AGD stripped of AFP and ASIO to create Dutton-led enforcement superministry

The Attorney-General's Department will have its operational control for the federal police and domestic spy agency moved into a new Home Affairs ministry.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a captain's call and taken the decision to shuffle the reporting lines of Commonwealth law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, and create a new Home Affairs ministry set to take effect from July 1, 2018.

Under the new arrangements announced on Tuesday, the Home Affairs portfolio will be responsible for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Federal Police (AFP), Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), and the office of transport security.

To balance out the losses, the Attorney-General's Department will be increasingly focused on oversight and gains authority over the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, and the Commonwealth Ombudsman, while the Attorney-General will continue to issue ASIO warrants, and ministerial authorisations under the Intelligence Services Act.

Other changes under the plan will see the establishment of an Office of National Intelligence, the Australian Signals Directorate become a statutory authority within the defence portfolio, and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Alastair MacGibbon be shifted to head the Australian Cyber Security Centre, which will assume a "whole of economy" focus.

"We will establish an Australian Cyber Security Centre 24/7 capability to respond to serious cyber incidents," Turnbull said. "This capability will better meet the needs of the community and the government in relation to rapidly emerging cyber events. We have seen some examples of that very recently."

The formation of a Home Affairs portfolio will be based on the UK Home Office, and not the US Department of Homeland Security, Turnbull said.

"The agencies will retain their current statutory independence which is such a vital aspect of our Australian system," he said.

The first Minister for Home Affairs is set to be Peter Dutton, who was present at the recent Five Eyes meeting where Australia pushed its plan to thwart terrorist use of encryption.

Despite saying he had taken the decision to undertake the biggest security reforms in four decades, Turnbull claimed he had consulted widely.

"This announcement is a result of years of planning and research. It is a result of considered thought and study. It is a result of extensive consultation."

A plan to implement the changes will be worked on by Dutton as well as Attorney-General George Brandis and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism Michael Keenan, with implementation pencilled in from "early 2018".

In recent weeks, Australia has made the running for the Five Eyes nations -- the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand -- on the topic of encryption and the problems it poses for law enforcement.

Last week, Brandis said draft legislation was being written to compel technology companies to turn over the content of end-to-end encrypted messages by the end of the year.

"Last Wednesday, I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ ... and he assured me this was feasible," Brandis said.

"What the government is proposing to do is to impose upon the companies an obligation conditioned by reasonableness and proportionality."

Brandis stated he believes the process of breaking into end-to-end encrypted messages can be done in almost real time, since GCHQ has told him it is possible.

On Friday, Turnbull told ZDNet that the laws produced in Canberra are able to trump the laws of mathematics.

"The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that," he said. "The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia."

So far, Labor has done little to distance itself from the government's encryption plans.

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