Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism



Australia has enacted 20 new anti-terror laws since 2014. Several more bills have been introduced by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and are now before parliament.
James Ross/AAP

Nicola McGarrity, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Durham University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how this is impacting society. Read other stories in the series here.


In late September, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced a new bill that would give him stronger powers to strip the Australian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terror-related offences or who in engage in related activities.

In response to the prospect of foreign fighters returning from conflicts overseas, the bill proposes extending the current citizenship revocation law to any dual national who is convicted of a terrorism offence carrying at least three years imprisonment (compared to the current six).

It would also be back-dated to account for any terrorism convictions or conduct from May 2003 onwards (compared to the current cut-off date of December 2015).

To protect the rights of dual nationals, the bill proposes changing the process for revoking citizenship. Instead of it automatically ceasing when people engage in terror-related conduct, the minister would have the sole power to decide if they should be stripped of their citizenship.

This procedural change is unusual because moves to repeal or wind back
anti-terrorism laws have been few and far between.

Unfortunately, however, in all other respects, the new citizenship bill fits squarely within the pattern of overzealous Australian anti-terror law-making over the past 18 years.




Read more:
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A new law every 6.7 weeks

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the Australian parliament has responded to the threat of terrorism here and overseas by enacting dozens of new laws or amending existing laws.


Note: Hover on desktop to see names and links of individual acts.

In 2011, University of Toronto Professor Kent Roach famously described this response in Australia as one of “hyper-legislation”.

Another expert, UNSW Professor George Williams calculated that between the September 11 terrorist attacks and the defeat of the Howard government in November 2007, a new anti-terror law was enacted on average every 6.7 weeks.

The declaration of a caliphate by the Islamic State in mid-2014 led to another flurry of legislative activity in parliament.

This started with the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 (Cth), which controversially exempted undercover ASIO officers from criminal prosecution, expanded that organisation’s access to computer networks, and restricted the leaking of sensitive information.




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In the five years since then, 19 more anti-terrorism laws have been passed. That brings the total number of substantive anti-terrorism laws enacted by parliament to 82 since the Sept. 11 attacks, with a further six bills either currently before parliament or about to be introduced.

This is a staggering number of laws, and far exceeds the volume in the United Kingdom, Canada and even the United States in response to Sept 11.

Draconian and unworkable laws

It is not only the sheer number of laws, but also their scope, which makes Australia stand out among Western democracies.

At the core of Australia’s anti-terrorism regime is a carefully considered and, in the eyes of most commentators, balanced definition of terrorism.

However, as the years have gone by, increasingly draconian, and often unworkable, legislation has spiralled out beyond this definition. For instance, the mere act of travel to certain areas, such as Mosul in Iraq, has been criminalised, as well as advocating terrorism.

Instead of working with companies like Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, the government imposed impractical obligations on them to scrutinise the online activities of their customers (with further laws threatened in the event of non-compliance).

In addition to the stripping of the citizenship of dual nationals, another bill would prevent anyone from returning home from overseas conflicts for a considerable period of time under a Temporary Exclusion Order, even Australians who don’t hold another passport.




Read more:
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Another bill before parliament would require people who have previously been charged with a terrorism offence (regardless of whether they were ultimately acquitted) to prove extraordinary circumstances before being granted bail for a subsequent offence.

This demonstrates just how far lawmakers have strayed from the fundamental human rights and principles of criminal justice.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would have the power to decide on revoking citizenship for those convicted of terror offenses under a new bill before parliament.
Sam Mooy/AAP

What anti-terror laws are intended to do

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Australian lawmakers might have been excused any overreaction on the grounds the country didn’t have much historical experience with terrorism or in legislating in response to this threat.

At the time, there were no specific anti-terrorism laws at the federal level in Australia. This was undoubtedly a significant oversight which needed to be remedied.

