Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten will both home in on the importance of tackling cyber issues as part of the fight against terrorism, in parliamentary speeches on Tuesday.
In a security update on the threats facing Australia at home and abroad, Turnbull will say that an “online civil society is as achievable as an offline one”.
“The privacy and security of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety,” he says in notes released ahead of the address.
“The rights and protections of the vast overwhelming majority of Australians must outweigh the rights of those who will do them harm.
“That is truly what balancing the priority of community safety with individual liberties and our way of life is about.”
The government would not take an “if it ain’t broke we won’t fix it” mentality, Turnbull says – rather, Australia is at the forefront of efforts to address future threats.
Attorney-General George Brandis will visit Canada this month to meet his Five Eyes security counterparts – the others are from Britain, the US, New Zealand as well as Canada – and discuss what more can be done by likeminded nations and with the communications and technology industry “to ensure terrorists and organised criminals are not able to operate with impunity within ungoverned digital spaces online”.
Shorten, in his address (an extract of which has been released), will say: “We need to recognise this is a 21st-century conflict – being fought online as well as in the streets. Terrorists are using sophisticated online strategies as well as crude weapons of violence.”
He says this is where the private sector has a responsibility.
“For a long time Daesh has used the internet as an instrument of radicalisation. Through Twitter and Facebook they boast of a propaganda arm that can reach into every home in the world: spreading hate, recruiting followers and encouraging imitators.
“And with encryption technology like Whatsapp and Telegram they can securely communicate not just a message of violence – but instructions in how to carry it out.”
Shorten will acknowledge many internet providers and social media platforms such as Facebook work hard to detect and remove offensive content, namely child pornography and other forms of violent crime.
“But we need more – and these companies have the resources and the capacity to do more.
“As good corporate citizens and responsible members of democratic nations, I’m confident these tech companies will seek to do everything they can to assist the fight against terror.
“We must always be mindful of the rule of the law and the proper protections of our citizens – but we must be equally focused on adapting to new mediums and new technologies to detect and prevent new threats,” Shorten says.
The security focus in parliament comes after last week’s attack in Melbourne, events in Britain, and Friday’s decision by the Council of Australian Governments that there should be a presumption against parole and bail for people who have had any involvement with terrorism.
The government this week will introduce its tough new provisions governing visa and citizenship requirements. They include giving Immigration Minister Peter Dutton power to overrule Administrative Appeal Tribunal decisions on citizenship. Dutton said this would align citizenship provisions with the power he already has in relation to visas. There would still be the right to appeal to the Federal Court. Labor will announce its attitude when it sees the legislation.
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”.
The recent terror attacks in London and Manchester have raised concerns about whether authorities here in Australia are doing enough to combat terrorism.
These events have led to accusations that police and security agencies are not being upfront about the threat of terrorism – in particular Islamist terrorism. It has been suggested they are in denial about the link between terrorism, refugees and Islam, and are too concerned with maintaining good relationships with the Muslim community. Much of this commentary overlooks some key points.
First, the threat we face from terrorism in Australia is completely different from the UK or the rest of Europe. These countries face a higher number of terrorist threats from returning foreign fighters, and more people on terrorist watchlists.
This is not to diminish the threat we face domestically. Hence Australian authorities have on all fronts been developing comprehensive responses. These include the introduction of laws targeting foreign fighters, preventive legislation aimed at detained terrorists, deradicalisation programs in prisons, the establishment of state-based diversion teams that target those identified as at risk of radicalising to violent extremism, counter-terrorism hotlines and various local projects supporting grassroots efforts to tackle radicalisation and violent extremism.
Some commentators may argue we don’t actually know if these approaches or programs work, or that these have failed to prevent terrorism. But it is early days and some programs have only recently been established.
Tackling violent extremism is an evolving issue. But there is much evidence to indicate Australian authorities’ strategies hold great promise.
When an individual commits a terrorist act – particularly someone previously known to police – it is a hard reminder of the limits of counter-terrorism efforts. It should be an opportunity to reflect on whether we have the right mix of legal and preventive responses, while remembering that legal responses based on detection and detention have their limitations.
If we really want to be able to tackle violent extremism, we need to have an open debate and deal with some difficult issues.
As I have argued before, we need to consider a range of causes. Singling out and overemphasising one – such as religion or refugee intakes from Muslim countries – only inhibits a comprehensive policy response.
Leading academics in terrorism research have argued that we need to take the role of faith-based ideology seriously in understanding terrorism and its prevention. This is because groups like Islamic State take it seriously. They emphasise ideological rationalisations to justify their actions and attract fellow Muslims to their cause.
