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Justice Minister Michael Keenan’s announcement last week that the federal government would introduce the first national gun amnesty since 1996 has been widely reported. But what exactly is a gun amnesty, and why has the government decided to introduce one now?

What is a gun amnesty?

A gun amnesty is a period of non-prosecution that allows people to surrender their unwanted or unregistered firearms without fear of legal repercussions. This differs from a “gun buyback” where the government compensates gun owners for the surrender of firearms, though the two have previously run concurrently.

When was the last gun amnesty? And how many guns were handed in?

The last federal firearm amnesty was in response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 and ran from October 1, 1996, until September 30, 1997. The 1996 gun amnesty included both a period of non-prosecution and a national buyback scheme to compensate gun owners whose firearms had become illegal.

In 2003, following the Monash University shooting in 2002, the federal government introduced a new buyback to compensate owners of certain handguns that became unlawful.

While the new federal gun amnesty is the first since the one following Port Arthur, it is almost always possible to surrender unwanted guns to police. The founder of and associate professor of public health at Sydney University Philip Alpers told Crikey:

“Over two decades, each state and territory has made the same offer every day of the year. Contact a police station or a registered gun dealer and they’ll arrange to take it off your hands, register it for you, then sell or destroy it. This latest re-announcement merely re-advertises the status quo … a permanent amnesty for unwanted firearms.”

How does the new gun amnesty work?

The new federal gun amnesty will be in place between July 1 and September 30, 2017. During that time, anyone can surrender their firearms or have them registered at approved locations in every state or territory.

How many illegal guns are there in Australia? And how do we know that?

In short: there’s no way to be certain. According to Keenan, the government estimates that there are roughly 260,000 illegal guns in Australia. However, Keenan concedes that there is no way to be certain of the exact number of firearms, having told the ABC, “You never have a complete picture, you only can just make intelligence assessments based on the intelligence we have.”

Those numbers rely on a few different intelligence sources but are primarily based off police seizures and the interception of illegally imported firearms.

While a report by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission released last year, reinforced the estimate of 260,000 illegal firearms, it also cautioned there could be as many as 300,000 to 600,000 illegal firearms in the country.

Why is the government holding this gun amnesty now?

When announcing the new amnesty, Keenan specifically mentioned Australia’s “deteriorating national security environment” as a contributing factor leading to the amnesty.

The amnesty does follow several high-profile crimes involving illegal firearms, included Yacqub Khayre’s siege in Brighton on June 5. Police have said two shotguns belonging to Khayre were found after the siege, and have since charged a Westmeadows man for allegedly supplying Khayre with those guns.

Keenan has also said illegal guns were used in 2014 during the Lindt cafe siege and again in 2015 during the Parramatta shooting, which killed police accountant Curtis Cheng.

Do gun amnesties lead to less crime?

Both state and federal gun amnesties have resulted in a large number of firearms being either handed in or registered. Since Port Arthur, over 1 million guns have been surrendered to police during state or federal amnesties. A three-month amnesty in Queensland in 2013 resulted in over 19,000 weapons (including one flamethrower) being surrendered and a further 14,000 being legally registered.

However, simply having people hand in guns in doesn’t necessarily reduce the levels of gun violence. While the risk of an Australian dying of gun violence has fallen by more than 50%, since 1996, that amnesty involved the banning and subsequent buyback of a particularly dangerous class of guns.

Alpers has previously suggested that a policy of just firearm amnesty is ineffective at stopping gun violence. This is because people who willingly surrender firearms have typically only used them lawfully, and they bring in “rubbish guns” that no criminal wants anyway. Alpers has said the best policy response to increased gun violence occurs when governments target both illegal and legal gun ownership, thereby reducing the overall availability of guns in a market.

After suffering the worst defeat in the state branch’s history a month ago, the nightmare for Western Australia’s Liberals might be just beginning.

Analysis of federal polling trends at state level finds hostility to the party spilling over to federal voting intention, to an extent that will be causing sleepless nights for a number of Liberal MPs — including one of cabinet rank.

Based on published state breakdowns from Newspoll, unpublished ones from Essential Research and a few stray results from Ipsos, ReachTEL and Galaxy, the poll aggregate credits Labor with a 52.5-47.5 lead in a state where it hasn’t won the two-party vote at a federal election since 1987.

That amounts to a swing of over 7% to build on the 3.6% swing Labor received at the federal election last year, while still leaving them 3% shy of what they achieved at the state election last month.

