The Abbott Government response to Islamic State and Ebola: a moral panic?

Mr Matthew Box1
1Federation University Australia, Keilor, Australia

It is a long tradition of the Hobbesian realist view of politics that the most important duty of a government is the ‘protection of their citizens’. Since 2001 a dominant mantra in Australian federal politics has been protection of the community from ‘threats to national security’. However, is the response proportionate and necessary to the risk posed or is it a moral panic?

During 2014 two global events emerged which were potential threats to international peace and security: the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the Ebola pandemic in East Africa. Both would see an international military coalition assembled in response. Australia would become the second largest contributor to the former and belatedly subcontract a response in the latter.

Based upon the theory of moral panics and the nationalism perspectives of imagined communities and ethnic moralizers this research explores the manner in which the Abbott Government (2013-2015) portrayed these issues. A discourse analysis model adapted from James Gee’s ‘Discourse analysis toolkit’ is utalised.   It is suggested that despite there being a significant threat, some of the characteristics of a moral panic eventuated.

The importance of this research rests in the almost universal agreement of terrorism scholars that one of the aims of terrorism is to cause a government to overreact and hence undermine its legitimacy. Descending into a moral panic based policy response would achieve such an aim resulting in ‘policy blowback’ consequently weakening rather than strengthening national security.


Matthew is a higher degree by research (PhD) candidate and sessional academic at Federation University with an academic background in the areas of politics, international relations, national security, criminology and law with a particular interest in terrorism and human rights. His PhD thesis ‘Terrorism and Border Security 2001-2015: a fourteen year moral panic in Australia?’ is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Fee-Offset Scholarship.  Furthermore, Matthew has a professional background of over twenty years experience with a range of national security, law enforcement and emergency services agencies at federal and state level. This includes as a senior national security policy officer with the Australian Federal Police and as a principle security advisor with the Defence Security Authority. This blend of academic and professional experience brings a unique insight and depth to his research.

Understanding drivers of punitive attitudes towards counter-terrorism measures: An experimental vignette study

Harley Williamson1
1Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

The threat of terrorism has catalysed a series of preventative and reactive legislative responses, which have received widespread public and political support. Paralleling these measures are pervasive discourses that associate terrorism with Muslims and Islam. The normalisation of this rhetoric within social and political narratives can be problematic not only for the livelihoods of those who feel targeted, but also for the perpetuation of reactive responses to national security threats. This presentation draws on experimental vignette data to understand how the public perceives Australian counter-terrorism measures, and whether such attitudes are shaped by perceptions of threat.

Harley Williamson is a PhD Candidate at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Her dissertation focuses on how people may come to support terrorism, and the role of social identity processes in shaping supportive attitudes. Harley is also interested in public perceptions of terrorism and issues related to this phenomenon.

Experiences using a variety of recruitment techniques to conduct public surveys about counter-terrorism

Claire Irvine1
1Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, Australia

A survey investigating the reach and perceptions of the Project Unite (the Queensland Police Service’s (QPS) Commonwealth Games Security Awareness) campaign was developed as part of an evaluation. There were two survey recruitment techniques implemented: on-line and face-to-face. 1,737 respondents were recruited on-line and 343 respondents were recruited through conducting surveys face-to-face in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

The on-line survey was marketed through: the QPS’s website, Twitter account, myPolice blog, and Facebook page. Additionally, $500 was spent on paid Facebook advertising. The number of survey respondents peaked after the tweets, blog posts, Facebook post and paid social media advertising. However, the number of survey respondents was not sustained over-time. The paid advertising through Facebook proved the most effective, reaching the largest number of unique browsers. The QPS website recruited very few respondents.

Several analyses of the survey technique and demographics of respondents were conducted. Results suggest more females were recruited on-line than males, however, the face-to-face surveys were relatively even. Surprisingly, the cohort of respondents who completed the survey on-line were older than those who were recruited face-to-face. Further, those who lived local to the Commonwealth Games and had an affiliation with the QPS, were more likely to be recruited on-line than face-to-face. There was no significant association between the survey technique and Commonwealth Games affiliation.

