Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten will both home in on the importance of tackling cyber issues as part of the fight against terrorism, in parliamentary speeches on Tuesday.
In a security update on the threats facing Australia at home and abroad, Turnbull will say that an “online civil society is as achievable as an offline one”.
“The privacy and security of a terrorist can never be more important than public safety,” he says in notes released ahead of the address.
“The rights and protections of the vast overwhelming majority of Australians must outweigh the rights of those who will do them harm.
“That is truly what balancing the priority of community safety with individual liberties and our way of life is about.”
The government would not take an “if it ain’t broke we won’t fix it” mentality, Turnbull says – rather, Australia is at the forefront of efforts to address future threats.
Attorney-General George Brandis will visit Canada this month to meet his Five Eyes security counterparts – the others are from Britain, the US, New Zealand as well as Canada – and discuss what more can be done by likeminded nations and with the communications and technology industry “to ensure terrorists and organised criminals are not able to operate with impunity within ungoverned digital spaces online”.
Shorten, in his address (an extract of which has been released), will say: “We need to recognise this is a 21st-century conflict – being fought online as well as in the streets. Terrorists are using sophisticated online strategies as well as crude weapons of violence.”
He says this is where the private sector has a responsibility.
“For a long time Daesh has used the internet as an instrument of radicalisation. Through Twitter and Facebook they boast of a propaganda arm that can reach into every home in the world: spreading hate, recruiting followers and encouraging imitators.
“And with encryption technology like Whatsapp and Telegram they can securely communicate not just a message of violence – but instructions in how to carry it out.”
Shorten will acknowledge many internet providers and social media platforms such as Facebook work hard to detect and remove offensive content, namely child pornography and other forms of violent crime.
“But we need more – and these companies have the resources and the capacity to do more.
“As good corporate citizens and responsible members of democratic nations, I’m confident these tech companies will seek to do everything they can to assist the fight against terror.
“We must always be mindful of the rule of the law and the proper protections of our citizens – but we must be equally focused on adapting to new mediums and new technologies to detect and prevent new threats,” Shorten says.
The security focus in parliament comes after last week’s attack in Melbourne, events in Britain, and Friday’s decision by the Council of Australian Governments that there should be a presumption against parole and bail for people who have had any involvement with terrorism.
The government this week will introduce its tough new provisions governing visa and citizenship requirements. They include giving Immigration Minister Peter Dutton power to overrule Administrative Appeal Tribunal decisions on citizenship. Dutton said this would align citizenship provisions with the power he already has in relation to visas. There would still be the right to appeal to the Federal Court. Labor will announce its attitude when it sees the legislation.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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