Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia



The creation of the Home Affairs department means that complex and sometimes competing security and law enforcement priorities now have a strategic policy home.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Jacinta Carroll, Australian National University

It’s been two years since the government announced it would establish a Home Affairs portfolio, and just over 18 months since it came into being. Since then, the department, and its high-profile minister and secretary, have attracted much controversy, discussion and criticism.

The latest debate centres on concerns that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is further consolidating power with legislation that would prevent foreign fighters from returning home for up to two years and the recent decision to move refugee services into his department.

There’s also been criticism that the portfolio is cloaked in secrecy, with some questioning why an internal strategic review of the ministry has not been made public.

Are we seeing an unprecedented consolidation of unregulated power? Or is there a reasonable story of good public policy behind the headlines?

Creating a single defence portfolio

These questions need to be placed in the context of both history and broader developments in home affairs policy.

We’re used to having a single Department of Defence in Australia. But it was only 40 years ago that the momentous decision was made to consolidate five departments — including one for each of the armed services — into a single agency.

There was push-back at the time from some agencies, and also a focus on the high-profile personalities involved in the process, including Defence Secretary Sir Arthur Tange, and his relationship with ministers and service chiefs.




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Decades later, the Department of Defence remains a large but effective organisation with a joint strategic and operational command, supported by a capable department. But its strategically important role and the significant resources needed to do its job mean it continues to require close management, attention and review.

Last year’s decision to take the Australian Signals Directorate out of the department shows it remains a work in progress, but one that continues to head in the right direction.

The lesson is that significant change in important areas of government policy, operations and services takes time, accompanied by ongoing review and revision.

Competing agencies and priorities

Before the Home Affairs portfolio was created, there were numerous security issues that cut across government agencies and demonstrated the need for a more strategic approach and greater collaboration among agencies.

The crisis around the unauthorised boat arrivals in the late-2000s, for example, created significant tension between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The high number of arrivals saw demands to speed up immigration visa processing. But ASIO was seen as delaying the process as it had to ensure the largely undocumented arrivals presented no security threat.

Divisions emerged among various government agencies during the boat arrivals crisis.
Josh Jerga/AAP

It was challenging for the two agencies, with such different responsibilities, to work through these issues. There was also pressure on the Australian Defence Force to provide the operational response at sea, and on law enforcement and customs officials investigating people-smuggling operations and other related crimes.

The agencies worked reasonably well together, but were often constrained due to their separate roles and protocols that did not support collaboration. They got through the crisis, with a lot of effort.




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Counter-terrorism has been another major cross-agency issue. ASIO handled terror threat advisories and terror investigations (along with the police), while the attorney-general’s department oversaw countering violent extremism (CVE) policy.

The prime minister’s department was home to senior counter-terrorism and cyber-security coordinators, and the departments of defence and foreign affairs and trade ran their own counter-terrorism initiatives.

There was no single agency responsible for providing strategic policy direction on the issue until the establishment of Home Affairs.

One strategic policy home

The advent of Home Affairs means that complex and sometimes competing priorities have a strategic policy home and can be worked through at a portfolio level.

Immigration and ASIO are now in the same portfolio. Other agencies have also been added to the mix, including the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).

Even in the short period since its creation, Home Affairs has made progress in providing more effective operations and services, supported by enhanced information sharing and technical capabilities.

For example, the department now has dedicated leads overseeing cross-agency efforts on counter-terrorism, cyber-security, organised crime and foreign interference.




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Yet, the breadth of issues handled by the portfolio has also raised concerns about consolidation of power.

But most of the Home Affairs agencies are separate statutory authorities, retaining the independence and power established in their roles. The heads of ASIO and AFP, for instance, provide advice directly to the prime minister and cabinet when required and carry out their own operations.

In the aftermath of the AFP raids on media organisations, both Dutton and AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin confirmed the minister had no involvement in the operations.

Ongoing communication and appropriate oversight

The most important issue facing Home Affairs is the need for clear communication to the public on what the department does, why it’s important, and how its work is carried out. That must also include assurances the department has appropriate oversight and accountability systems in place.

This is easier said than done in the highly charged political atmosphere that’s surrounded Home Affairs since its inception.

It’s good news, then, that Labor chose to establish a shadow home affairs minister after the federal election, thereby working with the new Home Affairs arrangements and letting the portfolio as a whole settle down.

The oversight and accountability mechanisms are also doing what they’re supposed to do. The proposed security laws, for example, were scrutinised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which recommended changes to reduce the minister’s power.

Most suggestions were incorporated in the revised legislation, though Labor still has concerns about the minister’s power to grant a temporary exclusion order (TEO) for returning foreign fighters. The PJCIS will continue to examine the use of TEOs, as will the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and other oversight organisations.

The PJCIS is also due to report to parliament in October on its inquiry into press freedom, which will shed light on issues related to the AFP raids. And we’ll likely see the key findings of Home Affairs’ internal review as its annual report and regular Senate Estimates appearances approach.

Anti-Dutton signs after a rally to protest the AFP raids on journalists in June.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Why it should work

The creation of Home Affairs enables a more strategic and integrated approach to security, law enforcement, migration and border issues. It also means more efficient delivery of services.

But there are significant challenges to doing this and getting it right, particularly while managing such a vast portfolio of operations and responsibilities. Maintaining a balanced approach, and ensuring considered and appropriate oversight and review will be critical to its success.

More than 40 years after its creation, the Department of Defence is held up now for its strategic vision and stewardship of the country’s armed forces. The divisive politics surrounding its creation have long been forgotten.

And so it should be with Home Affairs. The creation of the portfolio is ultimately a good thing for Australia and for good public policy and services. But this is a long-term endeavour and the project is still in its early days.The Conversation

Jacinta Carroll, Senior Research Fellow, Counter Terrorism and Social Cohesion, National Security College, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from The Hill: Kristina Keneally vs Peter Dutton should produce plenty of political bloodsport


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Kristina Keneally is continuing her rise and rise, appointed to “shadow” Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, in Anthony Albanese’s frontbench bench line up announced on Sunday.

