Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Report

6:14 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on its Review of the listing of Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, and I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I rise today to present a statement of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for the review of the regulations listing the Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Regulations that specify an organisation as a terrorist organisation cease to have effect on the third anniversary of the day on which they take effect. Organisations can be re-listed, provided the minister is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation continues to directly or indirectly engage in terrorism or advocate the doing of a terrorist act.

The Sonnenkrieg Division has not previously been listed as a terrorist organisation by the Australian government. It is the first extreme right-wing organisation to be listed in Australia. The committee is currently conducting an inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia and may make further recommendations.

The regulations to list the Sonnenkrieg Division were tabled in the parliament on 23 March 2021.

The committee's review examines the minister's decision to list this organisation. Section 102.1A of the Criminal Code provides that the committee may review a regulation which lists or re-lists an organisation as a terrorist organisation and report its comments and recommendations to each house of the parliament before the end of the applicable 15 sitting-day disallowance period. This statement serves this purpose and is being presented within the required period.

In determining whether the regulations listing this organisation should be supported, the committee reviewed the merits in accordance with the Minister for Home Affairs's explanatory statement, ASIO's statement of reasons for the organisation, and other publicly available information. This included a submission received from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Their submission is supportive of the listing and makes note of the threat to the Australia-Jewish community by individuals and groups who have racist and nationalist ideologies and suggests the government consider additional approaches to combating the threat.

In its deliberations, the committee determined that:

    Whilst Australians are not directly involved in SKD its encouragement, promotion and glorification of lone-actor attacks could inspire some Australian extremists, and the availability of SKD propaganda online has the potential to contribute to the radicalisation of others.

    The committee encourages the government to continue investigating other like-minded organisations with a mind to listing them as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code, if they meet the criteria. The committee will continue its own investigations in this regard through its concurrent inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia.

    In examining the evidence that has been provided, the committee is satisfied with the listing processes and considers that they have been followed appropriately for this organisation. The committee therefore supports the listing of the organisation under division 102 of the Criminal Code in order to protect Australians and Australia's interests, and finds no reason to disallow the regulations.

    6:18 pm

    Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

    I rise to take note of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security's statement for the review of regulations listing Sonnenkrieg Division as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code Act 1995. I acknowledge the comments of the chair of the committee, Senator Paterson, and do associate myself with his remarks as a member of the intelligence and security committee. I note that this is a bipartisan report and a unanimous report of the intelligence and security committee. I also wish to place on the record my appreciation for the way in which the committee operates in the national interest and in a bipartisan fashion. I do want to make some comments regarding the listing of the Sonnenkrieg Division and the rise of right-wing extremism in Australia, but, in doing so, I want to be clear that I support Senator Paterson in his remarks and the listing that has been provided here today.

    Sonnenkrieg Division is the first right-wing organisation to be listed in Australia.

    For anyone who has been paying attention, the fact that right-wing extremist groups have found an audience in Australia sadly comes as no shock. What is shocking is that it has taken this government this long to prescribe just one right-wing terrorist organisation. What is shocking is how long it has taken for this government to realise how very real and very serious the threat posed by right-wing extremism is to our safety and our democracy. I do use the term 'right-wing extremism' deliberately. As the ASIO director-general said, he is using terms such as 'religiously motivated' and 'politically motivated ideology', but he also acknowledges that it is appropriate at times to use the specific term 'right-wing extremism' to name the threat that we face, and this is certainly an appropriate term to use in the context of the Sonnenkrieg Division. What is shocking is that this government has not done more to censure those in its own ranks who promote or permit dangerous right-wing ideas.

    Last month, the ASIO director-general, Mr Mike Burgess, told Senate estimates that right-wing extremism is approaching 50 per cent of ASIO's counterterrorism workload. Only three years ago, that was just 16 per cent. In those three years, we have watched in horror as an Australian man, a right-wing extremist who was radicalised here in this country, attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people and injuring dozens more. We've seen his manifesto and his actions spread and find an audience online, joining other racist, divisive and hateful ideas that seek to inspire acts of harm, and we've watched those who expound such ideas deliberately navigate the law as it stands to avoid sanction, even as they clearly encourage violence, display paraphernalia and propagate ideas that disgust and dismay.

