During a rare press conference from the country’s security body, director-general of security Mike Burgess said the decision to change the terrorism threat level was not “taken lightly or made casually”.
“The process involves a large number of people and a significant amount of time,” he said.
“While Australia remains a potential terrorist target there are fewer extremists with the intention to conduct an attack onshore than there were when we raised the threat level in 2014.
“This does not mean the threat is extinguished, far from it.
“Possible does not mean negligible.
“It remains plausible someone will die at the hands of a terrorist in the next 12 months, my organisation will work around the clock to stop that from happening.
“Individuals are still fantasising about killing other Australians, still spouting their hateful ideologies in chat rooms, still honing their capabilities by researching bomb-making and training with weapons.
“Critically, though, there are fewer of these people than there were previously, and fewer of them are likely to conduct an actual attack in Australia.”
Burgess said the most likely terrorist attack in Australia would involve a “lone actor” using a “basic and easily obtained weapon” like a knife or weapon.
Burgess said the change in threat level comes from violent extremists moderating and the support for groups like IS within Australia dissipating.
The women are Australian citizens and are now living in Sydney’s western suburbs.
About 40 women and children remain in Syria.
Burgess said he has taken into account the repatriation of Australian relatives of IS fighters and ASIO carried out risk assessments, including face-to-face interviews, with the repatriated cohort.
“Our consideration of the threat level took that (the repatriation) into account,” he said.
He added some repatriated Australians may need to be monitored after their return.
“For some, it may require my organisation to keep an eye on them, and that’s okay because I’ll back my organisation any day,” Burgess said.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the factors contributing to the terrorism threat level in 2014 “no longer exist” or “persist to a lesser degree”.
“In particular, ASIO has assessed that while Australia remains a potential terrorist target, there are fewer violent extremists with the intention to conduct an attack in Australia than there were when the threat level was raised in September 2014,” she said.
She added Australian authorities will continue to remain vigilant over the threat of terrorism.
“Vigilance is the watchword here. Terrorism doesn’t stand still, and neither will we,” she said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he wouldn’t be commenting on the change in terrorism threat level.
“I’d say this is a decision for our repatriation industries. I won’t answer for them or comment on their behalf,” he said.