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Pandemic and protests mean it’s time for a domestic security white paper

Posted By on September 3, 2020 @ 06:00

No one denies the need for a capable, well-resourced Australian Defence Force. The federal government has responded to Australia’s changing strategic circumstances in part by providing the Defence Department with an additional $270 billion [1] over 10 years to upgrade the ADF’s capabilities and increase job growth in defence industries. But equally important to defending our country is the need to consider domestic safety and security.

Protecting the nation includes supporting the very community we seek to defend. Any reimagining of Australia’s strategic outlook should incorporate consideration of how we support and maintain the social fabric at home. The best way to do that is through a comprehensive white paper that takes a broad perspective on domestic national security, policing and law enforcement.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked considerable discussion of the ‘Where to from here?’ implications of the crisis. Much of this has focused on strategic considerations such as our over-reliance on China as a trading partner, the fragility of globalisation and issues of sovereignty.

Maintaining the social fabric encompasses many facets of society, including health services, aged care and agriculture, for example. Other areas that also need in-depth consideration are national security, policing and law enforcement. Fears are growing that protests and violence [2] have the potential to increase and are likely to be exacerbated by the prospect of high levels of unemployment, increased homelessness and anti-government sentiment.

Policing today can also be understood in the context of social peacekeeping. The role of police is to maintain, ensure and restore community order. Social stability is the bedrock on which economic activity stands. We don’t need to look far to see economies failing where social unrest is the norm and corruption flourishes. Societies and their economies need effective policing to survive and thrive. The vast economic impact of Covid-19 is being realised and raises questions about the potential for a related surge in crime and social unrest.

Modern policing is about much more than responding to crime. Police now perform extensive crime-prevention functions on behalf of, and with, professionals such as social workers and psychologists. Managing people with mental illness and providing first aid until paramedics arrive for those severely affected by drugs and alcohol are examples. Here, police use their authority, and often their coercive powers, when other designated authorities cannot or will not.

Policing is not a static endeavour. New crimes and challenges emerge. Old crimes are committed in new ways; terrorism, slavery and people-trafficking, while as old as society itself, have come to the fore again in new guises in recent years. Online financial crime and corruption are reaping millions and debilitating global economic systems. Police struggle to keep up with rapid technological changes and issues arising from jurisdictional boundaries. Formal, ongoing cross-jurisdictional and multi-agency (public and private) efforts to successfully address these emerging crimes require broad consideration and innovative responses.

In July 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced [3] the creation of the Department of Home Affairs to improve the coordination of domestic security arrangements. The stated aim was to address the increasingly complex national security environment and threats Australia faces. This mega-department was created with no burning need and without a major review or public consultation process. It was expected that the new department would coordinate cohesive domestic responses to national security challenges, particularly in protecting Australians from foreign and domestic threats.

The Department of Home Affairs is responsible for Commonwealth policy, legislation and coordination of support across federal, state and territory governments for all national security responses. It also has responsibility for Emergency Management Australia. The resourcing and capabilities of the department’s national coordination functions have diminished, despite the requirement to respond to rolling crises since late last year.

There is no longer a national security adviser and the role of the counterterrorism coordinator has been broadened in Home Affairs to encompass several other major areas of focus, including social cohesion and countering foreign interference.

Areas such as counterterrorism, foreign interference, transnational organised crime, cybercrime, anti-corruption, money-laundering and financial crimes require strong leadership and effective national coordination. These challenges have been eclipsed somewhat by the significant effort required to secure Australia’s borders, manage the social cohesion and immigration programs, and effectively govern transport security. The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the need for different policing and security responses at maritime, air and land borders, and in hotel quarantine, for example.

Now, more than three years after the inception of Home Affairs, a thorough review of the national security architecture is warranted. It’s time to conduct a wide-ranging examination of the department’s resourcing, capabilities and ability to effectively cover the vast array of functions it is charged with delivering.

While governments regularly release defence and foreign affairs white papers, no similar consideration is given to policing or domestic national security, even though policing and national defence could be considered two sides of the same coin. In 2015, David Connery called for a law enforcement white paper in his ASPI report A long time coming: The case for a white paper on Commonwealth law enforcement policy [4]. His approach should be supported.

The constitution [5] allows states and territories to create and regulate laws regarding criminal activity, but crime doesn’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. The construct of national security, policing and law enforcement needs to be considered more broadly, including, as Connery pointed out in 2015, how it needs to adapt to the environment over the next 10 to 20 years.

We shouldn’t wait for a crisis or smoking gun to provoke governments into thinking more comprehensively about their fundamental obligation to keep Australians safe and secure. Without this stability, key economic drivers such as education, health and trade cannot prosper.

Recent major protests and calls for police to be defunded [6] have also called into question the trust, role and legitimacy of policing in Australia. A deep analysis of these issues, coupled with extensive community and business consultation, would provide opportunities for innovative approaches to national security, policing and law enforcement.



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/pandemic-and-protests-mean-its-time-for-a-domestic-security-white-paper/

URLs in this post:

[1] additional $270 billion: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/defending-australia-and-its-interests#:~:text=The%20Morrison%20Government%20will%20invest,in%20a%20changing%20global%20environment.

[2] protests and violence: https://www.9news.com.au/national/coronavirus-melbourne-three-men-arrested-after-anti-lockdown-protests/95640482-551b-4316-bc9a-7f75bb6f7620

[3] announced: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id:%22media/pressrel/5403403%22

[4] A long time coming: The case for a white paper on Commonwealth law enforcement policy: https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/ad-aspi/import/SR76_Law_enforcement_WP.pdf?Ols8HJaFSCm8Elaw%2057.8d9H5PuS7Z97WZcl

[5] constitution: https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/Constitution/preamble

[6] calls for police to be defunded: https://theconversation.com/defunding-the-police-could-bring-positive-change-in-australia-these-communities-are-showing-the-way-140333

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