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Budget 2017: national security

Posted By on May 11, 2017 @ 06:00

Image courtesy of Flickr user Yu Tung Brian Chan.

National security received a higher level of Budget attention than usual this week with Monday’s announcement of $321.4 million funding over four years for the AFP. However, announcing this the day before the Budget attracted allegations that the Turnbull government had planted a good news story to distract attention from some of the more politically sensitive budget decisions. You could argue that this relatively small funding announcement needed its own platform to make an impact: $300 million doesn’t rate among a day of billion dollar announcements. More importantly, what does Budget 2017 mean for the state of national security funding and capability overall?

The new financial injection is sorely needed. The AFP experienced a golden age of growth in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings, building critical investigative and technical capability as well as developing its renowned international role. The establishment of the International Deployment Group, the Australian Bomb Data Centre (now part of the AFP Forensics Centre) and the multinational Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation all took place in the years following the Bali attack. Other Commonwealth agencies involved in CT, including ASIO and ASIS, also received a budget boost, while states and territories received additional capability and training funding under the auspices of the Australia and New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee.

But the financing which supported this initial rapid growth for the AFP and more broadly for CT has declined in recent years. That has occurred despite the increased terrorist threat, and the growth of organised crime and new crime types such as online fraud. AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin recently warned a Senate Committee that without increased funding, critical capabilities would be cut, including the ‘highest priority’ of CT.

This week’s announcement directs additional funding to enhance technical capabilities such as forensics and surveillance, tactical response elements and intelligence—including 300 additional positions. Targeting those areas makes sense as they’re critical to meeting current and emerging threats and crime types.

One of the strongest elements of the package is that it’s a four-year commitment. Sustained multiple-year funding is essential to developing, introducing and sustaining new technical capability. The 300 positions in the package also need a longer timeframe to allow the recruitment, training and building of new teams: so many qualified and experienced specialists can’t be found only from within the police and intelligence communities.

So where does that leave funding for the rest of the national security community?

Despite increased demands—CT agencies have been stretched as never before over the past two years—Commonwealth national security agencies weren’t exempt from the government’s efficiency dividend to recoup funds from existing budgets. While such measures bring fiscal accountability and management to the fore, they also ultimately detract from overall capability.

Recognising this, in February the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—the relevant oversight committee—recommended CT agencies be exempt from the efficiency dividend. The AFP funding announcement suggests that the government agrees—at least with the need to restore funding, if not how. While Minister Keenan confirmed there are no plans to withdraw the efficiency dividend requirement, it’s clear that additional funding is now forthcoming in accordance with long-term agency plans. The Prime Minister noted with approval that the AFP funding was the first stage of the agency’s strategic 10-year plan.

We won’t necessarily hear as much detail about other CT funding, either in the budget or elsewhere.

Whether increases in ASIO staff or funding for Defence operations, decisions about security-related funding are normally the subject of Cabinet’s National Security Committee deliberations rather than federal budget headlines. It’s now clear the government understands the need to reverse the downward trend of funding and meet the needs of our national security agencies.

Some additional measures are likely part of the current Budget process, while others will emerge as government responds to a range of current inquiries. The independent review of the Australian Intelligence Community will likely identify areas requiring further attention. The review of Defence’s role in CT should shed light on the lack of effective and practised response coordination and capability more broadly across the Commonwealth which will require dedicated attention and sustained funding.

Having demonstrated their fiscal responsibility, national security agencies are now receiving sorely needed funding. The AFP announcement is just the most public. Sustained and long-term investment in critical policing and security intelligence capabilities is essential to maintain existing capabilities and build those needed to counter future threats.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/budget-2017-national-security/

[1] announcement: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2017-05-08/boosting-national-security-321-million-investment-afp

[2] allegations: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/budget-2017/budget-2017-live-coverage/news-story/76f66dc77e00a89735dbd0f5aab13ef7

[3] Forensics Centre: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/2016-08-03/remarks-opening-new-afp-forensics-facility-canberra

[4] Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/where-to-next-for-the-jclec/

[5] Andrew Colvin: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/afp-boss-andrew-colvin-says-there-would-be-cutbacks-to-police-targeting-gangs-in-the-next-budget/news-story/b97ebea20ac70353528c2946f4d1182a

[6] stretched: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/counterterrorism-yearbook-2017-australia/

[7] exempt: http://www.abc.net.au/news/story-streams/federal-budget-2017/2017-05-08/federal-budget-2017-afp-extra-funding-for-expansion/8504974

[8] noted: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/05/08/keeping-australians-safe-pm-hands-321m-afp

[9] review: https://www.dpmc.gov.au/national-security/2017-independent-intelligence-review

[10] review: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/defence-role-in-domestic-counterterrorism-should-be-clarified-aspi-20160901-gr6l3e.html