After last week obtaining a place in the shadow ministry and becoming Labor’s deputy Senate leader, with two men standing aside to make way for her, Keneally now takes on one of the toughest players in the Coalition. She’ll also cover immigration, which comes under the home affairs portfolio but has a separate minister in the government’s ranks.

At Bill Shorten’s side all through the election campaign, Keneally didn’t recoil from the task of head kicking. She called Dutton a “thug” and “the most toxic man in Australian politics”.

Dutton is a head kicker from way back. On Sunday he was quickly out of the blocks. “Kristina Keneally I predict will be somebody who is very spiteful, very nasty and very personal in her attacks, that’s been her history,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to attack Kristina Keneally on a personal basis”.

They could make the perfect matchup for those into political blood sports.

Home Affairs to continue under Labor


@KKeneally

The appointment does mean, and Albanese confirmed, that the opposition is committed to the home affairs portfolio long term, despite Labor’s platform providing for a review.

Asked “now that you have a home affairs shadow minister, does that mean you will preserve the portfolio if in power?” Albanese said: “Obviously the position we have as a shadow ministry is the one that we hope to take to an election and one that we hope to then implement if we were in government”.

Keneally tweeted:“@AlboMP’s decision to introduce a Shadow Home Affairs portfolio sends a clear message that Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe. Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement”.

Another notable feature of the Albanese frontbench is Bill Shorten’s appointment as shadow for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and government services, where he will be up against minister Stuart Robert.

It brings Shorten (who wanted health) back to where he started on the ladder after arriving in parliament at the 2007 election, when he was appointed parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services. His work in the disabilities area laid a foundation for the NDIS.

NDIS is now politically important

This is not a high profile post for Shorten but because both he and Robert will have a good deal to prove, it could further ensure the NDIS gets a lot of attention, which will be a good thing.

Albanese made a point of his shadow cabinet having equal numbers of men and women, 12 each, when shadow cabinet secretary Jenny McAllister is included.

The four new members of the shadow cabinet are all women: Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Terri Butler and Madeleine King.

At every opportunity Labor highlights that it does way better on the gender front than the government; frequently, Scott Morrison seeks to argue he is doing better than the Liberals did before.

Chalmers is Labor’s voice on economics

As expected, former finance spokesman and Queenslander Jim Chalmers becomes shadow treasurer. Chalmers has a formidable job in front of him, having simultaneously to carry the day-to-day economic argument while being at the centre of the overhaul of Labor’s most controversial election policies.

His colleagues and the public will have abundant opportunity to assess someone who aspires to be leader in the longer term.

Chalmers’ first task and Labor’s first test will be when the new parliament considers the income tax cuts legislation at the start of July. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterated on Sunday that the government will not split the package, which includes tax relief for higher income earners in later years.

As part of the new economic team Gallagher, one-time ACT chief minister – who has returned to the Senate from her exile in the citizenship crisis – becomes shadow minister for finance.

Albanese performs a balancing act

Former shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will be health spokesman; the previous occupant of that post, Catherine King, moves to infrastructure, transport and regional development.

Tony Burke goes from environment to industrial relations, with Brendan O’Connor, who previously had employment and workplace relations, keeping the former but losing the latter and acquiring industry. This removes the conflict of interest he had, with his brother Michael being secretary of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.

A number of shadows remain in their old portfolio spots – one is the new deputy leader Richard Marles (defence). Others include Penny Wong (foreign affairs), Tanya Plibersek (education), Mark Butler (climate change and energy), and Michelle Rowland (communications). But Plibersek loses responsibility for women, which goes to Julie Collins. It remains to be seen how much refashioning Butler will have to do to Labor’s climate policy.




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There will be the odd interesting balancing act, such as on coal issues. Queenslander Terri Butler, from the left, gets environment and water; Joel Fitzgibbon, from the right, who was concerned how the coal debate swung votes against him in his mining seat of Hunter, has resources added to his responsibility for agriculture.

Linda Burney will cover Indigenous Australians in addition to her previous responsibilities of families and social services. It will be important how she and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, both themselves Indigenous, choose to balance conflict and consensus in this area.

Leigh gets looked after, Husic declines offer

Shayne Neumann has taken a big tumble, from immigration and border protection and a member of shadow cabinet, to veterans affairs and defence personnel in the outer shadow ministry.

Pat Dodson is shadow assistant minister for reconciliation, and Andrew Leigh, who lost his shadow ministry because he didn’t have a faction, has been awarded a position as shadow assistant minister for treasury.

But Ed Husic, who stood down so Keneally could get one of the right’s spots in the shadow ministry, is not even in a shadow assistant minister position. He could have had one – they were in the gift of Albanese – but declined. Which is rather a pity, given his talents.


For the fridge door:The Conversation


Australian Labor Party

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Peter Dutton’s bid for more crime-fighting power has bought him a fight


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

No one should be surprised that the Home Affairs department, with its ambitious minister Peter Dutton and his activist secretary, Mike Pezzullo, is feeling its oats. When Malcolm Turnbull granted Dutton his wish for a mega department, it was obvious how things would go.

Now we are seeing a power play which has set Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at odds, and raised questions about striking the right balances in a cyber age that brings new threats but also new invasive technology to counter them.

The issue immediately at hand is whether Home Affairs can drag the Australian Signals Directorate – a defence-aligned organisation which spies electronically on foreign targets – into the fight against a broad range of crime in Australia.

As the head of ASD, Mike Burgess, succinctly put it in a draft note for Defence Minister Marise Payne, Home Affairs wants legislative change “to enable ASD to better support a range of Home Affairs priorities”.

The latest move, as documented in bureaucratic correspondence leaked last weekend – everyone assumes in order to blow up the proposal – came from Pezzullo. But Pezzullo was formalising a plan foreshadowed by Dutton as soon as he was sworn into the Home Affairs portfolio.

In December Fairfax reported Dutton saying that ASD would be used more in Australian investigations into terrorism, drug-smuggling, child exploitation and other cross-border crimes.

