Country Report on Terrorism 2018 - Chapter 1 - Australia

Overview: In 2018, Australia strengthened counterterrorism laws, investigated and disrupted suspected terrorist plots, and maintained high levels of cooperation with the United States and other international partners. Australia played a major role in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and was a leading contributor to the Coalition’s military support, humanitarian assistance, and efforts to disrupt FTFs.  Australia also played a major role in the GCTF as co-chair of its CVE Working Group. In May, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to finalize the functions and responsibilities of Australia’s new Department of Home Affairs, its most significant domestic security and law enforcement reform in decades. At the end of 2018, Australia’s National Terrorism Threat Advisory System remained at “Probable,” the third-highest level on a five-level scale.

Australia focused on counterterrorism threats in Southeast Asia through capacity-building programs that thwart terrorist travel; effectively manage incarcerated terrorists; stabilize the southern Philippines, including Marawi City; and counter the financing of terrorism.

Other chief concerns included FTFs returning to Australia and the role of social media in inspiring terrorist radicalization.  Australian security agencies estimate that about 230 Australian citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria since 2012. The government estimates that approximately 100 remain in conflict areas, 40 have returned to Australia, and between 90 and 94 Australian FTFs have died in the conflict zone.

Australian officials are aware of approximately 70 children who traveled with their parents to ISIS-controlled areas or were born in such areas. Since 2016, state and territory governments have analyzed how best to balance the security risks returnees might pose with the humanitarian need to reintegrate them back into Australian society and provide needed support.

Since September 2014, Australian counterterrorism authorities have disrupted 15 terrorism plots domestically, and cautioned that a major terrorist event in Australia is “inevitable.”

In 2018, the United States worked closely 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. The United States and Australia also worked closely on capacity-building efforts in Southeast Asia.

2018 Terrorist Incidents: Australia experienced two terrorist-related attacks, both in Melbourne. In February, a Bangladeshi woman traveling on a student visa stabbed and injured her landlord. Australian authorities reported that the woman was inspired and motivated by ISIS’s extremist ideology, going so far as to obtain a student visa and move to Australia to commit this attack. Having admitted her intention in court to “trigger the West” after a failed attempt to travel and fight in Syria, she faces charges of engaging in a terrorist act and attempted murder. In November, a Somalia-born man stabbed three pedestrians, killing one, before he was fatally shot by police. While ISIS claimed responsibility, police called it a lone-offender terror attack. The attacker was known to Australian intelligence and law enforcement for his radical views and family and social ties to other terrorists.

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 May, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to finalize implementation of its new Department of Home Affairs, a process that began in July 2017. The new department combines federal law enforcement, national and transportation security, criminal justice, emergency management, multicultural affairs, and immigration- and border-related functions from various agencies. The Home Affairs portfolio includes the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Federal Police, and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (AUSTRAC).

In November 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would further amend the Australian Citizenship Act of 2007 to lower the threshold requirements for dual citizens convicted of terrorism offenses to lose their Australian citizenship. To date, between nine and 12 dual citizens have been stripped of their citizenship under Australia’s citizenship cessation legislation. Prime Minister Morrison also announced the government’s intention to introduce a Temporary Exclusion Order scheme to prevent Australians involved in overseas terrorism-related activities from returning to Australia for up to two years.

Significant law enforcement actions in 2018 included the following:

  • In January, authorities coordinated closely with Turkish counterparts to issue 20 arrest warrants for Australians who traveled to the Middle East to fight with ISIS.
  • In June, an Australian man was arrested for planning terrorist acts and preparing for a foreign incursion.
  • In November, authorities arrested three men for planning an ISIS-inspired mass casualty attack.

Australia’s border security remained robust and the country continued to promote international cooperation on information sharing to thwart terrorist travel. In August, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs hosted the Five Country Ministerial, where senior security officials from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom discussed persistent and emerging threats.  Since 2012, an estimated 240 Australian passports have been canceled in relation to the Iraq and Syria conflict, including reviews of respective domestic procedures for releasing data about watchlisted individuals in order to promote the relevant and timely disclosure of actionable information. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Australian Department of Home Affairs also made progress with operational plans for a limited Global Entry pilot and an international expedited traveler initiative.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Australia is a member of the FATF and co-chairs the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. Australia’s FIU is a member of the Egmont Group and Australia chairs or co-chairs the Egmont Group’s Information Exchange Working Group.

Australia remained a regional and global leader in countering terrorist financing. In June, Australia’s largest bank was fined AUD 533 million (US $378.8 million) for serious and systemic breaches of AML/CFT laws. In its settlement, Commonwealth Bank admitted the late filing of more than 53,000 reports of transactions exceeding AUD 10,000 (US $7,100), failure to properly monitor transactions on more than 778,000 bank accounts, failure to perform checks on 80 suspicious customers, and late or missing suspicious matter report filing for 149 cases. AUSTRAC said it suspected “significant further undetected money laundering through Commonwealth Bank accounts.” Australia and Thailand co-hosted the fourth regional Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit in Bangkok, attended by more than 350 representatives from 31 countries. At the summit, AUSTRAC announced it would post its first financial intelligence analyst to Guangzhou to work more closely with China’s FIU.

Australia cooperated closely with the United States on terrorist designations and implemented its obligations to restrict terrorism financing, including funding to terrorist groups operating in Syria and Iraq, as well as freezing assets.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Department of Home Affairs, the lead coordinator for national CVE efforts, remained focused on four overlapping streams that emphasize diversity and social participation, target work with vulnerable communities and institutions, address online terrorist propaganda, and assist diversion and de-radicalization. In July, the Victoria State Government hosted the third annual Strong Cities Network Global Summit. Additionally, Australia is a donor to GCERF and actively promotes GCERF activities globally.

Australia is active in the GCTF and co-chairs the GCFT CVE Working Group with Indonesia. In February, the co-chairs organized a workshop on monitoring, measuring, and evaluating CVE programs. In October, the co-chairs organized a workshop on CVE in prisons. Finally, in December, the CVE Working Group held its annual plenary session in Melbourne and a workshop exploring issues of gender and extremism that included government and civil society actors from across Southeast Asia. At the GCTF Coordinating Committee meeting in September, Australia announced that it would partner with Switzerland and the United Kingdom to create a policy toolkit on the Zurich-London Recommendations that outline good practices for CVE and terrorist recruitment online.

International and Regional Cooperation: Australia is a member of the UN, the GCTF, the Pacific Island Forum, the East Asia Summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Australia chaired the APEC Counter-Terrorism Working Group from 2017 to 2018.

At the eighth Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, which convened in August, Australia pledged to cooperate with the United States and Japan to counter the terrorism financing, combat the flow of FTFs, and increase cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. In March, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ASEAN outlining cooperation on counterterrorism, including law enforcement cooperation, capacity building, and technical assistance.