Such a result would certainly topple sitting Liberals in the traditional marginals of Hasluck and Swan, and would, at the very least, put the pressure on in Stirling, held by Justice Minister Michael Keenan, and Canning, held by Andrew Hastie, a rising favourite among the party’s conservatives.

But perhaps the loudest of alarm bells will be ringing for Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who some rate as a future leadership prospect.

A former treasurer and attorney-general in Colin Barnett’s state government, Porter made the switch to federal politics when he was elected to the seat of Pearce at the 2013 federal election.

Pearce had been held by the Liberals since it was carved out of the hinterland north and east of Perth in 1990, by margins of never less than 5.3%.

However, what looked at first like a secure base for Porter to pursue his ambitions may be turning into quicksand.

Beneath the picture of stability it painted between 1990 to 2013, Pearce was undergoing dramatic change as it accommodated rapidly emerging new developments on the northern fringe of Perth.

[Poll Bludger: making sense of the WA election result]

Owing to the Howard’s government fabled success at courting outer suburbia with low interest rates, income tax cuts and handouts to families, the electoral impact of this transformation was not immediately apparent.

But the outer suburbs and their dominant demographic of young families are a great deal more volatile electorally than the small town and semi-rural territory that makes up the rest of Pearce, as they have lately found occasion to demonstrate.

The first tremor was a 5.8% swing to Labor in Pearce at last year’s federal election, which reached or exceeded 10% in the burgeoning suburban developments of Ellenbrook and Banksia Grove.

That was merely an appetiser for the state election, at which Labor picked up swings of 18% in the suburban booths covered by Pearce, along with 10% swings in the country booths.

If the results were replicated federally, Labor’s winning margin in the seat would run into double digits.

Needless to say, there are good reasons to doubt that the federal pendulum will swing quite that far.

Federal and state election results have persistently failed to align in Australia over recent years, and there is little doubt that some of what pollsters are picking up at the moment is short-term state election static.

However, the state election results aren’t the only reason the Turnbull government has to be fearful of what the state might have in store when the next federal election rolls around.

The Liberals’ dominance in Western Australia was largely built on a rising tide of affluence that crested along with the mining boom at the turn of the decade, the sharp reversal of which over the past five years may prove of enduring benefit to Labor.

Another factor at federal level has been the ingrained hostility of Western Australians to Canberra, which has been of benefit to the party that has historically identified with states’ rights.

That too could be in the process of being turned on its head, now that it’s state Labor taking on a federal Coalition government over the running sore of GST revenue, the state’s share of which has recently been determined at 34 cents out of every dollar raised.

Western Australia’s reputation as a politically conservative state is in very large part a phenomenon of the past three decades. At present, there are no guarantees it will make it to four.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan has paid up for his quick round trip to Melbourne from Canberra in early September after the government lost a vote in the House of Representatives.

On September 1, the government lost several votes in the House of Representatives for the first time in over 50 years because several government ministers had left early on a Thursday night. (Labor used the government’s lack of numbers to attempt to get up a royal commission on the banks.)

One of those ministers was Keenan, who had claimed he had to go to Melbourne for a “significant operation with the AFP”, but got straight back on a flight from Melbourne to Canberra once it was clear Labor was determined to cause mischief. Alas, it was too late and Parliament had adjourned for the night once he made it back.

Keenan took responsibility for his actions, though, and despite claiming he needed to leave early for AFP business, the Department of Finance confirmed this week that Keenan had paid for both flights to and from Canberra in business class.

“The minister has repaid the costs of these flights.”

He did, however, use a Comcar to get from Parliament House to Canberra airport, but did not use a Comcar when he returned to the adjourned Parliament.


Dec 8, 2016


From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Keenan pays up after Labor shenanigans. Justice Minister Michael Keenan has paid up for his quick round trip to Melbourne from Canberra in early September after the government lost a vote in the House of Representatives.

On September 1, the government lost several votes in the House of Representatives for the first time in over 50 years because several government ministers had left early on a Thursday night. (Labor used the government’s lack of numbers to attempt to get up a royal commission on the banks.)

One of those ministers was Keenan, who had claimed he had to go to Melbourne for a “significant operation with the AFP”, but got straight back on a flight from Melbourne to Canberra once it was clear Labor was determined to cause mischief. Alas, it was too late and Parliament had adjourned for the night once he made it back.

