PRESS CONFERENCE - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA - WEDNESDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2020 - (KENEALLY, ALY & BURNS)

09 December 2020

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES 

DR ANNE ALY MP
MEMBER FOR COWAN
 
JOSH BURNS MP
MEMBER FOR MACMANARA
 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

PRESS CONFERENCE

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

WEDNESDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2020


SUBJECTS: Right wing extremism; bipartisanship; leadership by Members of Parliament to counter right wing extremism, multiculturalism, trade.

 

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: I would like to thank the Government for taking Labor's recommendation that the PJCIS consider the matter of right wing extremism and have a serious conversation. I'm pleased to say that since Monday we have been able to negotiation with the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, to determine the terms of reference for a referral to the PJCIS on extremism in Australia.

 

The Inquiry will look at right wing extremism and the extent to which any of our findings will be applicable to other forms of extremism such as Islamic extremism. We know that in Australia we have been facing the threat of Islamic jihadism for some 20 years. And we have a full suite of counter-terrorism tools and laws that help our national security agencies meet those threats, but the emerging threat of right wing extremism demands that we take seriously the advice of our national security agencies and that we as a Parliament take seriously our responsibility to keep Australians safe.

 

That is why Labor moved this referral to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to invite an examination of counterterrorism tools and laws that we have at our disposal to determine that they are fit for purpose to face the threat of right wing extremism. It's important that we as Australians take seriously this threat. It's important that we have the tools to keep Australians safe. I would like to also thank the crossbench in the House of Representatives. Over the past week I've had the opportunity to engage with them constructively on the emerging threat posed to Australia of right wing extremism and I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with them and to discuss these threats. I'm joined here today by Dr Anne Aly, a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and counter-terrorism expert in her own right. I'm also joined by Josh Burns MP, the Member for Macnamara.

 


Anne and Josh would have moved Labor's motion in the House of Representatives. They had both worked with me and other Labor Members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, to put together the proposal for our referral and helped engage with different faith and multicultural communities as we put that proposal together.

 


I'd like to invite Dr Aly to say a few words about why right wing extremism presents a different threat to Australia than the Islamic threat that we've been facing for the past two decades. And I would also then like to ask Josh Burns to say a few words about why this is important for multicultural and religious communities.

 

DR ANNE ALY MP, MEMBER FOR COWAN: Thank you so much, Kristina, can I start by thanking Kristina for the immense amount of work and her dedication to getting this Inquiry referred to the PJCIS. It is vitally important that we are prepared in this country for changes, and for new modes of terrorism as they arise and as they emerge.

 


We know that right wing extremist groups present a real threat to Australia, we know that they are targeting young Australians online. Right wing extremism and violent jihadism do have some commonalities, but make no mistake, they are very different in the modes of terror that they use. 

 


They are very different in the drivers of terrorism, the grievances that they used to radicalise and recruit young people.

 


We know that there are young people who are being radicalised here in Australia to right wing extremism. As Kristina mentioned, our security agencies are telling us so.

 


We need to be prepared to meet that threat now and into the future. Thank you.

 

JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACMANARA: Well said, Anne, and Kristina thank you very much for all of your work and leadership in this area.

 


Today would have been Bob Hawke's 91st birthday, and Bob believed in an Australia where we protected our multicultural fabric, where we protected the things that made us different and we celebrated them. And instead of the sort of ideology that we're talking about today seeks to exploit our differences. And that's not the Australian way. That's not what we celebrate. It's not what we love about this country.

 


And for me, it's personal, my grandmother fled the ideology that is driving much of the right wing extremism that we're seeing right around the world, but on the rise here in Australia. And for multicultural communities in Australia, this is something that requires a lot of effort and resources to help protect the community structures and foundations and buildings that people go in and Australians go into worship and celebrate and engage with every single day.

 


This extremism is on the rise, unfortunately. But this Inquiry, and these efforts today, are about putting a line in the sand to say that we will always fight to protect the multicultural fabric of this country and will always fight to protect the things that we love about this wonderful nation.

 

JOURNALIST: Senator, you told the SBS yesterday that it was important Australia come to terms with how the Christchurch terrorist was, I guess, radicalised here in Australia. Do you hope this Inquiry could go partly towards coming to terms with that?

