Is a massive new centralised, USA-style “Homeland Security” department headed to Australia to continue Australia’s trajectory towards a hyper-interventionist “liberal democracy” and to no doubt further turn the screws on an already besieged Muslim community?

Discussions on the creation of department have hit the headlines recently but it is clear opinion is divided both within and outside the government. Practically, such a department would involve merging at least half a dozen relevant federal agencies, including the AFP and ASIO, as well as ASIS.

The American Department of Homeland Security has a budget of approximately $55 billion (Australian dollars) and employs a quarter of a million people. Its policy and direction is under the auspices of the President of the United States itself.

Mimicking America

The proposed department is naturally a mimicry of the American model and specifically the US Department of Homeland Security, which was created after September 11. That particular mega-department is responsible for functions that in other countries sit in separate ministries, including:

  • Interior Ministry;
  • Home Ministry;
  • Border Security;
  • Customs;
  • Cyber Security;
  • Anti-Terrorism;
  • Intelligence.

The Department has a budget of approximately $55 billion (Australian dollars) and employs a quarter of a million people. Its policy and direction is under the auspices of the President of the United States itself.

The Australian proposal would similarly bring together the current key federal departments, including the AFP, ASIO, ASIS, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (including the Australian Border Force) and others.

There are allegations that ASIO and the Australian Federal Police fail to share intelligence. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

One of the men at the heart of the proposal is the man responsible for turning Immigration into a “paramilitary outfit”, secretary “Iron” Mike Pezzullo.

Case for change and arguments of proponents

The main argument for such a super-department is “often fueled by complaints that the various intelligence and policing bodies — the chief security “silos” — don’t share information in an efficient and timely way. For example, there are suggestions ASIO doesn’t send crucial information to the Australian Federal Police, who starve state police forces of critical intelligence.”

Officials in Canberra have also said that “there are data jealousies between agencies, data gaps, a lack of full data sharing”.

The arguments are advanced by beuracrats such as the man responsible for turning the Department of Immigration and Border Protection “into a paramilitary outfit, secretary “Iron” Mike Pezzullo”.

ASIO and the Australian Federal Police have recently advised against the idea, but other senior beuracrats and politicians – especially on the conservative side of Australian politics – believe it to be a natural next step in their resort to “better coordinate between the police and spy agencies to fight terror”.

Implications for the Muslim Community

The increasingly febrile environment and public “discussion” that surrounds the Muslim community means that this is firmly a political issue. With the rise of right-wing nationalism around the western world, the resurgence of One Nation and the xenophobia of politicians like Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the implications of having such a centralised, powerful department would be felt most by Muslims, who are ever the subject of dog-whistling by these forces.

As has long been noted, “there are influential figures in government and the public service who like the idea of a one-stop terrorism-fighting shop, headed by someone with authority over a range of now-independent security organisations and carrying the responsibility of keeping the nation free from attacks”.

With what has already transpired of dodgy raids, phoney charges and plastic swords found in “imminent terror threats”, one only wonders how these unprecedented powers might be used in the hands of an all-powerful “security czar”.

At least for now, it seems that the idea is unlikely to get the political mileage necessary to succeed. Even within the government there are concerns regarding the idea, not the least surrounding the ambitions of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who would be a candidate for leading the proposed agency. According to Sky News, “one senior Liberal described Mr Dutton as “a fascist” who shouldn’t be in charge of spy agencies”.

Any sane person would agree.

Even among commentators who are unequivocally paranoid of the artificially inflated terror threats, the proposed changes are seen as putting the country “into lockdown”.

Further Reading

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