Even today, more than 18 years on and with over 80 laws in place, it’s somewhat understandable lawmakers react to terrorist attacks by seeking to take swift action.

One of the (few) downsides of a democratic political system is that parliamentarians are hit with the full force of public hysteria about actual and perceived terrorist threats. The most obvious way for the parliament to address these fears is through the enactment of laws.

As Roger Wilkins, a former secretary of the Attorney-General’s department, said in support of proposals to strengthen the control orders laws in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks:

In a modern, liberal democracy, that’s about the only thing you can do.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, this is not just a case of political opportunism on the part of the governing party. The steps taken by lawmakers are crucial in re-establishing the community’s sense of security.

We need to acknowledge, above all, that the buck stops with our elected representatives to protect the lives of the Australian people. They bear both the personal and professional responsibility if a terrorist act occurs which could have been prevented.

It is this, as much as anything else, that explains the rapid and bipartisan passage of so many laws through the parliament.

Terrorism can’t be defeated through laws alone

Having said all this, it’s unfortunate successive Australian governments on both sides seem to have learned little over the course of the last 18 years.

Statements made in the aftermath of every terrorist attack, and, most recently in responding to concerns about foreign terrorist fighters, have identified the ultimate goal as being to “defy” and “defeat” terrorism.




Read more:
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While statements such as this are clearly rhetorical, what underpins them is a failure to recognise the permanence of terrorism.

Terrorism in one form or another has always existed, and will always continue to exist. Neither legislation nor anything else will be able to eliminate this threat.

The idea of managing the threat of terrorism, in the sense that some degree of terrorism is acceptable or at least to be expected, might seem politically unpalatable. However, open acceptance of the permanence of terrorism means lawmakers will no longer be chasing – and the public no longer demanding – the achievement of an impossible goal.

It will also, in turn, facilitate a more proportionate response to the challenges posed by the foreign fighters phenomenon and the threat of terrorism more generally.

A better way forward

In a quest to eliminate terrorism, laws have been enacted that make ever-increasing intrusions into people’s lives and curtail human rights for diminishing returns in terms of security.

Some have even suggested these laws make us less safe. In its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into the citizenship stripping laws, ASIO said these measures could:

have unintended or unforeseen adverse security outcomes – potentially including reducing one manifestation of the terrorist threat while exacerbating another.

It will never be appropriate or desirable for governments to sit back and take no action in response to the threat of terrorism. But what we need is a sharp change in approach.

Countering violent extremism programs have been used in Australia and other countries as another tool for responding to terrorism threats. Instead of treating such programs as a “backup” option, as they currently are in Australia, these should be brought to the fore.

The critical lesson of the past 18 years is that we must think creatively about how to combat the threat of terrorism, rather than continually reworking existing – and often demonstrably unsuccessful – strategies.The Conversation

Nicola McGarrity, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW and Jessie Blackbourn, Assistant Professor in Public Law and Human Rights, Durham University

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

Social media create a spectacle society that makes it easier for terrorists to achieve notoriety


Stuart M Bender, Curtin University

The shocking mass-shooting in Christchurch on Friday is notable for using livestreaming video technology to broadcast horrific first-person footage of the shooting on social media.

In the highly disturbing video, the gunman drives to the Masjid Al Noor mosque, walks inside and shoots multiple people before leaving the scene in his car.

The use of social media technology and livestreaming marks the attack as different from many other terrorist incidents. It is a form of violent “performance crime”. That is, the video streaming is a central component of the violence itself, it’s not somehow incidental to the crime, or a disgusting trophy for the perpetrator to re-watch later.

In the past, terrorism functioned according to what has been called the “theatre of terror”, which required the media to report on the spectacle of violence created by the group. Nowadays, it’s much easier for someone to both create the spectacle of horrific violence and distribute it widely by themselves.

In an era of social media, which is driven in large part by spectacle, we all have a role to play in ensuring that terrorists aren’t rewarded for their crimes with our clicks.




