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What will the new counter-terrorism coordinator do?

The Abbott government’s changes to the counter-terrorism regime will see the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet assume a greater role in what has traditionally been the preserve of the Attorney-General’s Department.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis announced the changes in a press conference on Monday in which each assiduously avoided criticising any aspect of the current counter-terrorism regime.

Under the arrangements, Justice Minister Michael Keenan will take on the newly-created role of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counter-Terrorism.

Keenan will be responsible for overall counter-terrorism coordination, including the government’s Countering Violent Extremism programmes, and will answer to the Prime Minister.

Notably, oversight of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, a key counter-terrorism agency, will stay with the Attorney-General. Perhaps anticipating speculation that Brandis had been snubbed, Abbott said the Attorney-General had suggested “this would be a very good role for Minister Keenan.”

Greg Moriarty
Greg Moriarty

Former ambassador to Indonesia and Iran Greg Moriarty assumes the new position of commonwealth counter-terrorism coordinator, heading up the new counter-terrorism coordination office within PM&C.

Moriarty was appointed deputy secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in April 2013. He “will be responsible for coordinating out counter-terrorism responses at the official level”, said Abbott yesterday.

Moriarty has previously held the position of first assistant secretary, Consular Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division, and assistant secretary, Parliamentary and Media Branch.

He has extensive experience within DFAT and previously served in Papua New Guinea, including as senior negotiator with the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville. Moriarty holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree with Honours from the University of Western Australia and a Masters Degree in Strategic and Defence Studies from the Australian National University.

Operational duties will continued to be carried out by line agencies, the Prime Minister said:

“Operational responsibility obviously remains with the line agencies, but it’s very important that the line agencies are as well networked with each other as possible.

“It’s very important that the line agencies are as aware of their key developments as is possible and that’s what Greg Moriarty will be doing at the official level and that’s what Minister Keenan will be doing at the political level.”

Both Moriarty and Keenan will attend all counter-terrorism-related discussions on the National Security Committee.

The appointments follow the Counter-Terrorism Review released earlier this year.

Moriarty spoke of his experience coordinating counter-terrorism efforts in southeast Asia:

“I have seen the benefits to the government of tightly coordinated interagency work. In Jakarta, where I worked with multi-agencies to tackle challenges relating to counter-terrorism in Indonesia and South East Asia, but also the very enormous amount of interagency work we did in support of Operation Sovereign Borders and I think that our agencies have enormous depths of talent and enormously hard-working people,” said Moriarty.

Brandis emphasised the importance of coordination across portfolios:

“It is absolutely essential that there be a whole-of-government response to the threat of terrorism.”

“As you know, the agencies are located in various departments — ASIO, the principal domestic national security body, is located within the Attorney-General’s department, but ASIS is located in Foreign Affairs and Trade, the ASD, the Australian Signals Directorate, is located within Defence. So it was, in our view, desirable that the central coordination function be located with one officer who oversees it all located within PM&C and work with a Minister assigned specifically to assist the Prime Minister.”

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.