Overview: Australia is a key partner in the global fight against terrorism, and leads regional efforts to counter radicalization and violent extremism. In 2015, Australian authorities conducted 10 domestic counterterrorism operations, resulting in 25 people being charged. The Australian Attorney General estimated there were 110 Australian foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq, approximately 190 persons in Australia providing support to individuals and groups in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and 400 high-priority counterterrorism investigations. In the 2014-2015 fiscal year, there were also 536 suspected terrorism financing cases in Australia.

The Australian government took significant actions to counter terrorism by: providing additional funding to intelligence agencies and enhancing their ability to access communications data; creating the roles of the National Counterterrorism Coordinator and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counterterrorism; attending the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February; hosting a Regional Countering Violent Extremism Summit; co-hosting the first Southeast Asian Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit; developing a Combating Terrorist Propaganda initiative to monitor and contest online terrorist messages; and developing a revised National Terrorism Threat Advisory System.

On October 15, the Prime Minister convened a National Meeting on Countering Violent Extremism that included policy and law enforcement officials from federal, state, and territory agencies. In July, the federal and state governments released "Australia's Counter-Terrorism Strategy."

In 2015, Australia was a major contributor of military assistance to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Since May, Australia deployed 300 military personnel to contribute to the international Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission in Iraq, following the September 2014 announcement of sending 200 personnel to "advise and assist" Iraqi forces and about 400 personnel to support Australian air operations against ISIL. Australia began air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq in October 2014 and extended strikes into Syria in September 2015 using six FA-18s. Australia and the United States regularly discussed counterterrorism cooperation, including at the annual AUSMIN Foreign and Defense Ministers' meeting.

2015 Terrorist Incidents: On October 2, 15-year-old Farhad Jabar (Australian) killed New South Wales police employee Curtis Cheng outside a police station in the Sydney district of Parramatta. Australian authorities believe this was a terrorist incident and Jabar was subsequently killed in a shoot-out with police. Three men were also arrested on terrorism and criminal offenses related to the incident.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Australia's legal framework to counter terrorism includes significant penalties for the following: committing terrorist acts; recruiting for and supporting terrorist organizations; financing terrorism; urging violence and advocating terrorism; and traveling abroad to commit terrorist acts and recruitment offenses. Authorities are authorized to detain individuals under "preventative detention orders" for a maximum of 48 hours, and to restrict activities and movement of individuals under "control orders."

Since mid-2014, five tranches of national security legislation have been enacted. In October 2014, parliament passed legislation targeting returning foreign terrorist fighters which includes granting additional powers to security agencies, strengthening border security measures, and cancelling welfare payments for persons involved in terrorism. In May 2015, parliament passed legislation requiring telecommunications providers to retain and to secure data for two years, and the government appointed the first Commonwealth Counterterrorism Coordinator. On July 1, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service were merged into a single Department of Immigration and Border Protection. On August 13, parliament passed legislation strengthening the combined agency's biometric program into a single updated framework used by border agents to collect biometric identity information. In December, parliament passed legislation allowing for the revocation of citizenship for dual nationals involved in terrorism, established the crime of advocacy of genocide, and lowered the minimum age for which control orders can be imposed from 16 to 14. (A control order is issued by a court [at the request of the Australian Federal Police] to allow obligations, prohibitions and restrictions to be imposed on a person, for the purpose of protecting the public from a terrorist act.)

Since the terrorism alert level was raised to "High" in 2014, security and law enforcement agencies have foiled six attacks, and police conducted 10 counterterrorism operations in Australia resulting in 26 people being charged with terrorism-related offenses. Australian Border Force Counter-Terrorism Units, established in August 2014, offloaded 336 passengers from commercial flights through June 2015, which according to an ABF press release, prevented a number of minors from travelling to the conflict areas in Syria and Iraq. The number of high priority targets investigated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) doubled to more than 400. From September 2014 to the end of 2015, the number of Australian foreign terrorist fighters in Iraq and Syria identified by Australian security services grew from 70 to 110; the number of suspected Australians killed in the conflict rose from 15 to at least 41; the number of people suspected in Australia of providing support to individuals and groups in the conflict grew from 110 to 190; and the number of passports cancelled to prevent travel to the conflict expanded from 60 to 146. In July 2015, the Council of Australian Governments (the Prime Minister, state and territory Premiers and Chief Ministers, and the President of the Australian Local Government Association), agreed to develop a new threat advisory system, which was unveiled in November. The new five-tiered threat system provides ASIO with greater flexibility to make terrorist threats clearer to the public. At the end of 2015, the level was set at "Probable," the third highest tier.

Arrests included:

  • On February 10, police arrested and charged Omar Al-Kutobi (Iraqi born, naturalized Australian citizen) and Mohammad Kiad (Kuwaiti citizen with Australian spousal visa) in Sydney with planning to carry out an imminent terrorist attack against a civilian.

  • On April 18, five teenage Australian boys were arrested in Melbourne following a counterterrorism operation in relation to a planned terrorist act, which included targeting police officers. One was charged with terrorism offenses; one was charged with weapons offenses; and one had terrorism charges dropped and pleaded guilty to weapons offenses. The other two were released without charges.