Keenan took responsibility for his actions, though, and despite claiming he needed to leave early for AFP business, the Department of Finance confirmed this week that Keenan had paid for both flights to and from Canberra in business class.

“The minister has repaid the costs of these flights.”

He did, however, use a Comcar to get from Parliament House to Canberra airport, but did not use a Comcar when he returned to the adjourned Parliament.

Mundine for Sky. We’ll say this about Sky News, now entirely owned by News Corp: it certainly comes up with unexpected programming ideas. We have it on good authority the latest recruit is Warren Mundine, who will have his own show in 2017. We asked Sky about it, but they weren’t saying much: “SKY NEWS is looking at a number of new programming initiatives for 2017 which we look forward to announcing soon.” Oh well, you heard it here first …

Labor of love. In correspondence from Melbourne’s inner north, some names to keep an eye on:

“An emerging Labor power couple have married recently. Annalivia Carli Hannan, daughter of former state MP Carlo Carli, newly-elected Moreland City Councillor and former Victorian Young Labor President via Young Labor Left, has married Michael de Bruyn, son of SDA union heavyweight Joe de Bruyn at the end of November. An interesting union considering they come from opposite sides of the Labor ‘broad church’.”

It definitely gives a new meaning to “stability pact”.

Turn around … Well, it took the Oz only a day to step back from a claim that members of Jewish communities in Melbourne and Sydney were calling for action against 18C. Like so much of the Oz‘s 18C campaign (135,000 words at last count!), that yarn seems more dubious the closer at it you looked. Carried in Tuesday’s paper, it heralded a whole two Jews in support, namely David Adler from Sydney and Avi Yemini from Melbourne, who wrote a submission to the government’s freedom of speech inquiry. Yemini’s name might be familiar to Crikey readers — last week we told you how the Melbourne gym owner, known for recruiting soldiers for the Israeli Defence Force, had his meeting with Pauline Hanson cancelled after rival Jewish groups planned a protest. One Nation said “security concerns” had forced them to cancel. Clearly, Yemini doesn’t speak for all Melbourne’s Jews. Not that he should be expected to, but the Oz wouldn’t have had to look too far to find people opposed to his views. And the other Jewish opponent of 18C? David Adler is also rather interesting. The “Sydney-based health professional” has a Facebook page full of photos with Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison.

Of course, if Jewish groups are now opposed to 18C, this is extraordinary news, as Jewish groups were a key force in opposing changes to 18C last time the government tried.

Less than 24 hours later, the Australian was carrying the opposite headline, saying “high-profile Jewish groups had distanced themselves from comments made by two members of the Jewish community slamming sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act”. Which is thoroughly unsurprising. But maybe the Oz could have called the B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation Commission and the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council sooner?

I spy with someone else’s eye. Spotted at Canberra’s swanky Ottoman Restaurant last night: Liberal federal director Tony Nutt and battle-worn Senator Arthur Sinodinos. Spies report the Comcar was running out the front all night.

Mounting a defence. Public servants in some departments are taking part in regular industrial action over pay and conditions negotiations, but a tipster tells us the worker bees in the Defence Department are hamstrung in what they can do:

“Department of Defense APS staff have voted 58.4% in favour of rejecting the proposed Enterprise Agreement, with 84% of staff having voted. This is the third rejection and bucks the trend of previous votes towards yes, the last two ‘no’ votes having gotten 60% and 55% of the majority. Unlike Customs and Immigration, Defense APS can’t rally any industrial action that would impact the general public and hence raise awareness, APS can refuse to fill in travel allowances but managers just assign to someone else to do. Nobody would consider action that could endanger operator lives for a pay rise which encourages Defence APS to remain silent.”

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to or use our guaranteed anonymous form


Oct 20, 2016


In valiantly attempting to steer the focus back onto Labor this week as the guns issue engulfed it, Malcolm Turnbull hit upon what normally might have been a clever jujitsu. The real threat to gun laws, he said in question time on Wednesday, was Labor, which refused to support mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun importation. Labor has a “principled opposition” to mandatory sentences, he sneered, when its principle should be protecting Australians.

Not merely was it clever, it played into the theme the government was keen to spend the week dwelling on — Labor’s links with the CFMEU, outlaw motorcycle gangs and other dreadful characters. If Labor had its way, the government wanted to suggest, the country would be awash with illegal gun-toting bikies threatening hard-working sub-contractors on building sites around the country.

