A-G signals more public diplomacy, no ‘vigilantism’

McClelllandNew Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, signalled a significant shift of emphasis toward ‘public diplomacy’ and ‘community building’ – and away from ‘vigilantism’ – in his first major speech. His words have immediately helped to lessen tensions in Muslim communities in Australia, and held out hope for a more balanced approach to anti-terrorism activity by police and security forces.

New A-G reaches out to ethnic communities

The new Attorney-General of Australia, Mr Robert McClelland, signalled clearly in his first days in office that he planned to reach out to Muslim and other communities  as a way of lessening national security risks.

Speaking at a major security conference in the national capital, he called for “public diplomacy” and vigilance, “not vigilantism”, Bill Rowlings of Civil Liberties Australia writes.

“There has been a large emphasis on national security laws. But I don’t think there has been enough emphasis on community building,” Mr McClelland told the Security in Government conference in Canberra on Friday, December 7, 2007.

“I intend to do what I can to start building bridges with communities at risk of alienation. I think national security has to be dealt with by a mix of hard intelligence and law enforcement, as well as steps to promote greater inclusiveness and opportunity in Australia.  It is a responsibility that must be shared by the leaders of all communities.

“Clearly, since the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, there have been improvements to our national security capabilities and structures. However, there have also been failings. For example, there still appears to be some way to go in implementing the recommendations of the Wheeler Review. It is important to ensure that we are adopting world’s best practice in all areas of national security.

“A change of Government presents an opportune time to evaluate – consolidate – enhance – and broaden – our approach to national security.

“I understand the theme of building bridges and public diplomacy was discussed in a panel session (earlier). I encourage you to continue fostering dialogues of this nature.

“The cultural diversity we enjoy in Australia is not only an asset for social enrichment – it is also a potential asset for our national security.

 Public diplomacy

“This is one area where I believe a more sophisticated approach to our national security could be adopted. As overseas experience indicates, a terrorist threat in Australia has as much prospect of emanating from a disgruntled and alienated Australian youth as it does from the awakening of a sleeper cell planted by an overseas terrorist organisation.

“There is considerable academic literature about effective public diplomacy, and such measures are being increasingly undertaken by other countries. Equally, here in Australia every day of the week, there are encouraging and uplifting instances of community building – whether through multi-faith services, interactive school concerts or weekend sporting events.

“These sorts of activities, as commonplace or trivial as they may seem, have the potential to build lifelong associations and friendships among young Australians, and break down the barriers that can cause alienation.

“In many ways, the fact that the Cronulla riots of December 2005 were so quickly subdued is a testament to community leaders from all sides.


“I should emphasise that the role of security in our democracy is not vigilantism. This would be contrary to our Australian values.

“It is vitally important that the public does not perceive the Government as being prepared to exploit insecurities for political gain. So for example, while we must fight terror with determination, we must also do so by promoting justice, the rule of law, genuine peace and inclusive development.  To do otherwise risks losing public trust.

“Franco Frattini, European Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, has recently described public trust as being two-fold:

Our citizens entrust us with the task of protecting them against crime and terrorist attacks; however, at the same time, they entrust us with safeguarding their fundamental rights.

We cannot risk losing this trust. This means that any necessary steps we take to enforce security must always be accompanied by adequate safeguards to ensure scrutiny, accountability and transparency.

“It is essential that we remain ever vigilant to the two pronged challenges.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

“This statement is as relevant today as it was in the 1800s.


“As we look to the future of security, we can now do so with renewed vigour.  We are stepping into a new era of success for Australia.

“Today, I’ve only touched on a few ways for us to move forward.  But I hope the message about public diplomacy is something you consider further.”

Mr Robert McClelland, Attorney-General, 7 Dec 2007.

This precis of a speech was prepared by Civil Liberties Australia A04043

Photo: Attorney-General Robert McClelland

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