Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Australia is considering a British-style Home Office (or an American-style Department of Homeland Security) once again, according to reports this year. 

If you think you’ve heard this all before, you’re right. Ever since the United States integrated 22 departments into the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, Australian politicians from both parties have considered creating our very own security mega-department. Herewith, a list of all the times the idea has reared its head (only for nothing to come of it). 

December 2003

Then ALP leader Mark Latham announces Labor’s plan to create an integrated security agency similar to America’s Department of Homeland Security if the party wins the next election. Latham appoints Robert McClelland as shadow minister for homeland security. Then-justice minister Chris Ellison, Liberal senator from Western Australia, says Latham’s ideas are “[a] cynical window-dressing exercise which is going to bog down Australia’s anti-terror efforts in bureaucratic quicksand”.

2008

In February, the recently elected Rudd government commissions a Homeland and Border Security Review to be completed by Ric Smith. Smith was previously in charge of the Department of Defence and Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia and China.

The Smith Review is completed in June of that year and warns against creating a new mega-department for security:

“This approach raises several risks. It could disrupt unduly the successful and effective work of the agencies concerned and create significant new costs. Large organisations tend to be inward-looking, siloed and slow to adapt, and thus ill-suited to the dynamic security environment.”

The Rudd government follows the advice of the review and a Department of Homeland Security disappears from ALP policy.

As opposition spokesman for justice and border protection, Christopher Pyne announces his pleasure with the ALP’s decision to axe the Department of Homeland Security concept, which he calls Kevin Rudd’s “great white whale”.

September 2014

The idea of an Australian Department of Homeland Security reappears, though the concept is quickly repudiated by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Some commentators suggest a security mega-department would benefit ambitious Immigration Minister Scott Morrison the most.

January 2015

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet hands down a review of Australia’s counter-terrorism machinery that finds: “A restructure or reshuffle of national security agencies is not the answer. But more must be done to strengthen cross-agency coordination and leadership.”

The review recommends introducing a national terrorism co-ordinator to strengthen leadership and improve communication between departments. It also mentioned the idea that if a new department were to be created, it should be small:

This Review agrees with the conclusion reached by the Smith Review that a small, coordinating Department of Home Affairs could be effective at leading Australia’s CT effort if the department focussed on strategic issues.”

November 7, 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces a new review of the Australian intelligence community by Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant.

Their terms of reference include examining the relationship between security agencies including ASIO, ASIS and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

January 2017

The media is once again reporting that the government is looking at creating a super portfolio that will merge various departments into one in the name of preventing terrorism.

March, 2017

Fairfax reports that the Turnbull government is still planning to create an American-style Department of Homeland Security. Unknown Coalition MPs suggest calls for a new department are driven by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s ambition and a desire for “empire building” by Dutton and the secretary of the Immigration Department, Mike Pezzullo.

April 2017

The ALP says the idea of a new Homeland Security agency is nothing more than a “power grab” by Dutton.

June 2017

According to insiders, the Turnbull government now favours a British-style Home Office over an American-style Department of Homeland Security. If it were to go ahead, Attorney-General George Brandis would lose responsibility for ASIO, while Justice Minister Michael Keenan would lose the Australian Federal Police. Members of Turnbull’s frontbench reportedly still oppose any changes.

Peter Fray

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