02 February 2021




SUBJECT: Right-wing extremism.

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the first of our Culturally and Linguistically Diverse media conferences for multicultural media and communities right across New South Wales. Of course, I'm Senator Kristina Keneally, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Immigration and Citizenship and now for Government Accountability. 

I'm joined today by my colleague and good friend, Ed Husic, the Member for Chifley, who is the Shadow Minister for Innovation and Industry - an incredibly important role, particularly as Labor puts its focus towards creating secure jobs, and building the future here in Australia. So Ed, it's great to have you.


KENEALLY: But we're not going to talk about your shadow portfolio today, we are going to talk about the growing rise of right-wing extremism in Australia. And the reason we're going to talk about this with Ed is that for the past few years, Ed has been a strong voice in our federal politics, arguing that the Government needs to take seriously the threat posed by right-wing extremism, putting forward the case that our national security infrastructure and agencies need to better understand the threats and the risk that is posed to multicultural communities by right-wing extremism and white supremacy movements. 

And, Ed, you're quite sadly, I think to say, your concerns have been validated in recent years and months. Since Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter, an Australian, who committed that terrorist act in Christchurch, you have been really forceful in raising this issue. Australia hasn't had a proper conversation about the extent to which Brenton Tarrant was radicalised in this country yet we know now the New Zealand Royal Commission into the Christchurch terrorist attacks makes the point that Brenton Tarrant was radicalised by extremist views and voices here in Australia. 

Of course, we have seen right-wing extremism on the rise in Australia; ASIO says that it now accounts for 40% of their counterterrorism work. The AFP says it now accounts for an increasing share of their law enforcement counterterrorism work. And we of course, know that the groups here in Australia are affected by what happens overseas. 

And so the rise of right-wing extremism in the UK, in Canada and in the United States has supported and if you will, and encouraged right-wing extremist views here in Australia. The U.S. Capitol attacks were a stark and scary reminder of how fragile democracy is, how much we have to nurture and culture the multicultural strength of our community, and how a failure of national leadership can lead to and encourage these extremists to, in the case of the United States storm the U.S. Capitol as domestic terrorists and literally attempt to take over the government through some sort of coup. 

Now, if you think this can’t happen here in Australia, and it's sad to say, but it is a risk. We saw over Australia Day far right extremists, one of the newest groups forming and in a very evident and obvious way coming together in the Grampians.  

This National Socialist Network coming together in the Grampians to pose for photos in front of burning crosses and chant ‘white power’ is the scary face of domestic terrorism here in Australia. And Ed, while you've been a very strong voice in the community and speaking up for multicultural communities, regrettably there's been a lack of national leadership from Scott Morrison in particular in confronting this issue and I'm going to throw it to you in a minute, but I want to make this point. 

When it comes to Scott Morrison, he is unwilling to take on the far-right extremists who make up the bedrock of his personal support. He uses people in his party like George Christensen and Craig Kelly - conspiracy theorists, extremist views, downright dangerous to our community. 

This isn't an issue of free speech. This is an issue of community safety and national security. And it requires national leadership. I'm pleased to say my friend, Ed Husic has been providing that kind of leadership. And it's great, you're in the Shadow Cabinet. And it's great that you're here today to share some of your reflections about the risks that this poses to our multicultural communities.

HUSIC: Thanks Kristina. And thanks, everyone for joining us, in particular Kristina for bringing this together and the work that Kristina has done, since taking on the role as Shadow Minister for Home Affairs has been critical in providing exactly the type of leadership that you mentioned a few moments ago that’s missing from the national debate, and particularly from people that you would expect would take charge of this, particularly the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Home Affairs, which really have had to be prodded on this this matter quite a lot. 

And the reason I feel very strongly about this is that extremism rots good communities. It uses fear and anger, to tear away people being able to stand in the same space. And for a country like ours that has brought together people from all corners of the globe, to try and build one of the great countries on the planet, and one of the most cohesive countries on the planet, we can't afford to have extremism, and in this case, far-right extremism gnaw away at that. 

