New anti-terrorist centre labelled ‘loopy, illogical’
A new $32 million centre in Melbourne aimed at identifying and thwarting would-be terrorists and lone gunmen has been criticised for being "loopy", "illogical" and lacking an evidence base.
Victoria's Fixated Threat Assessment Centre, which opened on Wednesday, will be staffed by 13 specialist police, forensic and mental health experts.
It is aimed at better identifying and responding to "high-risk individuals" who could pose a threat to the community.
"These individuals may have come to the attention of counter-terrorism police and other agencies because they may exhibit extremist ideology, show indications of being radicalised or have extreme grievances," a state government press release said.
Up to 300 people are expected to be processed in the centre's first year.
After a spate of violent attacks in recent years, the Victorian Government has introduced a number of new security measures — including bollards and loudspeakers for emergency warnings — and committed to a suite of new anti-terror laws.
Victorian police will also be given stronger legal protection to shoot to kill suspected terrorists after the deadly Brighton siege in June last year.
'No single profile' for terrorists, attackers
Joseph Siracusa, Professor of Human Security and International Diplomacy at RMIT University, said the centre may reassure the public but it was unlikely to prevent terrorist and lone actor attacks.
"It's kind of loopy really. It's illogical and not evidence-based," he said.
"There has been very little proof or evidence that there is a set of criteria for identifying lone attackers or terrorists. They do not fit any single profile.
"The default position is that there is always a mental defect here … [but that is] quite a leap of faith. I think these guys are pretty conscious and rational of what they are doing."
He added: "It's not Tom Cruise's Minority Report — you can't arrest people for crimes they haven't committed."
The model was developed with input from leading forensic mental health specialists, including Forensicare, Melbourne Health and Monash Health.
Similar centres operate in New South Wales, Queensland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
"We know that centres like this help identify high-risk individuals and have the potential to stop violent incidents before they occur," Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said.
'I'd be very interested to see if they get 300 people'
Clarke Jones, a criminologist at the Australian National University's Research School of Psychology, said the centre would have a better chance of success if it looked more broadly at youth issues.
"I'd be very interested to see if they get 300 people. That suggests there's 300 radicalised people in the Victorian community — and that's really pushing it, in my view," he said.
"When you spend time in certain suburbs in Melbourne or Sydney, kids are more likely to be involved in behaviours like drug-taking and domestic violence. Violent extremism may be one of these behaviours, but it's not the only one, so it doesn't make sense on the ground.
"If the program is focused solely on terrorism or extremism, it's way off the mark."
Having police at the forefront of the response could limit the centre's effectiveness, Dr Jones added.
"I would argue that there are social services in the Victorian community that could deal with this much better than a police unit," he said.
"That said, in terms of accountability within our society, police have a role in keeping us safe and preventing acts of violence."
Jacinta Carroll, director of national security policy at the ANU's National Security Centre, welcomed the announcement.
"The decision by the Victorian Government to invest in this particular capability is grounded in good understanding of the value of providing psychological expertise to inform and assist their ability to prevent certain types of attacks," she said.
In October, states and territories agreed to new counter-terrorism measures, including making drivers licence photos available in real time to help quickly identify terrorism suspects, after meeting with the Prime Minister.
The Victorian Government has been contacted for comment.