In what must have been one of the most unsurprising announcements of recent years last week Peter Dutton was named the minister in charge of a new super portfolio that will incorporate immigration, border protection and domestic security agencies.
However, intelligence and security experts are split over the need for such a change, with some questioning whether the plan has been thought through properly.
And those who of us who are aware of how the Liberal/National coalition government uses security fears to hide its agenda of increasing its powers while it keeps wages depressed rightly point out that it is yet another smokescreen, this time one that also appeases the right wing of the coalition.
The head of the Australian National University’s Defence and Strategic Studies Centre, John Blaxland, said the plan would have significant ramifications and he was not sure if it the government had thought through the new tensions it would create between ministers and agencies.
Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News there was no reason to force ASIO, the AFP, and other security agencies to report directly to one minister.
“My question is what’s broken that needs to be fixed?” he said. “I think we’ve got one of the most successful security and policing sectors in the world that has been honed over decades of practice and high operational capability.
“We’ve seen in Australia much fewer terrorist attacks than in the UK or the US that have centralised homeland security departments.
“I think we have a system that works extremely well and playing politics with Australians’ lives and safety potentially is an extremely bad move in my view,” he said.
Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has warned that for the changes to work properly, the new Home Affairs Minister and Attorney General will have to work “incredibly closely,” so if there’s a clash of personalities it could lead to intelligence operations being paused.
“That would be very serious for intelligence,” he told Sky News.
More to the point, “The creation of a new supersized department of Australia’s security and immigration agencies led by Peter Dutton would move Australia closer to becoming a police state”, Greens Justice spokesperson Nick McKim quite rightly said.
Also, both Labor and the Liberals have spent the last 15 years trying to frighten Australians to justify eroding our fundamental freedoms and liberties. This is another step down that terrifying road.
We should also be concerned about how Super-Sized Minister Dutton will handle his new role. Indeed, if we want to get an idea of how this department will look, all we need to do is look at what has happened on Manus Island and Nauru on Peter Dutton’s watch.
His legacy so far is one of death, torture, illegal detention, forced deportations, secrecy and a complete absence of compassion and decency.
Given the sweeping new powers granted to security and immigration agencies by Labor and the Liberals in recent years, we need to see greater accountability, not less.
Merging these portfolios and giving Peter Dutton the key will mean the ongoing erosion of more of our hard-won freedoms and liberties.
All in all, it strikes me and many other commentators to be more about politics than good policy. And the politics seem to be all about appeasing the right wing of the governing coalition.