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Photo: “ANZAC Parade from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT“, by Thennicke, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

Mark, Craig. “The National Security Policies of the Australian Turnbull Government: Heading Towards Illiberal Democracy?.” Journal of Human Security Studies 7 No. 2 (2018). 113-136.


The now former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull overthrew his predecessor Tony Abbott in a party room challenge in September 2015, to take leadership of the ruling conservative Liberal Party, which governs in a Coalition with the rural-based conservative National Party. Those who expected the professedly moderate Turnbull to shift the Australian government towards a more liberal national security policy direction were soon disappointed. The Turnbull government maintained the policies of the Abbott government, which have had a generally adverse human security impact. Harsh treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat continued, being automatically detained in poor conditions, offshore from the Australian continental mainland, a policy which criticised by the United Nations (UN) and human rights organizations. The Turnbull government also continued Australia’s participation in the US-led military coalition against the Islamic State terrorist network, in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Syria, and in the long- running war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Criticism arose over Australian involvement in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that led to civilian casualties, and an inquiry was launched into possible violations of human rights law by Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in Afghanistan. There were also concerns over the ADF taking an advisory role to the Philippines’ military forces. The Turnbull government’s approach to counter-terrorism and counterespionage was another related concern for civil liberties. Similar to its key allies, the USA and Japan, the national security policies of the Turnbull government, ostensibly aimed at preventing terrorism and foreign interference, demonstrate the risk of ‘illiberal’ practices being pursued by liberal democracies. Turnbull was in turn overthrown in August 2018, in yet another party room challenge, with his former Treasurer Scott Morrison succeeding him as Prime Minister. Being from the ‘moderate’ conservative faction of the Liberal Party (rivals to the ‘hardline’ conservative faction of Abbott), under Morrison, the LNP Coalition government is likely to continue the overall policy direction inherited from Abbott and Turnbull. Keywords: Australian Foreign Policy; Asylum Seekers; Expeditionary Warfare; Counter- terrorism; Government Surveillance.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.