Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Australian Centre for Social Cohesion Bill 2015; Second Reading
I seek leave to have my second reading speech to the Australian Centre for Social Cohesion Bill 2015, which was introduced on my behalf on 9 February, incorporated into Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
In Australia, we currently lack a comprehensive national plan to address extremism in our communities. If we are to address these issues at their root, if we are to work to prevent attitudes that accept terrorism and violence as acceptable, then we need to invest in programs that build social cohesion and work to prevent young Australians from becoming radicalised.
As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said, "the best response to a corrosive, malevolent ideology is a strong assertion of collective resistance". It is this collective, comprehensive and unified response that the Australian Centre for Social Cohesion Bill 2014 pursues. The Bill establishes a centralised body to develop and implement key preventative programs that help stop young Australians from becoming radicalised. The Centre and its Director will focus on building social cohesion, working with communities to prevent violent extremism. Through bringing together government bodies, law enforcement agencies, academics, researchers and former extremists to consult and work together to build resilient and cohesive communities, the Centre will be well equipped to develop high quality, effective programs for social cohesion.
Currently in Australia, we are under-investing in prevention programs for young Australians at risk of involvement with extremist groups and ideology. To put it in perspective, of the $630 million Counter-Terrorism package currently being implemented by the Australian Government, just $13.4m is allocated in Australia to for prevention programs targeting young Australians involved with extremist groups. That's a mere, 0.5% of the total budget. Of this total funding, just $1 million is currently being utilised, leaving an enormous funding and capacity gap that fails our community.
The lack of a central body dedicated to building social cohesion in our communities or preventing extremism compounds the impacts of this under-investment. Though we currently have in place individual programs such as Countering Violent Extremism, a four-year grant program that works to deter young people from extremism, this has been subject to cuts in funding at a time when we should be investing even more in such schemes.
Furthermore, as Australian violent extremism expert Dr Anne Aly has noted, "Other countries including the UK, Sweden and the US have non-government and not-for-profits working specifically to combat violent extremism, but in Australia much of the work is taken on by government or the research community. There are of course NGOs [Non-Government Organisations] who have developed projects that aim to address the root causes of violent extremism but there was no entity that could take on a coordinating role bringing together government, research and community. This is where we see ourselves having the most impact."
The establishment of the Australian Centre for Social Cohesion would act to break down this siloed approach, bringing together groups from various sectors to develop effective and comprehensive policies to address radicalisation. Research and experience has proven that violent extremism is best dealt with by civil society groups, in coordination and consultation with government and law enforcement agencies. In Australia, this is illustrated in groups such as People against Violent Extremism (PAVE), which grew out of recognition that civil society is a vital player in conflict resolution and developing community resilience against extremism. We also know that countering violent extremism through early intervention and individual and community engagement represents a smarter approach that recognises social as well as political and ideological factors that can make people vulnerable to extremism. This Bill, and the functions and powers of the Australian Centre for Social Cohesion that it outlines, puts into practice these findings.
Community engagement and consultation is necessary, but they do not hold all of the answers alone. Diversionary and educational programs, along with strong online campaigns, are all part of a necessary strategy to help stop young Australians becoming radicalised. It is not about targeting one particular community, but rather a collective approach across multiple communities, government and academia, to implement programs and strategies that that are more targeted at identified points in radicalisation where intervention is likely to succeed. We cannot continue to rely on decisions from the bureaucratic level alone. We need recognise that our failings, both at a government and community level, in preventing radicalisation, is largely due to a policy response that was based on assumptions rather than on a framework that has had proven success. Research from Curtin University has found that deradicalisation programs delivered by government "lack viability and credibility within the target group and are most likely to be viewed manipulative and agenda serving." By enabling relevant NGOs, community leaders, government departments and academic experts to come together we will be able to develop a best practice model for combating violent extremism.
There is precedent around the world for success using this model. The Australian Centre for Social Cohesion framework, focusing on community, government, research and dialogue, is largely based on Hedayah, the premier international institution for training and research to counter violent extremism. The Bill takes this successful international model, and replicates it at a domestic level, focused on the Australian circumstance, and tailoring their research and training to our domestic needs. Hedayah works closely with communities and stakeholders (e.g. youth, women, educators and community leaders) who have traditionally been on the outer when it comes to developing policies to combat violent extremism.
If we are serious about dealing with extremism and terrorism, we must not isolate our focus to reacting to acts of terror and extremism, but also be serious about prevention. Identifying those at risk, finding pathways to deradicalisation, and bringing together the community to find collective solutions, must be a focus of our proactive response to extremism as a nation. The establishment of the Australian Centre for Social Cohesion will provide the foundation that Australia needs to effectively implement such a response.