Put in the simplest terms, under the plan the Australian Federal Police, ASIO and similar agencies would collect the data, as they do now, while an empowered ASD could supply the technical capability to disrupt or prevent the crime online.

After publication of the leaked correspondence in the Sunday Telegraph, headlined “Secret plan to spy on Aussies”, Pezzullo, Defence Department secretary Greg Moriarty, and Burgess issued an opaque statement that, when you cut through the bureaucratise, indicated the option for a wider use of ASD was on the table.

Meanwhile Bishop told reporters “there is no plan for the government to extend the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate so that it could collect intelligence against Australians or covertly access private data”.

That would appear to be true, but it is also true Dutton had already flagged publicly a proposal to expand ASD’s remit, and the Burgess draft note clearly stated that the Home Affairs department had advised it was briefing its minister to write to the Defence Minister.

The fine distinction between expanding ASD powers but it not collecting intelligence on Australians is where the confusion lies, and that will need to be carefully laid out.

Bishop and Dutton have a record as sparring partners. The two ministers contrast in style but both are tough operators who don’t take a backward step. This is the second matter on which they’ve recently clashed – the other was Dutton’s desire to bring in white South African farmers on the basis they were subject to “persecution”.

Dutton, announcing this week AFP deputy commissioner Karl Kent as the first Transnational Serious and Organised Crime Coordinator within Home Affairs, told a news conference that the capacities of various agencies had to be looked at “including obviously … the capacity of ASD”.

Dutton stressed any change would have safeguards. “As for some claim that there’s going to be some spying taking place on Australian citizens, it’s complete nonsense,” he said.

“If there was to be any look at ways in which we could try and address the cyber threat more effectively, it would be accompanied by the usual protections, including warrant powers”, ticked off by the attorney-general or the justice system.

Defending his position on Thursday, Dutton talked about child exploitation, a guaranteed hot button, pointing out that people were conveying “images of sexual acts against children in live-streaming on the internet.

“We’ve got to deal with that threat. We have the ability, potentially, to disrupt some of those servers. At the moment the ASD … could disrupt that server if it was in operation offshore, but not if it was operating out of Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.

It is believed that Defence is unimpressed with the move on ASD, from July 1 a statutory agency but traditionally in its bailiwick. But it is Bishop who is most obviously taking the issue on, even though her portfolio is not directly involved.

For Bishop, the exercise has flouted the manner in which such a major bid for change should be handled, leaving most ministers blindsided.

Home Affairs’ case receives some support from a recent submission to the parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement by David Irvine, former head of ASIO and now chairman of the Cyber Security Research Centre, a body set up to promote industry investment in cyber security research.

Irvine writes: “Both national security threats and criminal activity exploit the internet in similar ways. Both need to be countered or managed using similar investigative tools and techniques.”

“Australia’s national capacity to counter threats and criminal activity using cyber investigative tools is relatively under-developed, uncoordinated and fragmented”, making it “difficult for agencies to cope with the pace of technical change,” he says.

Irvine argues for a new body to provide “expert technical cyber investigative services in support of law enforcement and national security investigations”, done by Commonwealth and state agencies.

He says such a body might fall within Home Affairs “but it would depend extensively upon the offensive and defensive cyber operational skills of the Australian Signals Directorate, and its offshoot the Australian Cyber Security Centre”.

The tug of war over ASD may have some way to run but with cyber risks becoming an increasing preoccupation, at this stage Dutton and Pezzullo appear to have a head start. It is now a question of where Malcolm Turnbull will come down. It is hard to see him saying no to Dutton.

But the implications of any extension of ASD’s remit should be fully debated sooner rather than later. As the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Margaret Stone wrote earlier this year, a change to ASD’s “focus for its covert or intrusive intelligence related activities to people and organisations inside Australia would be a profound one”.

The ConversationThe pros and cons of the Dutton bid need a lot of public airing before the government reaches a conclusion, rather than that conclusion being presented as a fait accompli.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: The rift between Brandis and Dutton deepens as the behemoth of Home Affairs rises


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Immigration minister Peter Dutton got a towelling from the Senate this week when he couldn’t reach a deal with the crossbench on his legislation to toughen requirements for people seeking Australian citizenship.

The bill was to impose a harder – many would say a ridiculously difficult – English test on those wanting to become Australians, and to require a longer waiting period.

The Senate gave Dutton a Wednesday night deadline to muster support or lose the bill from the notice paper. He offered some concessions but without success, and the bill dropped off – to return only if and when the numbers change. The minister says he’ll fight on.

Dutton had been sent a fresh message about the limits on his power. He doesn’t like such reminders. We know this from his attacks on court and tribunal rulings against his ministerial decisions, and his vitriol about lawyers who represent refugees and asylum seekers.

After he agreed with broadcaster Alan Jones about the “un-Australian” behaviour of lawyers who frustrate government efforts to return people to Manus and Nauru following medical treatment, the ongoing deep rift between Dutton and Attorney-General George Brandis flared publicly earlier this month.

In a speech to the International Bar Association Brandis said pointedly that “those who exercise executive power must always accept that they are subject to, and must always be respectful of, the supremacy of the law. And in that process, as the custodians of the rule of law, the role of lawyers is essential”.

Brandis didn’t name Dutton, but his target was clear.

Colleagues observe the palpable hostility between the two ministers, both from Queensland, as Brandis has recently been increasingly willing to assert small-l liberal positions (slapping down Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott as well as Dutton), and has in turn been the object of apparently antagonistic briefings to the tabloids.

As the new Home Affairs department that Dutton will head is being sewn together – including immigration and bringing under its umbrella ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, Border Force, the Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC – it’s an open secret that Brandis (who loses ASIO but retains the power to sign its warrants), his department and some officials within the agencies are deeply apprehensive about it.

Some of their concerns may be reinforced by the picture painted a week ago by the new department’s secretary-designate, and current immigration secretary, Mike Pezzullo who, like Dutton, is seen as an empire builder who takes no prisoners.

