Overview: In 2019, Australia strengthened CT 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 was endorsed as a co-chair of the GCTF CVE Working Group for a second term from 2019-2021. At the end of 2019, Australia’s National Terrorism Threat Advisory System remained at “Probable,” the third-highest level on a five-level scale. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization’s 2019 annual report found that “Islamist extremism” remained the principal source of terrorist threat for Australia and reported an increase in REMT, which Australia calls “extreme right-wing terrorism,” in recent years.
Australia remains committed to working with partner governments in Southeast Asia to shape a secure and prosperous region through greater cooperation on countering terrorism threats. This includes bilateral engagements and supporting capability development and capacity-building activities across the region. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) works with policing agencies in Southeast Asia and has facilitated a series of multilateral CT dialogues.
Australia implemented legislation regarding FTFs returning to Australia. Australian security agencies estimate that about 230 Australian citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria since 2012. The government estimates that about 80 Australians are currently in Syria/Iraq and have fought for or supported ISIS or similar groups. Australian authorities are aware of 66 Australians in al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria. Australia repatriated eight children from Syria in June.
Since September 2014, Australian CT authorities have conducted 16 major counterterrorism disruption operations in response to potential or imminent attacks in Australia. A further 98 people have been charged as a result of 44 counterterrorism-related operations around Australia.
In 2019, Australia worked closely with the United States 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.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Australia experienced no terrorist-related attacks in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Australia continued to apply its comprehensive CT legislation against domestic threats and passed additional legislation aimed at addressing external threats. In July 2019, the Australian Government implemented CT legislation to address the threat posed by returning terrorist fighters. Australia introduced the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2019 (Temporary Exclusion Orders), which allows the prime minister to prevent an Australian citizen from reentering the country for up to two years if the person is suspected of supporting, or having fought with, a terrorist organization overseas. In the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks in March, the Australian Parliament passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act 2019, which came into force in April. The Act adds new offenses to the criminal code concerning online “abhorrent violent” content – defined as murder or attempted murder, a terrorist act, torture, rape, or kidnapping. Under the Act, it is an offense for an internet service provider, content service or hosting service to fail to refer to the AFP “within a reasonable time” (not defined in the Act) abhorrent violent material that the provider is aware could be accessed through or on its service, where the underlying conduct occurred or is occurring in Australia.
New counterterror legislation – Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Bill 2019 – was introduced in September 2019. The legislation stems from concerns that the current counterterror legislation does not cover several current high-risk offenders, including Australian fighters in Syria and several who have returned. The Citizen Cessation Bill would give Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton new authority to strip dual-national terrorists of their Australian citizenship. The legislation will broaden the number of individuals whom the government can investigate and prosecute for engaging in terror-related activities by backdating the current deadline from December 12, 2015, to May 29, 2003.
Significant law enforcement actions in 2019 included the following:
- In July, Australian police arrested three men over an alleged ISIS-inspired plot to attack several Sydney targets.
- In December, Australia’s Federal Police arrested a 21-year-old man in Sydney on three separate terrorism charges.
Australia’s border security remained robust and the country continued to promote international cooperation on information sharing to thwart terrorist travel. Australian authorities are investigating 230 people in Australia for providing support to terrorist groups involved in the Syria/Iraq conflict. Since 2012, around 250 Australian passports have been cancelled or applications refused in relation to the Syria/Iraq conflict.
In September 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Traveler Branch/Customs Group of the Australian Border Force approved an annex to the Global Entry joint statement that outlines how Australia will vet Australian citizens for U.S. Global Entry membership and how approval information will be shared between Australia and CBP. Australia is in the process of building the infrastructure to collect application information for Australian citizens. The pilot, which will be limited to 500 Australians, is expected to launch in 2020.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Australia is a member of the FATF and co-chairs the APG, a FATF-style regional body. The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Australia’s FIU, is a member of the Egmont Group. Australia is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG). In November, Australia hosted the second “No Money for Terror” Ministerial Conference on Counter-Terrorism Financing, bringing together 65 delegations, including 23 ministers, representatives from 15 international bodies including the United Nations, FATF and FATF-style regional bodies, as well as representatives from 28 private sector and not-for-profit organizations.
Countering Violent Extremism: Australia’s CVE strategy remains 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. Australia is active in the GCTF and co-chairs the GCTF CVE Working Group with Indonesia. 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. The Policy Toolkit on the Zurich-London Recommendations was launched in September 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: Australia is a member of the UN, the GCTF, the Pacific Island Forum, the East Asia Summit, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. At the ninth Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, which convened in April 2019, Australia pledged to cooperate with the United States and Japan to enhance border management practices and strengthen information sharing. In 2018, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ASEAN outlining cooperation on CT, including law enforcement cooperation, capacity building, and technical assistance. Since signing the MOU with ASEAN, AUSTRAC has implemented a regional Financial Intelligence Analyst Course and a Multilateral Analyst Exchange Program.