Australia’s defence laws are set to be overhauled to expand the military’s ability to assist local police dealing with terrorist threats.
The Turnbull government on Monday announced the expansion of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) role, which follows a review into the fatal 2014 Lindt Cafe siege.
Special Forces soldiers will provide specialised training to state and territory police to deal with any local terror threat.
“Our enemies are agile and innovative. We have to stay ahead of them,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney’s southwest on Monday.
“We have to ensure that every resource we have, legislative, military, police, intelligence, security is always at the highest standard and able to be brought to bear to keep Australians safe.”
Last week, Mr Turnbull spoke to London police who had responded to the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks, where three terrorists killed eight people and injured 50 in a few minutes.
“It was a shocking example of the speed with which these incidents progress,” Mr Turnbull said.
But he added that, by contrast, Australian police officers carry guns, while those in London who answered the calls to the London Bridge attack were armed simply with batons.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the changes add flexibility to an already strong relationship between military and police.
“The key thing we need is the most flexible possible arrangements — the threat’s changed very significantly,” Mr Keenan told ABC radio.
“In 2005 we never imagined Australia would be under the current terrorism threat that it is.
“We need to make sure that the ‘call out’ powers are appropriate for the current circumstances.”
The government said the proposed changes to Australia’s defence law will remove limitations for states and territories asking for ADF support.
Mr Keenan said local police will still take the lead in responding to terrorist incidents.
“What we want to do is make sure we’re working with the police, so whatever assets the Commonwealth has including the ADF are being used,” he said.
“There would only be limited circumstances in which the niche military capabilities that we have would be required.”
PM politicising defence force: Opposition
Labor’s Defence spokesman, Richard Marles, questioned the way the soldiers were used in the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“There is a fine line between acknowledging and celebrating the incredible work that our Defence Force personnel do on the one hand, and politicising them on the other,” Mr Marles said.
“As public officials in this space, we must always ensure we never politicise the ADF.
“I think that the Australian people can well see a prop when it is presented. They can sniff it from a mile away and they will judge people accordingly.”
He said the Defence Force must always be used respectfully.
– with AAP and ABC