Defence forces to respond to terrorist threats under law changes

Defence forces to respond to terrorist threats under law changes
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Changes to Australia’s defence laws will see Australian soldiers deployed to assist local police forces dealing with terrorist threats.

The changes, announced by Malcolm Turnbull, follow a review into the fatal Lindt Cafe siege of 2014, which saw 18 people taken hostage and two people killed.

The local police forces will still be responsible for taking the lead in responding to terrorist incidents but special forces soldiers will provide specialised training to state and territory police forces and some may be embedded to improve co-operation.

"State and territory police forces remain the best first response to terrorist incidents, immediately after an attack starts," the Prime Minister said.

"But Defence can offer more support to states and territories to enhance their capabilities and increase their understanding of Defence’s unique capabilities to ensure a comprehensive response to potential terrorist attacks."

Under the changes:

  • Defence will offer state and territory governments specialised training from Special Forces for select law enforcement teams;
  • Defence will offer states and territories placement of officers within law enforcement agencies to assist with liaison and engagement;
  • This strengthening of engagement will assist with pre-positioning of the ADF in response to a possible terrorist incident;
  • The government will strengthen Part IIIAAA of the Defence Act to remove some constraints in the provisions to “call out” the ADF to assist states and territories;
  • This will include the removal of the provision that currently limits states and territories from asking for ADF support and specialist military skills until their capability or capacity has been exceeded; and
  • The government will also make changes to the act to make it easier for Defence to support the police response, such as the ability to prevent suspected terrorists from leaving the scene of an incident.

These measures are intended to provide increased Commonwealth support to states and territories in their role as first responders to a domestic terrorist incident. In particular these measures will:

  • Better support states and territories in preparing for terrorist incidents;
  • Enable a more comprehensive ADF response to a terrorist incident if required; and
  • Improve information flows between the ADF and police during an incident.

The Turnbull government initiated the review of Defence’s support to national counter-terrorism arrangements in 2016 in response to the changing nature of the threat as demonstrated in recent terrorist attacks around the world.

It’s the first time Defence’s contribution to domestic counter-terrorism has been reviewed since 2005.

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