The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will have a bigger role and far richer powers in combating terrorism, under sweeping national security overhaul announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday.
The measures, which include specialized training by special forces for law enforcement teams, will give more Commonwealth support to state police forces, which are still acknowledged as the appropriate “first responders.” The changes are aimed to assist in preparing for incidents, enabling a more comprehensive ADF response if needed, and improving communications between the two agencies during an incident.
The government believes state and territory police forces are still the best first response immediately after an attack commences. Although under the changes, the military could take charge of responses in certain circumstances.
Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne explained in the announcement that “Defence [ADF] can offer more support to states and territories to enhance their capabilities and increase their understanding of Defence’s unique capabilities to ensure a comprehensive response to potential terrorist attacks.”
ADF will offer to place officers within state law enforcement agencies to help with liaison and engagement which will assist with “pre-positioning” defence personnel in response to a possible incident.
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They insisted the new measures are a result of a review into the national counter-terrorism response initiated in 2016 and not as a direct response to Sydney’s deadly Lindt Cafe siege. Pyne refused to be drawn on what might have happened had the changes been in implemented before the December 2014 case which resulted in the deaths of two hostages.
“It would be quite wrong of me to start trying to re-open the issues around the the Lindt Cafe,” he said.
This is the first time the ADF’s contribution to domestic counter-terrorism has been reviewed since 2005. Turnbull suggested the government would now review the provisions regularly.
“The Government’s number one priority is keeping Australians safe,” the Prime Minister stressed. “We cannot afford to take a ‘set and forget’ mentality on national security. We must constantly review and update our responses to the threat of terrorism.”