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29 April 2021



SUBJECTS: Right-wing extremism; Secretary Pezzullo; Relationship with China.
LAURA JAYES , HOST, SKY NEWS AM AGENDA: Now the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIO, will today begin the first of two hearings to look at extremism and radicalization in Australia. ASIO Director, Mike Burgess, is expected to detail new threats to national security and what's being done to combat them. Terrorist propaganda is drawing a younger audience according to a submission by the surveillance organisation, and it says Australians as young as 13 and 14 are involved in Islamic extremism and extreme right-wing circles. Joining me live now is Labor Senator Kristina Keneally, the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, thanks so much for your time. What do you expect to hear today? We hear a lot about Islamic terrorism, is right wing extremism equal what we've heard about that?
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Laura, thanks for the time this morning. Indeed, at the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry today, I expect to hear from ASIO Director General Mike Burgess, that right-wing extremism now accounts for some 40% of ASIO's counterterrorism work. And, as he told a Senate estimates last week, right-wing extremism is the fastest growing terrorist threat in Australia. The purpose of this inquiry, which Labor pushed for, is to ensure that in the face of this emerging and growing national security threat, that our security agencies have the powers, the laws, and the policies in place to help them combat it.
And indeed, that we are doing, as we did with Islamic jihadism, working with the affected communities, the broader Australian community here, and talking to parents, teachers, coaches and others about things they need to be looking for when it comes to radicalization. If young boys as young as 13 and 14 have been targeted online by right-wing extremists, we need to start talking to the community about how to recognise that and what they should do.
JAYES: Is this a blind spot? Do you think in is it just young boys? Or is it increasingly young girls?
KENEALLY: Well, it's interesting you asked that because there are two elements of gendered elements, if you will, to far-right extremism that are important to understand. One, it does present in some forms an extremely violent misogyny and a hatred of women. And indeed, the Director General talked about this in his first annual - second annual threat assessment, a movement called involuntary celibates, or incels. But, it also presents a very traditional form of femininity, as the Tradwives and other movements that we see more in the United States.
But again - with the - as we will hear today, I expect with the move online with COVID, keeping people online, with the easy access that some of these groups in the US and in Europe have to Australians and the ability to radicalise them, we're seeing more of this occur here. And of course, we all know that it was an Australian who perpetrated the Christchurch attacks and we know now from the New Zealand Commission of Inquiry into those attacks, that that Australian was radicalised to extreme right-wing ideology that was promoted both by voices here in Australia and overseas.
JAYES: Okay, so those voices promoted by in Australia, but that individual had lived in New Zealand for quite some time. So it was his info flow from Australia or was it from, you know, other countries like the US?
KENEALLY : Well, what the Commission of Inquiry - that the royal commission that is in New Zealand found - that there were voices in Australia that had radicalised that shooter. And indeed, you know, if you read his own manifesto, which I don't recommend people do, but I have read it, and it is easily available online - which is another area I'd like to talk to security agencies about - the use of online platforms, the use of online manifestos, the glorification of individuals, and what steps we could be taking as a Government and indeed working with online platforms to make some of that content harder for people to access. But nonetheless, his manifesto talks about organisations and individuals and ideas that he was involved with here. And indeed, we know he was a he was affiliated with the True Blue Crew here in Australia.
JAYES: Okay, just changing tack for a moment. What did you think of Mike Pezzullo's comments about conflict in our region?
KENEALLY: Laura, words matter. And, when it comes to reflections on matters of defence, foreign policy and war, all of us, no matter what position we occupy in the Federal Government, elected or bureaucratic, need to consider our words carefully - mindful that they will have impacts beyond the intended audience. What I would also reflect upon is it was an unusual move by the Director General of the Department of Home Affairs, and unusual in two respects:
One, I don't know that the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs really understood ANZAC Day in the way that many Australians would understand it: as a time for sombre reflection on those who've lost their lives, and honour the service of those who have served.
Secondly - yeah - it was - it did seem to be a reflection that was beyond the remit of the Department of Home Affairs and the job that Mr Pezzullo presently has. And I would just reflect that there are a number of crises and challenges within the Department of Home Affairs - whether it's talking about the low morale in the Department, the fact that about a third of the Department wishes they worked somewhere else, or when we look at policy challenges around cybersecurity, foreign interference and espionage or the rise of right-wing extremism in Australia. And, that's before we even get Laura, to the fact that the borders are closed. The Government seems to have abandoned responsibility for quarantine and we have tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas. So, I say to the Secretary General - the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, there's a lot facing the Department of Home Affairs right now. And, my beef is with the Government, not with the Secretary, but I do think this is an unusual move by the Secretary and it is right that people are discussing it and commenting on it.
JAYES: Well, this wasn't an op-ed, it was a memo to staff that went online, I think, on the Department's website, and Karen Andrews wasn't caught unawares by this. So it does seem an extension of vocalisation and a memo to staff about what the Government seems to already be strategizing.
KENEALLY: Well, again, this is not just a memo to staff, it does have wider ramifications. And that's the point I made upfront: words matter. And, they will have impacts beyond the intended audience, in this case staff at the Department of Home Affairs, but I do also wonder why Home Affairs - the Secretary of Home Affairs - is engaging in a matter that really properly belongs to Foreign Affairs and Defence, there is plenty within the Department of Home Affairs, that should be demanding the Secretary's attention.
JAYES: What do you think- the - about the - language that was used? I mean, he didn't point out China, but did say that the reality of life in 2021 is that the drums of war could very well be beating. Do we need to have that upfront conversation with people, not to be provocative or to pro-war about it, but just to have a real conversation with Australian people?
KENEALLY: First of all, I think any conversation with the Australian people on such matters should be led by ministers - Minister of Defence, Minister for Foreign Affairs. And, I say that because in this context, such words will have an effect and they may have an effect, indeed, they seem to have had an effect that perhaps not what the Secretary intended.
Secondly, when it comes to matters of China, we should have leadership from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and from the Prime Minister on this, not having the discussion being led by a bureaucrat. Quite frankly, there is no scenario in which China doesn't matter. Our relationship with China has grown more difficult over recent years. We want a productive relationship with China, one where Australian values are understood and respected. And, that is up to the Government to lead that. That is up to the elected officials - the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister - to lead that engagement and to stand up for Australian values.
I would also make the point that when it comes to China, under the Morrison Government, Australia has grown more reliant on China particularly in terms of trade then than ever before. And it is now up to the Government to also do the important work of diversifying our trading relationships to give our businesses access to greater markets because that in the end is how we support Australian business and how we support Australian jobs.
JAYES: Alright, Kristina Keneally, you've got to get to that Committee. Thanks so much.