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Laws And Heavy Police Work Alone Are Not Enough To Stop Terrorist Activity

06/11/2015 6:12 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 09: Police watch on as they separate protestors in Marden street outside Parramatta Mosque on October 9, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. Protesters gathered at Parramatta Mosque after calls for its destruction by the group 'Party for Freedom'. It is alleged Farhad Jabar attended the mosque sometime before he murdered Police worker Curtis Cheng earlier this week. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Turnbull Government is poised to submit another tranche of counter terrorism laws to parliament. This will toughen the already 60 pieces of legislation addressing terrorism since 2002, and will set Australia on the path to being a world leader in the number of laws directly addressing national security.

From the government's view, the rapid growth of extremism, hinged to terrorist groups and lone wolf individuals, presents a severe and ever-present danger to the Australian community, which demands, then, a strict and severe set of laws to make the nation safer.

This time around, the Turnbull Government is seeking to lower the age a control order can be applied from 16 to 14, in response to the killing of a police accountant by 15-year-old, Farhad Jabar. But while this might be welcome news to many who believe legislation is the key to unlocking a less extreme society, this is not necessarily the case.

As many experts have recently attested, radicalisation in Australia is born out of and in response to a sense of being disconnected from mainstream society (this should be understood as being markedly different from what is currently unfolding in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS is targeting the Muslim non-believers). And it is this detachment that leaves the Australian youth vulnerable to advances by extremist cells, which seek them to carry out varied acts of terror on Australian soil.

But because of this, the government is better served focusing its energy away from the hard-line approach of legislating against extremism, and instead developing a coherent strategy that is sensitive to two key areas: first, the notion that government communication is a key driver in their campaign to counter violent extremism; and second, the development and implementation of a legitimate and accepted 'counter-radicalisation' program, which focuses on the integration and social cohesion of disaffected youth.

The former Abbott Government's communication strategy went to great lengths to marginalise potential radicalised youth. Abbott's misplaced remarks such as "team Australia" and "you don't migrate to this country unless you want to join our team" sent shivers through the Muslim community, and rang alarm bells among leading terror experts due to its ability to strengthen the pre-existing resentment among disaffected youth.

The newly formed Turnbull Government, however, has been praised for distancing itself from the divisive language used by Tony Abbott. Following the recent Parramatta shooting, Turnbull showed the good sense of immediately phoning Australia's Muslim leaders, and expressed a willingness to take a more "holistic approach" to counter violent extremism.

This was promptly followed up with Turnbull hosting his first Terror Summit in Canberra, which was aimed at finding 'new and innovative solutions' to stop young Australians being drawn to extremism. The summit brought together heads of education, sport, and multicultural affairs, demonstrating the integrated and comprehensive approach that the new Prime Minster is taking in his quest to reach out to Australia's susceptible youth.

But much of the momentum and leverage that Turnbull garnered has been swiftly undermined by the stirred up calls by Attorney-General George Brandis and NSW Premier Mike Baird to extend Australia's already comprehensive terror laws.

With the Attorney-General submitting legislation that will seek to lower the age threshold for control orders from 16 to 14, and Mike Baird pursuing the concept of extending detention periods for terrorism suspects up to 28 days (which would be another example of Australia breaching their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), it is likely that the disaffected youth will continue to feel that Australia's political leaders are furthering their iron-fist approach.

It is because of this that Malcolm Turnbull needs to develop a communication strategy which will soften the messages coming from his political colleagues and tailor their messages to align with an envisioned 'counter-radicalisation' program.

The United Nations 'Working Group on Radicalisation and Extremism that lead to Terrorism' defines counter-radicalisation as "a package of social, political, legal and educational and economic programs specifically designed to deter disaffected (and possibly already radicalised) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists."

Such counter-radicalisation programs have shown to be positive in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway. Here the governments have launched an action plan aimed at drawing in disaffected youth. Their programs have emphasised preventative measures as a tool to divert individuals away from extreme behaviour, and eradicate their youth's sense of apathy, formed through perceived discrimination and injustice.

Refreshingly, it seems that Turnbull has his sights set on delivering these types of programs in Australia. But while this would be a momentous step forward for the country, the success of any such program will depend on the signals coming from the government.

Turnbull's communication strategy, then, needs to be a well-versed script, which is sensitive to the notion that laws and heavy police work alone are not enough to stop terrorist activity.

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Anthony Ricketts is a PhD Scholar at the National Security College, Australian National University. He can be contacted on Anthony.ricketts@anu.edu.au.

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