Army in charge to fight ter­ror­ism

The Southland Times - - WORLD -

AUS­TRALIA: The mil­i­tary will be given sweep­ing pow­ers to de­ploy forces and even take charge dur­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks un­der changes to Aus­tralia’s na­tional se­cu­rity laws.

The new sys­tem, which has been ap­proved by the cab­i­net and the na­tional se­cu­rity com­mit­tee, was an­nounced by Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull and De­fence Min­is­ter Marise Payne dur­ing a visit to Syd­ney’s Holswor­thy Bar­racks yes­ter­day.

State po­lice will re­main the first re­spon­ders to a do­mes­tic ter­ror in­ci­dent, but will no longer re­tain sole com­mand of an at­tack or hostage sit­u­a­tion.

The mil­i­tary will also be al­lowed to sup­port the wider po­lice re­sponse, in­clud­ing block­ing po­ten­tial sus­pects from leav­ing the scene. Elite spe­cial forces would have full le­gal au­thor­ity to shoot and kill ter­ror­ists.

The fall­out from the deadly 2014 Lindt cafe siege in Syd­ney trig­gered a year-long re­view of the so-called call­out pro­vi­sions of the De­fence Act amid fears the leg­is­la­tion con­tained so many le­gal and ad­min­is­tra­tive bar­ri­ers it would hin­der any swift mil­i­tary re­sponse to a ter­ror­ist as­sault in Aus­tralia.

It was the first ma­jor re­view of the mil­i­tary’s con­tri­bu­tion to do­mes­tic coun­tert­er­ror­ism in more than a decade.

‘‘We can­not af­ford to take a ‘set and for­get’ men­tal­ity on na­tional se­cu­rity,’’ Turn­bull said. ‘‘We must con­stantly re­view and up­date our re­sponses to the threat of ter­ror­ism.’’

Other changes will see army com­man­dos train se­lect state and ter­ri­tory po­lice teams, while De­fence will also of­fer to per­ma­nently em­bed of­fi­cers within state law en­force­ment agen­cies to act as li­aisons and ad­vis­ers. The Aust- ralian De­fence Force has two tac­ti­cal as­sault groups – one in Syd­ney and one in Perth – on standby to rapidly de­ploy to a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

While De­fence was pre­pared to in­ter­vene in the Syd­ney siege and even built a mock-up of the Lindt cafe at the Holswor­thy Bar­racks, it was never asked to get in­volved. The coro­ner over­see­ing the Lindt cafe in­quiry found the ADF did not need to be de­ployed be­cause the com­plex call­out cri­te­ria had not been met and NSW po­lice largely had the sit­u­a­tion in hand.

But the coro­ner did note the ‘‘chal­lenge global ter­ror­ism poses for state po­lice forces calls into ques­tion the ad­e­quacy of ex­ist­ing ar­range­ments’’.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, the ADF can only be de­ployed if state or ter­ri­tory po­lice be­lieve their ca­pa­bil­ity or ca­pac­ity to re­spond has been ex­ceeded. That pro­vi­sion will be abol­ished un­der the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment’s changes, mean­ing states could re­quest fed­eral help even if they re­tained con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion.

Un­der ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, the Com­mon­wealth would not need to wait for an in­vi­ta­tion and could make the de­ci­sion to de­ploy the ADF.

The sys­tem also only al­lows the ADF to be de­ployed if the gover­nor-gen­eral signs off on a re­quest from the prime min­is­ter, at­tor­ney-gen­eral and de­fence min­is­ter, who all have to agree state forces are in­ca­pable of prop­erly re­spond­ing.

Turn­bull said state and ter­ri­tory po­lice re­main the best first re­spon­ders ‘‘im­me­di­ately af­ter an at­tack starts’’.

‘‘But De­fence can of­fer more sup­port ... to en­hance their ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­crease their un­der­stand­ing of De­fence’s unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties to en­sure a com­pre­hen­sive re­sponse to po­ten­tial at­tacks,’’ he said.

The changes, which need to pass Par­lia­ment, will be dis­cussed at the next Coun­cil of Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ments meet­ing.

For­mer SAS com­man­der­turned fed­eral MP An­drew Hastie has pre­vi­ously said the Syd­ney siege re­sponse demon­strated state po­lice were ‘‘not up to the task’’ of deal­ing with the unique na­ture of Is­lamist ter­ror­ism.

‘‘The most lethal means of state­craft re­sides with the ADF. Con­tain and ne­go­ti­at­ing, which was the ap­proach in the Lindt cafe siege, isn’t go­ing to work [in deal­ing with Is­lamist ter­ror­ists].’’

Aus­tralia’s ter­ror threat level re­mains at ‘‘prob­a­ble’’, mean­ing the gov­ern­ment has cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence in­di­cat­ing in­di­vid­u­als or groups have the in­tent and ca­pa­bil­ity to con­duct a ter­ror­ist at­tack. – Fair­fax ter­ror­ist

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull an­nounces the wider pow­ers for the mil­i­tary to deal with ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

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