Pezzullo, speaking to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle, spelled out Home Affairs’
“philosophical context”, and sent the message that it would be activist, intrusive (often secretly) and have long tentacles.

Pezzullo’s starting point was the “duality of good and evil” at the heart of globalisation.

On the “evil” side – the “dark universe” – “terror has become de-territorialised”, and global networks of crime and exploitation are becoming more apparent.

“There are global dark markets for hacking, money laundering, cryptocurrency movement, assumed identities for criminals, terrorists, child exploitation perpetrators and others,” he said.

In this context the security power, designed to protect the home front, “is being organised into a single enterprise to deal with the interconnected and globalised threats that we face at home”, in an era when “home” and “outside” blur.

“To protect and secure home, we have to be prepared to act globally and to develop networks with like-minded actors, including industry.”

The task requires wide and deep reach, with the department’s “facilitation” functions (migration, passenger services and the like) and security being the flip sides of the one coin.

“The state has to increasingly embed itself – not majestically, sitting at the apex of society dispensing justice – but the state has to embed itself invisibly into global networks and supply chains, and the virtual realm, in a seamless and largely invisible fashion, intervening on the basis of intelligence and risk settings. Increasingly, at super scale and at very high volumes”, Pezzullo said.

“Sometimes we’ll embed in a way that will be invisible to you [in business], because we’ll take data and we’ll put it with other data sources and then see, we’ll wash it and then we’ll come back with an intervention decision which might be ‘no one on that plane needs to be questioned’ or maybe ‘everyone does’, and you’ll go ‘yep, OK, whichever we have to do, we do’”.

The facilitation model requires “a public-private partnership model between Home Affairs and its component agencies and virtually every sector … whether it’s the banking system and talking to them about the active defence of their networks, whether it’s the infrastructure sector … utilities, power, water, etc, the air traffic control system,” he said.

“Home Affairs is going to be sort of the centre of excellence of figuring out how does Australia work. And we have to be careful about how we write this down, because when you then write the manual, how you take Australia down, there’ll be like one copy of that, and I’m not going to tell you where I’m going to keep that, because that’s going to be a very dangerous book!”

When the Home Affairs department was announced Malcolm Turnbull emphasised the checks on its power, which will be located especially in the Attorney-General’s department.

But in government and administration, culture and attitudes can often be an important as formal restraints and oversight, and Pezzullo’s critics point to what happened to the culture after the integration of customs and immigration.

The old immigration department used to focus on the nation building aspects of the people flow to Australia. Now, the dominant culture of the Immigration and Border Protection department is one focused on security, with a very disciplined, somewhat military overlay. (Pezzullo has an intense interest in things military and was disappointed to miss out on the job of secretary of defence, for which he was well qualified, when it was recently up for grabs.)

As the Home Affairs behemoth looms, sharpening questions about what should be the limits on state intrusions, this week saw a paradoxical juxtaposition in relation to Australia’s role in and performance on human rights.

Australia was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body to protect and promote human rights globally. At the same time, it was robustly criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee, a group of experts monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As the year’s end approaches, the speculation continues to be strong that Brandis will depart parliament in Turnbull’s summer reshuffle. There is no doubt that Turnbull – who is thick as thieves with Dutton – wants him out, not least to promote Mathias Cormann to Senate leader and (probably) Christian Porter to attorney-general.

The ConversationThe exit of Brandis would be one less frustration for Dutton. It’s ironic, but true, that the man who was lambasted for asserting the right for people to be bigots is at present the strongest voice in the cabinet for the protections of the rule of law.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k27zv-7889f2?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Knives are sharpening on the new home affairs office



File 20170724 28519 e8v7z
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the new Home Affairs office, a major political win for Peter Dutton.
AAP/Mick Tsiakis

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

If you wanted a case study of how media sausages are made – the purveying of news and opinion – you would need to look no further than argument about the establishment of a super department of Home Affairs, modelled on the UK Home Office.

Not much explains better political cross-currents in a beleaguered government than the leaking that has informed much of the commentary about this proposal.

A rule of thumb in Canberra holds that leakages damaging to the prime minister of the day increase in proportion to the trouble they are in. If that’s the case, Malcolm Turnbull is in a heap of trouble.

Commentators aligned with former prime minister Tony Abbott have been at the forefront of those lambasting the idea. In office, Abbott rejected setting up a Home Affairs department on bureaucratic advice.

Then there are the ministers who would yield terrain in Canberra’s endless turf wars. This principally applies to Attorney-General George Brandis, who would lose responsibility for one of the crown jewels of the intelligence establishment, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I have no idea whether Brandis has been briefing journalists. But I do know he has long opposed the establishment of a mega homeland security department.

Allied with Brandis has been Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has been against such a development from the start.

Again, I have no idea whether Bishop has been briefing against the proposal. But she has let it be known she was not present at a meeting of the National Security Committee of the cabinet where the matter was canvassed.

Bishop would have another reason for resistance to the idea as odds shorten on her as an alternative to Turnbull, given the difficulties the government finds itself in.

Turnbull’s decision to confer security tsar-like status on her potential rival, Peter Dutton, will not please Bishop. Bishop and Dutton represent polar opposites in more ways than one.

Then there is the bureaucracy. Elements of the bureaucracy will be unhappy about changes that would alter lines of command and areas of responsibility. Canberra bureaucrats will be finding ways to make their views known.

A significant part of the bureaucratic unease about the Turnbull proposal revolves around Michael Pezzullo, head of Dutton’s immigration department and in line to be crowned as the most powerful Canberra official in recent memory.

Pezzullo, who has worked for former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans, and for Kim Beazley in opposition, is a ruthless political operative. Some might believe this would be a necessary attribute for such a job.

At this stage, the Department of Home Affairs is a work in progress, and its future is far from guaranteed. For a start, it will require legislation to make its way through a fractured Senate. However, fearful of being wedged on security issues, Labor may well go along with the bulk of the proposal.

After all, it follows fairly closely a similar package advanced by Beazley as opposition leader under the tutelage of Pezzullo, then his deputy chief-of-staff.