And particularly after Christchurch, I felt very strongly that if we had someone on Australian soil go overseas and commit that atrocious against people and having visited both of those mosques in Christchurch, and spoken with people who survived that horrific incident, we just can't afford to turn a blind eye and we can't, if I can use obviously a very important phrase, ‘turn the other cheek’ to this. This is something that needs to be confronted and dealt with very seriously. 

We have dealt with extremism, particularly Islamic extremism for many years now. We've taken steps to proscribe or ban groups that don't even operate on Australian soil but pose a threat, yet we've not done the same thing when it comes to right-wing extremism and the question has to be asked, how long will we continue to accept that as a proposition? 

And clearly, I think people, you know, of good spirit, good mind and common sense, would agree that if extremism poses a threat to the cohesiveness and the strength of Australian society, regardless of where it comes from, it needs to be tackled. 

And the security agencies in this nation have been watching and saying for quite some time now that they have recognised this as a risk and it's not just the agencies working towards dealing with this, we need national leaders to say this is not acceptable. 

It's not who we are, and that we need to deal with this. Spot it, call it out and deal with it. That's a three-step process, quite frankly, that needs to be undertaken. 

And so that's why we particularly in terms of Federal Labor - there has been a number of us -  I mentioned Kristina's leadership role in this, I also wanted to recognise the role of friend and colleague Anne Aly, the Member for Cowan, and someone who's worked in space for many years in dealing with this issue. And another friend and colleague of ours, Josh Burns, the Member for Macnamara, as well across a range of areas and across faiths as well, working together to say, that if we want to have a community that functions strongly where people get on well, and where people feel they can contribute, without fear, to the growth of our country, then we really need to take this seriously.

So again, Kristina, thank you very much for  dealing with this issue and also acknowledging as well, that as much as the internet has done a great thing in bringing us together, it’s also provided a platform for people who want to spread hate. There's a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech.

And what we're seeing the way that some people are using online platforms as a way to spur on other attacks. And we saw unfortunately, as a result of Christchurch and other attacks that happened in other parts of the world, particularly in the U.S. straight after (Christchurch), where synagogues were targeted, where festivals were targeted, and where people had cited Christchurch as a motivating factor for that type of terrible behaviour. 

We just can't sit by and we cannot turn a blind eye to this. We need to spot it, call it out, deal with it. And so again, very grateful for the time that people have taken to join with us today on what is a very critical issue.

KENEALLY: Just before we go to any questions, Ed to pick up on your point about spotting it, calling it out and dealing with it, Labor successfully forced the Morrison Government to refer an inquiry on right-wing extremism to the Intelligence and Security Committee last December. 

We felt we could not sit here quietly, while the Morrison Government dismissed, downplayed and ignored the rise of right-wing extremism in Australia. A couple quick facts for the media: Australia is the only Five Eyes country that has not proscribed any right-wing extremist groups as terrorist organisations. America, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have all done so. 

We have parliamentarians like George Christensen who are frequent users and promoters of Parler, which is a social media platform used by right-wing extremists. We have in Australia no visibility as to how much of any of the money that's used towards countering violent extremism is actually spent on right-wing extremism. 

In fact, it seems like there hasn't been, of the $50 million that they allocated a few years ago towards countering violent extremism, it seems almost none of it has gone to right-wing extremism. And our proscription laws, as you point out, have not been used to proscribe groups that that are proscribed overseas that have clear links here in Australia. Just to give the media two examples: Combat 18 and Blood In Honour are two groups here in Australia that have direct links to groups that are proscribed overseas. 

The National Socialist Network, the group that met in the Grampians, they have arisen out of National Action, a group that is banned in the United Kingdom, the group that is behind the assassination of the UK MP Jo Cox. 

If groups like this aren't being proscribed in Australia, what is the point of our proscription laws? And our proscription laws send a clear message not just about giving law enforcement agencies the tools they need to combat these groups but about that which we as a government, reject the hatred, that we reject the division and we reject the terror.