Federal and state leaders have ramped up anti-terrorism provisions and plan to meet again soon for a broad review of the nation’s legal and practical security preparedness.
Malcolm Turnbull won support from the Council of Australian Governments for a tougher approach to parole and bail, where people have had terrorist connections.
States and territories agreed to strengthen their laws to ensure a presumption against granting bail or parole when people had “demonstrated support for, or have links to, terrorist activity”.
In the wake of this week’s Melbourne attack by Somali-born Yacqub Khayre, Turnbull demanded that state attorneys-general should sign off on parole applications when there was a terrorism link, rather than parole authorities.
Khayre, who killed the receptionist at a serviced apartment block before he was shot by police, had been out on parole, despite having a violent history and known past links to terrorism.
Turnbull said what COAG had agreed to was consistent with recent changes made by New South Wales.
He said if the change had been in place, it was inconceivable Khayre would have been given parole. The challenge of overcoming the presumption against release would be “very high indeed”.
The leaders also decided to hold a special COAG meeting as soon as practicable “to fully and more comprehensively review the nation’s laws and practices directed at protecting Australians from violent extremism”.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, speaking at the joint news conference after the meeting, delivered a blunt warning that people had to expect curbs on civil liberties.
“I think we are at a point in our nation’s history where we have to give very serious consideration to giving law enforcement some tools and powers that they don’t enjoy today,” he said.
That might be unpopular with the civil liberties community, and involve curtailing the rights and freedoms of a small number of people, he said. But “that is what will be needed in order to preserve and protect a great many more”.
COAG had reports from ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Turnbull’s cyber-security adviser, Alastair MacGibbon, and the counter terrorism co-ordinator, Tony Sheehan. The meeting had originally been expected to be dominated by a briefing from Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, who presented his report on energy security. But the recent events in Britain and Melbourne meant that terrorism was an equal focus.
Also on security, the leaders:
agreed to having security-cleared corrections staff as part of the counter-terrorism team in each jurisdiction. This is designed for better sharing of information;
agreed on the importance of close co-operation between all levels of government and with the private sector in protecting crowded public places;
discussed strengthening the security of public and private IT systems in the context of the WanaCry ransomware campaign, which locks computer files and demands payments to unlock them;
committed to governments continuing to work together and with industry to manage the security risks coming from foreign involvement in the nation’s critical infrastructure; and
ordered further work on a nationally consistent approach to organised crime legislation.
Turnbull stressed that when it came to overcoming the terrorist threat, “governments cannot simply set and forget”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra