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Govt 'deserves credit for White Paper. -

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National security experts professer Hugh White and Dr Carl Ungerer join Lateline to discuss the
Federal Government's white paper.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Joining me live from Canberra are Professor Hugh White; he's the head of
the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University; and Dr Carl Ungerer
is the director of the National Security Project at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Welcome to both of you.

HUGH WHITE, HEAD, STRATEGIC AND DEFENCE STUDIES CENTRE, ANU: Evening, Leigh.

CARL UNGERER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT, ASPI: Evening.

LEIGH SALES: Carl Ungerer, I wanted to ask first of all: how long has this report been sitting on
the shelf? How long have people in the national security community been waiting for it?

CARL UNGERER: It's been some time in gestation, Leigh. The Prime Minister first announced that
we've have a paper on white paper on counter-terrorism back in the December '08 national security
statement and it's been in preparation since this.

It's probably been through various iterations as these things always are, and - but nonetheless,
that's only 13, 14 months away from the announcement and in the scheme of things, that's probably
not a bad effort.

LEIGH SALES: So what do you think then about the cynicism today that the timing was just all a
little bit too coincidental given Peter Garrett's woes?

CARL UNGERER: Oh, look, I'll leave that to the political pundits to work out. I think it's
important for governments to lay down statements of this kind on important national security issues
in a timely fashion. And remember, you know, the previous white paper we had was back in 2004, some
three years after the events of 9/11, so I think this is a timely opportunity to put something like
this out.

LEIGH SALES: Hugh White, what about you: do you think that the cynicism's understandable?

HUGH WHITE: Perhaps understandable in a political context, but like Carl, I don't think it's
justified; I think it's perfectly reasonable for the Government to put out a white paper on
terrorism at this stage, and it's very much, if I can put it this way, the Rudd Government's style
to produce copious documents.

There's a certain bureaucratic formalism about its approach to government and I think this white
paper does reflects that.

But also, I think you can say a bit more about it. I mean, one of the things that strikes me about
this white paper is what it doesn't say. It doesn't say that terrorism is a fundamental existential
threat to our way of life.

It describes terrorism as an ongoing, significant problem that we need to learn to live with and
manage. But in many ways, compared to the sorts of language that we saw back in the 2004 white
paper and in those first hectic years after 9/11, it's actually quite moderate in tone, and I think
that's a pretty welcome development.

I think the Government deserves credit for getting the terrorism problem in perspective - a serious
issue, but one we just need to live with and manage.

LEIGH SALES: Carl Ungerer, do you agree with that assessment?

CARL UNGERER: Yeah, absolutely. I think this document and the way in which it describes the
persistent and permanent nature of the terrorist threat amongst the landscape of national security
issues that we have to deal with is in fact a maturing of the debate around some of these issues -
as you said, away from some of the hysteria of the immediate post-9/11 period.

And so that maturation, I think, is a very welcome thing. We can now have a more sensible debate
about where terrorism sits and the sorts of resources we need to devote to it.

LEIGH SALES: Hugh White, if it is the case, as Kevin Rudd says, that we're under permanent and
increased threat of attack, well then, what have Australian governments been doing in the years
since 9/11 when we signed on to the Bush administration's War on Terror to supposedly make
Australia safer? Now we're under permanent and increased threat of attack!

HUGH WHITE: Well, that's right. I think there's a couple of points there. The first is the idea
that the various things we did to support the Bush Doctrine - invading Iraq, trying to reconstruct
Afghanistan - were gonna make much difference to the scale of terrorist threat we faced in
Australia always seemed to me to be a bogus strategic argument, and in a sense the Government
confirms that in the way it talks about the persistence of the threat in the white paper.

It's striking to me: the white paper itself doesn't to me talk about an increased threat. It talks
about, as Carl said, it being a persistent and permanent threat. And I think there's a kind of a
slide between what the white paper itself said and the way Rudd talked today in his commentary
about an increased threat from home-grown terrorism.

I've gotta say: I think the focus on home-grown terrorism in the white paper and in the
Government's presentation of it is a little bit confected.

