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Minister for Defence Industry Linda Reynolds and Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The government will tomorrow reveal “an unparalleled $570 million funding boost for counter-terrorism” in the budget, according to the Coalition’s go-to drop scribbler at The Oz, Simon Benson, in an “exclusive” (natch) on the weekend.

That all sounded very familiar, so we checked.

It was just two years ago that Benson was reporting (“exclusively”) that the 2017 budget would feature “an unprecedented national security budget package” in which “the Australian Federal Police will receive $321 million over the next four years” plus funding “to restore resources that were raided by efficiency dividends first imposed by Labor in government” (fancy security agencies, which have zero public accountability for how they spend money, facing efficiency dividends!).

But what about last year? Was there a Benson “exclusive” on national security spending ahead of the 2018 budget? Hell yeah! Behold the “crack unit” (settle down up the back) to be established in Home Affairs to combat espionage “with a new cross-agency taskforce also expected to be funded in the May budget”.

All that is on top of the “more than $450 million in additional funding set aside for the fight against homegrown extremism” announced by the Abbott government back in 2015, which — surprise! — got dropped to Benson when he was at the Telegraph.

What about 2016? Well, remember that was when a pre-election Malcolm Turnbull was still talking about innovation and tech start-ups and how it was such an exciting time to be alive. That year’s drop to Benson was “a $230 million cyber security package to boost spy agency resources”.

Under Scott Morrison, we’re back to honest working man’s threats like terrorism, not yer fancy harbourside mansion computer crime and such.

Of course, with all this “unprecedented” and “unparalleled” extra funding revealed every year by Benson you’d assume the Australian Federal Police’s budget has surged since the Labor years. Indeed it has: it has gone from net agency resourcing of $1.71 billion in 2013 to net agency resourcing of… $1.70 billion last year. Ah the delights of budget sleight-of-hand, confusion of existing and new funding, and announcing new funding while reducing funding via efficiency dividends and failure to renew expiring programs. Both sides do it. But, peculiarly, there are no drops to friendly journalists announcing funding cuts.

This year, of course, you get the sense that the “unparalleled $570 million funding for counter-terrorism” was to have been the centrepiece of a major scare campaign around refugees, especially all the “murderers, rapists and terrorists” that the government insisted would pour into Australia in the wake of the medivac bill passage. That whole scare campaign was shut down by events in Christchurch, though there’s no doubt the Coalition will try to revive it in coming weeks, despite the risk of being accused of peddling hate speech and Islamophobia.

We await the next breathless “exclusive” in The Oz.

Peter Fray

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