In the grinding of meat, and adding of seasoning and other bits and pieces to be placed in a sausage skin, the Turnbull initiative is far from a finished product. Nor is there an end in sight to negative commentary about his political judgement – exemplified, in the view of some, by his handling of the homeland security issue.

Much of this commentary has centred around Turnbull’s perceived machinations to save his own political skin. His alliance with the conservative Dutton is widely regarded as his attempt to take out insurance against moves within his own partyroom.

Whether that is the case or not, it is true that in recent months Turnbull and Dutton have moved close to each other for reasons that might be regarded as serving their respective political aspirations.

Dutton has emerged as the standard-bearer of the right in a prospective leadership tussle, having overtaken Treasurer Scott Morrison for this mantle.

So, the question becomes whether the decision to centralise intelligence and security operations in one department makes sense, or whether it will prove be an unwieldy response to burgeoning challenges, not least those relating to cyber-security?

This is what Turnbull said when announcing the decision both to establish a Home Affairs department, and also beef up oversight of Australia’s intelligence agencies:

The government will establish an Office of National Intelligence headed by the Director-General of National Intelligence, and transform the Australian Signals Directorate into a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio.

The government will also establish a Home Affairs portfolio of immigration, border protection and domestic security and law enforcement agencies.

The new Home Affairs portfolio will be similar to the Home Office in the United Kingdom: a central department providing strategic planning, coordination and other support to a federation of independent security and law enforcement agencies including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

While Turnbull contends the Australian Home Affairs portfolio will have similar responsibilities to those of the UK Home Office, a better comparison may be the US Department of Homeland Security in the breadth of its responsibilities.

US Homeland Security, established in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, has responsibility for a plethora of federal agencies, inviting criticism that it is unwieldy.

When established in 2003, it combined 22 agencies with oversight of everything, from airport security to disaster relief. It is not responsible, however, for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the latter being the responsibility of the attorney-general.

In the case of the Turnbull proposal, the Australian Federal Police, equivalent to the FBI, would come under the new mega department.

Sceptics might read a contrarian view of the US Homeland Security department by Chris Edwards of the libertarian Cato Institute, who takes issue with an explosion in the DHS budget, and also risks of “mission creep”.

It would seem almost inevitable, given the Australian home affairs office will have such broad-ranging powers, that it would continue to expand. This is one of the immutable laws of bureaucracy.

Finally, the former head of ASIO, David Irvine, has defended of the Turnbull-Dutton proposal, insisting the changes will:

… seek to reorganise the intelligence and law enforcement communities to achieve even greater operational effectiveness.

The ConversationThat remains the hope. The question is whether a department of the dimensions envisaged in the Turnbull reforms will prove as unwieldy as its American counterpart. If it is, we might be in the process of taking one step forward and two steps back.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s new ‘Home Office’ is a worry for immigration policy



File 20170718 27190 4vf953
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the minister in charge of the new ‘super-portfolio’, Peter Dutton, announce the changes on Tuesday.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adele Garnier, Macquarie University

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the establishment of a Home Affairs portfolio this week, he described it as “similar to the Home Office of the United Kingdom”. Drawing inspiration from this British model is worrisome for the immigration portfolio.

Immigration mismanagement

Planning immigration has never been a core task of Britain’s Home Office. As political scientist Randall Hansen has described, the UK in the 20th century has long managed immigration using its nationality legislation.

Migration management was set to become a priority under the Blair government. Decades after Australia did so, it introduced a points-based system for skilled migrants.

In practice, the Home Office did not anticipate the large inflow of citizens from new members of the European Union in the 2000s. This fuelled public concerns that eventually played a crucial role in Brexit.

Immigration-related Home Office activities have been mired in enforcement issues. From the 1980s to the 2000s, asylum applications took years to process.

More recently, European citizens aiming to apply for residency in the post-Brexit UK have faced a bureaucratic nightmare. This has been criticised by the EU.

What’s in a name?

The Home Office was originally established to protect British citizens, with a focus on Britain’s infrastructure and customs, and on the prevention of entry by “undesirable aliens”. It has historically been inward-looking.

This has also been the case of Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, established at Federation in 1901. After the second world war, a distinct Department of Immigration was established to plan and oversee the expansion of the country’s population. This was a major strategic and economic goal at the time.

In Australia, both the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Immigration have co-existed over the years, with two exceptions. From the late 1980s to 2007, the former disappeared as its portfolio was handed to the Department of Justice and Customs. Then, in the early 1970s, the Whitlam government abolished the Department of Immigration, because its administrative culture was considered to still reflect the White Australia policy, which had been effectively scrapped in 1966.

The Fraser government reinstated the Department of Immigration in 1976, this time with a strong multicultural rationale. Home Affairs disappeared again in 2013, while Immigration expanded to become the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The 2013 name change already meant the department’s focus on immigration became narrower than before. It was now mainly concerned with the admission (or refusal) of immigrants. Settlement and multicultural affairs were transferred to the Department of Human Services.

The newest name change, and its close association with the British model by Turnbull, appears as a symbolic marginalisation of the immigration portfolio. It is not clear yet whether an agency under a Home Affairs “super-ministry” will carry “immigration” in its name.

In Britain, the corresponding agency under the purview of the Home Office is called “UK Visas and Immigration”. Yet it existed for several years as the UK Border Agency (UKBA), with no reference to immigration. The then home secretary, Theresa May, eventually split UKBA in two following the revelation that hundreds of thousands of people had entered the UK without the appropriate checks.

Critical timing

The creeping invisibility of the immigration portfolio comes as the government is overseeing major changes to immigration policy, and is increasingly using the rhetoric of putting Australians first.

In April, the admission of skilled migrants was overhauled with the abolition of the 457 visa. The government shortened the list of professions for which skilled foreign workers would be eligible for a four-year visa to Australia, and subsequently for permanent residence.

A citizenship reform is before parliament. It significantly extends the time permanent residents must live in Australia before they can apply for citizenship. It also introduces more stringent English-language proficiency requirements.