I think they're looking to find some news peg for the story. But when I look at the document, I
don't see an analytical basis for the claim that the home-grown terrorist threat has changed
substantially since 2004. We always knew that home-grown terrorism was a significant issue, and as
others have said, I don't see anything in the policy prescriptions in the document that indicates
the Government's actually gonna do much serious about it.

LEIGH SALES: Carl Ungerer, I saw you nodding there. You agree, I take it?

CARL UNGERER: Yeah, I do, on both of those points. And I think there's been essential debate in the
analytical community over of the last couple of years, Leigh, about where the locus of
international terrorist threats actually lie.

Does it lie with Al-Qaeda central and the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that should
be the principle fight that we're involved in, and in the emerging structures in North Africa?

Or in fact does the main threat that we face lie in what Marc Sageman calls "bunches of guys" -
self-motivated, self-radicalised individuals in Western countries who are prepared to buy into this
Salafist ideology and conduct terrorist attacks in Western metropolitan centres.

And that debate has been bouncing back and forward for a couple of years. This particular document,
in fact - even though the Prime Minister has focused on the home-grown issue, in fact has a bet
each way on that question and does indeed talk at length about the nature of the Al Qaeda threat,
the organisational threat from Al Qaeda and how we should be fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere
in order to meet those particular problems.

But Hugh's absolutely right. If the problem is home-grown terrorism, the kinds of policy
prescriptions in here do not match up with that as an analytical judgment.

LEIGH SALES: Australia's not a country that is considered to - or in the past has not been
considered to harbour extremists or have sort of lifestyle, a society that would foster that. Has
something changed, Hugh White?

HUGH WHITE: Look, I think what changed, Leigh, is that over the decades leading up to 9/11 and more
clearly since 9/11, we've moved to an era in which for one reason or another a large number of
Muslims around the world feel that their faith and the culture that goes with it is marginalised by
the global order.

Now, I don't think that's right, but I think we have to take seriously the fact that many people
believe that and I can see why they believe it. And I think the reason - and the white paper does a
touch on this, I think, reasonably well - the reason that Australia now faces a direct threat of
terrorism in a way that we haven't in earlier decades is that this is a global phenomenon in which
Australia is to some extent caught up in a way that we haven't been in other terrorist movements.

So I think there's a legitimate claim that something has changed in a world which makes this issue
important for us. What's a bit disappointing to me therefore in the white paper is that having
identified the home-grown issue, there's nothing in the white paper that suggests the Government
take seriously the basic strategic requirement to address, engage, address and redress that sense
of marginalisation amongst Muslim communities in Australia.

And that's primarily a task for politicians. You know, I remember somewhat nostalgically that in
the weeks after 9/11, the original 9/11 attacks, John Howard and other senior politicians in
Australia made a point of visiting mosques and visiting Islamic communities.

I don't think we see nearly enough of Australian politicians today reaching out to the Islamic
community and doing a kind of an overt series of gestures to make Islamic communities feel engaged,
feel wanted in Australia.

The language is all there in the formal policies, but you don't see much political theatre, and I
think demonstration in these issues is terribly important and potentially very effective.

LEIGH SALES: Carl Ungerer, do you see any opportunity for particular anti-radicalisation strategies
to be adopted in Australia?

CARL UNGERER: Well, they already are. The Attorney-General last year announced at a speech to ASPI,
indeed, a series of measures that he was putting in place on the counter-radicalisation agenda. And
that work has been going on in a number of streams, but - and indeed gets a mention in the white
paper as well.

But as the earlier report had said, you know, there should have been - if that's the central
judgment - if the central judgment of this paper is that the home-grown threat is increasing and
it's of growing importance, then there should have been much more effort in this particular
document to address that in resources and policy terms.

For example, the British put out the contest two strategy in the first part of last year and
devoted over ?100 million to what they - the resilient strategy, counter-radicalisation strategies.
Now that's a lot of money on the table to deal with these sorts of problems. There's no such
commitment in this paper. There might be something coming down the pipeline; I don't know. But
until you put some dollars behind the judgment, then it's not much of a strategy at all.