[Whisper it softly: is this government any better than Abbott’s?]

Tony Abbott, however, was having none of that nonsense, and went on the ABC’s 7.30 that night to pull the focus firmly back onto the government. A reluctant interviewee of Leigh Sales’ as prime minister, Abbott was happy to take the opportunity to explain that as prime minister he he had been unaware of any deal reached with Senate gun obsessive David Leyonhjelm (who once declared John Howard “deserved to be shot” for his gun laws) for his support in the Senate on a migration bill in exchange for a sunset date on the ban on the importation of lever-action shotguns, blaming any agreement on “a staffer in a minister’s office, no deals from me. No deals from my office. No deal.”

It was also the first interview with Sales in any number of years in which Abbott did not utter “stop the boats”, but that’s by the by.

Unsurprisingly Labor pursued the issue in question time yesterday and didn’t exactly need a parliamentary grilling to extract answers. The two relevant portfolio ministers, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, were asked if Abbott’s version of events was correct. Both contradicted Abbott and said that his office would have been or was kept informed of the deal done with Leyonhjelm. And, in turn, Turnbull completed the takedown. “I have made inquiries of my ministers and can say to the house as a result of those inquiries. I’m satisfied that the minister for justice acted in the full knowledge of the prime minister’s office at that time.”

A furious Abbott rose after question time to claim he had been misrepresented — by Labor, for the sake of formalities, but everyone in the chamber, including Turnbull, who took a seat at the back to watch Abbott’s statement, would have known his target was the Prime Minister. There was no deal, Abbott repeated. But Abbott’s “personal explanation” pointedly mentioned the Lindt cafe siege: for Abbott, this isn’t merely about creating chaos for Turnbull, it’s a reflection on his national security credentials. It doesn’t fit the hard man image, the image of the prime minister who trashed civil rights and threw money at security agencies to fight terrorism, the man who attacked Muslims for failing to talk about the peaceful nature of Islam, to be seen as having connived at a deal to allow high-capacity shotguns into the country.

[If he doesn’t act soon, it’ll be curtains for Turnbull]

(That Abbott actually made Australia less safe by joining yet another Western military venture in the Middle East is also by the by).

Abbott interventions on the issue — first via Twitter, then on the ABC, then in Parliament — entirely derailed the government’s entire agenda for the week, which was centred on the ABCC bill and Labor’s union links. We’ve seen all this before: Kevin Rudd made a point of ensuring Julia Gillard could never get any clear political air to prosecute her agenda or target Tony Abbott. Unlike Rudd, Abbott, at least, engages in his destabilisation in plain view.

Crikey Says

Jun 24, 2016


“The Muslim community are our absolutely necessary partners in this fight against extremism and we need to work very closely with them and as you can see, as we know, we have been, we are and it has been heartening to see strong statements of support for Australian values from leading members in the Muslim community, both in private meetings and, of course, in public.”

So said Malcolm Turnbull in October of last year at an anti-terrorism summit, and he has committed to expanding deradicalisation programs in the Asia-Pacific region, citing deradicalisation as a way to combat terrorism and keep Australians safer.

Yet because Dr Anne Aly, chair of People Against Violent Extremism, suggested to a court that a young man might be a candidate for just such a program, Justice Minister Michael Keenan has attacked her as a friend to terrorists: “It was a letter of support for [self-styled sheikh] Junaid Thorne, and I think that shows pretty poor judgement quite frankly.”

Fran Kelly asked Foreign Minister Julie Bishop about his comments, and Bishop replied: “Michael Keenan is quite rightly pointing out that the candidate for Cowan for the Labor Party has criticised our national security efforts. She did write a letter for the known hate preacher, Junaid Thorne, in an attempt to get him off jail time.”

After Kelly pointed out that, in fact, the letter was not for Thorne, but for his much younger co-accused, and that getting terrorism suspects into deradicalisation programs is part of Australia’s anti-terror efforts, Bishop doubled down on attacking Aly, and threw in some “stop the boats” nonsense for good measure. “She’s not supporting a number of our national security efforts, and this is a pattern across the Labor Party. We now see that there are about 50 Labor candidates and members who disagree with Bill Shorten when he says that he backs the Turnbull government’s approach to border protection.”

We think that shows pretty poor judgement, quite frankly.