Read more:
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Performance crime is about notoriety

There is a tragic and recent history of performance crime videos that use livestreaming and social media video services as part of their tactics.

In 2017, for example, the sickening murder video of an elderly man in Ohio was uploaded to Facebook, and the torture of a man with disabilities in Chicago was livestreamed. In 2015, the murder of two journalists was simultaneously broadcast on-air, and livestreamed.

American journalist Gideon Lichfield wrote of the 2015 incident, that the killer:

didn’t just want to commit murder – he wanted the reward of attention, for having done it.

Performance crimes can be distinguished from the way traditional terror attacks and propaganda work, such as the hyper-violent videos spread by ISIS in 2014.

Typical propaganda media that feature violence use a dramatic spectacle to raise attention and communicate the group’s message. But the perpetrators of performance crimes often don’t have a clear ideological message to convey.

Steve Stephens, for example, linked his murder of a random elderly victim to retribution for his own failed relationship. He shot the stranger point-blank on video. Vester Flanagan’s appalling murder of two journalists seems to have been motivated by his anger at being fired from the same network.

The Christchurch attack was a brutal, planned mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand, but we don’t yet know whether it was about communicating the ideology of a specific group.

Even though it’s easy to identify explicit references to white supremacist ideas, the document is also strewn with confusing and inexplicable internet meme references and red herrings. These could be regarded as trolling attempts to bait the public into interrogating his claims, and magnifying the attention paid to the perpetrator and his gruesome killings.




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How we should respond

While many questions remain about the attack itself, we need to consider how best to respond to performance crime videos. Since 2012, many academics and journalists have argued that media coverage of mass violence should be limited to prevent the reward of attention from potentially driving further attacks.

That debate has continued following the tragic events in New Zealand. Journalism lecturer Glynn Greensmith argued that our responsibility may well be to limit the distribution of the Christchurch shooting video and manifesto as much as possible.

It seems that, in this case, social media and news platforms have been more mindful about removing the footage, and refusing to rebroadcast it. The video was taken down within 20 minutes by Facebook, which said that in the first 24 hours it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally.

Telecommunication service Vodafone moved quickly to block New Zealand users from access to sites that would be likely to distribute the video.

The video is likely to be declared objectionable material, according to New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, which means it is illegal to possess. Many are calling on the public not to share it online.

Simply watching the video can cause trauma

Yet the video still exists, dispersed throughout the internet. It may be removed from official sites, but its online presence is maintained via re-uploads and file-sharing sites. Screenshots of the videos, which frequently appear in news reports, also inherit symbolic and traumatic significance when they serve as visual reminders of the distressing event.

Watching images like these has the potential to provoke vicarious trauma in viewers. Studies since the September 11 attacks suggest that “distant trauma” can be linked to multiple viewings of distressing media images.

While the savage violence of the event is distressing in its own right, this additional potential to traumatise people who simply watch the video is something that also plays into the aims of those committing performance crimes in the name of terror.

Rewarding the spectacle

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are powered by a framework that encourages, rewards and creates performance. People who post cat videos cater to this appetite for entertainment, but so do criminals.

According to British criminologist Majid Yar, the new media environment has created different genres of performance crime. The performances have increased in intensity, and criminality – from so-called “happy slapping” videos circulated among adolescents, to violent sexual assault videos. The recent attack is a terrifying continuation of this trend, which is predicated on a kind of exhibitionism and desire to be identified as the performer of the violence.

Researcher Jane O’Dea, who has studied the role played by the media environment in school shootings, claims that we exist in:

a society of the spectacle that regularly transforms ordinary people into “stars” of reality television or of websites like Facebook or YouTube.

Perpetrators of performance crime are inspired by the attention that will inevitably result from the online archive they create leading up to, and during, the event.