  • On May 8, police raided a Melbourne home and arrested a 17-year-old Australian man after finding three IEDs.

Australian law enforcement entities, such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP), have clearly demarcated counterterrorism units, as well as effective working relationships with provincial and municipal law enforcement. In September, the State of Victoria Police Department established a Counterterrorism Command, and in November, counterterrorism funding to the Victorian police almost doubled when the State of Victoria allocated $49.4 million for hiring additional intelligence experts and analysts. Australia has an extensive border security network and makes excellent use of travel document security technology, biographic and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry, information sharing with other countries, and collection of advance Passenger Name Record information on commercial flights. Australian security forces effectively patrolled and controlled land and maritime borders.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Australia is a member of the Financial Action Task Force. Australia served as the organization's President from July 1, 2014 until June 30, 2015. Australia is a founding member and co-chair of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. In 2015 Australia's mutual evaluation, executed jointly by FATF and APG, was adopted. The assessment concluded that Australia has strong legal, law enforcement and operational measures for combating money laundering and terrorism financing.

Australia faces a range of terrorism financing risks, largely motivated by international tensions and conflicts, and counters the risks with a comprehensive legal and administrative framework. Australia can automatically freeze UN-designated terrorism-related assets and has made numerous domestic designations as well.

As a founding member of the Egmont Group, AUSTRAC, Australia's financial intelligence unit, assisted the Southeast Asian region to develop a regional profile of financial characteristics of foreign terrorist fighters. Australia implements its obligations to restrict terrorism financing, including funding to violent extremist groups operating in Syria and Iraq, as well as freezing assets and economic resources in accordance with UNSCRs 1373 (2001) and 2253 (2015; which updates UNSCRs 1267 and 1989), as well as UNSCRs 2178 (2014), 2170 (2014), and 2199 (2015).

AUSTRAC detects, prevents, and deters money laundering and financing of terrorist activities. In addition, AUSTRAC regulates money transfers and remittance services, however, charities are not a regulated sector for the purposes of suspicious matter reports (SMRs). Using its rigorous detection and monitoring processes, AUSTRAC referred 536 SMRs in the 2014-2015 fiscal year to the AFP and the ASIO on suspicion of terror financing links, a 300 percent increase from the year before. Amounting to more than $37.6 million, the 536 reports were linked primarily to Australians traveling to join terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. As of June 30, 2015, AUSTRAC stated that it was monitoring more than 100 persons of interest. AUSTRAC is also a core member of a multilateral information-sharing project on the financing of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq. In November in Sydney, Australia and Indonesia co-hosted the first Counterterrorism Financing Summit in the Asia-Pacific Region, attended by more than 150 people from 19 countries. Australia is also a member of the Counter-ISIL Finance Working Group and co-chairs its Foreign Terrorist Fighter sub-group.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Australian Attorney-General's Department leads the implementation of the government's four main goals to counter violent extremism (CVE): building strength in diversity and social participation; targeted work with vulnerable communities and institutions; addressing terrorist propaganda online; and diversion and de-radicalization. The Australian Government created the Living Safe Together website (http://www.livingsafetogether.gov.au/), which offers multiple resources and perspectives on building community resilience to violent extremism.

In February, the Australian Attorney-General attended the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and announced the $12.8 million Combatting Terrorist Propaganda in Australia initiative focused on the internet and social media. In June, Australia hosted the Regional Summit to Counter Violent Extremism to further goals outlined at the White House CVE Summit and to build on UNSCR 2178 and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Following the October shooting in Parramatta, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull convened an urgent meeting of officials from Federal, State, and Territory agencies and Muslim leaders to discuss Australia's approach to countering violent extremism. On November 2, the New South Wales Premier announced a $33.4 million CVE package to stop radicalization of young people focused primarily on schools and community organizations. In December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that the government would provide $1.78 million over five years to the Commonwealth Secretariat dedicated to countering extremism and radicalization.

Building on its experience partnering with the UAE through the Sawab counter-messaging center in 2015, Australia is supporting Malaysia in the development of its regional counter-messaging center in Kuala Lumpur.

International and Regional Cooperation: Australia is a regional leader in the fight against terrorism, and worked to strengthen the Asia-Pacific region's counterterrorism capacity through a range of bilateral and regional initiatives in organizations such as ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the Pacific Island Forum. Australia participated in the APEC Counter-Terrorism Task Force, the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism, and worked closely with NATO, including in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Australia is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, a member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and co-chair of the Forum's Detention and Reintegration Working Group (DRWG), which grew out of the former Southeast Asia Working Group. In April, Australia and the EU agreed to intensify counterterrorism cooperation, building on the launch of the first EU-Australian Counterterrorism Dialogue in November 2014.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop attended the GCTF Ministerial in September. Australia's Ambassador for Counterterrorism played a key role in coordinating policy cooperation, capacity building, and operational collaboration between Australian agencies and international counterterrorism partners. Australia signed 19 counterterrorism memorandums of understanding with partners around the world. Australia increasingly collaborates with India on counter-messaging and counterterrorism legal reforms.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.