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Question Time: ASIO and the Far-Right

Question
Mehreen Faruqi 8 Oct 2020

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:37): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs.

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! I'm going to ask Senator Faruqi to start that again. I've asked for silence during questions.

Senator FARUQI: Thank you, Mr President. My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs. Last month, ASIO advised the parliament that right-wing violent extremism occupies between approximately 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO's current case load in counterterrorism work, an increase from 10 to 15 per cent prior to 2016. This is an extraordinary increase over a very short period of time. In August, the Nine papers reported that ASIO has been focused on the possibility of extremists being inspired by killers such as the Christchurch gunman. As a Muslim and as a progressive senator, I find these reports incredibly troubling, but they align with what I see online, on social media and in the correspondence I receive. While it's good that the security services are investigating these threats, there appears to be zero political appetite to invest in new initiatives to address the growth of far-right extremism. What is the government doing to tackle the growing threat of far-right extremism and white supremacy?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:38): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question. The government has made it abundantly clear that we are absolutely committed to protecting Australia and Australians from all threats.

In terms of our laws, you will be aware that our arrangements are ideologically agnostic and that they focus on the threat of criminality. As a government, we make no distinction in targeting threats to the Australian community. Our agencies—and I commend our agencies—are working hard to tackle the threats from all sources, whether they be from Islamist extremism, right-wing extremism or any other source. Australians should have confidence that Australia's counterterrorism arrangements work equally well for right-wing-motivated groups and individuals as they do for Islamic extremism. I will make the point, though, that under the former Labor government, Labor actually cut $128 million from the AFP between 2010 and 2011, and between 2013 and 2014.

But our laws and arrangements are ideologically agnostic and they focus on threat and criminality.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:39): Minister, a national antiracism strategy has not been funded at the federal level in five years. In a July 2020 inquiry submission the Australian Human Rights Commission reiterated its support for a strategy, stating:

A national anti-racism strategy is necessary to protect the unity, safety and security of our society and to ensure our citizens and diaspora communities are protected from racial discrimination and race hate.

Why does the government continue to refuse to fund a national antiracism strategy?

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:40): Senator Faruqi, you would be aware that we have laws in relation to racism. Those laws already exist and, if you are in breach of those laws, there are consequences.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:40): Is the minister concerned by MPs in the Liberal and National parties who have in the last few years attended far-right rallies, spoken at far-right rallies and engaged with and given interviews to far-right media outlets? Will the minister condemn those members for their behaviour, including George Christensen MP, who last week fessed up to following extremist social media groups? Will you condemn him and others?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator CASH (Western Australia—Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) (14:41): Unfortunately, I did not actually hear the last part of your question, Senator Faruqi, due to the noise in the chamber.

Senator Faruqi: On a point of order: if the minister didn't hear the question because of all the shouting, I would like the indulgence of the Senate to repeat the question.

The PRESIDENT: I was going to ask: can you repeat the last part of your question? I ask senators again to remain silent during the question even if it is a contested matter. There's a time for it to be debated afterwards. Senator Faruqi, if you could repeat the last part of your question.

Senator Faruqi: Will the minister condemn those members for their behaviour, including George Christensen MP, who last week fessed up to following extremist social media groups?

Senator CASH: Thank you, Senator Faruqi. I'm not aware of the circumstances that you are referring to, but certainly I would condemn right-wing extremism. I would condemn left-wing extremism.

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