SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
PARLIAMENTARY JOINT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY
Review of regulations listing Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation
17 JUNE 2021
I will make some brief remarks about the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s statement for the review of regulations listing Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code Act 1995.
This marks the first time that a right-wing extremist organisation has been listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia.
Labor members of the Committee join with our colleagues on the Committee in welcoming the Government’s decision to list the Sonnenkrieg Division.
But, as my colleague Senator Keneally said in the Senate last night, the fact that it has taken so long for the Government to take this step is striking – and it is troubling.
As ASIO has told this Parliament time and time again, the threat posed by right-wing extremism to our country’s safety and to the safety of its people is very real and very serious and it’s growing.
Last month, ASIO’s Director General told the Senate that countering the threat of right-wing extremism now constitutes almost 50 per cent of ASIO’s counter-terrorism workload. Three years ago, it constituted 16 per cent.
We can see the dangers with our own eyes and read about it day after day in our newspapers. We’ve seen the images, and read the reports, of dozens of neo-Nazis openly burning crosses and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans at a popular Victorian tourist destination.
Hate speech targeting Muslims continues to be a massive and growing problem in Australia – especially online but also on the streets of our communities.
The Christchurch massacre did not occur in a vacuum. As the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network noted in a recent submission to the Parliament:
Before the attack in Christchurch, much of the broader population were not aware that anti-Muslim propaganda already permeated right-wing discourse online, or in part, inspired the Oslo terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered seventy-seven people in 2011.
Anti-Muslim content is considered to be a gateway to “gradually introducing more racially and politically extremist messages to a large audience of potential supporters”. Canadian, Australian, US, and UK research has found Muslims to be a favoured “out-group” around which radical right-wing activism or extremism coalesces.
We, as a community, must take the rise in right-wing extremism seriously. We, as a Parliament, must take the rise in right-wing extremism seriously and it is incumbent on the Government – and especially the Government – to take the rise in right-wing extremism seriously.
Lives depend on it, as the Christchurch massacre – which was perpetrated by an Australian – so tragically demonstrated and yet the Morrison Government has not been taking right-wing extremism seriously. Not by a long shot.
In February of this year we had the Immigration Minister contradicting ASIO and, without evidence, asserting that there had been no rise in right-wing extremism at all.
In January of this year, following the extreme right-wing attack on the US Capital, the Prime Minister refused to condemn – or offer even the slightest criticism – of the outgoing US President Donald Trump for Mr Trump’s role in inciting the attack.
And worse – the Prime Minister of Australia refused to even comment on, let alone criticise, social media posts by members of his own party that peddled dangerous right-wing conspiracy theories about the attack on the US Capitol.
This is the same Prime Minister who is now refusing to answer questions about his relationship with a prominent Australian proponent of the dangerous far-right conspiracy theory QANon, Tim Stewart.
Let me be clear: This is not about who the Prime Minister is friends with – as my colleague, the Member for McMahon, said in the House the other day, the Prime Minister is not accountable for the political views of his friends.
But when the Prime Minister allegedly gives a prominent proponent of far-right conspiracy theories – which the American FBI has labelled a domestic terrorism threat – access to Kirribilli House, that is a problem and there are legitimate questions to be asked and the Prime Minister must answer them.
Not least of all because, as we heard on Four Corners this week, Mr Stewart’s family has twice contacted the national security hotline to express concern about his behaviour.
To return to where I began, the Intelligence and Security Committee welcomes the listing of the Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation.
While the Committee found that Australians had little direct involvement with the Sonnenkrieg Division, its reach into Australia via its online activities poses a threat through the potential to radicalise Australians and incite terrorist attacks.
As my colleague Senator Keneally noted in the Senate last night, the pandemic has shifted more of our interactions online and this, along with the economic and social impacts, anxieties, and uncertainties of the last eighteen months, has intensified the spread of extreme right-wing narratives.
But as Senator Keneally also noted, there are people in this very building who have been publicly entertaining these insidious and dangerous views. And, to date, those people have been tolerated – and, in some cases, even defended – by the Prime Minister himself.
From the Prime Minister down, the Morrison Government must publicly and consistently disassociate itself and condemn those who promote or give comfort to conspiracies and far-right views – even, or perhaps especially, if that means turning its focus to the Coalition’s own party room.
The listing of the Sonnenkrieg Division is a start – but it is a very modest start.