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We all have a role to play

I have previously argued that this media environment seems to produce violent acts that otherwise may not have occurred. Of course, I don’t mean that the perpetrators are not responsible or accountable for their actions. Rather, performance crime represents a different type of activity specific to the technology and social phenomenon of social media – the accidental dark side of livestreaming services.

Would the alleged perpetrator of this terrorist act in Christchurch still have committed it without the capacity to livestream? We don’t know.

But as Majid Yar suggests, rather than concerning ourselves with old arguments about whether media violence can cause criminal behaviour, we should focus on how the techniques and reward systems we use to represent ourselves to online audiences are in fact a central component of these attacks.

We may hope that social media companies will get better at filtering out violent content, but until they do we should reflect on our own behaviour online. As we like and share content of all kinds on social platforms, let’s consider how our activities could contribute to an overall spectacle society that inspires future perpetrator-produced videos of performance crime – and act accordingly.The Conversation

Stuart M Bender, Early Career Research Fellow (Digital aesthetics of violence), Curtin University

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

They shall not die in vain: how the Islamic State honours its fallen soldiers – and how Australians do the same



File 20180814 2915 1ixys91.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
The obituary of Jihadi John in Dabiq magazine.
Clarion Project

Mark Alfano, Delft University of Technology

The belief that we must not let our soldiers “die in vain” dates back to ancient Athens. During the Peloponnesian War, Pericles delivered a funeral oration in which he urged his compatriots to see themselves in the heroism of recently deceased fighters. Honouring these heroes, he argued, required continuing the struggle with Sparta. The living could prove themselves worthy of the sacrifice of the dead only by fighting for what they fought for and embodying the virtues (such as courage) they embodied.

In modern times, political scientists have argued that it is “important to say of those who died in war that they did not die in vain”. This notion was echoed by US President George W. Bush when he suggested that the people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks “did not die in vain”.

And, just like Pericles, Bush suggested the best way to prove that deaths in the so-called war on terror were not in vain was to continue the conflict. In this way, war becomes an end in itself. The fighting may never cease because there is always one more soldier to honour, one more civilian casualty to avenge.

Through a glass, darkly

The way people talk about the dead and the traits they hope to manifest by way of honouring them tell us what counts as a virtue in their community. In my previous research, I’ve show that different communities celebrate their dead in different ways. Most of my work has focused on civilians, but I recently began to investigate what is said about combatants killed in action.

One interesting and troubling comparison is between the obituaries of Western soldiers who have been killed in the Middle East and those of Islamic State fighters.




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Here’s a little quiz: which of the following traits are associated with IS “martyrs” and which with Australians recently killed in action in Afghanistan, Iraq and nearby countries?

  • dedicated
  • steadfast
  • respected
  • patient
  • humorous
  • brave
  • a leader
  • humble
  • inspiring
  • loyal

The truth is that most of these traits are associated with both populations. To establish this, I coded every obituary published by the Islamic State in its two online magazines, Dabiq and Rumiyah, along with a matching sample of obituaries published in Vale by the Australian Department of Defence.

I then mapped out the patterns of co-occurrence among traits to see which virtues are associated with combatants in each community. Here’s what the Australian Department of Defence and IS have to say about their war dead:

Australia conflict obituaries.

ISIS conflict obituaries.

Both the IS and the Australian data are available for examination. What these texts tell us is that ISIS and the Australian government speak of their dead in similar ways. And both use the occasion of martial grief to motivate the continuation of conflict. In so doing, they place death in the context of an ongoing narrative or trajectory that points to further violence as the only acceptable option.

There are, of course, some differences. Australian soldiers are more likely to be remembered as professional, easygoing and larrikin. IS fighters are more likely to be remembered as ascetic, deceitful and harsh (towards enemies – not in general). Their obituaries tend to refer to religious concepts such as aqidah (adherence to correct creed), manhaj (theological insight), and taqwah (pious humility).