Apr 7, 2016


Amid a surge in banking scandals, the addition of Westpac to the corporate regulator’s rate-rigging prosecution, and demands for a royal commission into the financial sector, the Turnbull government is considering a new law that would enable corrupt corporations to buy their way out of charges.

In March, Justice Minister Michael Keenan launched a discussion paper by the Attorney-General’s Department — the agency responsible for draconian mass surveillance and anti-terrorism laws — on deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs).

DPAs were originally developed in the US in the 1990s, picking up an idea that emerged from the juvenile justice system in the 1930s: corporations agree to pay a fine and commit to putting in place internal systems that prevent a recurrence of misconduct in exchange for not being prosecuted. DPAs have recently been introduced in the UK, although there has been little use of them so far. This is how AGD describes them:

“… where a company has engaged in a serious corporate crime, prosecutors would have the option to invite the company to negotiate an agreement, in return for which the prosecution would be deferred. The terms of the DPA would typically require the company to cooperate with any investigation, pay a financial penalty and implement a program to improve future compliance.”

Keenan has said that “an effective deferred prosecution agreement scheme could help encourage companies to self-report criminal behaviour and provide enforcement and prosecut­orial agencies with a new tool to identify and bring corporate offenders to justice”. In its section on the positives of DPAs, AGD adds “DPAs may help mitigate the potential consequences of prosecuting companies, such as job losses, losses to investors and damage to 10 related businesses and markets”.

The US experience, however, is that DPAs have no effect and might even encourage corporate wrongdoing. The use of DPAs in the US has surged since 2006, but a recent book that studied the use of DPAs by US authorities found that, by and large, such agreements were ineffective, partly because the agreements were so poorly enforced. Many large companies, such as the scandal-ridden banks at the heart of the Panama Papers, have entered into multiple DPAs (or their close relative, non-prosecution agreements, which are even better for companies) on multiple occasions. In one extraordinary case, pharmaceutical company Pfizer was given not one, not two, not three, but four PDAs for the same crime of illegal marketing activity over a decade, with no one ever prosecuted. While one problem is lack of follow-up and enforcement, another is that prosecutorial bureaucrats don’t understand companies and industries well enough and get duped by companies into agreeing to soft-touch “reforms” that have no actual impact.

One US expert, who opposes DPAs from a pro-corporate position, argues they encourage criminality because there is now virtually no chance an individual will be prosecuted in relation to corporate crime, whereas it used to be the norm that individuals would be prosecuted. This means that lawbreaking merely becomes a question of cost to the business, because no executive faces the risk of going to jail even if they are prosecuted.

Unsurprisingly, none of this is covered off the very brief mention of the flaws in DPAs in the AGD paper. AGD is the department that serially seeks to violate some of the most basic rights of Australians through its terrorism legislation, but appears a lot more positively disposed toward corporations.

There’s also a question of basic competence. The use of the similar mechanism of enforceable undertakings in Australia by our corporate regulator/Keystone Cop, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, offers no comfort that DPAs would be properly enforced — recall that even when the Commonwealth Bank self-reported a breach of its own undertaking about how it regulated its financial planners, ASIC lost the letter and did nothing about it.

Most of all, there’s a basic issue of equivalence: if an individual engages in large-scale theft or fraud, they don’t get the chance to pay a fine and offer to put in place internal reforms to prevent themselves from doing it again — they go to jail. But under the system proposed by the government, individuals within companies that wreck the lives of thousands of people and gouge millions from customers, shareholders or other businesses would be able to pay a fine from company funds, promise to do better next time (the sordid history of the Commonwealth Bank’s recent scandals is replete with earnest commitments from bank executives that the bad days are all in the past) and carry on.

DPAs would thus represent a substantial weakening of corporate law, not an improvement, providing an incentive for individuals within corporations to break the law knowing they face little risk of going to jail. It would be another win for the big end of town, and particularly the big banks, from a government that thinks a prime ministerial talking-to is a substitute for a proper judicial inquiry into systemic problems in an industry that is crucial to the lives of Australians and the functioning of our economy.


