Australia

Australia isn't doing enough to combat right-wing radicals, say extremism experts

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The Coalition has spent more than $50 million on stopping violent extremism, but critics say the focus has centred too much on the threat of Islamists.

In the fallout of the Christchurch terror attacks, experts on radicalisation have questioned if Australia is doing enough to combat right-wing extremism on home soil.

Goverment funding to curb violent radicalisation primarily comes from the federal level, with states and territories delivering local programs as they see fit.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told SBS News the Coalition had allocated more than $53 million to countering violent extremism (CVE) programs since 2013-2014, including more than $13 million for intervention programs.

The government strategy involves working with at-risk communities "to counter violent extremism and recover from extremist events", "supporting the diversion of individuals at risk of being drawn to violent extremism" and "rehabilitating and reintegrate violent extremists when possible".

"Intervention programs are a key activity ... and include support from a range of community organisations, including local religious leaders, psychologists, employment services, as well as social and cultural activities," the spokesperson said.

A vigil in Christchurch after the attacks.
Two man embrace at a vigil in Christchurch following the mosque attacks.
AAP

But experts say over recent years, the majority of CVE programs at state and territory level have focused on Islamic extremism.

This may have been at the expense of other potential threats, they say, with the ABC reporting on Wednesday the only organisation working to prevent far-right extremism in NSW had its federal funding cut in 2014.

"There is certainly more knowledge, more funding and more engagement with communities ... who are potentially vulnerable to Islamic extremism," said the director of national security policy at the ANU's National Security College, Jacinta Carroll.

"My sense is that on the ground, most of the attention has been on Muslim communities, trying to build their resilience."

A memorial for Christchurch victims.
A memorial for Christchurch victims.
AAP

SBS News asked the department how much funding has been allocated to address right-wing extremism in recent years but did not receive an answer.

"Our intervention programs take an ideology neutral approach and cater for all drivers of radicalisation to violence," the spokesperson said. 

Ms Carroll said the Christchurch attacks should act as "a trigger for reviewing if we have the mix right" around potential threats and a "rebalancing" to better address right-wing extremism.

"Are we looking at those other affected communities ... If not putting in more resources, at least focussing and understand that's an area of attention," she said.

"Terrorism in the public mind tends to be associated with Islamists and we need some reminders about what other motivations might be present and should be reported."

A 'wake-up call' for Australia

In his teens, James Fry spent just under a year with a Sydney neo-Nazi group, which he chooses not to name.

Having experienced Australia's far-right fringes, Mr Fry agreed that much more needs to done to curb that kind of radicalisation.

The group he was part of started to self-implode amid governance quarrels and he got out with the help of his family and professional support. 

Now 36, he works as an educator and consultant, aiming to stop others from going down a similar path.

"We need to educate people from a very early age how to be critical consumers of information that's out there. We need to have young people see the facts behind what they're being given ... Early intervention is the key," he said.

"If we can't listen actively and engage with people empathetically, at least in those early stages, they are much more susceptible to a far-right group or a religious-inspired group, who will say 'no-one else is listening to your fears, we'll listen to you and welcome you with open arms'."

James Fry
James Fry now works as an educator.

He also warned against "shaming or condemning people who may even have ignorant views on certain topics" as he believes it "runs the risk of fuelling that sense of perceived victimhood that extremist groups thrive on". 

Mr Fry echoed other concerns that politicians had been overly-focused on the threat of Islamic terror and even "ignoring the rise of far-right speech".

"Parties and figures you would have once considered moderate have played along with it or if not played along, not actively condemned it ... hopefully, [the Christchurch attack] has been a bit of a wake-up call."

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But Mr Fry also warned against "identity politics" when discussing current extremist threats.

"The real overarching threat is extremism. And while we have to acknowledge the differences between extremist groups, it helps not to get too involved in the identity politics because all that further does is fuel the division and fuel the sense of victimhood these groups feel."

Hate on the internet

The Christchurch attacks have also highlighted how far-right groups use the internet.

"I'm not surprised [the man charged is Australian], unfortunately. I was absolutely shocked by the attack but the way these ideologies work ... these narratives are now spread online at a much greater speed," Mr Fry said.

Ms Carroll said "right-wing extremist groups are very vocal online and are operating in an environment that is essentially ungoverned and typically is outside of Australian jurisdiction."

The spokesperson the Department of Home Affairs said, "in the online space, the government acts to reduce exposure to terrorist propaganda, working with a range of platforms to flag content for takedown".

They said the government recently allocated an additional $900,000 "to support initiatives to engage a wide range of influential people to understand and counter online hate".

Ms Carrol said the government can put more pressure on local and international companies that may facilitate hate speech and foster extremist views online.

"What government needs to focus more effort on is engaging with businesses and telecommunication companies that provide those spaces and remind them of their moral responsibility to ensure they are not harmful spaces, that they're not incubating harm," she said.

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