Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Australia

Overview: Australia strengthened counterterrorism laws, investigated and disrupted suspected terrorist plots, and maintained high levels of cooperation with U.S. and international partners. Australia played a major role in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in 2017 and was a leading contributor to coalition military support, humanitarian assistance, and efforts to disrupt foreign terrorist fighters. At the end of 2017, Australia’s National Terrorist Threat Advisory System remained at “Probable.”

On December 20, Australia established the Home Affairs Department, its most significant domestic security and law enforcement reform in decades. Home Affairs combined the existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection with relevant elements of existing departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Attorney-General, Social Services, and Infrastructure and Regional Development. It also drew in the Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Federal Police, and Australia’s financial intelligence agency, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). Agencies falling under the Home Affairs portfolio will maintain their operational independence while the Department provides strategic leadership and consistent policy coordination.

Australia is focused on counterterrorism threats in Southeast Asia. In October, Australia announced enhanced counterterrorism assistance to the Philippines, featuring closer intelligence‑sharing, increased bilateral maritime reconnaissance, and facilitation of post-conflict rehabilitation efforts across military and civil spheres.

Foreign terrorist fighters returning to Australia and the role of social media in inspiring domestic radicalization to violence were also chief concerns. Australian security agencies believe approximately 110 Australian citizens remain with terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Approximately 40 fighters have returned, and the government estimates between 68 and 85 Australian foreign fighter fatalities. The government is also aware of about 70 children who either traveled with their parents to or were born in ISIS-controlled areas.

Since September 2014, Australian counterterrorism authorities disrupted 14 terrorism plots domestically, and have cautioned that a major terrorist event in Australia is “inevitable.”

The United States worked closely throughout the year with Australia to identify and develop new capabilities that meet a wide variety of requirements for countering terrorist threats. Through a cost-sharing bilateral relationship, both countries advanced their technical ability to defeat or mitigate the evolving capabilities of terrorists and criminal organizations.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: Australia experienced one terrorist-related attack and two disrupted plots. A Somali-born man, who proclaimed allegiance to ISIS and al-Qa’ida, shot one woman to death and took another hostage before police killed him in a standoff.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Australia continued to apply its comprehensive counterterrorism legislation against domestic threats and passed additional legislation to strengthen national security protections. In July, Prime Minister Turnbull announced the implementation of a new Department of Home Affairs by mid-2018, calling it “the most significant reform” in four decades. The Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet stood up a task force to manage ministerial portfolio and statutory realignments of several entities, including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Attorney General’s Department, and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization.

In August, the Australia-New Zealand Counterterrorism Committee released its Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism, drawing on expertise from the Crowded Places Advisory Group, comprising representatives from law enforcement, intelligence, and business sectors.

Coordination among states and territories and between agencies is strong and cooperative. In October, Australia released its fourth National Counterterrorism Plan, outlining national, state, and territory responsibilities. Almost simultaneously, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed to a raft of national counterterrorism measures, including nationwide leveraging of state biometric information, expansion of the national emergency warning system, and increasing the pre-charge detention hold period to 14 days for suspected terrorists. COAG also agreed to develop new Commonwealth criminal penalties for those possessing “terrorist material” and perpetrating terrorist hoaxes, such as false online warnings of impending threats.

Significant law enforcement actions in 2017 included:

  • In February, an Australian man in New South Wales was arrested for assisting ISIS to develop laser missile technology.
  • In July, police charged four Lebanese men in an ISIS-linked plot to bring down a commercial airliner with an improvised explosive device.
  • In November, police arrested a Somali-Australian man for attempting to obtain an automatic rifle to kill holiday revelers in Melbourne.

Australia’s border security remained robust. Australia is a leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF), in which it raised concerns about traveler data, cargo and aviation security, developed mitigation strategies, and expanded regional information sharing on threats. Australia announced in November that Australian citizens would no longer face penalties for traveling to or remaining in Raqqa without a legitimate purpose, but emphasized that providing support to any listed terrorist organization remains a punishable offense. Approximately 219 Australian passports have been cancelled in relation to the Iraq and Syria conflict.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Australia is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), co-chair of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, and a member of the APG’s Mutual Evaluation Working Group. Its financial intelligence agency is a member of the Egmont Group. Australia also chairs or co-chairs the Egmont Group’s Information Exchange Working Group and the FATF Risks, Trends, and Methods Group.

Australia remained a regional and global leader in countering terrorist financing. During the Australian fiscal year (July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017), AUSTRAC (Australian Reports and Analysis Centre) reported 3,255 exchanges of financial intelligence with international partners. AUSTRAC attributes the nearly doubling of exchanges over the previous fiscal year to terrorist finance concerns. AUSTRAC also applied rigorous detection, monitoring, and alerting to triage over 74,000 Suspicious Matter Reports, an amount comparable to the previous year. In August, AUSTRAC published a 600-page report accusing Australia’s largest bank of breaching anti-money laundering and terrorist finance laws nearly 54,000 times between 2012 and 2015. On December 15, AUSTRAC expanded its regulatory probe by filing 100 new allegations against the bank, saying that the alleged breaches reflect “systematic non-compliance” stemming from at least three years of failure to report anonymous cash deposits exceeding US $7,800.

On December 18, days after passing the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Amendment Bill 2017, to close gaps in e-currency regulation and investigatory reach, Australia announced it would also dedicate an additional US $33.7 million to help AUSTRAC strengthen its non-compliance enforcement. The following day, Australia redirected US $4.3 million retrieved from proceeds of crime to expand AUSTRAC’s overseas presence from Indonesia and the Philippines to China, Malaysia, Singapore, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In November, Australia co-hosted the third Counterterrorism Financing Summit with Indonesia and Malaysia, attended by 445 representatives from 32 countries. Australia will assist a resultant multilateral financial intelligence exercise to jointly analyze suspicious financial activities of individuals operating outside their ordinary countries of residence.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The Australian Attorney General’s Department (AGD) remained the lead coordinator for national CVE efforts. The AGD continued to focus on four overlapping streams that build strength in diversity and social participation, target work with vulnerable communities and institutions, address online terrorist propaganda, and assist diversion and de-radicalization. Additionally, Australia is a donor to the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund.

International and Regional Cooperation: Australia is a member of the United Nations, ASEAN, ARF, the Pacific Island Forum, the East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Australia is the chair of the APEC Counter-Terrorism working group for 2017-2018.

Australia remains focused on counterterrorism threats in Southeast Asia and in October committed the Australian Federal Police to help rebuild Philippine counterterrorism capabilities post-Marawi with training and joint maritime patrols. Australia will also add 20 staff to its embassy in Manila.

In November, Australia hosted the United States and Japan at the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue Counterterrorism Consultations. Outcomes included coordinated support to Southeast Asian countries on expanding INTERPOL connectivity and border security, and support for Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund expansion to the Philippines. In December, Australia co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist ‎fighters.