25 February 2020


SUBJECTS: Successful Bettina Arndt Senate motion; Peter Dutton and extremist ideologies; ASIO Director General’s Annual Threat Assessment; the rising threat of right-wing extremism; countering violent extremism; foreign interference; ADF Inspector General report. 
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Government sided with Labor, One Nation opposed the motion and I am joined now by Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally. Welcome.

KARVELAS: Were you expecting the Government to side with you?
KENEALLY: I was rather hopeful that they would and rather encouraged in recent days by comments from Liberal Senators such as Hollie Hughes and Sarah Henderson that indicated that there were those in the Government who agreed with the view that Senator Wong and I put – that Ms Arndt's comments simply are reckless, they were abhorrent, they don't reflect the values of retaining an Order of Australia honour and I am really pleased that the Senate has expressed this view so comprehensively because I think it shows to the Australian community that we are listening, we are responding, we understand their concerns and I think Patricia it takes us then more broadly to the question of what do we do about the national shame and the national scourge that is domestic violence.
KARVELAS: But it is just symbolic, right? Because the actual decision rests with the review board so was it to send that message, given it can't actually do anything?
KENEALLY: I wouldn't put it in those terms but that is actually an accurate description. That is, the Senate, you are right, can't strip Ms Bettina Arndt of her Order of Australia, nor is it for us to direct or call directly upon the awards and honours system to make that decision, but we have made very clear in this motion that we do not believe her views are consistent with her retaining that award. We recognise that that award comes with responsibilities and the Senate has expressed quite comprehensively here that we do not believe that Ms Arndt has lived up to those responsibilities.
KARVELAS: Moving on to another issue, I spoke to Peter Dutton a little earlier. I asked him to explain why he brought up this concept of left-wing terrorism when ASIO boss Mike Burgess didn't mention it in those terms in his speech. Peter Dutton defined left-wing terrorism as Islamic terrorism and said there are often complaints when you use the term Islamic terrorism. Do you think that is a fair enough description of what is going on?
KENEALLY: Well I have read some of the transcript, if you will; I haven't seen the Minister's interview. Perhaps, I will be generous here and say perhaps the Minister didn't quite understand the question you were posing because if I can reflect to your viewers, that ASIO itself makes quite clear that Islamic extremism, it represents a form of terrorist threat, and that Islamic extremism doesn't sit upon a left-right continuum. We need to rely upon the advice of our national security agencies here and as the Director General last night outlined quite clearly and quite commendably last night in a public address to the nation, that Australia does continue to face a significant threat – it is at probable, as he described, “unacceptably high plateau” at probably threat of terrorist attacks in Australia and he pointed to the two sources that he identifies, that ASIO identifies that perpetrate that threat. One being Islamic extremism and it is important to note that that is an extreme form of Islam, not all, of course adherents of Islam – just needs to be made clear again – are adherents of an extreme form of it, as well as, as the Director General pointed out, the growing and present threat of right-wing extremism in Australia.
KARVELAS: ASIO Director General David Burgess (sic) has identified, as you say, right-wing extremism as a growing threat, and I know Labor's has been trying to push the Government on why they haven't placed any of these right-wing groups on the terror list. The Minister made it really clear to me that the reason they haven't is ASIO hasn't asked for it to happen and if they did, it would be listed. So why is Labor asking the question? Isn't it actually the agency that makes that recommendation? Why would the Government make a political decision around this?
KENEALLY: Well Patricia I think the question needs to be one that is taken a step further back in the process. That is, if as the Director General Mike Burgess has pointed out, that there are neo-Nazi cells in Australia, that right-wing extremist groups pose a terrorist threat in Australia, why haven't they been listed? Is there something in the listing process that we need to change? Are the definitions, are the requirements somehow not fit for purpose when it comes to this emerging threat of right-wing extremists. These are questions we can pursue. and I would like to pursue in a bipartisan fashion through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. And while I am on that point, I note that my colleague Ed Husic has called for the Government to make a referral to the PJCIS regarding right-wing extremism. Of course, the PJCIS does not have the power to refer a matter to itself although my other colleague Jenny McAllister has put a Bill before the Senate that will allow us to do just that. I think this is an important example of why the PJCIS should have that power. The Director General has identified a growing threat in Australia, we have yet to have a lot of clarity from Government in terms of countering violent extremism and the programs that they are doing in terms of how it is working in combating right-wing extremism and I think there are a range of questions here that would be very useful from an intelligence and security perspective to be explored by the PJCIS.
