Where Tony Abbott sought to amp up concern about national security threats, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is seeking a more reserved balance, pushing back against calls for more boots on the ground in Syria.
In his final national security speech, Tony Abbott chose the comforting surrounds of the Australian Federal Police headquarters in February, in front of six Australian flags, and surrounded by staff from the Australian Federal Poilice, ASIO, and the other Australian national security agencies.
“The men and women in this room are on the front line of Australia’s fight against terrorism. There is no greater responsibility on me, on the government, than keeping you safe,” Abbott said.
Abbott uttered the words “death cult” seven times and spoke of a rising terrorist threat in Australia and overseas, and a new dark age facing parts of the Middle East by those who had “succumbed to the lure of this death cult”. He was announcing the very legislation the Turnbull government is expected to pass, which will strip dual-national citizens of their Australian citizenship if they go overseas to fight for terrorist organisations.
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Turnbull, in contrast, chose to deliver his first national security statement in Parliament. No additional flags required, and nary a mention of the term “death cult”. He said the threat from “violent extremists” remained, in the wake of the attacks in Paris:
Turnbull said that the response to ISIL (also called Daesh, Islamic State or ISIS) — he didn’t say death cult — should be calm, clinical, professional and effective. ISIL had a perverted view of Islam, Turnbull said, and wanted to create division by fomenting resentment between Muslim and non-Muslim populations. He noted the group used the internet to boost its presence: “ISIL has many more smartphones than guns, many more Twitter accounts than soldiers.”
Turnbull said Australia already had six FA-18s in missions with 240 personnel in air task roles, and 90 special forces advisers and 300 soldiers training the Iraqi army. In a statement pushing back against the hard right of his party — like Kevin Andrews — Turnbull said the consensus among world leaders he spoke to at the G20, APEC, and the East Asia Summit was that there was no support for a large US-led Western army attempt to conquer and hold ISIL-controlled areas.
As a result, there was no plan to significantly change the level or nature of Australia’s military commitment in Iraq and Syria, he said.
Turnbull said he wanted Australians to be aware that a terrorist incident on Australian soil remained likely, but also that Australians should be reassured that security agencies were working to prevent that happening.
There was no new knee-jerk tranche of national security legislation announced as a result of the Paris attacks, but Turnbull said the government was “examining closely the implications of the Paris attacks for our own domestic arrangements” and that ASIO would get a new national terrorism threat advisory system.
While not announcing a crackdown on encryption or encryption apps — the ones the Prime Minister himself uses — Turnbull said ASIO would be working with international intelligence partners on how to deal with challenges including “modern messaging and voice applications” that are “encrypted in transit”.
There have been 26 people charged as a result of 10 counter-terrorism operations in Australia since September 2014, which Turnbull said was one-third of all terrorism-related charges since 2001.
Turnbull thanked the community leaders who denounced the acts of terrorism in Paris, and ended his speech by calling for a show of unity:
“We will defeat these terrorists. And the strongest weapons we bring to this battle are ourselves, our values, our way of life. Our unity mocks their attempts to divide us. Our freedom under law mocks their cruel tyranny. Our mutual respect mocks their bitter intolerance.”