At least on the surface, the proposed changes in counter-terrorist powers seem to go far enough and are certainly a welcome recognition of the seriousness of the threat from extremists. But the main source of the extremism – Islamism – does not seem to be mentioned. Further, the “selling” by the government of the need for extra powers seems too based on the threat from Australian jihadists who have returned from jihadist activity overseas and too little attention is given to jihadists and preachers already in Australia. This is also reflected in the characterisation of the proposals as dealing with “the potential” for domestic terrorism to increase because of returning jihadists and the failure to mention threats from those already here. Hopefully, the proposed amendment of the definition of terrorist activity to include the promotion and encouragement of terrorism will allow some domestic sources of terrorism to at least be deterred.
It is evident that concerns about possible adverse electoral effects within the Coalition, and just as importantly within Labor, have prevented substantive criticism by the government of the source of terrorism – extremist Islam. This is also reflected in the decision not to amend Section 18C, which now makes it more difficult than it should be to publicly criticise the Muslim religion and some of its preachers.
Note that The Age reported the announcement on pages 4-5 with a headline focussed on the additional funds provided for counter-terrorism agencies rather than the increase in powers while the Herald Sun ran it as a front page lead with a headline “TERROR SHIELD”. The ABC has already downgraded its reference to the proposals and has moved to highlight one of the difficulties they might pose viz that Iraqis living in Australia are concerned that the proposal to require visitors to jihadist areas in Iraq to establish they are not going to participate in fighting!
There is still a long way to go before governments, traditional churches, and the like address the extremist Islam problem. The answer is not simply additions to legislative powers and to counter-terrorist agencies.