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Cabinet papers: Terrorism seemed a long, long way away

Australian Protective Service officers patrolling Sydney International Airport. Photo: Wade LaubeThe cabinet security committee was briefed in June 1990 on a decline in the incidence of “terrorist attacks relevant to Australia”.

Nevertheless, the world was getting smaller and even though the usual suspects had lost “traditional support from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe”, the cabinet was warned of a rising threat from “Iran and allied Islamic groups” such as the Abu Nidal Organisation.

“Australia has been relatively untouched by international terrorism,” the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation said in a briefing paper.

“The reasons for this include Australia’s distance from the Middle East and the other advantages of its geography, which deter terrorist travel and allow some control of entry. Also, Australia does not have the background of political and economic involvement in the Middle East which in other countries, particularly Western Europe, has led to a high volume of Middle Eastern entry.”

However, the Islamic groups were particularly active in Asia, where they tended to “conduct attacks in ways and places which reduce the risk of danger to themselves” by choosing objects of symbolic and destabilising value: diplomats, officials and aircraft. But the cabinet judged there was no need to keep the ADF at a high level of readiness to respond to terrorist attacks on Australia’s oil rigs and gas installations.

The government revamped warnings and responses to threats to commercial aviation but decided to charge airlines the costs of Australian Protective Service staff at airports.

Iranian students were still welcome at Australian universities but ASIO advised their presence needed careful “monitoring”.

Cabinet records release

Cabinet records for 1990 and 1991 held by the National Archives of Australia became eligible for access from January 1, 2016. Information about the cabinet records, lists of the documents and copies of key cabinet documents, including selected submissions and decisions, are available on the Archives’ website (naa.gov备案老域名). Click on the “Collection” tab, then “Popular research topics”, then “Cabinet”.

Requests for access to records not already released may be made via RecordSearch on the Archives’ website.

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