Far-right groups claim they have attempted to make public submissions to a Parliamentary inquiry set up to explore the threat posed by extremist movements.
The groups claim their input has been rejected by federal politicians, prompting a rare explanation from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) that it is still closely considering how to deal with “the sensitive subject” of the inquiry.
It comes as tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter – which will appear before the committee’s landmark first hearings this week – push back on the idea of more regulation and on creating ‘back doors’ to unlock encrypted messaging apps used by extremist groups.
The PJCIS inquiry was set up in late 2020 with a remit to investigate “the nature and extent of, and threat posed by, extremist movements and persons holding extremist views” – specifically “lslamist and far right-wing extremist groups”.
Now, several of these groups claim to have made submissions to the inquiry.
Far-right groups ‘publicly challenge’ Parliament
One group, which describes itself as a national socialist and white nationalist organisation – and which The New Daily has decided not to name – used an encrypted social media platform to claim to its followers that the PJCIS “refused to accept” a seven-page submission it said it had sent.
In messages seen by TND, one of the group’s leaders said he was concerned the inquiry would lead to the group being proscribed as a terrorist organisation.
In the submission, the group’s founder said he wanted to “publicly challenge” the inquiry, and denied the group aimed to use violence.
The submission ended with the neo-Nazi group offering its members to appear before the PJCIS.
TND has been told by sources close to the inquiry that at least one other far-right group – an Australian chapter of an international organisation – has also sent a submission to the PJCIS.
However, just 18 submissions have been published on the committee’s website, all from academics, police agencies, or social media networks, and none from any extremist groups.
Sources close to the inquiry, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security issues related to the PJCIS, said numerous other submissions were still being assessed before being accepted or published.
It has led to the publication of a rare statement of explanation on the committee’s website.
“The committee has received a great deal of interest in this inquiry and, due to the sensitive subject, is considering various matters prior to publishing evidence received,” it read.
“If you have made a submission or provided information to the inquiry and it has not been published, you may be assured that your document is being considered by the committee and is part of the overall evidence received for the inquiry.”
In previous submissions to the inquiry, Victoria Police warned that right-wing extremist groups were drawing new supporters from wellness and anti-vaxxer communities, using the COVID pandemic and outrage over border closures as a “recruiting tool”.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, which recently warned right-wing terror made up 40 per cent of its workload, said the pandemic “exacerbated a range of anti-government, anti-5G, anti-vaccination and pro-conspiracy narratives”.
ASIO and the Australian Federal Police will appear before the inquiry on Thursday, with Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a number of anti-extremism academics appearing on Friday.
Tech companies push back on regulation
In its submission, Twitter said social media companies “have a critical role” but content moderation or banning users “will not solve these issues in isolation”.
“There is no one solution to prevent an individual turning to violence,” Twitter said.
“This is a long-term problem requiring a long-term response, not just the removal of content,” it said, noting that clamping down on hateful content often saw it move “into darker corners of the internet where they cannot be challenged”.
Facebook’s submission said the company banned 250 white supremacist organisations and 900 “militarised social movements” from its platform, including Australian groups.
Company executives noted about 0.1 per cent of “views of content” on Facebook contained hate speech, and estimated 0.05 per cent of content views contained “terrorist” speech.
In noting that hate groups have migrated to encrypted messaging or social media apps to spread their views, Facebook pushed back on calls for governments to force tech companies to create “back doors” and help law enforcement circumvent secret communications.
Facebook’s submission called end-to-end encryption “the best security tool available to protect Australians from cybercriminals”, and said creating back doors through “increasingly interventionist laws” was not the answer to rising extremism.
“Facebook is committed to working with law enforcement, policymakers, experts and civil society organisations to develop ways of detecting bad actors without needing access to the content of encrypted messages,” the company said.
Google’s submission said it was “unable to provide to law enforcement” the content of encrypted messages, but promised to hand over “a wealth of data” in metadata like call location or phone numbers.
“Strong encryption doesn’t create a law-free zone,” Google claimed.