 

KENEALLY: We've never had a proper conversation in Australia about the extent to which the Christchurch shooter was radicalised in this country. Yes, it's true. There are right wing extremist  groups in the United States and in Europe that are feeding into the online narratives that are present here in Australia. But there are many right wing extremist groups and movements in this country, and the extent to which that shooter was connected to them, engaging with them and fostering his own ideas and developing his own manifesto and ideologies within that context, that Australian context, is a question we haven't grappled with.

This Inquiry will enable us to not just look at the laws and the tools that we have available to us, but also be able to explain to the Parliament and to the wider community what the landscape is here in Australia when it comes to right wing extremism. We know there are a number of groups, some of them are quite present on social media and on the internet, some of them are more secretive and on the dark web.

The responsibility we have as a Parliament is to explain right wing extremism to the community and to engage the community to help us to help keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Today the AFP arrested an eighteen year old in Albury. He was allegedly spreading an extreme right wing ideology and encouraging other to commit violent attacks. Do you think the current laws as they stand, and programs, are capable of identifying others who may be out there working in the community… [inaudible]?

KENEALLY: We know that the Australian Federal Police have seen an uptick in their investigations into right wing extremism and the terrorist threat it poses. We know that, for ASIO, some 30 to 40% of their counterterrorism work is now on right wing extremism. 

It's not a question of whether or not our national security agencies have the interest or awareness of this threat. It's whether or not they have the right tools at their disposal. And I'll give you one example that I hope the inquiry is able to consider seriously. 

In New Zealand, they are able to list individuals as terrorist entities. And that matters because when it comes to right wing extremism, there is a glorification of individuals, there is a glorification of individuals manifestos. The Christchurch shooter cited in his manifesto, the shooter in the Oslo attacks, and the Christchurch shooter has himself been inspired. It has inspired open sided in eight other attacks, including the El Paso shooting in the United States.

So New Zealand has actually listed that Christchurch shooter as a terrorist entity, you cannot promote his manifesto, you cannot sell his manifesto, you cannot fundraise you cannot do anything in his name or link to his manifesto. That's a practical tool, because that gives some legal consequences for individuals who might be engaging with those, those ideas and with those publications.

So, while it is the case that our national security agencies take this threat seriously, what we need to determine is whether is whether they have the right tools in order to detect, disrupt, prevent, and, where necessary, arrest people who would perpetrate right wing extremist attack.

JOURNALIST: Senator, given that the Government has come to the table with these requests, are you hopeful that then perhaps cooperate with the prescription laws, in terms of right wing ideologies, and also yesterday Jacinda Ardern said that the Royal Commission found that the terrorist - there was no record of him in Australia. Does Australia have questions to answer? She's going to share that report with Scott Morrison.

KENEALLY: First of all, I'd like to acknowledge that the Royal Commission into the Christchurch shooting is a substantial piece of work. And one that I would hope that the New Zealand Government would consider making it as a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

That would be a very appropriate way for the Committee, as well as the Government, to examine that report and consider what findings and implications it might have for Australia. But the fact that the Christchurch shooter was able to become so radicalised here in Australia, was able to, it would appear, engage with right wing extremist groups in this country, and was able to travel overseas to New Zealand and carry out this atrocity, this terrorist attack without Australian agencies being aware, should have been a wake up call when it happened. 

And I give credit to the Government of today for working constructively with the Labor Party on this referral, and recognising that we do as a Parliament have a responsibility to have this conversation with the Australian community, to be alive to the threat that right wing extremism poses and to give our national security agencies the tools that they need.

Can I say this, though, on the point about community engagement – for 20 years now we have been working on ways to engage with the Islamic community in Australia to prevent radicalisation, to help counter violent extremism, and there has been a great deal of trust between Islamic community leaders, Islamic parents, and Islamic families and our national security agencies. The challenge we now have is how do we do that community engagement with the broader Australian community?

Dr Aly and I were part of a round table that she convened, which sought to work with schools and coaches and parents. What do they do when they start to notice their young people, and usually men, young men in their family, who start to develop these ideologies, this hatred, this divisive approach? And who do they report that to? How do they appropriately engage with that?

That's the kind of advice that we need to be providing to the Australian community, particularly in the wake of COVID. We've had so many hours on screens and people are out of work, there has been an outbreak of racist attacks. There is no doubt, and our national security agencies tell us, COVID has accelerated right wing extremist propaganda and radicalisation.