But this does not mean it is the most significant factor in leading Muslims to commit acts of terrorism. Likewise, just because a number of terrorist episodes in Australia have involved individuals with a refugee background, that does not mean one causes the other. In other words, correlation doesn’t equal cause.
Attacking the head of ASIO as somehow being in denial about the link doesn’t not help us get any closer to how we can best tackle the threat of violent extremism. There are multiple pathways into and away from violent extremism.
For instance, research has shown that peers, associates and families play key roles in the radicalisation process. That is, they help reinforce personnel grievances and the jihadist ideology, providing the intent and capability to commit acts of terrorism.
This is why former prime minister Tony Abbott’s comments, made after the London attacks, that “officials were too concerned about maintaining relations with the Muslim community” or that “Islamophobia, unlike terrorism, has never killed anyone” are mystifying.
The police maintaining good relations with the Muslim community is essential to the passing of intelligence to police and in helping to identify youth at risk. Episodes of Islamophobia only further alienate the Muslim community. Making Muslims feel like they don’t belong is an identified pathway into violent extremism.
It’s important to keep in mind that one of the aims of terrorism is not just to take human life, but to instil fear in the broader population. The loss of life to terrorism understandably provokes a demand for a forceful response. Tough language like “enough is enough” is important in offering public reassurance governments are taking the issue seriously.
But we have to keep in mind that a goal of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction and create divisions in society. Jihadi ideologue Abu Bakr Naji in his treatise the Management of Savagery – the textbook that has guided much of Islamic State’s brutality – stated that this should be a key goal of violent jihad. We should be mindful of not falling into this trap.
It appears to be increasingly common that terrorist attacks not of the lone-wolf variety involve members of the same family.
Some of them, like the San Bernardino attack last December, are committed by married couples or romantic partners.
But quite a few recent terrorist atrocities – the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Boston Marathon bombings and now Tuesday’s Brussels attacks – have been perpetrated by siblings. So is there a link between within-family radicalisation and acts of terrorism? And is terrorism different from any other crime in this respect?
Both genetics and environment are known to influence criminal behaviour. But the exact nature of these influences and their relative importance are still being debated.
It can be expected, therefore, that genes contribute to terrorist behaviour. But it is wrong to conclude that just because two individuals have a common genetic make-up, one will follow the other if the other becomes a terrorist. Instances of only one family member displaying criminal behaviour are very common.
Nevertheless, there may be environmental factors that contribute to and interact with genetics to cause terrorist behaviour. If so, one would expect to find more terrorist acts than other kinds of criminal acts committed by members of the same family. Family members share both genetics and environment to a greater extent than people in general.
Studies of the militant extremist mindset provide clues to why we can expect to find more siblings among terrorist cells. From the three components of this mindset, only one – “nastiness” – is directly linked to other varieties of criminal behaviour.
Violent criminals of any kind tend to strongly advocate harsh punishment of their enemies. For example, they are more likely than most people to approve of physical punishment for insulting one’s honour.
While both genetics and environment may be implicated in “nastiness”, the other two components of the militant mindset – “grudge” and “excuse” – represent environmental influences to a greater extent. These are usually the focus of recruiters.
An important component of radicalisation is a strong feeling that the group one belongs to is under threat from some other group – that is, the person feels a “grudge” of some kind. A common example is the feeling that the West has exploited and hurt “my” people, and this needs to be avenged.
Sometimes grudge is more general and not oriented towards a particular group. The person simply feels that this world is unfair and full of injustices.
“Excuse” is a dressing-up part of extremism. It relies on religious and ideological “higher moral principles” to justify the feelings of nastiness and grudge.
It follows from the nature of the militant extremist mindset that we can expect to find more siblings among terrorists. This is because such attacks tend to be carried out by people who are more ready for action and are prepared to be vicious in dealing with their enemies. This tends to be a shared characteristic of criminal family members.
Being raised together – and therefore being exposed to the same set of stories about the enemies and the same set of moral, ideological and religious reasons justifying their feeling of hate – is likely to contribute significantly to the same tendency.
And then there is a feeling of trust, due to a common upbringing and feelings stronger than typical camaraderie when you are doing something together with somebody who is close to you. Overall, it is likely that there will be more instances of siblings committing terrorist attacks.
From a security point of view, it may be reasonable to ask whether this tendency calls for a different approach to detection. There is currently an emphasis on internet-based radicalisation, rather than on person-to-person contacts. Family interactions diminish the role of the former and point to the need to maintain traditional policing methods.