Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a new portfolio bringing together the country’s spy agencies, federal police and border security.
The PM says the new super-ministry will be based on the UK’s Home Office and not a United States-style Department of Homeland Security.
Turnbull said it was “the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements and their oversight in more than 40 years.”
Immigration minister Peter Dutton will be the minister designate overseeing the new portfolio, with two ministers reporting to him.
The Home Affairs ministry will include ASIO, the domestic spy agency, Australian Federal Police, Border Force, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, which the government launched last year, the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC and the Office of Transport Security.
“These arrangements will preserve the operational focus and strengths of frontline agencies engaged in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and other domestic threats,” Turnbull said.
These reforms are driven by serious threats to Australia’s security and the Government’s determination to keep Australians safe and secure.
The changes mean the attorney-general loses responsibility for ASIO and justice minister Michael Keenan, the AFP.
Brandis will keep the responsibility for issuing ASIO warrants and ministerial authorisation for intelligence operations.
The changes follow a review, announced by Turnbull last year, into the nation’s intelligence agencies by professor Michael L’Estrange. The PM said the government will adopt a number of recommendations from the review, which will be released in part later today.
An Office of National Intelligence will also be established and coordinate the nation’s central intelligence policy.
Turnbull said the ONA “will ensure better collaboration with our ‘Five Eyes’ partners” – an intelligence sharing group that also includes the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
The Australian Signals Directorate, the foreign intelligence collection agency, will become a statutory authority within Defence.
The changes include moving agencies currently charged with overseeing intelligence from the prime minister’s department, to the attorney-general’s department, including the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
“We must stay ahead of the threats against us,” Turnbull said.
Cyber security will also be boosted, with the cyber security centre having a 24/7 capability.
“The threats that we face are multi-dimensional. The lines between organised criminals and terrorists are blurred,” he said.
“Contemporary threats drive the need for our agencies to work closer together.”
Brandis, Keenan, foreign minister Julie Bishop, and defence minister Marise Payne were reportedly opposed to the plan, but at the media conference announcing the changes today, the attorney-general praised the changes, saying he will operate more effectively by taking control of a number of integrity agencies overseeing the operations of government.
“I think we will look back on this day as a day when we have turned the page from a set of arrangements which worked well, to a set of arrangements that will work even better,” he said.
Brandis will work with Dutton to implement the changes, which still need to be approved by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, with a deadline of June 30 next year to have them in place.
Here is today’s media announcement involving the PM, Dutton, Brandis and Keenan.