'Myopic' focus on extremism hurting monitoring of far-right movement, Victorian inquiry told

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry has been told law enforcement agencies' focus on Islamist extremism has come at the expense of targeting the far-right.

A man speaking.

Liberty Victoria President Michael Stanton speaking during the inquiry into extremism in Victoria. Source: AAP / PR IMAGE

A "myopic" focus on Islamist extremism in Australia since 2001's September 11 attacks in the United States has come at the expense of monitoring the far-right movement, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry has been told.

Victoria's Legal and Social Issues Committee is investigating the recent emergence of far-right extremism, and as pandemic legislation was debated last year.

Liberty Victoria President Michael Stanton acknowledged far-right extremism is real but suggested politicians must be careful not to blindly expand executive powers, surveillance and censorship to combat its influence.

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"We need to make sure that in responding to those confronting scenes in the Grampians ... or the erection of gallows outside parliament, that we do not have a legislative response that throws the baby out with the bathwater," Mr Stanton said.

"Sometimes that involves tolerating speech that we find offensive or humiliating."
The barrister said Australian law enforcement agencies and politicians' focus has been drawn away from neo-Nazis and other right-wing movements over the past 20 years by Islamist extremism.

“The focus needs to be on those who are a real threat of engaging in violence,” Mr Stanton said.

“Everyone wants to keep the community safe, everyone wants to stop something like Christchurch happening in Australia but at what cost?”

The Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 left 51 Muslims dead when two mosques were targeted.

He said it was unhelpful to stigmatise a "disparate" group of protesters, , by connecting them to extremism.

"If we lump those people in with extremists, and if they feel disrespected, then this only will reinforce the messages of those extremists that the government isn't to be trusted," he said.

Institutional transparency, repairing faith in government and media, and separation of powers are "fundamental" in halting right-wing extremism, he said, not sweeping reforms.

"To cast their net more broadly risks increasing stigmatisation — the kind of stigmatisation faced by the Muslim community, or parts of the Muslim community, in Australia for almost two decades — and risks being counterproductive," Mr Stanton said.
Chair of the inquiry Samantha Ratnam of the Greens previously said she wants an investigation into far-right extremists and their links to anti-vaccination groups.

The inquiry was announced in February after a push from the Greens following the neo-Nazi gathering in the Grampians, uncovered by investigative journalist Nick McKenzie.

The Nine newspapers and 60 Minutes reporter, who infiltrated the National Socialist Network, said Victoria is not doing enough to stop the radicalisation of children online.

He warned they “are susceptible to taking the next step” and that it’s important to further explore how to better reach youth.

An interim report into radicalisation and extremist movements from the federal parliamentary committee on intelligence and security earlier this year reported children as young as 13 are embracing extremism.

The Victorian inquiry continues on Wednesday when researchers will appear as witnesses.

- With Stephanie Corsetti.

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3 min read
Published 14 June 2022 at 7:06pm, updated 14 June 2022 at 7:14pm
By Stephanie Corsetti
Source: SBS, AAP