One terror expert says Australia's move to ban the UK-based Sonnenkrieg Division marks a "significant" step towards countering the threat posed by right-wing extremism.
Australia is set to effectively ban a far-right extremist group for the first time with UK-based Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD) to be formally listed as a terrorist organisation.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed he is proposing to formally proscribe the neo-Nazi group following a recommendation from security agency ASIO.
The far-right group is the United Kingdom arm of the US-based Atomwaffen Division, and has already been outlawed in the UK, where members have been jailed for terror offences.
Mr Dutton has written to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders proposing the group be listed as a “terrorist organisation”.
Terror expert Greg Barton said the move to proscribe the group in Australia marked a “significant” step towards strengthening the government’s response to right-wing extremism.
“It’s not just a symbolic move – it is a very practical move in empowering law enforcement to be able to take action before somebody inspires violence,” he told SBS News.
“If they are not a proscribed group, it is very hard to take action when somebody hasn’t actually committed an act of violence. Stop them promoting, stop them fundraising – stop them recruiting."
There are currently 27 listed terror groups in Australia. Such decisions are made on the advice of security agencies like ASIO.
While the SKD is not believed to have direct links to Australia, it's understood the proscription has been recommended over concerns around the UK-arm promoting extremism in Australia.
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said the group had advocated terrorist acts and inspired UK-based extremists using online propaganda.
"The Government considers that SKD’s active promotion and encouragement of terrorism has the potential to inspire Australia-based extremists," the spokesperson told SBS News in a statement.
Penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment apply for terror offences, including being a member of, training with, or providing support to terrorist organisations.
Australia had been the only country in the Five-Eyes intelligence network - an alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States - yet to officially proscribe a far-right extremist group on its terrorism list.
Labor’s home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, said questions remained over the government’s response to other right-wing extremist groups with links to Australia that are already proscribed by allies.
“Right-wing extremist groups are sophisticated in their use of mainstream media attention to radicalise, recruit and spread insidious ideologies,” she said.
"The question for the Morrison government now is whether those other groups will also be proscribed in Australia.”
Canada last month became the first country to proscribe the Proud Boys on its terror list. At the time, a Canadian civil rights group was among those calling on Australia to follow their country’s example.
The move comes amid growing concern over the threat posed by right-wing groups and individuals in Australia.
A spokesperson for ASIO on Tuesday said extreme right-wing groups and individuals "represent a serious, increasing and evolving threat to security”.
“Extreme right-wing groups are more organised, sophisticated and security conscious than before,” the spokesperson said in a statement to SBS News.
“Unfortunately, increasing numbers of young Australians – some barely in their teens – are being radicalised.”
Earlier this year, a separate far-right group assembled in the Grampians National Park in Victoria, where they reportedly burnt a cross, chanted "white power" and presented Nazi salutes.
A parliamentary committee is investigating the influence of extremist groups that fall short of the legislative threshold for proscription.
This is expected to advise on changes to listing laws to ensure they address the threat environment.
Mr Barton said he believed Sonnenkrieg Division were likely the “first cab off the rank” to be banned and that he expects more right-wing groups could follow.
“There are other groups that will also in time present a similarly strong case but I think it’s because of the UK banning that this particular group has been identified,” he said.
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