JOURNALIST: You recently said that true Nazi groups in Canada have been proscribed as terrorist organisations by authorities there but they have chapters over here which are not. Do you know why [inaudible] why they haven’t been classified as terrorist organisations?

KENEALLY: No, I don't. That's a question for the Government and it's a question that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security can now examine.

In Australian we have 27 groups that are proscribed as terrorist organisations – 26 of them are Islamist, one of them is the PKK.

And yet, Canada and the United Kingdom have both prescribed right wing extremist groups that have local chapters or affiliations here. And yet, there has been no proscription in Australia of a right wing extremist group. 

And when our prescription laws were passed in the wake of September 11, it was clear, the Parliament made clear that the prescription laws were not just about giving a legal effect to law enforcement agencies and national security agencies around proscription, but also it was a way for the Australian Government to send a message about what we as an Australian community reject.

And so some of those 26 Islamist groups that are prescribed by groups that have virtually no presence in Australia or interest in Australia, but we've prescribed them because allies have we've prescribed them to send a message about what we reject.
 
And so there is a real question to be asked, whether our groups that are proscribed overseas in our partner countries, our Five Eyes countries that have links here, and we haven't proscribed those groups here, is there some reason that our proscription laws are not fit for purpose to make that link.

JOURNALIST: Dr Aly, can I ask you a question if that's alright? The referral to the Committee specifically mentions that it should investigate social media use. When you consider the Royal Commission report yesterday, it spoke about the terrorist being radicalised by YouTube having links online to a number of Australian far right, extreme right organisations that still exist today. How important do you think it is that we investigate that particular facet of this threat?

ALY: I think it's incredibly important. I think one of the things talking about the difference between right wing extremism and Islamic extremism is that the right wing extremism, there's a lot more of it in the surface web. Not so much… In the dark web as well. But there is a lot more open source data, they do use social media quite frequently.

And the other difference is what Senator Keneally was talking about, about inspiration – the kind of the domino effect of one right wing extremist attack inspiring other right wing extremist attacks. Now they utilise social media in order to to facilitate that influence that they have, and to promote that kind of domino effect. So it's vitally important that we look at the whole range of things, but social media in particular plays a unique role in the spread of right wing extremists.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] How concerned should multicultural communities be? Should they be… [inaudible]

KENEALLY: I will answer that. I just want to make one point, give you one example. Many of you will remember the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Ted Kaczynski has a manifesto. He had to go around to gun shows in the United States and set up a stall and try to peddle it. And as such, he was only ever able to distribute several hundred copies. 

Now with the internet, now with Facebook and social media – the ability to spread a manifesto online, it can go like wildfire around the globe. And that is the risk that we are facing here. And that is part of the reason we're seeing this acceleration. 

Your question about multicultural communities: in the lead up to drafting this referral to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Dr Aly, Josh, Ed Husic and Jim Chalmers, several of us across the Labor team engaged with multicultural and faith communities to understand the extent to which their community members were feeling threat and at risk.

And what we heard back were terrible stories about people. Some some of us will remember stories about the attacks that we saw in Western Sydney have a young woman wearing a hijab. We will, we've heard the stories about attacks on both mosques and synagogues. The rise of hate symbols like swastikas appearing in public places, and a real sense of unease and uncertainty and fear from community members, that there was an acceleration of racism, but also far right extremism.

And yet, we also know from things like the Scanlon Foundation survey that an overwhelming majority of Australians still value the multicultural nature of our country, they see it as a strength both economically and from a community perspective. 

Now, that's a very good thing. It actually stands us apart from our cousins in the United States and in Europe, that we still very much strongly value multiculturalism. But we can't take that for granted. If we don't nurture and support those values. If we don't pass them on to the next generation, we risk losing them. And when hatred is rearing its ugly head as it is through right wing extremist movements, it is a fundamentally important that our federal Parliament and all federal leaders, as well as state leaders, show a clear determination that we reject that, and we are going to give our security agencies the tools they need to keep Australians safe from it.

JOURNALIST: Senator, given those given those surveys do find that, why do you think this is happening? Why is this occurring, with this increase in this kind of violent threat?

