Australia

Peter Dutton says distinctions between forms of extremism are 'silly, stupid and petty'

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has criticised 'silly' attempts to draw a line between the threat posed by different forms of extremists. Source: AAP

Mr Dutton's comments came as the Australian Federal Police told a parliamentary hearing that right wing extremism posed a growing threat in Australia.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says he won't engage in "silly, stupid and petty" arguments seeking to draw a distinction between the threats posed by different forms of extremists.

“I just don't care what their ideology is what I focus on is a threat, and I've been clear about this in the past, and any suggestion to the contrary is a nonsense,” he told reporters on Friday.   

"We are here to keep Australians safe. There are people seeking to do us harm and I’m not getting into silly, stupid, petty arguments or discussions about that sort of interpretation."

Mr Dutton's comments came as the Australian Federal Police told a parliamentary hearing that right-wing extremism posed a growing threat in Australia.

AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw said they have witnessed a “steady increase” in operations directed towards right-wing extremism and were “alive” to the challenge. 

“It doesn't matter what your beliefs are, if you're planning to harm Australians through violence, we do take that seriously,” Mr Kershaw replied.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally went on to press Mr Kershaw about whether Mr Dutton’s comments were unhelpful in the face of a rising threat. 

She noted evidence showing the motivating ideology does have an impact on preventing radicalisation, countering violent extremism and law enforcement efforts.

“You’re not wrong,” Mr Kershaw replied. 

“Often [the] extreme right-wing - what we’ve seen with our partner agencies is they’re not well structured and often they have their own internal views and that changes and can often change from one topic to the other.”

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Reece Kershaw appears at a Senate estimates hearing.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Reece Kershaw appears at a Senate estimates hearing.
AAP

AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney also said there were differences between the ideologies of right-wing extremism and Islamic terrorism that needed to be considered. 

“It's an interesting comparison with Islamic inspired extremism. They often have the intent but don't have the capability,” he said.   

“But we often find with right-wing extremists and they may have the capability, for example firearms, the challenge is determining what their intent is.” 

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The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation recently said up to 40 per cent of its counterterrorism case load had become linked to right-wing extremism.

However, ASIO chief Mike Burgess said Sunni Islamic extremists remained their “greatest concern” in the group’s most recent annual report, which was released in October.

Electronic surveillance set for overhaul 

The federal government on Friday received a landmark report from former intelligence chief Dennis Richardson reviewing laws governing Australia’s national security community.

Australia's electronic surveillance laws are set for an overhaul after the federal government backed the changes put forward in the 1,600-page document.

It found law enforcement and intelligence were being challenged by criminals going under the radar through new technologies, and that existing frameworks were unnecessarily complex and outpaced by technology.

This included the challenges posed by the dark web, encryption, cryptocurrency, messaging apps, social media and multiple data storage platforms.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, who oversaw the handling of the report, was later himself asked about the threat posed by the rise in right-wing extremist activities.

“It clearly is [a threat] and it sits in these other issues but it has become a growing focus of ASIO in recent times - which it should be,” he told reporters. 

“It just goes again to show that this threat environment is multi-factor, constantly changing and the work of our intelligence communities is to focus on many things at once.”

Additional reporting by AAP. 

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