Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a solution to a problem that did not exist.
That may be selling his national security overhaul announcement a little bit short.
There was one problem which required solving – Peter Dutton and the conservative “resistance movement” within the Liberal Party.
Now Dutton has a new job which will keep him preoccupied until well into 2018 – when the next election is expected.
The prime minister insists the decision to put Dutton in charge of a new Home Affairs super-portfolio has nothing to do with his leadership.
“It is not about politics. It is about safety, Australians’ public safety,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“The arrangements that I have announced are … logical, they are rational, they make operational sense.”
They would also give Dutton responsibility for the agencies “defending, preserving, protecting our national security at home”.
However, Turnbull admitted the changes did not come out of a review into Australia’s intelligence community, because it was not within the inquirers’ remit.
They were also rejected by a 2015 review into counter-terrorism, which stated a super agency would “likely be less, not more, responsive as large agencies tend to be less agile, less adaptable and more inward looking than smaller departments”.
And they introduce a new level of difficulty for the key intelligence agency ASIO, having to deal with two senior ministers to do its day-to-day work – Dutton and Attorney-General George Brandis who has an expanded oversight role.
Brandis says oversight and scrutiny by two ministers is not unusual, as it is the existing process for overseas spy agency ASIS and the Australian Signals Directorate requesting the okay to collect intelligence on Australian citizens.
In May, former ASIO boss Dennis Richardson told reporters if two ministers were required to sign warrants then “please, we don’t need more bureaucracy”.
Richardson told a Lowy Institute forum on Tuesday the change was difficult to criticise but also “difficult to proclaim as some great advance forward”.
“I think there is a reasonable argument in respect of immigration and bringing immigration closely together but beyond that it is primarily presentational.”
Media reports have suggested ASIO and the Australian Federal Police advised the government against a mega-agency when they were consulted on possible changes.
However, Turnbull is adamant he has the right personnel, in Dutton and Brandis, as well as the right structure to get the balance right between protecting Australians and ensuring the rule of law and oversight prevails in dealing with terrorism.
If he also solves a political problem at the same time, it’s a bonus.