Over the period since my Commentary last Thursday, the responses by Turnbull to the criticisms of ASIO head Lewis and to some other challenges add further questions to his suitability to continue as head of the Coalition.
It is astonishing that Turnbull has seen fit to endorse Lewis’s view that counter-terrorism policy should not recognise a linkage between the Muslim religion and extremism and, seemingly, that the non-elected head of ASIO should be able to effectively determine what is the basis of that policy (see “Turnbull Back’s Lewis”). Leaving aside the Koran, the linkage between the two is now patently obvious to the general public and its continued avoidance by the government leaves the counter-terrorist policy, as enunciated, lacking in credibility. If Turnbull is accepting Lewis’s view, and giving him a free hand, he should make a coherent public explanation and institute a Parliamentary debate on the issue asap, not rest his position on an assurance of frequent discussions with Lewis.
As indicated in the article by Greg Sheridan below, “if the Prime Minister’s words are to be taken literally, they are a nonsense” and suggest that Turnbull does not have the capacity to handle the job of PM. That perception is reinforced by the fact that his response was made during a one-day formal visit to Tokyo and presumably without careful prior consideration by Cabinet or even the National Security Committee. Turnbull’s ad hoc determination of how an important policy should be determined procedurally to the public is more than a minor mistake. As Sheridan points out in the much longer analysis of the ASIO story (see “ASIO History”), historically there has been a very real and important risk of politicising the handling of ASIO policy. The current different interpretations by Turnbull and Abbott of the linkages between the Muslim religion and extremism are of major importance in terms of government policy and demand more than a quick response by Turnbull from Tokyo while examining innovation policy.
Related to ASIO policy is the question of how to handle the positions taken by leaders of the Muslim religion in Australia. Turnbull, who has declared the existing Grand Mufti a friend, should request that he withdraw his name from a petition originated by an extremist Muslim Brotherhood leader urging Muslims to fight in Syria and that he explain why at the Parramatta Mosque a group of Muslims has discussed the pledging of an alliance to the Islamic State, which Australian air forces are fighting against. Beyond that, an explanation is needed from Muslim leaders of whether an even more extreme replacement of the existing GM is being planned (see “A More Extreme Grand Mufti?“)
The reality is that the government’s policy should be much tougher. It should be open to jail/detain those who advocate/plan violence or actually commit it. The agreement reached with state governments that those extremists already in jail should continue there provides a basis for a policy applying to a wider group. And a policy document is needed explaining why the extremist version of the Muslim religion is not acceptable in western society.