Recruitment effectiveness, cost considerations, respondent demographics and response implications in recruiting survey respondents on-line using different marketing tools, and conducting surveys face-to-face will be discussed.

Claire Irvine is currently a Senior Research and Evaluation Officer in the Queensland Police Service’s Research and Evaluation unit. Claire has worked in a research capacity for the Queensland Police Service for over 4 years, having previously worked in the Road Policing Command’s Research and Policy Development unit. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in criminology and has recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Policy Analysis. Claire has a keen interest in experimental criminology, evidence based policing and translating research into policy.

The Death of the Freedom Fighter – How the Threat of Terrorism is Suffocating the Protection of Political Criminals

Julia Jansson1
1University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Most past definitions of terrorism have included a political element. What would terrorist acts be without the political/ideological element? Mass killings, hijackings, bombings… ‘Common’ crimes, combined with uncommonly destructive consequences. Based on the findings of my PhD dissertation, I claim that due to the problems related to the political element, the last decades have seen a global trend of depoliticising terrorism for the purpose of international collaboration.

A main reason for the depoliticisation has been the so-called political offence exception to extradition that emerged in extradition treaties in 1834. Because of the exemption, a widely accepted spawn of the revolutionary era, political offenders, in some cases including terrorists, were for a long time protected from extradition.

The aim of the depoliticisation formula was to protect ‘legitimate’ political offenders, but exclude terrorists from the protection of the political offence exemption. Alongside the depoliticisation of terrorism, the political offence exemption was growingly limited since the emergence of the modern terrorist threat in the 1970s.

In addition to the depoliticisation of terrorism, we have witnessed a contradicting trend of repoliticisation, where special anti-terrorist laws and tribunals have been created. The new laws, contrary to the depoliticisation strategy, underline the political nature of terrorism by criminalising acts such as the glorification of terrorism.

I have examined these contrasting trends and offer a critical view of the various implications of both the depoliticisation of terrorism and underlining the political element of it. One of these implications is the decreasing global protection for non-violent political offenders.

Julia Jansson is a Doctor of Laws from the University of Helsinki, Finland. She also holds a Master’s degree in Social Sciences from the same university. Her research interests include political crime, terrorism, international police cooperation and prosecution, as well as police training and education.

Discrete spatial choice approach to analyzing terrorist target selection

Zoe  Marchment1, Dr Paul Gill1
1University College London, London, United Kingdom

Several studies have produced descriptive statistics on the spatial and temporal distribution of terrorist attacks. However, research has neglected to include the alternatives that could have been chosen but were not. The discrete spatial choice approach concerns an individual’s choice between a set of two or more alternatives, based on the utility they expect to derive from each alternative. This approach allows target selection to be analysed by considering multiple factors at the same time. The following can be examined simultaneously: a) the origin of the offender; b) the location that was selected; c) the areas that could have been chosen but were not; d) other defined factors that may affect decision making, for example ideology.

This study uses this approach to analyse 150 attacks committed by core active members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army between 1969 and 1989. In this case, the set of alternatives takes the form of ‘small areas’ in Belfast, Northern Ireland and the expected utility of each potential target area is assumed to be evaluated according to the decision criteria presented. The findings suggest that terrorist actors are like traditional criminals in their decision making and they are influenced by spatial context. The results empirically demonstrate that the locations of attacks by PIRA were influenced by characteristics of the target areas (i.e. the presence of a premise relevant to their ideology), as well as the properties of their likely journey to the target (i.e. the distance from their home location to the attack location).

Zoe is currently a final year PhD candidate at the Department of Security and Crime Science, UCL. Her research examines the spatial patterns of terrorist target selection, with a focus on lone actors and Violent Dissident Republican activity. She holds a BSc in Psychology and MSc in Countering Organised Crime and Terrorism. Zoe has worked on projects for the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory; Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST); FP7 Preventing, Interdicting and Mitigating Extremism (PRIME) and the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence.


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