These terms refer to values of the local community just as much as “larrikin” does for Australians. And IS fighters are praised not just for their religious or theological virtues but also for traits we find more familiar and congenial. Even someone as the bloody-minded as “Jihadi John” (Mohammed Emwazi) was praised in his obituary for his sense of humour.

Moreover, just as the obituaries published in Dabiq and Rumiyah tend to call others to continue the struggle, so the obituaries published in Vale often include and even conclude with calls to action. In one, the deceased soldier’s commanding officer declares:

We will honour his sacrifice by finishing what he helped us to start.

In another, the decedent’s family concludes that he “would want his colleagues to keep fighting the cause”.

From monuments to memorials

The philosopher Arthur Danto has suggested we “erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget”. Monuments express a community’s pride and commitment to victory; memorials express a community’s remorse and commitment to redress.

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The Conversation

Monuments to those who die in battle also encourage and sometimes demand the interminable renewal of conflict. Even if it makes us queasy to recognise our shared humanity with killers as deeply evil as Jihadi John, perhaps a shift from monumentalising our war dead to memorialising them is necessary. Otherwise, we stand the risk of becoming what we rightly despise.

Mark Alfano, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology

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

Turnbull and Shorten urge need to curb terrorists’ opportunities on the internet



File 20170612 10193 iopfr7
Both the government and the opposition will warn about terrorists exploiting cyberspace.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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 ConversationThe 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.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?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.

Folly of treating all refugees as would-be terrorists solves neither problem


Michael Humphrey, University of Sydney

A “draft” cabinet document recently leaked to the media suggests the idea that refugees are a potential source of terrorism and radicalisation will soon shape Australia’s humanitarian resettlement policy.

If implemented, refugees – not just boat arrivals – would be seen as a security issue. By offering only temporary residence and making Australia a less attractive destination, it makes deterrence the aim of the entire refugee program.

What’s being proposed?

Viewing all refugees through the security prism, and further restricting their rights, is a tactic to try to manage the much larger global refugee crisis. The number of refugees and internally displaced people exceeds 60 million. This is the highest since the end of the second world war.

Since the 1990s, various deterrence strategies have eroded the rights of those seeking protection onshore in Australia after having arrived by boat. These have included temporary protection visas, mandatory detention, the excision of the migration zone, the Pacific Solution and regional processing and resettlement.

If the leaked policy document is accurate, now all refugees are to be put into the category of – at best – temporary residents.

The justification for this punitive policy is the perceived connection between refugees and terrorism. The document links the outcome of earlier humanitarian policies and asylum decisions to terrorism and extremism. It points out that individuals who arrived on humanitarian-linked or refugee visas – Man Haron Monis, Farhad Jabar and Abdul Haider – have committed recent terrorist acts.

The document also identifies previous humanitarian programs as having contributed to radicalisation and the increased risk of terrorism. It says the special humanitarian program for Lebanese refugees during the civil war in the late 1970s is evidence refugees can import “extremism”, and “unsuccessful integration” can make young Muslims more receptive to extremist beliefs.

It puts forward the Lebanese Sunni Muslim experience as a warning. It argues they are today the:

… most prominent ethnic group amongst Australian Sunni extremists.

But the ethnic stigmatisation of Lebanese Sunni Muslims highlights shortcomings with the contemporary understanding of radicalisation and terrorism. It equates ethnicity with “extremism” and the potential for radicalisation with social environment.

The equation of Lebanese Sunni migrants with extremism is historically and politically inaccurate. The Lebanese civil war was primarily a sectarian struggle over power-sharing.

The terror threat, and Australia’s place in the world

Seeing Muslims in Australia through the security lens has led to the intensification of surveillance to intercept and prevent terrorist plots. Since September 11, seeing Muslim diasporas in the West this way has only reinforced the formation of transnational Muslim identities.

In other words, “Muslim” is now a transnational category targeted to manage transnational risk, not only in Australia but also Europe and North America. Muslim culture and practices are no longer merely about difference because difference has become a political marker to question national loyalty.