The legislation would require citizenship applicants to demonstrate their allegiance to Australia more strongly, with a pledge to Australian values and proof of integration.

It has been written that, rather than encouraging integration, these changes could result in newcomers feeling more distanced from Australia. The disappearance of “immigration” from the department name may contribute to this uneasiness.

And prospective immigrants to Australia may justifiably fear the changes will cause confusion about division of responsibilities, or a further delay in processing times.

Turnbull has promised the reform will involve strong oversight mechanisms. He noted that such mechanisms were essential to respect the rights and liberties of “all Australians”.

The ConversationAs Amy Maguire noted, Turnbull did not make any specific reference to the rights and liberties of non-citizens living in Australia. One can thus worry to what extent Australia’s “Home Office” will better protect them.

Adele Garnier, Lecturer, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The new Department of Home Affairs is unnecessary and seems to be more about politics than reform



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Peter Dutton (right) is set to assume responsibility for the newly created home affairs portfolio.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

John Blaxland, Australian National University

It is difficult not to give in to cynical impulses over Tuesday’s announcement that the government will create a Department of Home Affairs.

Described as a “federation of border and security agencies”, the home affairs minister – set to be the current immigration minister, Peter Dutton – will be responsible for ASIO, the AFP, Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, and the Office of Transport Security.

The Home Affairs department was announced at the same time the government released an eagerly awaited review of Australia’s intelligence agencies. But the rationale for the creation of a “super ministry” seems to conflate the well-intentioned and important intelligence review with an inadequately justified yet major rearrangement of federal government executive agencies.

Fraught with danger

The Home Affairs model appears to stand on contestable grounds.

There may be an argument to be made about potentially improving internal bureaucratic efficiencies by having power centralised under one minister. However, this is debatable. And the move upends long-standing conventions on how security intelligence and executive police powers are managed separately.

Bringing ASIO and the AFP together in one department and away from the attorney-general is a fraught move.

Multiple royal commissions and a protective security review following the Hilton Hotel bombing in February 1978 saw the police, security and intelligence functions tried and tested by fire. They were found wanting, but were then subject to significant review and reform.

That reform led to an understanding about how best to delineate and maintain the separation of powers while upholding robust accountability. That understanding has come to be broadly accepted as the best way of managing intelligence and security affairs.

This model includes a high degree of healthy contestability concerning intelligence judgements and operational options. This is thanks in large part to the diffusion of power between ministries, and authority between agencies, departments and ministers. These arrangements mean there are clear lines of accountability and responsibility.

Mechanisms for prioritisation and avoiding overlap exist with the Heads of Intelligence Agencies Meetings, the Secretaries Committee on National Security, cabinet’s National Security Committee, and the National Intelligence Collection Requirement Priorities mechanisms. It’s unclear how the new arrangements will alter the dynamics in these contexts.

Under the previous arrangements, in authorising a warrant the attorney-general had to be satisfied it was justified, recognised as consistent with agreed-upon national intelligence collection priorities, resourced appropriately, executed within the legal guidelines, and then suitably reported on in a timely manner.

Under the new arrangements, the attorney-general – having relinquished management responsibility for ASIO – will retain responsibility for issuing warrants and ministerial authorisations. Yet the attorney-general will not, seemingly, be responsible for seeing the process through to its completion.

This change risks diminishing the prospects of a clear connection between ministerial authority and ministerial responsibility. The two functions look set to be performed separately, by the attorney-general and the home affairs minister.

The attorney-general also will gain responsibility for two important oversight agencies: the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. These are two little-understood but important offices that have been performing significant roles to ensure intelligence agencies are accountable and compliant with legislation.

The inspector-general, for instance, has the enduring powers of a royal commissioner. They are able to walk into any sensitive intelligence facility and ask to see any files virtually at any time.

Like the monitor, the inspector-general can report directly to the prime minster. This is a powerful tool to ensure accountability. It is hard to think of a compelling reason for their lines of reporting responsibility to be altered.

What role did the intelligence review play?

Announcing the changes on Tuesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not speak about the intelligence review – undertaken by former senior public servants Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant – in great detail.

However, Turnbull did mention the headline items. These include:

  • the creation of an office of national intelligence (a sensible and graduated move);

  • the better resourcing and management of intelligence capabilities (also a reasonable step);

  • the establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate as a statutory body within the Department of Defence (something talked about for years by insiders); and

  • a bolstering of the profile and placement of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (an unsurprising step given the high profile of cyber affairs this year).

The review also proposed:

  • an expansion of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s remit to cover agencies with intelligence collection and reporting functions not previously counted as part of the six agencies in the Australian Intelligence Community over which he exercised oversight; and

  • a slightly expanded, operationally-oriented role for the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to request briefings and initiate inquiries.

These recommendations are sound. But they were made in isolation of the Home Affairs proposal.

By announcing the review and the new arrangements together, the issues appear conflated. The Intelligence review is well considered and reasonable. The new governance arrangements lack the same level of intellectual rigour for the public to consider and accept.

The ConversationPut together, it suggests this is more about politics than substantive fact-based organisational reform.

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Peter Dutton has his prize – now to see how he handles it


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Peter Dutton comes to the job with, at best, a middling ministerial record.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The mettle of the man who aspires to be a future Liberal leader is about to be severely tested, now that Malcolm Turnbull has handed Peter Dutton his dream home affairs ministry, overseeing a vast national security empire.

Dutton comes to the job with, at best, a middling ministerial record. His time in the health portfolio was a nightmare. In immigration he has been relentlessly political.

The former Queensland policeman is a natural political head kicker rather than a nuanced policy man.

It was Turnbull who, among other ministers, tore shreds off a 2015 Dutton submission on removing citizenship from people involved with terrorism.

A recent initiative, revamping foreign worker visas, has brought problems for and complaints from business. The announced toughening of the citizenship requirements that makes the English test excessively difficult has been sharply criticised.

Dutton has not so far managed to secure the departure of any of the refugees from Manus Island and Nauru that the US agreed to take.

