Federal Laws for Military Call-Outs in Terrorist and Other Violent Situations

Thursday 28 June 2018 @ 4.29 p.m. | Legal Research

On 28 June 2018, the Federal Government introduced the Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill 2018 (CTH) (‘the Bill’). This Bill proposes to lower the threshold at which the Australian Defence Force (ADF) can be called out in response to terrorism and domestic violence incidents such as rioting.


The amendments are for the purpose of implementing recommendations from the Review of Defence Support to National Counter-Terrorism Arrangements, which was initiated in response to the 2016 Lindt Café siege in Sydney. They were announced in a media release issued by the Prime Minister on 17 July 2017, where it was noted that amendments would be made to in order to:

  • 'better support states and territories in preparing for terrorist incidents
  • enable a more comprehensive ADF response to a terrorist incident if required
  • improve information flows between the ADF and police during an incident.'

Main Amendments

The Bill proposes to amend the Defence Act 1903 (Cth) to make the following changes:

  • Insert references to a new definition of ‘call out order’;
  • Insert a new part to provide for the calling out of the ADF to protect Commonwealth, State and Territory interests which stipulates in depth the guidelines, situations and threshold for call out orders.

The Bill also proposes to amend the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 (Cth) to insert references to provisions related to call out orders.

The callout orders are for the purpose of achieving the following broad outcomes:

  • Make it easier for states and territories to request ADF support by removing the threshold requirement;
  • Improve the ability of the ADF to respond to cross-jurisdictional incidents by allowing for a ‘Commonwealth Interests Order’ to authorise action in multiple Australian and offshore areas;
  • Remove distinctions between general security areas and designated areas to reduce complexity and uncertainty;
  • Expand the contingent call out to allow the ADF to be authorised to respond to land, maritime, and aviation threats;
  • Allow the ADF to respond to incidents that occur in a jurisdiction not specified in an order if it is for the purpose of protecting the interests specified in the existing order.

Media Response

In a media release, Attorney-General Christian Porter stated:  

“The Government is committed to ensuring that law enforcement agencies around Australia can easily request ADF assistance to respond to these threats where necessary and are available to states and territories to assist with other major incidents, such as geographically dispersed or otherwise widespread, coordinated acts of violence or other domestic incidents that threaten the security and lives of Australians.”

In the same media release, Defence Minister Marise Payne stated that these proposed changes were part of a broader package of measures to enhance the ADF’s support for state and territory responses regarding national counter-terrorism arrangements. She said that the reforms were necessary to promote flexibility: ‘These reforms will ensure Defence is more flexible and agile in the way it supports states and territories.’

Neil James, a representative of the Australia Defence association was reported by ABC News as saying:

“The whole concept of this goes back centuries back in the days when they didn't have police forces and governments used to call on the military to do things that the police now do. All this is doing is putting in a statute what is a century-and-a-half of precedent.”

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Defence Amendment (Call Out of the Australian Defence Force) Bill 2018 (CTH), and explanatory memorandum as published on TimeBase LawOne.

Media Release: Defence support to domestic Counter-Terrorism arrangements (Prime Minister of Australia, 17 July 2017)

Media Release: Defence Call Out Bill (Attorney-General of Australia, 28 June 2018)

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