New laws stripping dual citizens involved in terrorism of their Australian citizenship are an expression of the ultimate sanction against disloyalty. But this might play right into the hands of Islamic State recruiters, who point to the West’s targeting of Muslims as a threat as evidence of the historical victimisation of Muslims.

The further restrictions on rights to asylum set out in this document are not primarily about terrorism or Muslims, but about the global refugee crisis. The reality of globalisation is we are deeply connected with different parts of the world. What happens there reverberates here. Terrorism is one dimension of that interconnection and appears to be here to stay.

We are facing this global refugee crisis because of our profound failure of political vision in the Middle East. The present wave of international terrorism is a symptom of the impact of a regional political conflict played out in Syria and Iraq. Australia cannot solve the global refugee crisis by deeming refugees as part of the overall terror threat to deter them from coming.

Refugee policy and counter-terrorism strategy should not be collapsed into the same space.

The Conversation

Michael Humphrey, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney

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

FactCheck Q&A: have any refugees who came to Australia gone on to be terrorists?


Clarke Jones, Australian National University

The Conversation is fact-checking claims made on Q&A, broadcast Mondays on the ABC at 9:35pm. Thank you to everyone who sent us quotes for checking via Twitter using hashtags #FactCheck and #QandA, on Facebook or by email.


Excerpt from Q&A, November 23, 2015.

I know that since 1976, there have been 70,000 asylum seekers settled in Australia who arrived by boat. Not one of them has been found to have a link to terrorism. – Tasneem Chopra, cross cultural consultant, speaking on Q&A, November 23, 2015.

Since the recent Paris terrorism attacks, Chopra and others have argued that Australians have nothing to fear from refugees arriving by boat.

But others have linked national security concerns to refugees.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi recently told the ABC that:

In our previous refugee intake, we’ve had examples where people who’ve been accepted as refugees have gone on to commit terrorist acts or plan terror attacks in this country.

So are Chopra and Bernardi right in making those two claims?

The answer is not entirely black and white, partly because of a lack of publicly available information. But based on my knowledge of this area, research and contacting senior police investigators, this is the best evidence available.

Boat vs plane arrivals

The first thing to remember is that the majority of asylum seekers arriving in Australia do so by plane.

It’s also true that of the handful of former refugees who went on to involve themselves in terrorist activities, most grew up in and were radicalised in Australia. Most arrived as children. They did not step off planes or boats in Australia as fully formed terrorists who somehow evaded security checks and slipped into Australia.

When asked for a source for her assertion, Chopra sent a comment from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre that said:

The statistic is based on the past 15 years of work in that sector where not one asylum seeker who arrived by boat has been charged with domestic terrorism. Man Haron Monis, the perpetrator of the Lindt Cafe seige, arrived by plane. And regarding the numbers of boat arrivals, this was drawn from stats with this parliamentary library link, indicating around 69,000 since 1976.

Boat arrivals by calendar year 1976 to 2014 and financial year 1989-90 to 2014-15.
Parliamentary Library, CC BY

I know this is not a very satisfying answer, but we can’t say with absolute certainty that no refugees who arrived by boat have been linked to terrorism. That’s because the police who have investigated the handful of terrorist plots in Australia that have been perpetrated by former asylum seekers didn’t always collect information on their mode of arrival.

It’s also true there’s no obvious, compelling evidence proving Chopra is wrong. As an expert advising the Australian government and courts on terrorism and counter-terrorism, I am not aware of any perpetrators or plotters who arrived in Australia by boat.

Some people who have arrived by boat may have gone on to break Australian laws or commit crimes, but that is obviously not the same as saying they are terrorists.

What about the Lindt Cafe seige, the Paramatta shooting and others?

It is true the man behind the 2014 Lindt cafe seige, Man Haron Monis, was a refugee who arrived in Australia from Iran. However, he did not arrive by boat – he came on a plane, just like most refugees. In fact, he arrived on a business visa.