    We've watched again in horror as the product of a conspiracy theory and the extreme right-wing attacked the United States Capitol in January. It was a day when democracy came under direct assault from an ideology that many were too slow to take seriously. Yet this was the day that the Prime Minister's good friend, far-Right conspiracy theorist Tim Stewart, described as 'one of the greatest days on earth'. The FBI has warned us that this was no anomaly and that QAnon and its far-Right bedfellows could carry out more violence. That's a warning that came as recently as this week. The NYPD has warned that this is a broad movement with anti-Semitic underpinnings, and the Biden administration has warned of the risks of underestimating how quickly and easily far-Right digital campaigns can cross into the physical domain.

    In January, in Washington, we saw all too clearly what happens when the far Right is allowed political space, when far-Right extremist thinking is not immediately excised and far-Right extremist proponents are not immediately exiled from political influence. That such thinking can gain traction in some members opposite and, most concerningly, in the personal relationships of Australia's Prime Minister should appal us all. We should be appalled that someone who could believe in and promote such fear and hatred could be trusted by Mr Morrison to house-sit the official residence at Kirribilli, and it should appal us that Mr Morrison will still not answer questions about whether he has received briefings from his department or other agencies on the dangers posed by QAnon.

    We cannot let extreme right-wing views gain any more ground here, for we have seen how very quickly what seems like a fringe idea, what seems ridiculous and unthinkable, can become a tragic, terrifying reality. Here in Australia, our security agencies are warning of the increasing threat posed by right-wing extremism. Mr Burgess said it was 50 per cent of ASIO's domestic terrorism workload. Yet this government has only seen fit to list one right-wing group, and only this year.

    Our Five Eyes partners have been awake to this threat for some time. We are the last of our partners to recognise right-wing extremism for the terrorism that it is, but the Morrison government has, sadly, been caught sleeping. This is why Labor called for a bipartisan inquiry into extremist movements and radicalisation. What we've heard from the experts so far is that right-wing extremists in Australia are more organised, sophisticated, ideological and active than ever before. In Australia, this year, right-wing extremists have been arrested on counterterrorism charges, in possession of weapons and improvised explosives, and right-wing extremist groups have gathered openly, burning crosses, chanting Nazi slogans and championing white supremacy in open defiance of everything that Australia stands for as a country and as a society. Make no mistake: the threat of right-wing extremism is real, and it is increasing.

    The PJCIS found that Australians had little direct involvement with Sonnenkrieg Division but that it had reached into Australia via its online activities and posed a threat through its potential to radicalise and its incitement of terrorist attacks. But there are other far-right extremist groups active in Australia that also meet the requirements of prescription. They are hiding in plain sight. They are the ones gathering and terrorising our community here in Australia already. The pandemic has shifted more of our interactions online, and this, along with the economic and social impacts and the anxieties and uncertainties of the last 15 months, has intensified the spread of right-wing extremist narratives. What is most concerning—terrifying even—is that some in the media and some in politics entertain these insidious, dangerous views. We cannot allow the mainstreaming of these views. The Morrison government must sever itself from those who promote or give comfort to conspiracies and far-Right extremist views, even if they exist in the coalition party room.

    The Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, never takes responsibility. He always finds someone else to blame, but this is about our safety and our democracy. This responsibility is too important for him to shirk. We need to deny territory online and otherwise to the extreme right wing and their corrosive ideas. We must work with online providers to monitor and remove abhorrent, violent, extremist right-wing content. We must encourage prevention through improved deradicalisation programs and interrupt radicalisation when it's occurring. We must ensure our security agencies have the right funding, settings and legislation to combat the evolving far-Right extremist threat. The government has the prescription powers to list extremist right-wing groups as terrorist organisations. They should do so to make abundantly clear that Australia will not tolerate racist, divisive and violent ideology. I call on the government to make clear that they care about the safety of all Australians by listening to our national security experts and taking the threat of far-Right extremists seriously.

    Question agreed to.