Australia’s home affairs secretary says state security must be ‘ubiquitous without being oppressive’

The head of Australia’s home affairs department contends security in 2020 is no longer a matter of protection or survival, but increasingly a shared societal responsibility – a question of “how we should band together and pool our capacities for living”.

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Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Mike Pezzullo, the high-profile and periodically controversial head of Peter Dutton’s mega department, used a university lecture on Tuesday evening to float his concept of “the extended state” as a relevant construct for managing contemporary threats.

The “extended state”, Pezzullo told the National Security College at the Australian National University, was “a networked and dynamic conception of security which comprehends sectors across society and the economy”.

Pezzullo said the concept was comprised of public institutions in the executive analysing risks and threats and deploying operational capacity – the “vital centre” as he put it.

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But these organisations were now coupled with “the entire apparatus of the Australian government, which convenes and coordinates”, state and territory governments, and the business community “including finance and banking, food and groceries, health and medical services, transport, freight and logistics, water supply and sanitation, utilities, energy, fuel, telecommunications”.

© Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, used a Australian National University lecture on Tuesday to float his concept of ‘the extended state’ as a relevant construct for managing contemporary threats.

Also important was “the scientific and industrial research establishment, not-for-profit and community organisations, including charities” and households “as might be required”.

Pezzullo said as societies and economies had become more complex and interconnected in recent years, “new vulnerabilities have been added systematically, generating the increased likelihood, and increased impacts, of the disruption of supply chains, essential services and infrastructure”.

He said risk had become “more distributed, more networked and more interconnected than has ever been the case in human history” and the changing landscape had “become an almost impossible challenge for traditional models of decision-making”.

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The threat of cyber attacks, he said, illustrated the case in point “that security has to be designed into societal structures, institutions and systems”. Security extended beyond government and was “generated through the whole of society, with government leading and guiding through a networked partnership with the rest of society”.

“It cannot be an afterthought or a supplementary, appended function. It has to be ubiquitous without being oppressive.”

Pezzullo nominated a framework of risks over the coming century that ranged from great power war and nuclear war, to cyber attacks paralysing critical institutions, to the subversion of elections and democratic institutions “and the fragmentation of our social cohesion by way of foreign interference, political warfare and disinformation or misinformation”.

Uncontrolled mass migration, “including as a result of civil conflict and climate change, as well as mass human trafficking, and people smuggling” was on the list, as was terror attacks.

Pezzullo said Islamist extremism remained the largest concern, although he noted the rise of what he termed “fascist extremist groups” was also of increasing concern.

The increasing risks associated with rightwing extremism has been flagged by the federal police and by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Asio has acknowledged that far-right violent extremism now constitutes up to 40% of its counter-terrorism caseload.

The home affairs chief nominated supply chain disruptions and “global capital flows which mask investments and economic activities which might be detrimental to national security” as threats for the century.

Pandemics, food and water shortages, energy shocks, “increased disaster and climate risk, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse” were also nominated, as were “major natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms and extreme weather events”.

Pezzullo presides over the home affairs department that was established by the Turnbull government after Dutton, the home affairs minister, campaigned for the mega department, even though it was controversial initially with agencies including the Australian federal police.

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The secretary has also championed the home affairs bureaucracy for two decades. On Tuesday night, Pezzullo gave the structure a glancing reference, noting much had been done to link up security management in recents years.

He hinted there was more to come, noting “governments will always be mindful of opportunities to achieve yet more scale and more agility in the generation of operational effects”.

The home affairs chief finished his presentation at ANU by saying security in contemporary times “should not entail the administration of fearful and anxious subjects” – it should be “contested by an informed citizenry who share a common horizon of threat awareness, and agency in relation to risk and opportunity”.

He said security underpinned social life, prosperity and unity. “As such, security is more than a question of protection, or of survival – it is a question of how we should band together and pool our capacities for living.”

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