Whether or not the Lindt Cafe seige qualifies as a terrorist act is also contested. Some experts say it was; others contend that while Monis latched onto Islamic State as his cause, there’s no compelling evidence to indicate that Monis had any confirmed links with them.

Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, the IS-inspired 15-year-old who shot police officer Curtis Cheng outside the NSW Police Parramatta headquarters in October, was of Iraqi-Kurdish background. His family moved to Australia. No reliable evidence has emerged so far to suggest he arrived in Australia by boat.

A spokesperson for Senator Bernardi also referred The Conversation to a plot to attack the Holdsworthy Army Barracks in Sydney.

One of the plotters in that case, Saney Edow Aweys, arrived in Australia as a 15-year-old refugee, but we don’t know for sure if he came by boat or plane. The judgement in that case doesn’t say.

Senator Bernardi’s spokesperson sent another news article on Mohammad Ali Baryalei, accused of conspiring to behead an Australian in a random attack.

Baryalei’s aristocratic Afghan family came to Australia as refugees when he was a child, the ABC has reported.

Again, it’s not clear whether Baryalei arrived in Australia by boat or plane. There’s no compelling evidence suggesting it was one or the other. We do know he was a child when he arrived.

So Bernardi is also correct to say that, in general terms, there are a handful of documented cases of refugees who have settled in Australia being linked to terrorism. These refugees did not arrive as fully formed terrorists who slipped through security measures.

Verdict

Let’s look at the two claims separately.

We can’t say with absolute certainty that Tasneem Chopra is correct to say that no refugees who arrived by boat have been linked to terrorism. However, there’s no obvious compelling evidence showing she is wrong.

With the current intake of the 12,000 Syrian refugees, there are tight selection processes and comprehensive screening procedures conducted before refugees enter Australia that dramatically reduce any chances of terrorists (or criminals) slipping into Australia.

Bernardi is correct. There have been a handful of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by plane who we know have been eventually linked to terrorism.

It’s also worth noting what Chopra’s co-panellist, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Q&A the same evening:

… when you have a massive exodus of refugees, there may very well be a couple of insurgents that infiltrate but it’s neither here nor there. Both the terrorist attacks and the refugee influx are symptoms of the same problem but one doesn’t cause the other.

– Clarke Jones


Review

This is a sound analysis. There is an unfortunate trend in the debates about national security and border security towards both hyperbole and generalisation. This article is careful to avoid these. It examines the publicly available material and ultimately concludes that it is impossible to say whether or not any Australian terrorists arrived in this country by boat. While this lack of certainty may be frustrating for some readers, there are two important points to be taken from this article.

The first is that extremely few – if indeed any – of the people who have arrived in Australia by boat have later had any involvement with terrorism.

Secondly, this article highlights the irrelevance (including to the police) of how terrorism suspects arrived in Australia. In my experience – both in co-authoring a book, Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials, and also appearing as junior defence counsel for Saney Aweys (linked to the Holdsworthy Army barracks plot) in his trial before the Victorian Supreme Court – whether a person arrives in Australia by boat or plane has no bearing on their likelihood of later being involved in terrorism. To the best of my knowledge, the mode of arrival was not even something that we discussed with Aweys during our pre-trial interviews.

The only thing that I would add to this article about Aweys’ background is that he spent many years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before coming to Australia and being granted a humanitarian visa.

This – in combination with the fact that his arrival coincided with the Australian government’s decision to accept a significant number of refugees from Somalia and that I have no recollection of him spending any time in immigration detention – would suggest that he did not arrive here by boat. This could be confirmed by speaking to Aweys but that is of course easier said than done, given his current detention in a maximum security gaol. – Nicola McGarrity


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Clarke Jones, Co-Director of the Australian Intervention Support Hub (AISH), Australian National University

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