Andrews’ shift in emphasis may be exactly what the Home Affairs behemoth needs – Brisbane Times

andrews’-shift-in-emphasis-may-be-exactly-what-the-home-affairs-behemoth-needs-–-brisbane-times

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When Karen Andrews was deciding on her next career move just over a decade ago, those closest to her did not expect what was coming next.

Andrews first became an engineer before going on to run her own industrial relations business in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. When her husband Chris decided to study a Doctor of Business Administration, Andrews focused on raising their three children.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says she is not a career politician.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says she is not a career politician.Credit: Paul Harris

After completing his DBA, her husband said to her: “Now it’s your turn, what would you like to do?”

“I’m not sure he expected this,” Andrews told The Sun-Herald and Sunday Age, referring to a career in politics. “I’m not a career politician … I came into politics because I genuinely believe that there were people who did not have a voice, and that I can be their advocate.”

Andrews nominated for the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson in 2009. It wasn’t an easy preselection; Andrews had to defeat then-opposition frontbencher Peter Dutton the man she now takes over from as Minister for Home Affairs. [Dutton was trying to switch seats from Dickson.]

Andrews then worked her way up from backbencher to cabinet minister. It is certainly true she didn’t come from a background in politics; while she was appointed to some senior roles in the Liberal National Party before entering Parliament, she was never a staffer or full-time party official like so many of her colleagues.

As Home Affairs Minister, she is now in charge of Australia’s vast apparatus of domestic security agencies. These include the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC, among others. It is the first time that many of these agencies report to a minister who is not a former lawyer or a cop.

This is an important distinction at a time when the lines between national security and other policy areas are increasingly blurred - whether they be economic, health or social policy. The global pandemic, along with China’s wave of cyber attacks and other forms of foreign interference, has exposed the vulnerabilities associated with globalised supply chains. Andrews says she views the development of an mRNA vaccine, such as Pfizer, as a national security issue.

“I have come from an economic portfolio - creating jobs, building our economic future is important,” she says. “And I’m seeing in the Home Affairs portfolio as an opportunity where we can maximise the environment that we have here in Australia… to grow our economy.”

Under Dutton, Australians could have been forgiven for thinking the Home Affairs portfolio was only about stopping boats, catching terrorists and arresting paedophiles. While these three objectives are central to the mammoth department’s remit, it is much bigger than that.

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While controversial, the creation of Home Affairs in 2017 had a number of merits. These included developing a central policy coordination point for all of Australia’s domestic security agencies. Another was to get ASIO and AFP out of the remit of the Attorney-General so that the person signing off on their warrants wasn’t the same minister responsible for their day-to-day operations.

Dutton, along with Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo, were the men to set up this behemoth and get it ticking. Both were known as tough-minded individuals who get things done. They did just that.

But a change of emphasis from a new minister may be exactly what the mega-department needs now that everything is bedded down. Pezzullo, as well as ASIO director-general Mike Burgess, have given a few notable speeches over the past year in which they have spoken of the changing nature of the security landscape, but it is up to the minister to explain how the government is responding.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Andrews says there will be no change to Australia’s border protection policies; after all, the person who established Operation Sovereign Borders, Scott Morrison, is Prime Minister. And this is less of a political issue with the arrival of boats largely stopping years ago and people movement coming to a standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Andrews has clearly signalled she wants to be significantly more expansive in the way she publicly talks about the portfolio. As the minister responsible for cyber security policy, she has named this as a priority. This is sound; there clearly wasn’t enough work done at the political level to promote the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy.

Talking more about issues like cyber security and sovereign capability isn’t just important from a political and public relations point of view; it has policy benefits. Defending against cyber attacks, protecting critical technologies and countering foreign interference requires a whole-of-society response. The minister needs to be talking about these issues and taking the public with them.

Businesses, local governments, research institutions and ordinary Australians need to be convinced that it is in their best interests to respond to these emerging challenges. The former engineer may have never seen this as her career, but it is now her central task.

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