A woman stands by a makeshift memorial in tribute to the victims of the Bastille Day attack in Nice. Malcolm Turnbull has sought a review of the threat of lone-wolf terrorist attacks, including consideration of safety in large public areas and the contribution of mental illness to radicalisation. Photograph: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
Malcolm Turnbull and the attorney general, George Brandis, have defended a counter-terrorism review that will consider giving security agencies greater access to mental health records.
The prime minister has asked the counter-terrorism coordinator, Greg Moriarty, to review the threat of lone-wolf terrorist attacks, including consideration of safety in large public areas and the contribution of mental illness to radicalisation.
On Friday, Turnbull said the review was necessary following terrorist events in which attackers had attached themselves to the “murderous ideology” of Islamic extremism because of other problems such as addiction, anti-social behaviour and mental illness.
The review will consider any lessons for Australia from the terrorist attack in Nice, and whether the use of a truck as a weapon “requires assessment of the vulnerability of, and means of protecting, open areas where large numbers congregate”.
It will consider how to respond to lone-wolf actors, encryption technology and “measures preventing vulnerable Australians from falling through the cracks of our justice and mental health systems and heading down a path of violent radicalisation without being identified by security authorities”.
Asked whether the government would seek greater access to mental health files of Australians, Turnbull told 3AW on Friday that police and security services could already access such information where there was a suspicion of terrorist activities.
The access was subject to “very significant privacy protections”, he said.
Asked about the possibility of compelling counsellors to report patients who might be vulnerable to radicalisation, Turnbull said: “It’s important that this be looked at carefully.
“You’ve got a number of important interests to balance here … it’s critical that people feel and know when they go to [a mental health organisation such as] Headspace that they do so confidentially and in a trusted environment.”
But he described keeping Australians safe as his “most important responsibility” and said legislation and resourcing of security agencies required “constant upgrading”.
He said the government would have to rethink the design and protection of public spaces to prevent a truck being able to access crowded areas, as occurred in Nice.
Brandis told ABC’s AM that security agencies needed “all relevant info that might identify a person that might be susceptible to radicalisation and committing acts of violence … subject to proper privacy considerations”.
Asked whether doctors should be required to report if they had terrorism-related concerns about their patients, Brandis said “everyone should, if they have genuine concerns, report that matter to relevant authorities”.
“I want to emphasise the point: it’s a common responsibility on all citizens if they become aware of information of concern, they should make authorities aware.”
Brandis said he had spoken early on Friday to the AFP commissioner, Andrew Colvin, who told him the New South Wales police had “no reason to believe” the Merrylands police station incident was an act of terrorism.
Moriarty said that, for some, their “narrow and extreme interpretation of Islam” was the cause of their desire to commit terrorist acts.
But he said others “are not necessarily deeply committed to and engaged with the Islamist ideology but are nonetheless, due to a range of reasons, including mental health issues, susceptible to being motivated and lured rapidly down a dangerous path by the terrorist narrative”.
For those people, Islamic State propaganda can “justify their anger at society and give meaning to their existence”, he said.
“Domestically we need to focus on the full range of motivations which draw people towards violent extremism.”