Nov 23, 2015


The death toll from the Paris massacres was still being finalised when the Western intelligence community began using them to attack encryption and restrictions on surveillance. The head of the CIA said the attacks should be a “wake-up call” about limitations on surveillance by security agencies. A former deputy director of the CIA said “I think what we’re going to learn is that these guys were communicating via these encrypted apps”. A former CIA director blamed Edward Snowden for the attacks. Later last week, a Manhattan district attorney demanded Congress force manufacturers like Apple and Google to build in backdoors in mobile phones. And last Friday, our own Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter Terrorism, Michael Keenan, was quoted by Fairfax as calling for more legislation to deal with encryption, which was “a significant challenge for intelligence and security agencies around the world”.

Some in the media weren’t much different. The New York Times published an article quoting unnamed French officials who said “the attackers are believed to have communicated using encryption technology” (Here, the Financial Review ran a balanced, sceptical article by John Kehoe, but titled it “Paris attacks: Is Silicon Valley helping terrorism?”).

By the time Keenan entered the fray, however, the links between encryption and the Paris attacks had evaporated. The New York Times quietly removed the story claiming the attackers had used encryption from its website: it turns out it was simple speculation. Evidence may yet emerge that the attackers did use encryption. But so far the evidence points the other way: one attacker was using an unencrypted, indeed unlocked, mobile phone just prior to the attacks. The organiser of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, had a previous, similar attack planned in Belgium thwarted because security agencies intercepted his communications to the would-be attackers and between the latter, despite them using multiple mobile phones.

Moreover, apart from Abaaoud, one of the attackers, Samy Amimour, was already well known to security agencies, while Ismail Omar Mostefai had been flagged as a potential threat by French agencies in 2010. Brahim and Salah Abdeslam had both previously been questioned by Belgian authorities in relation to terrorism, and let go.

This is a persistent pattern in terrorism, whether in Europe, the United States or Australia: the perpetrators are often already known to security agencies but have been ignored for one reason or another; the most egregious case was Man Haron Monis here, who had extensive dealings with ASIO, had been charged with involvement in a murder and a number of sexual assaults, was a well-known extremist and had written to the Attorney-General asking if he could communicate with Islamic State — and yet was ignored until he entered the Lindt cafe in Martin Place.

Yet according to Keenan, encryption is the problem — not the lack of targeted surveillance, or the poor judgement of security agencies, or the lack of agency resources for human intelligence and targeted monitoring.

Terrorists, like organised crime and paedophiles, do use encryption: al-Qaeda has been regularly updating its own encrypted communications software (one brandnamed “Secrets of the Mujahideen”) since 2007, making a mockery of attempts to blame Edward Snowden for alerting terrorists to surveillance. Islamic State and al-Qaeda both use an ephemeral message app. As the al-Qaeda example demonstrates, since long before Snowden, terrorists have been developing their own encryption platforms as well as using commercially available encryption and ephemeral software. Putting a government-mandated backdoor into Apple products or Google platforms will only expose hundreds of millions of innocent citizens to mass surveillance while terrorists go on using bespoke systems.

And access to the traffic of those hundreds of millions will stretch security agencies charged with preventing attacks even thinner. More information will mean more false positives that have to be analysed and investigated, while potential perpetrators already flagged as suspects go unmonitored. The “collect it all” mentality comes with a cost not just in obtaining and storing information, but in pursuing every innocuous but sinister-sounding communication.

And that’s before you get to the problem that encryption isn’t merely a tool for criminals or downloaders but is critical to modern capitalism: the world’s financial system relies on encryption for billions of financial transactions an hour. Government-sanctioned backdoors into encryption software place all that at risk: a backdoor controlled by the US government may be obtained by other states, organised crime or terrorists themselves. UK encryption experts explicitly warned in 2013 that long-term efforts by the National Security Agency and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters placed critical infrastructure at risk, while Barack Obama’s own surveillance review panel called for an end to NSA attempts to undermine encryption standards.

All this is well known to security agencies, but their “collect it all” mentality overrides evidence and logic. And their rapid exploitation of the Paris attacks reflects a clear PR strategy. “The legislative environment is very hostile today,” one of the US intelligence community’s most senior figures told colleagues earlier this year about efforts to mandate backdoors. However, “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement”.

Thus the rush to exploit the dead in Paris to attack encryption, regardless of the facts.


Sep 25, 2015


A government booklet designed to help teachers identify students at risk of radicalisation and terrorism has offended both teachers and environmentalists. The Radicalisation Awareness Kit for teachers was launched by Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday, but the examples it uses have not been well received. The “Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia” booklet is part of the Living Safe Together program, and while it begins by talking up diversity and social cohesion, it takes a strange turn when it comes to the case studies.