When he became leader Turnbull wouldn’t have Dutton on cabinet’s National Security Committee. He fought his way back into that key group. He and Turnbull drew close. With Liberal conservatives coalescing around him as their factional heavyweight, Dutton made himself a guardsman for Turnbull.

Turnbull is understandably sensitive to suggestions that the planned home affairs ministry is all about Dutton, whose continued support is so vital to him.

Those around Turnbull insist he has long been committed to a shake-up of national security arrangements, exploring the issues on overseas trips.

But you have to ask: if there were no Dutton, would Turnbull be putting the government through what he is presenting as the biggest reorganisation in four decades, which is going to take many months and a vast amount of effort to implement? Wouldn’t it be a matter of fine tuning rather than root-and-branch change?

After all, the evidence – and the mantra from the government – is that things are working well.

Whatever the motives, and regardless of their personal thoughts, ministers have to defend the new arrangements. This led Attorney-General George Brandis – a long-time opponent of the shift that will cost him responsibility for ASIO – into an unexpected and unconvincing argument at Tuesday’s press conference, which brought together with Turnbull the winner and losers (Dutton, Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who cedes the AFP).

Not only did Brandis speak enthusiastically about the new arrangements, but he pointed out that because of his multiple responsibilities he hadn’t been able to focus exclusively on his national security duties.

It sounded like the barrister making a case. If one had put to Brandis six months ago that the present arrangement was unsatisfactory, it’s a fair bet he’d have been dismissive.

But Brandis has retained his responsibility for issuing warrants under the ASIO Act, a power the attorney-general will share with Dutton. They will both have to approve warrants, except in cases where time is of the essence.

One-time ASIO head Dennis Richardson said on Tuesday: “It’s a good thing the attorney-general remains the approval authority for ASIO warrants”. But “it does mean ASIO is effectively responsible to two ministers not one”.

Richardson, in contrast to the government and many commentators, plays down the significance of the broad reorganisation, seeing much of it as presentational.

If Brandis had trouble with many duties, Dutton is likely to have the problem in spades, given the breadth of his responsibilities, that will range from border security to oversight of ASIO, the AFP, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and much else. The bundle labelled “national security” has varied components.

Most security experts have either challenged the need for change, or said that what is planned is undesirable. Neither Turnbull nor Dutton will be drawn on whether the heads of ASIO or the AFP advocated that they move ministers – because, on all we know, they didn’t.

Turnbull is aware of the dangers of excessively concentrated power – hence his effort to beef up the attorney-general’s scrutiny remit. The first law officer was “the minister for oversight and integrity and that role is being reinforced”, he said. How vigorously this responsibility will be exercised will depend on who occupies the portfolio – Brandis is expected to leave parliament in a few months.

While co-ordination is vital, one risk that has been raised is that too much centralisation can push out counter opinions. It will be up to Turnbull to stop that from happening.

The planned new Office of National Intelligence (ONI), which will subsume the present Office of National Assessments, will report directly to the prime minister.

The office was proposed by the L’Estrange/Merchant intelligence review, in a report released on Tuesday. That review, incidentally, did not recommend a Home Affairs portfolio – although those in the prime ministerial circle stress that it did not recommend against one.

The review says the ONI “would be headed by a director-general who would be the prime minister’s principal adviser on matters relating to the national intelligence community”.

The ConversationWho gets this job and how much Turnbull listens to them will be absolutely critical in how the new centralised system under a highly assertive minister operates. Turnbull and the director of the ONI potentially could be the counterweight to Dutton and the home affairs department.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/b9kr9-6cf745?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Peter Dutton becomes national security ministerial tsar in portfolio shake-up



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The reorganisation is a major win for Peter Dutton, a key conservative supporter of Malcolm Turnbull.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Peter Dutton will take charge of a new mega Home Affairs portfolio in a sweeping overhaul of national security agencies and responsibilities announced by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday.

The reorganisation is a major win for Dutton, a key conservative supporter of Turnbull, and comes despite scepticism from many experts and several ministers about the need for – or desirability of – the change.

Turnbull said the new Home Affairs portfolio would be similar to the United Kingdom’s Home Office, which he discussed while in London last week. It will include the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Border Force, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Turnbull stressed the restructuring was his call, after extensive consultation with colleagues. The changes were the most significant security and oversight reforms in four decades, he said.

Following a just-completed review of the Australian Intelligence Community by two former federal officials, Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant, the government will set up an Office of National Intelligence, headed by a Director of National Intelligence. The Australian Signals Directorate will become a statutory authority within the defence portfolio.

The report did not recommend a mega portfolio.

The broad reorganisation will take months to implement, and Dutton will be home affairs minister-designate until it is completed and he is sworn in as the new minister. This points the way to a summer reshuffle, with Attorney-General George Brandis widely tipped to exit parliament then.

In an apparent concession to Brandis and to head off criticism about civil liberties, the attorney-general will continue to be the issuer of warrants under the ASIO Act. The home affairs minister will also issue these warrants. Exceptions will be made to the need for double approval when the circumstances are time-sensitive.

The attorney-general’s portfolio will also include the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. Both are now in the prime minister’s portfolio.

“I always have believed strongly in the role of the government’s first law officer. It will only become more critical as threats continue to evolve,” Turnbull told a news conference, flanked by Brandis, Dutton and Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

“So, I am determined to ensure effective oversight,” he said, insisting it would be stronger under the changes.

The first law officer was the minister for oversight and integrity, he said.

Turnbull said that, given the challenges, “we need more enduring and better integrated arrangements for our domestic and border security – arrangements that will preserve the operational strengths and independence of our front line agencies but improve the strategic policy planning behind them”.

“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.”

But recently retired secretary of the defence department Dennis Richardson, speaking at the Lowy Institute, played down the significance of the changes, saying they were not some great advance. There was a reasonable argument for immigration merging with other areas but beyond that it was presentational.

Turnbull said that Dutton would have two ministers working to him one on the security side and the other on the immigration side. Justice Minister Michael Keenan would be on the security side but Turnbull did not say who would be the junior on immigration.