KENEALLY: Well, first of all, the internet has made any distinction between domestic and international terrorism nearly a moot point. And that is, as I just mentioned about the manifestos, the ability for these ideas to be widely shared, easily shared, and disseminated amongst groups. 

The fact that Antipodean Resistance here in Australia cites on their website that they take inspiration from National Action in the UK, and National Action is the group that was behind and motivated the person who assassinated Joe Cox, the MP, in the UK. The fact that we've got groups that are connecting online and sharing ideas and radicalising one another, that is part of it. Another part of it is COVID. You know, that we've had increased time in front of screens. There's an economic crisis happening, there are outbreaks of racial hatred. There are conspiracy theories about where the Coronavirus came from. All of that creates a near-perfect environment for the type of propaganda and radicalisation that right wing extremist groups want to spread.

JOURNALIST: Senator, on the Inquiry, the terms of reference make it very clear that it will be investigating Islamic terrorism as well. Do you believe this sort of this is a more emerging threat? In Australia? Do you believe it might have had a better success and more interesting sort of outcome if it was focused solely on far right terrorism, rather than the Islamist terrorism as well, do you fear it might be diluted a bit?

KENEALLY: Well, of course, Labor moved this referral because we took seriously the advice of national security agencies – that right wing extremism was a growing and real threat to Australia, and then an attack was possible here in Australia. And we have seen several arrests this year of people who have plotted right wing extremist terrorist attacks.

What I would observe is that Islamic jihadism remains a serious threat for Australia, and to the extent that the terms of reference, and the terms of reference I would invite people to look at are very much geared towards the challenges that are posed to our national security agencies by right wing extremism. The fact that we haven't proscribed a right wing extremist group. That we need to look at online hate speech and online hate symbols. The fact is that one of the terms of references is geared towards social cohesion. Most of the terms of reference are very clearly geared towards the new threat of right wing extremism.

But there will be things, as Dr Aly pointed out, where there's commonalities between Islamist extremists and the right wing extremists, and to the extent that we learn things through this Inquiry that can assist our agencies to deal with the threat of Islamist extremism. That's a good thing.
At the end of the day, there are things, it's depressing to say, that Islamist extremists and right wing extremists are learning from one another. And that is also a threat that we as a Parliament should be alive to.

JOURNALIST: After the Christchurch terrorist attack, a number of Australians here, particularly members in the Muslim community, told me that they felt that right wing extremists were emboldened by parliamentarians in this building. Do you think that that is an issue and that some of them, including members of the government, bear some blame over this?

KENEALLY: I'd like to answer that question without being overtly partisan. But I'll make an observation that every Member of Parliament has a public platform, and they need to think seriously about how they use that public platform. 

Because our words and our actions matter. We are leaders in the community and the things we do, the people we appear with and the things we say, send a message to the Australian community.
I would observe that I am alarmed when I see Members of Parliament joining social media platforms and promoting social media platforms where right wing extremists gather and exchange ideas. I am alarmed when I see parliamentarians agreeing to appear on stage with people who have far right extremist views.

We have a responsibility to act responsibly, we have a responsibility to uphold and preserve the multicultural character of our nation. And we have a responsibility to send a clear message that we reject extremism and hatred in all its forms. 
So this will be I think one of the best and strongest recommendations that perhaps the Committee should consider, is the extent to which leadership here matters.

And that's why I really welcome the fact today that the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, was willing to show leadership, to negotiate with me. To take seriously my proposal. And to agree that we would have a bipartisan support for a referral to the Intelligence Committee to consider right wing extremism.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you quickly on China, Simon Birmingham has again hinted that the Government may go to the WTO over the barley tariff. Is this now the only course of action now the only course of action given that China is now targeting industry after industry?

KENEALLY: My colleague, Senator Wong, has spoken about China extensively. I will just make this observation that we have clearly a difficult relationship with China right now. This did not occur overnight. This is a time for calm and thoughtful responses from the Australian Government. And we continue to encourage them to act calmly and to think clearly about the way in which they respond to the present challenges we face with China. I would also say that we would encourage the Government to do more, to work with Australian businesses to help them to diversify their markets. If the Government is choosing to take action to go to the WTO, I hope that they have taken advice on that and they have thought through whether that's the most appropriate step, it may well be. And they need to explain the decisions that they're taking and they need to make sure that they’re working with the Australian business community in doing so.


ENDS