Australia is dealing with an unprecedented and transformational change in regards to its security climate. There have been a number of high-profile terrorist incidences in Australia in an incredibly short period of time, which is forcing the government to reconsider its approach to the problem. The seriousness of the situation is being acknowledged by our government, and as such is being reflected in some of Australia’s newest legislation and policies.

As part of the 2015 budget, the Australian government has allocated $450 million to strengthen the country’s intelligence capabilities. Defence funding has increased to $31 billion in 2015-2016, up from $29.2 billion in 2014-2015. Our deployed forces will see an extra $750 million to contribute to their current operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. New legislation introduced will make it easier to stop Australians from joining and supporting terrorist organisations and to prosecute those who do. Security and law enforcement agencies have had their resources and powers increased to prevent attacks on Australian soil. A large effort is also being extended into community prevention programs aimed at countering the radicalisation of the vulnerable.

There have so far been an estimated 200 Australians who have been radicalized by groups like the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, and have already travelled to Syria and Iraq. It is estimated that approximately 20 Australian nationals have been killed overseas fighting alongside these terrorist groups. There are also an unconfirmed number who have returned from the conflict and are living within communities across the country. This is probably the most concerning issue for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not to mention the Australian public.

The time-old argument of lone wolves does not hold much credibility when there is reasonable evidence to support the fact that a well-organised and dangerous pack exists, nor can one find comfort in the knowledge that the pack has been up-skilled in the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) of terrorist organisations like IS, al-Qaeda, and affiliate groups. Those that have returned have been battle-hardened and indoctrinated by a conflict that has seen some of the worst atrocities take place since the Second World War. Police and intelligence agencies claiming they are ‘closely monitoring’ those who have returned fail to adequately satisfy public safety concerns the way news of their detainment and deportation would.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to be taking a hardline stance against this threat. He has recently outlined a series of tough counterterrorism measures that include the power to revoke citizenships of dual nationals who have been deemed a security risk. Abbott recently made the announcement that he was looking at changes to immigration laws and the Citizenship Act to effectively deal with Australian citizens who are involved in terrorist activities. The federal government has even gone as far as considering options to revoke Australian citizenship of people involved in terrorism, even if they are not citizens of any other country. This would only apply to those individuals who have come from abroad and have been naturalized, however, it is certainly a move in the right direction to hold people accountable for their actions.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently told the ABC, “If people are going to act against our national interest in the name of terrorism, then we seriously have to question whether or not they can continue to be Australian citizens. We have to make sure we protect the rights of Australians who are walking down malls, going to shopping centres, kids going to school, to make them as safe as possible.”

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Tony Abbott reiterated his stance by stating, “Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege that should involve a solemn and lifelong commitment to Australia. Those who live here must be as tolerant of others as we are of them.”

Terrorism in Australia is by no means a new phenomenon, so just how contentious is this issue and why is it so different today? Well, despite its geographical isolation, Australia is far from immune to the violence that radical ideology encourages. When I discuss the topic of successful terrorist attacks in Australia pre-2001, most people (even Australians) find it remarkable that a number of bombings and one assassination have actually occurred on Australian soil between 1970 and 2001. The Ustaše attacks (1970s); the Yugoslav travel agency bombing (1972); the Sydney Hilton bombing (1978); Sydney Turkish Consul General assassination (1980); Jack Van Tongeran and the ANM (1980s); Israeli consulate and Hakoah Club bombing (1982); Melbourne police station bombing (1986); Turkish Consulate bombing (1986); Perth French Consulate bombing (1995); and an East Melbourne family-planning clinic attack (2001) are the most notable examples of successfully executed terrorist attacks on Australian soil over a three-decade period.

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The aftermath of the Sydney Hilton bombing. Photo courtesy of resources2.news.com.

Australia’s earliest recorded terrorist act took place in 1915 at the Battle of Broken Hill. Two men shot and killed four people and wounded several more before being killed by police and military officers. The two men were both former camel drivers and were identified as Muslim ‘Ghans’ from the then-British colony of India (modern-day Pakistan). Mullah Abdullah and Badsha Mahommed Gool ambushed a train packed with over 1,200 people in an attack that was both religiously and politically motivated by Australia’s involvement in World War I.

Post-2001 has certainly seen no respite in Australians being specifically targeted by terrorists, with Islamic extremists being the preeminent belligerents. Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri specifically mentioned Australia on six occasions as being a legitimate terrorist target based on our military commitment to both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Islamic State has also issued similar warnings based on our prime minister’s immediate decision to send troops and aircraft to the region as part of the global response. The events in Syria and Iraq concerning the Islamic State, and the Australian government’s contribution to the multinational effort to destroy this movement, has again placed Australia well and truly in the spotlight as a legitimate terrorist target.

(Featured image courtesy of duluthnewstribune.com)