Keeping Australians Safe From Acts Of Terror

The recent anniversary of the devastating September 11 terrorist attacks provides a painful reminder of the danger that radicalised terrorist extremists pose to Australians.

The lives of 2,977 innocent people, including 10 Australians, were cut tragically and senselessly short 20 years ago at the hands of Al-Qaeda terrorists.

While it’s important to keep the risk of a terrorist attack in proportion, we unfortunately see regular reminders that we are not immune from that risk. The horrific Christchurch mosque shootings of 2019 and recent terror arrests of white supremacists in Australia shows that there are multiple radical ideologies which spawn hatred and a preparedness to target innocent civilians. Our national security and intelligence services are pouring more and more resources into preventing and disrupting these threats, from wherever they emerge.

There is one cohort, however, that we know poses a particularly high risk to Australian lives. That is convicted terrorists, of whatever ideology, who have served short jail sentences and subsequently been released back onto the streets, with their hatred and compulsion to kill still intact.

It’s this cohort which is quite rightly targeted by the announcement of new measures by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews this week.

I suspect most Australians would have very little sympathy for anybody convicted of planning or attempting to mass murder innocent people, and very little trust that de-radicalisation programs work for anyone deranged enough to commit a terror offence in the first instance. Many anti-terror experts and those on the front line of preventing terror attacks agree. When I raised this exact issue with the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police last year, he warned that some convicted terrorist actively fake de-radicalisation to get out of jail.

Just two weeks ago, a terror suspect under constant surveillance by New Zealand’s anti-terror police walked into a supermarket and stabbed multiple people. New Zealand’s Prime Minister expressed extreme frustration at the lack of legal authority for security services to step in and prevent such an attack. In the UK, a convicted terrorist stabbed two people to death in November 2019 after being released just halfway through a 16-year sentence, and in February 2020 terrorist Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police after stabbing two people only days after being released from prison.

In Australia, Minister Andrews outlined this week that there are 51 offenders serving prison sentences for terrorist offences, and another 32 before the courts. Several of these offenders are reaching the end of their prison sentences in the next few years and each represents an ongoing threat to the Australian community.

It is dangerous, wishful thinking to believe these kinds of criminals can be rehabilitated. It is also extending them a courtesy which they do not deserve, at the expense of protecting Australians.

In my view, much more needs to be done – particularly by Courts – to recognise that terrorists belong in a separate category of dangerous offenders who have lost the right and the trust of the community to be on the streets. Child sex offenders belong in the same category. Why should we gamble by releasing dangerous, inhuman offenders who have already proven they have no respect for laws or innocent lives?

The unfortunate reality is that most convicted terrorists and child sex offenders will be released back into the community at some stage. When this occurs, authorities must have strong powers to closely monitor and act quickly to prevent any further offending. I would hope that the Government’s efforts to provide our agencies with those powers is supported by all political parties.