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Question: Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Masjidain

Mehreen Faruqi 22 Nov 2021

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:20): My question is to Minister Birmingham, representing the Prime Minister. In March 2019, the Christchurch mosque attacks were carried out by an Australian far-Right extremist, killing 51 innocent Muslims. ASIO is now reporting that up to 50 per cent of its domestic counterterrorism case load relates to ideologically motivated violent extremism, which is off the back of a sharp rise in far-Right extremism.

This past weekend we saw far-Right extremists on the streets again, and some have issued death threats towards public figures. Known Neo-Nazis and fascists were in attendance at rallies, and some protesters held anti-Semitic and offensive signs. Does the government admit that far-Right extremists are spreading their hate, abuse and threats, and will you and the Prime Minister today condemn outright far-Right extremism?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:21): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question. She is right. ASIO has identified that the threat from ideologically motivated violent extremism, particularly nationalist and racist violent extremism, is growing and does present a serious threat to Australia's security. They have estimated that it comprises around 50 per cent of their priority onshore counterterrorism case load.

We unequivocally condemn all such terrorist activity and all motivations that seek to promote any form of violence or threat to Australians based upon such ideology. Through Australia's terrorism laws, our government has worked—in a bipartisan way, I acknowledge—to strengthen the targeting of criminal activity, not ideologies or community backgrounds. We have also sought to empower our agencies, in particular ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, to be better placed to be able to respond and to ensure that, where such views manifest themselves into potential threats, those agencies are as well placed as possible to be able to respond, disrupt, counter and prevent those threats.

I do acknowledge the bipartisanship that we have had in relation to the passage of such legislation and such reforms, because it has required bipartisanship, given the fact that there have often been efforts by the crossbench to weaken some of those legislative measures that we have sought to bring forward. We've backed those tougher legislative reforms with additional funding in terms of both measures in relation to social cohesion and support for our security agencies to be able to undertake the important work of identification and disruption. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:23): It's pretty disgraceful that this government and the Prime Minister keep refusing to outright condemn far-Right extremism. Minister, on 9 December last year, I asked you whether the government would respond to the New Zealand royal commission into the Christchurch mosque attacks. You gave me the commitment that the government would examine the report thoroughly. Has the government examined the report, and what are you doing about it?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:24): As I said in my initial response, I do provide very clear condemnation of extremist, ideologically motivated violence—that is very clear in my comments—and I do so for any and all forms of such extremist, ideologically motivated activities. We have not only made the types of legal reforms and investments that I indicated in my primary response to the question; we have also led internationally in terms of seeking to tackle the sharing of materials such as the tragedy of the Christchurch attack, in online platforms—the Prime Minister's work there and the passage of legislation through this place. And seeking to ensure that other nations take actions to prevent the sharing of such horrific content in the future is an important part of a holistic response— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a second supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:25): Minister, amid the rapid rise in far Right extremism, which threatens the safety of communities across the country, will the government now finally commit to funding a national antiracism strategy?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:25): Our government did provide, in the most recent budget, $63 million towards social cohesion measures to help to bring Australians together. That included some $37.3 million in relation to measures that help to promote unifying Australian values, identity and social cohesion and countering malign information online. We recognise that such disinformation is a very serious threat. Some $17.7 million was provided to enhance engagement with multicultural communities and $7.9 million towards research initiatives to help the ongoing work in relation to these areas. The Department of Home Affairs has had more than 13,900 engagements with key multicultural groups in supporting these efforts—a 519 per cent increase in terms of direct outreach in that regard to make sure that we are able to respond as comprehensively as possible. (Time expired)


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