The case study in the “Violent Extremism” chapter is the story of an environmental activist “who grew up in a loving family family who never participated in activism of any sort”. But when she moved to university and got involved with alternative music, student politics and left-wing activism, she was only steps away from leaving university to live in a forest camp and protest against logging:

“There was no intent to harm people but inevitably fighting broke out between protesters and loggers. Sometimes the locals and the police became involved in these incidents. Karen was arrested on numerous occasions for trespass, damaging property, assault and obstructing police. She said at the time she felt like she was a ‘soldier for the environment so breaking the law didn’t matter’.”

Other case studies include a woman who gets involved with right-wing nationalism and hate crimes, and two examples of Muslim extremism. Environmental groups and the Greens have criticised the example, with the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Jonathan La Nauze telling the ABC: “It sounds like something that’s been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs.”

Some social media users noted last night that the example used of Karen held quite a few similarities to Australian environmental activist Karen Alexander, who worked with Bob Brown in setting up the Melbourne branch of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the campaign against the Franklin Dam. Alexander was awarded an Order of Australia medal this year, after years working for environmental organisations.

When contacted by Crikey this morning, she was bemused to hear that Twitter users had made the connection.

“It’s sort of me,” she said, “but I wasn’t even involved in the Franklin blockade … I had to organise the election campaign, and there were plenty who wanted to go up river!” But Alexander wasn’t impressed with the government comparing her work to violent extremism. “This is shocking though … that as young people work through their issues in the way that is OK for them …  that this avenue is seen as anything like ‘terrorism’.”

The booklet says that violent extremism can be motivated by nationalist and religious ideologies, pointing to Christian fundamentalist Peter James Knight, who killed one person in an attack on a Melbourne abortion clinic in 2001. It also says that extremism can be “issue based”. “Supporters of this type of violent extremism can include groups that are anti-government, anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist,” it reads.

The case study featuring a young man who promoted terrorism is not nearly as detailed:

The brochure also classes behaviours as “notable”, “concerning”, or “[needing] attention”. “The individual begins to identify with a group or ideology that is very different from the mainstream” is a notable behaviour, while “They are very hostile towards people they see as the ‘enemy’ including law enforcement and the government,” is classified as needing “attention”.


Sep 10, 2015


The next time you sign up to a phone plan, your mobile provider could gain access to a treasure trove of government photos of you as part of a new identification system planned by the federal government.

The government’s document verification service, which is used by both agencies and private organisations, will be able to access the government’s new $18.5 million facial recognition system, available from mid-next year, Minister for Justice Michael Keenan has announced.

The hub will allow state and Commonwealth agencies to connect to one another and try to match photographs of suspects against the close to 100 million images kept by government agencies.

“This process will expedite putting a name to the face of terror suspects, murderers and armed robbers, and will also help to detect fraud cases involving criminals that use multiple identities,” Keenan said.

Agencies that were initially supposed have access to the service include the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Defence and the Attorney-General’s Department, but on Wednesday Keenan announced that the Attorney-General’s Department’s Document Verification Service would also be included as part of the system.

The DVS is a system set up by the department to match ID information — but not photos — on government-issued identity documents in real time. It was set up by the Howard government in 2006, but sat idle because an auditor-general report in 2010 found agencies found it hard to use.

The system was overhauled in late 2013 and now is used by both government agencies and, to a much greater degree, the private sector for ID verification. Attorney-General George Brandis last year said 20 government agencies used the system, while 160 private companies had signed on to use the service. Brandis described the DVS as a “vital tool” in identification.

“The DVS makes it easier for banks to prevent people from using fake identities and makes it easier for mobile phone providers to check the identities of people purchasing prepaid SIM cards,” he said.

Under the new plan, the DVS will “allow agencies to match a person’s photograph against an image on one of their government records,” according to Keenan.

“This will help prevent more insidious forms of identity fraud — where criminals create fake documents using their own photos, with personal information stolen from innocent victims. It will also assist victims more easily restore their compromised identities,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the private sector will be able to access the images, but Keenan said in his announcement that only those agencies that have the legislative authority to collect and use facial images.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

State agencies are expected to be provided access to the facial recognition system, but the state governments will need to first consider what technical and legislative changes are needed to bring in the driver’s licence databases. This is expected to be decided by the Council of Australian Governments transport and infrastructure council in a meeting in November.