LEIGH SALES: By far the majority of Australians killed by terrorism have died in Indonesia. Would
we expect Indonesia, therefore, to be on this list of 10 countries that are being subject to
biometric testing, Hugh White?

HUGH WHITE: Look, not necessarily, Leigh, partly because obviously there's gonna be a balance
between diplomatic considerations and security considerations, and the diplomatic considerations
would and should weigh heavily with Indonesia.

But also because Indonesia has actually done a reasonably good job of getting a handle on its
terrorism problem. They've had some significant successes. It's not to say that the issue has gone
away completely, as we saw again in the middle of last year.

But I would have thought there'd be other countries, if we only had 10 to choose from, that would
tend to be higher on the list, and ones like Somalia and Yemen would be pretty high on that list. I
think Pakistan would also be pretty high on that list. So I don't assume that Indonesia would make
the cut, if I can put it that way.

LEIGH SALES: What about Britain? It's had series problems with domestic terrorism. We heard in that
story of Steve Cannane's that the greatest threat to the US may in fact come from the UK. Carl
Ungerer, should Britain be on that list?

CARL UNGERER: No, not at all, Leigh. These biometric measures in terms of visa applications are
only really useful as a last line of defence when you're trying to do identity checks and other
things where you don't have really robust intelligence and security sharing information with
another country.

The fact is with the Brits we have a very close partnership on terrorism and a whole range of other
issues, and therefore the structure that's built into that bilateral intelligence sharing
relationship means that these sorts of last ditch efforts, if you like, are not really necessary.
For those countries where we don't have such robust bilateral relationships - Yemen and Somalia, I
think Hugh correctly nominates - then these sorts of biometric measures can be an important
additive to our security arrangements.

LEIGH SALES: Along the lines of what Hugh White was talking about before in terms of needing to
work with local communities in Australia. Let's say Yemen and Somalia are on this list of 10.

Is there going to need to be some work done with the Yemen and Somalian communities in Australia?
Presumably that may be controversial, Carl Ungerer.

CARL UNGERER: I dare say, as the Foreign Minister said today, there are going to be some diplomatic
tiptoeing around some of these issues and that's not just internationally, but domestically as
well, in order to assure countries that there is not a kind of profiling of particular countries or
individuals in this sort of measure.

But let's remember that biometric testing is already in place in the United States. Everyone who
comes through Customs in the US at the moment has to stick their fingerprints on a pad and have
their retina scanned.

So, it's not a particularly onerous task. It's not one that is the be all and end all of the
security measures. But if it does provide a little bit more security assurance about the identity
of individuals who are seeking to travel to Australia, then it might be of some value.

LEIGH SALES: Hugh White, the US has been asking for nations to provide more troops to help
stabilise Afghanistan, which is of course at the heart of the fight against terrorism. Australia
has said no to that.

Yet the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said today that keeping our nation safe is the Government's
most significant priority. Is there a contradiction here between the Government's rhetoric and
action?

HUGH WHITE: Yes, I think there is, Leigh, and I think it goes back right to the beginning of the
Afghanistan operation and the Iraq operation for that matter.

On the one hand the Government has attempted to explain to Australians the reason why we make these
substantial and potentially risky commitments to places like Iraq and Afghanistan is that this is
essential in the fight against terrorism.

And on the other hand, I think the Government itself understands that success or failure in
Afghanistan at the moment makes very little difference to the nature of the terrorist threat and
the scale of the terrorist threat that Australia faces.

I think the conclusion I draw from that is that the real reason we're in Afghanistan is to support
our ally the United States. Whether that's a smart and cost-effective ways to support our ally is
an important subject for debate. But whatever happens, Afghanistan's not really about terrorism.

LEIGH SALES: We're out of time. Professor Hugh White, Dr Carl Ungerer, thanks very much for coming
in tonight.

CARL UNGERER: Thanks, Leigh.

HUGH WHITE: Pleasure, Leigh.