Peter Dutton the big winner as Malcolm Turnbull creates Home Affairs office

 smh.com.au  7/18/2017 2:49:59 AM 

Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed a dramatic shake-up of Australia's security, police and intelligence agencies that will put Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, in charge of a sprawling new Home Affairs security portfolio.

The department of Home Affairs will bring together domestic spy agency ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and the office of transport security and will be put together over the next year.

And Mr Turnbull has also announced the government would, in response to the L'Estrange review of Australia's intelligence agencies, establish an Office of National Intelligence and that the Australian Signals Directorate will also be established as an independent statutory authority. 

The new Office of National Intelligence will co-ordinate intelligence policy and is in line with agencies in Australia's "Five Eyes" intelligence partners in the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

Mr Turnbull was joined by Mr Peter Dutton - the big winner from the shake up - and Attorney-General George Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

The changes are to be finalised by June 30, 2018 - subject to approval of the National Security Committee of Cabinet -  with Mr Dutton to work with Senator Brandis in bedding down the changes.

Senator Brandis will lose responsibility for ASIO under the changes but, crucially, retain sign-off power on warrants for intelligence agency. 

Mr Turnbull said the Attorney-General's oversight of Australia's domestic security and law enforcement agencies would be strengthened, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the independent national security legislation monitor moving into his portfolio. 

The Prime Minister said Australia needed these reforms "not because the system is broken, but because our security environment is evolving quickly. It is becoming more complex...we need a better structure to meet the challenge of the times and that is why we are adopting a model which is closer to the British Home Office than the large-scale American Homeland Security Department".

"The reforms I am announcing today will entrench the co-operation between the agencies, which has helped us thwart 12 terrorist attacks and stop 31 people smuggling ventures in recent times."

"Importantly, ASIO, AFP and Australian Border Force will all report directly to the Home Affairs Minister. This will ensure that these three important agencies have direct reporting into the cabinet."

The decision was announced after a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet on Tuesday morning. The NSC includes Mr Turnbull and cabinet ministers Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison, George Brandis, Marise Payne and Mr Dutton.

The Prime Minister said Australia had been well-served by its intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies but there was no room for complacency or "set and forget".

He described the changes as the "the most significant reform of Australia's national intelligence and domestic security arrangements and their oversight in more than 40 years".

The Prime Minister also promised the civil liberties of Australians would not be eroded.

"What this will enable them [security agencies] to do is work together even better and it will give - it will better define the role of the Attorney-General as the minister for the integrity, the rule of law, the first law officer," Mr Turnbull said.

Senator Brandis said it would "ensure that we have within the government, as a senior member of the cabinet, a minister who can give 100 per cent of his time and his attention to national security, both domestic, national security and border security".

The shake up comes despite some push-back from the intelligence and security establishment, and despite leading moderates in the cabinet including Ms Bishop, Ms Payne, Mr Brandis and to a lesser extent, Mr Pyne.

Mr Turnbull would not say whether ASIO, for example, had asked for the changes and further, dismissed suggestions that the changes were designed to satisfy conservatives in his government including Mr Dutton, Mathias Cormann and Scott Morrison.

Some legislative changes will be required under the proposed changes.

More to come

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