Government as usual: politics and law as structural couples governing counter-terrorism in Australia

Document Type

Journal Article


Taylor & Francis Australasia

Place of Publication

Melbourne, VIC


Faculty of Education and Arts


School of Arts and Humanities




Larsen, A., & Crowley, M. (2015). Government as usual: politics and law as structural couples governing counter-terrorism in Australia. Griffith Law Review, 24(4), 519-547. Available here


This article explores the dynamic relationship between law and politics by focusing on Australia's recent legislative responses to terrorism. We resist the temptation to criticise counter-terrorism actions taken since 9/11 that show incompetence, violations of civil liberties or discriminatory power-wielding to justify recommending changes. Instead, this article argues that although Australia's legislative response to terrorism with its 50 or more new laws appears coincidental, exceptional and inflated, the response typically reveals politics’ and law' s ambiguous, contingent and complex evolution. We explore how law and politics as social systems evolve following ‘irritations’ or catalysts from their environments, which are managed via structural coupling processes. In complex ways, amendments to these systems ’ communications on counter-terrorism paradoxically contribute to more laws, more governing and oversight, more fear and anxiety, and more opportunities for an abuse of power that commentators strive to delimit. Identifying communications, that is, society's self-descriptions via form or differences enables us to shift attention in the counter-terrorism debates from the vagaries of politicians’ talk, positions, actions and outcomes to how problems unfold and systems evolve



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