Terror level could be raised: ASIO chief

ASIO chief David Irvine is seriously contemplating raising the terror threat level. AAP/Lukas Coch

The retiring head of ASIO, David Irvine, has said Australia’s official terror threat level could be raised within days.

The level is currently medium. But Irvine told the ABC tonight: “I would say that at the moment it is at a very elevated level of medium”.

He was “contemplating very seriously the notion of lifting it higher”.

This was “because of the numbers of people we are now having to be concerned about in Australia, because of the influence of Syria and Iraq on young Australians both in terms of going to those places to fight, but also in terms of what they are doing here in Australia with a potential intent to attack”.

Asked whether it could be raised before he left his job at the end of this week, Irvine said: “It’s something that we in ASIO are actively considering”.

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Barack Obama canvassed latest developments in relation to Iraq in a telephone call.

The White House said in a statement the two leaders discussed “the need to continue addressing both the ongoing humanitarian situation as well as the threat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses to Iraq and the broader region.

"The president underscored that the United States will continue to coordinate closely with Australia on ISIL and other national security priorities.”

Federal Cabinet’s national security committee met, followed by the full cabinet. The president will outline his strategy against the Islamic State this week. The US has been building a coalition, with US Secretary of State John Kerry making a diplomatic push to bring Arab countries on board.

Abbott on Monday canvassed the options of Australia providing air capability and advisers. “We are continuing to talk to our partners and allies about how Australia might be able to contribute, whether we should help with some air capability, whether we should help with some military advisers.”

But new polling shows only 38% of Australians would approve of Australia sending military planes to support the US air strikes.

The Essential poll found Australians split over the government’s decision to supply arms and weapons to Kurdish forces fighting in Iraq -with 38% approving and 39% disapproving. (Australian planes are being used but the weapons are from Eastern Europe.)

On whether planes should be sent to support the airstrikes, 42% said they would disapprove and 38% would approve.

Asked their attitude if Australia sent troops to Iraq in response to a US request, 54% would disapprove and only 27% approve.

But attitudes change if it were a United Nations request – 45% said they would approve while 36% would disapprove.

Abbott has ruled out sending combat troops – as has Obama – although it is considered this does not exclude special forces.

The Essential poll found that Abbott’s high profile international stand has not made such a favourable impression on voters. Asked how much trust they had in Abbott and the government to handle Australia’s international relations, 55% had little or no trust while just 36% had a lot or some trust.