The changes, expected to become operational early next year, will require some legislative amendment, especially in relation to ASIO. A taskforce will work on the complicated reorganisation; in the meantime the agencies will continue to report to their current ministers.

While critics have suggested a reorganisation would risk diverting the agencies’ attention while it was happening, Turnbull said: “There will be no reduction in frontline capacity, focus or operational tempo”.

Brandis, previously a known opponent of moving ASIO from the attorney-general’s portfolio, told the news conference: “These are historic reforms and they have my strong support”.

Dutton said: “Having made the promise to stop the boats and to make sure that we can keep our borders secure, we make this announcement today with this promise: the home affairs portfolio is dedicated to keeping Australians safe, to doing everything that we can to defeat the surge of terrorism, but beyond that, to work with our agencies in relation to transnational crime, in relation to organised crime, in relation to many other aspects of criminal activity within our country”.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “I don’t think this is a captain’s call, I think it’s Peter Dutton’s call”.

The ConversationHe said he was “very concerned that these proposals aren’t being pushed by our security agencies, they’re being pushed by Peter Dutton as the price of him continuing to support Malcolm Turnbull in his job”.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/b9kr9-6cf745?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New Home Affairs department should prompt review of Australia’s human rights performance



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AAP/Lukas Coch

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has just announced the creation of a new “super-ministry”, modelled on the UK Home Office. By the end of 2018, Australia will have a new Department of Home Affairs.

This change consolidates responsibility for all security agencies within a single portfolio. Peter Dutton, currently immigration minister, will head the proposed department.

Dutton gains responsibility for the Australian Federal Police from Justice Minister Michael Keenan. He also adds responsibility for ASIO, previously under the portfolio of Attorney-General George Brandis. As home affairs minister, Dutton will retain responsibility for immigration and border protection.

Announcing the change, Turnbull and Brandis went to considerable effort to note the attorney-general’s continued significance, despite his loss of responsibility for intelligence. Both emphasised that the attorney-general would gain responsibility for some oversight bodies previously within the prime minister’s portfolio.

According to Turnbull, the new arrangements will ensure stronger oversight of security matters to balance protection for civil liberties and freedoms.

What does this reform mean for people subject to Australia’s immigration system?

The comments of the four ministers at today’s press conference were revealing in many ways.

One group of people – refugees and asylum seekers – were completely absent from the ministers’ remarks. This raises questions regarding the meaning of the changes for these particularly vulnerable people, who remain subject to the powers of the home affairs minister.

Brandis said the reforms are significant because, for the first time, a senior cabinet minister will have as his exclusive focus the national security of Australia. That is, the home affairs minister’s sole focus will be national security and border security.

Dutton, preparing to assume wide-ranging new powers, reflected on his ministry’s success in stopping and turning back boats. According to Dutton, without integrity in the immigration and border protection system, “we can’t keep our country safe”.

And Keenan celebrated the government’s novel use of the immigration system to further its national security priorities.

The sum of these propositions is a continued linking of people seeking asylum with the notion of a threat to Australia’s integrity and security. Today’s announcement failed to show care or responsibility for the dehumanising impact of this strategy.

Instead, Dutton takes on a considerably expanded portfolio, despite extensive critique regarding his efforts to expand already very broad powers.

Australia’s bid for the UN Human Rights Council

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was absent from today’s announcement. She is currently visiting India and Sri Lanka.

Her opposition to the creation of the new super-ministry has been widely reported.

Until today’s press conference, Brandis was also on record as opposing the creation of a super-ministry. This may explain the emphasis Turnbull placed on the oversight role of the attorney-general for “ensuring governments act lawfully and justly”.

Others will consider whether this change is called for in the sense of enhancing Australia’s security capacity or performance. But today’s announcement must also be assessed in the context of Australia’s human rights standing.

Bishop and Brandis have taken primary responsibility for promoting Australia’s current bid for election to the UN Human Rights Council. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia is the ideal candidate for a two-year term on the council, as it has been – and continues to be – an “international human rights leader”.

The government has taken steps to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to human rights, in support of its campaign.

For example, in February, Brandis announced that Australia would adopt the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). OPCAT aims to improve oversight of international standards at the domestic level. Its adoption in Australia will enable access for independent inspection agencies to Australian prisons and detention centres.

And, fortunately for Australia, France recently withdrew as a candidate. Although an election will still be held in October this year, Bishop is now confident that Australia and Spain will be elected unopposed to the two available seats for their regional grouping.

Regardless of the likelihood of its election, however, does today’s shift in the national security context support the legitimacy of Australia’s bid for election to the Human Rights Council?

In launching Australia’s bid, Bishop described human rights as “national values deeply embedded in Australian society”. Brandis described Australia’s candidacy as:

… the most natural thing in the world for a country which – at its core – is a nation built on a belief in, and a commitment to, the human rights of all – the human rights of all Australians and the human rights of all the peoples of the world.

Such characterisations are widely disputed by domestic and international commentary, which tests Australia’s performance against its international legal obligations.

Notably, the people ignored in today’s announcement – those seeking asylum from persecution in their home countries – have suffered human rights abuses in Australia’s immigration system.

It is difficult to see how the consolidation of far-reaching security powers in a single ministry will promote human rights. Outgoing Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has already identified expanding executive power as a threat to democracy and human rights.

While the protection of the Australian community from terror threats is an undeniable and legitimate priority for any government, lawyers must oversee the coming reforms to determine whether they further threaten the delicate balance between safety and security on one hand, and freedom and rights on the other.

Australia’s model for these reforms, the UK Home Office, hardly has a stellar human rights record. It has been recently criticised for “making border guards of doctors”. Its officials have been given incentives for reaching asylum seeker rejection targets.

And in June this year, UK Prime Minister Theresa May demanded expanded anti-terror powers for government. She said:

… if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it.

The ConversationThe human rights implications of today’s announcement must be carefully monitored, particularly considering the lack of comprehensive human rights protection in Australian law.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.