17 Jul 2017

Greater role for Defence Force in Australian counter-terror

1:46 pm on 17 July 2017

The Australian government is moving to give the Defence Force a greater role in dealing with terror threats on home soil, including using special forces to train police.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: AFP

The Turnbull government is today set to unveil its expansion of the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) role in assisting state and territory police to deal with threats, including making it easier for troops to be deployed under "call out" powers.

The government said its proposed legislative changes to the Defence Act would remove a provision that limits states and territories from asking for ADF support and specialist military skills until their capability or capacity has been exceeded.

Special Forces soldiers would also provide specialised training to state and territory police, as well as the placement of officers inside law enforcement agencies to "assist with liaison and engagement".

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it was designed to help keep Australians safe.

"The key thing we need is the most flexible possible arrangements - the threat's changed very significantly," Mr Keenan said.

It would be the first overhaul of the ADF's role in counter-terrorism arrangements since 2005.

"In 2005 we never imagined Australia would be under the current terrorism threat that it is," he said.

"We need to make sure that the 'call out' powers are appropriate for the current circumstances."

Mr Keenan insisted police commanders would still take the lead in responding to future terrorism incidents on Australian soil.

"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."

A senior military official said the NSW Coroner's recent report into the 2014 Lindt cafe siege made it very clear military "call out" powers did not need to be used in the incident, but acknowledged today's changes would make it easier to deploy troops.

The government will this week also release the findings of a wide-ranging review of Australia's intelligence community as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull contemplates whether to introduce a new Homeland Security Department based on the United Kingdom's Home Office.