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Australia: Focus on ‘Islamist’ extremism linked to rise neo-Nazi extremism

8th Jul 2022

Harun Nasrullah

A “myopic” focus on Islamist extremism post-September 11 has prevented Australian authorities from detecting burgeoning far-right extremism in the country, experts have told a parliamentary inquiry in the south-eastern state of Victoria.

The inquiry is looking into right-wing nationalism, including how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the movement and acted as a breeding ground for recruits. During the hearings, which began on June 14, it was noted that children as young as 10 were being radicalised by neo-Nazis.

Michael Stanton, President of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (VCCL), said that while the threat of far-right extremism was real and needed to be addressed, his organisation was concerned about encroaching on broader human rights and civil liberties in a bid to combat extremism.

“We need to make sure that in responding to those confronting scenes in the Grampians, whether it be Nazi salutes, displays of the swastika or the erection of gallows outside parliament, we do not have a legislative response that throws the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

“Sometimes that involves tolerating speech that we find offensive or humiliating.”
Stanton also said that while Islamist extremism continued to be a threat, authorities’ singular focus on it since 9/11 had allowed for right-wing nationalism to fester undetected.

“There has been a myopic focus on Islamist extremism over the past 20 years in Australia at the cost, in our view, of focusing on other areas, including the emergence of far-right or neo-Nazis and the danger they present to the community,” he said.

“The drivers [of far-right extremism] need to be addressed because, as we’ve seen with movements of the alt-right, and as we’ve seen with only some of the people at the anti-COVID restriction rallies, there is a real presence, and something needs to be done about it practically and pragmatically.”

Stanton said restoring faith and trust in institutions, including the parliament and media, was vital to combating extremism.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation found in 2020 that far-right violent extremism accounted for 40percent of its counter-terrorism caseload, up from 10-15 percent before 2016.

The inquiry will report back to parliament by August, and the government will be given six months to respond.

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