ASIO chief Mike Burgess says terrorism still a ‘real and pervasive’ threat to Australia

Gabrielle Becerra Mellet
The Nightly
3 Min Read
ASIO director general Mike Burgess says the declared areas offence was critical in managing the ‘real’ threat of terrorism in Australia.
ASIO director general Mike Burgess says the declared areas offence was critical in managing the ‘real’ threat of terrorism in Australia. Credit: AAP

The head of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation has hit back at suggestions that counter-terrorism laws are going too far and insists terrorism is an ongoing threat to the country.

Director-General Mike Burgess told a parliamentary committee on Monday that the declared areas Bill — which allows the Minister for Foreign Affairs to assign travel bans to countries where terrorists freely operate — was key for security.

“The national terrorism threat level remains at possible which means terrorism is a real and pervasive threat,” he said.

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“The declared areas offence is a necessary and proportionate tool to managing the terrorist risk here in Australia.”

Under the provisions — due to be reviewed in September — Australians who travel to the no-go zones can face up to 10 years in prison.

Committee chair and Labor MP Peter Khalil said the committee had received “mixed evidence” on whether the laws should be extended — including arguments from the Australian Human Rights Commission that the powers risk criminalising reasonable excuses.

The provisions have been extended by three years twice before, after recommendations by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Nutt said the AFP continued to endure “caseloads” of terrorism threats despite the national threat level lowering from probable to possible in 2022.

“The counter-terrorism threat environment continues to be challenging, complex and diverse,” he said.

“This has been evidenced in recent weeks where we have seen an increase in terror incidents and operational activity.

“In addition to this caseload, we continue to investigate and respond to the threat posed by Australian foreign terrorist fighters.”

There has been a spate of counter-terrorism raids across Sydney in recent weeks, with five teenagers charged and accused of planning an attack.

Deradicalisation programs in WA were also thrust into the spotlight earlier this month after a 16-year-old boy was shot dead by police after he stabbed a man. Authorities said the attack had the “hallmarks of terrorism”.

Since 2012, more than 200 Australians travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with or support terrorist groups.

About 120 were thought to be deceased, 60 were still within the region and 55 had returned to Australia.

But only four individuals have been charged with the declared area offence to date and one convicted, a number which AFP says is not indicative of a lack of activity.

Mr Khalil raised suggestions by human rights bodies that the laws should not be extended — and were adopted as an “extreme response” to an “extreme situation”.

But ASIO chief Mr Burgess said the declared areas offence was a “necessary and proportionate” tool to managing risk in Australia.

“Murder is very much an unlawful act and we hope it doesn’t happen and there’s no evidence before anyone right now it will happen in the next five minutes, if you take my point,” he said.

“It is a real possibility that we could see the rise of ISIL re-establish itself somewhere else in the world.

“This law, having the offence would be useful if that situation were to occur.”


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