Australia has lessons to learn about battling right-wing terror from an investigation into the Christchurch terror attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, with calls for an inquiry into the “accelerating” threat on our soil.
The sprawling 800-page Royal Commission report says the Australian man who massacred 51 worshippers at two mosques in 2019 was heavily influenced by hateful content on YouTube and by domestic far-right groups.
“We need to take this threat seriously as a Parliament,” Labor senator Kristina Keneally warned, in calling for a federal inquiry into right-wing extremism in Australia.
“We need to ask: Are our laws countering violent extremism and preventing radicalisation tools fit for purpose for right-wing extremism?”
Brenton Tarrant, born in 1990 in northern NSW, used semi-automatic weapons to gun down dozens of people at Christchurch mosques on March 15 last year.
He hadn’t lived in Australia for some time before the attack, but had been linked to numerous Australian far-right groups and subscribed to the racist ‘great replacement’ theory that white Europeans were being pushed out by people of diverse backgrounds.
The terrorist pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism, and was sentenced in August to life in prison without parole.
A New Zealand Royal Commission into the attack, publicly released on Tuesday, found he was a supporter of numerous Australian far-right groups including the United Patriots Front, True Blue Crew and the Lads Society.
He also donated money to far-right and extremist groups around the world.
Speaking on the report’s release, Ms Ardern said there had been failings in police and intelligence services in NZ, and that there may be learnings for Australia too, and planned to speak to PM Scott Morrison about the findings.
“The report does identify that there wasn’t any record within our [or] within Australia’s intelligence agencies over the terrorist,” she said.
“Having read the report in its entirety I certainly will point Prime Minister Morrison to any elements of the report that may be helpful to their system as well.
“I have no doubt our agencies will do the same.”
The release of the Royal Commission report saw the Labor Party renew calls for greater attention on right-wing extremism in Australia.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said recently that right-wing terror accounted for up to 40 per cent of its current workload, and that an attack was possible in Australia.
Senator Keneally, who has consistently pushed for greater scrutiny on the threat, wants a parliamentary inquiry into the issue, which she said was “accelerating”.
“The Australian Federal Police has highlighted that they have teams working on this growing threat and they are concerned about the fact that right-wing extremists have more ready access to firearms than other terrorist groups, such as violent Islamic jihadism,” she told The New Daily at a press conference on Tuesday.
In an interview with SBS, Senator Keneally claimed Australia had “never really came to see how he was so radicalised” here.
.@KKeneally: "We’ve never had a proper conversation in Australia about the extent to which the Christchurch shooter was radicalised in this country. One of our own committed that heinous act we’ve never really came to see how he was so radicalised in Australia." @SBSNews #auspol pic.twitter.com/95q5rj2mzQ
— Pablo Viñales (@pablovinales) December 8, 2020
She added that Australia was the only one of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partner nations to not have listed any right-wing groups on its terror watchlist.
“When we’ve got groups that are prescribed overseas in our partner countries that have chapters here, we need to ask ourselves, is there something wrong with our prescription laws that doesn’t allow the listing of these groups as terrorist organisations?” Senator Keneally asked.
“We cannot afford to be complacent. There are several areas of our counterterrorism laws and policies that require review and possible changes.”
She wrote to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Attorney-General Christian Porter asking for such an inquiry to be referred to the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
She said she had not received a response to the letter, sent on November 23.
Mr Dutton said at a press conference last week that calls to differentiate between right-wing terror and other types of terror were “silly, stupid, petty arguments”.
“If there’s a lunatic who’s preaching some neo-Nazi propaganda or some perverted interpretation of the Koran, and they’re with the same desire to hurt Australians; they get treated exactly the same by me and by ASIO and by our agencies,” the minister said.
“[Police] look at the risk wherever people are on a spectrum and they are treated no differently.”
Labor’s proposed inquiry would include scrutiny on the “hate symbols online”, and on how communications and internet authorities are monitoring such threats.
This has particular resonance with the Christchurch report, with findings the shooter considered video site YouTube a “significant source of information and inspiration” for his attack.
“His exposure to [YouTube] content may have contributed to his actions on 15 March, 2019 – indeed, it is plausible to conclude that it did,” the report stated.