KARVELAS: But you accept by the current rules, the Government is following the advice it gets?
KENEALLY: Well I accept that under the current rules, no group has been brought forward. I do think there are questions about whether those rules are fit for purpose for right-wing extremist groups – is there something the rules are not catching? But it goes beyond just listing terrorist organisations. There are a range of things governments do and I can point you to around the world, the New York Police Department and in Germany they have stood up dedicated units countering violent extremism and right-wing groups. The Government's own countering violent extremism programs – it’s not entirely clear and not very specific on what they are doing in terms of addressing the rising threat of right-wing extremism. The Christchurch Call the Government signed up to last year after one of our own tragically went to New Zealand and perpetrated those acts of hate and violence there – there doesn't seem a lot has changed yet in Australia in response to signing up to the Christchurch Call. And Patricia can I just note that the 15th of March is the first anniversary of Christchurch, that massacre there, and Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Labor Party has written to Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, proposing that there be a ecumenical multifaith service held either in Sydney or Melbourne to mark that anniversary to allow us to come together as people of many faiths and no faith at all to express our sorrow and also to express our support for our diverse multifaith, multicultural community.
KARVELAS: Since 2013-14, the Government has spent $13 million on intervention programs to counter violent extremism but there is only one program in New South Wales that targets right-wing extremists, as far as I can see. Are there more? Do we need to be spending more?
KENEALLY: Well these are questions we pursued in Estimates previously and as my colleague Tim Watts, who has responsibility for cybersecurity, has pointed out today on social media, very little seems to have changed. We have had very little specifics come back in response to questions we posed and we will continue to pose them throughout the Estimates process, particularly now spurred-on by the heightened attention and I think rightfully so, that the Director General Mike Burgess has drawn to the threat of right-wing extremism.
KARVELAS: Mike Burgess said ASIO had discovered children as young as 13 being targeted by extremist recruiters. What more could be done to protect children from this?
KENEALLY: You know a lot of what we do in the countering violent extremism space, is works with the community. Working with teachers, working with parents, helping identify people who are at risk of radicalisation online, helping them recognise the signs. A lot of great work has been done in terms of working with the Islamic community in this space. Now right-wing extremism shares a lot of characteristics but is also quite different in many ways to Islamic extremism. And so the extent to which we’re having even a public conversation with parents and with educators about what to be looking for, the extent to which we are working in terms of disrupting or depositing counter-narratives in this online space. There are a range of things being done around in the world – as I said, other jurisdictions are standing up specialised units. The British experience of their countering violent extremism programs, they’ve had about 1700 people go through their programs since 2018 and they have almost fallen 50-50 in terms of those who have come from a radical Islamic extremist ideology and those who have come from a right-wing extremist ideology and I don't have similar statistics because they don't seem to be available yet in Australia and these other types of questions and the types of activities that I would like to see the Government taking on and heeding the call that Mike Burgess put out last night – that we all have a responsibility to curb the threat of right-wing extremism.
KARVELAS: He also revealed ASIO identified a sleeper agent running a major spy ring and supporting foreign agents in their efforts to gather intelligence and harass dissidents. Centre Alliance says the Government should say if China was the culprit. Do you think the Government should say whether China was the culprit of this?
KENEALLY: This is a matter that really only government can speak to because they will have some of the information and, quite frankly, in these areas, there are some matters that should be put before the Australian people and, as Mike Burgess pointed out last night, some matters he will not be able to share with the Australian community because it may put his own officers at risk or may put the lives of Australians at risk. What I do think is commendable is the fact that Mike Burgess as the new Director General of ASIO has determined that he will do an Annual Threat Assessment speech in public, sharing the information that he can with the Australian community. 
KARVELAS: Just quickly, the annual report from the ADF Inspector General confirms they are investigating 55 separate alleged incidents of breaches of the laws of war by Australian troops in Afghanistan, mostly this extrajudicial killings of civilians or prisoners. Are you shocked by what’s in this report that has been tabled?
KENEALLY: I will say this report has been tabled while we were in Question Time and I haven't yet had a chance to see it, but I do think it is important that in a democracy like ours that we have independent authorities and oversight who are capable of undertaking these investigations and I will await the opportunity to read the report and also to provide my colleague, Richard Marles, with the opportunity to comment in his role as Shadow Defence Minister.
KARVELAS: Kristina Keneally, thanks for coming on.
KENEALLY: Thank you.