two hostages were killed and the murder of a Sydney police employee in 2015 by a 15-year-old boy.