Australia centralises security bodies under 'super ministry'

SYDNEY • Australia's domestic security bodies, including the federal police and the national spy agency, will be centralised under a single minister as Canberra tackles the rising threat of "lone wolf" terrorist attacks.

Oversight of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the federal police force had previously been the responsibility of three government ministers but would now be handled by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, under a model similar to that used by the British Home Office, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday.

Mr Turnbull said the centralised super ministry would ensure greater coordination between Australia's security agencies.

The national security overhaul came as Australia, a staunch ally of the United States, reshapes its counter-terrorism response after a series of lone-wolf attacks and heightened fear of attacks by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East.

"Our security environment is being shaped by changes in our region and beyond," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. "It is being shaped by the very real threat of home-grown terrorism that is increased with the spread of global Islamist terrorism."

An office of national intelligence would be set up to help coordination between the agencies, with the shake-up concentrating more power in the hands of Mr Dutton, a prominent member of the conservative wing of the Liberal party.

The Cabinet shake-up came a day after Mr Turnbull said Australia's military would be more readily deployed to respond to "terrorist incidents" at home. Under those proposed law changes, state and territory governments would be able to call for military help at any time after a "terror incident" has been declared. Previously, the military could be called upon only once police concluded they could no longer deal with an incident.

Australia's domestic security policies have come under close scrutiny since a lone gunman staged a 16-hour siege at a Sydney cafe in December 2014, during which two hostages were killed. A coronial inquiry found in May that police failed to respond quickly enough to end the siege.

Counter-terrorism police have made a string of arrests across the country since late 2014 and say they have prevented 12 terror attacks on home soil in the past few years.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2017, with the headline 'Australia centralises security bodies under 'super ministry''. Print Edition | Subscribe