AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to rule out a shake-up of government departments into a UK-style Home Office to cover security and intelligence as part of the fight against terrorism.
Speaking in London with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, the Australian leader said national security is by no means a “set and forget” issue and he was “always interested in learning about the British experience”.
“As far as administrative arrangements in Australia with respect to national security … what I’ve said many times is that this is no place for ‘set and forget,’” the Prime Minister said.
“We have to be dynamic, agile, constantly asking can we improve the way our agencies are keeping Australians safe and we will always continue to seek to improve them and I’ve demonstrated that with our cybersecurity strategy [and] counter-terrorism laws,” he said.
The UK Home Office is responsible for immigration, security and policing and governs fire and rescue services as well as visas and intelligence.
Earlier in the day the Prime Minister visited Borough Market where Australian women Sara Zelenak and Kirsty Boden were killed in a terror attack last month.
Meeting police and paramedics who had given Sara Zelenak CPR, he said it was hard not to “burst into tears” as they spoke about what happened.
“The three of us did our best not to burst into tears,” he said. “They were very brave men, very brave men and women and I just want to thank them on behalf of all Australians.”
The meeting between May and Turnbull — who sparred in debates at Oxford University together — covered trade, intelligence co-operation, counter-terrorism and the North Korean threat and came following the G20 in Hamburg.
Mr Turnbull said the two countries are committed to fighting “end-to-end encryption” and making tech giants more accountable for content shared online.
“We cannot allow the internet to be used as a means to create dark places where terrorists cannot be found,” he said.
The leaders also spoke about a potential free-trade deal that could be signed once Britain leaves the European Union. A working group has already been established, however the UK is prevented from negotiating new deals while it remains a member of the EU.
“We move quickly. Australians are fleet of foot. We don’t muck around and we’re very simple. So we move as quickly as the UK is able to move,” he said.
Australia is also in negotiations to sign a free trade deal with the European Union which it hopes to complete by 2019.
“We are absolutely signed up for free trade, open markets. It’s been key to our continued run of economic success,” Mr Turnbull said.
Mrs May praised the “close partnership” between the UK and Australia and backed an “ambitious and comprehensive” trade deal between the two.
“As the UK leaves the EU and forges a new role in the world, I am clear we should take the opportunity to strengthen our close partnership with Australia,” she said.
The UK Government has championed a role for Australia in post-Brexit Britain, hailing the “opportunity” it could bring to both countries.
But it comes at a tumultuous time for UK politics after Theresa May’s Conservative Party squandered their majority with a snap election that backfired, forcing them to rely on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to form a minority government.
There is also scepticism about the size of Australia’s market and how it could benefit the UK. Labour MP Chuka Umunna is currently leading a cross-party group to oppose a “hard Brexit” which could see the UK remain a member of the European single market.
It’s still unclear what type of Brexit deal the UK will be able to negotiate, with the EU 27 member states maintaining there will be no “cherry picking” when it comes to the four fundamental freedoms of the bloc; goods, services, people and capital.
Prime Minister Turnbull, who is a Republican, will also meet the Queen during his visit and deliver a speech on freedom in the context of national security while receiving the Policy Exchange’s 2017 Disraeli Prize.
The speech is expected to refer to the “sensible centre” of politics which has suffered in many countries around the world due to the rise of far-right and far-left political leaders like the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders in the US, and Marine Le Pen in France.
“We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea,” Mr Turnbull plans to say.
“The sensible centre was the place to be. It remains the place to be.”