Politics

Malcolm Turnbull Just Staged One Of The Weirdest Press Conferences Of 2017

"JUST IN: Pictures of Malcolm Turnbull being held hostage by the right faction of his own party."

In what we can only assume was an attempt to look Extremely Tough And Competent, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just announced new counterterrorism-focused defence force powers against a backdrop of mask-wearing, gun-toting, awkwardly posed defence forces personnel.

This move did not have the desired effect for some reason (maybe because it’s, uh, extremely weird), leaving the PM as high and dry as the random military boat sitting on land behind some khaki-draped trestle tables. It’s also led to criticism about the appropriateness of using members of the defence forces as human props.

Amidst the theatrics of the press conference, it was pretty easy to lose sight of the actual changes being announced. The PM announced a plan to increase cooperation and shared training between State and Territory police and the Australian Defence Forces (ADF), and make it easier for the ADF to be deployed domestically during a terrorist attack.

Turnbull said that the proposed changes to the Defence Act will “ensure that the ADF is more readily available to respond to terrorism incidents, providing State and Territory police with the extra support to call on when they need it.”

In practice, this means that it will be easier to deploy the Defence Forces in response to domestic terror incidents. While State and Territory police will remain the first responders to a terrorist attack, they will be able to call on military support much earlier than under the current laws, which require that states request military support only once their police capacity and capability have been exceeded — a process Turnbull referred to as “very cumbersome”. In addition, the ADF will provide specialised training for select parts of states’ law enforcement teams.

Turnbull claims the enhanced collaboration between state police and the ADF will allow “the ability for the ADF to be able to say to the police in certain circumstances, we can do something that you can’t”.

Exactly what defence forces will be empowered to do under the new laws is unclear, though at one point Turnbull gestured to the heavily armed forces behind him as an example of what the ADF can offer, potentially flagging a substantial expansion of domestic military presence and powers. 

Turnbull also mentioned implementing “full legal protections to ensure that police are empowered to use lethal force where the public is at risk.” 

The exact circumstances under which the ADF may be called upon are unclear at this stage. While the Coroner’s report made clear that military assistance was not needed at the Lindt Cafe siege, Turnbull flagged terror attacks like the recent events in London as examples of scenarios where a fast military response time would be desirable.

While people took to Twitter to mock the PM’s delivery, the proposed laws potentially deliver sweeping new military powers that should be taken pretty seriously. Turnbull stressed that these laws are for the Australian public’s safety, but it’s worth scrutinising any potential expansion of the use of lethal force in domestic incidents.

Feature image: screenshot via ABC.