“We’re finding now that in terms of right-wing extremism, that the concern for us is young persons being radicalised online – very aggressively in relation to right-wing extremism,” he said.
Australia’s security agencies have for some time warned of the increasing danger posed by right-wing extremists becoming more organised and active in Australia, through its surveillance activities.
In his evidence, Deputy Commissioner McCartney said the AFP also continues to see more investigations of right-wing groups taking place.
But he did not reveal exact numbers, arguing it could jeopardise active matters.
“We have seen an increase, we see it as a real and ongoing threat … so for us it is an increasing workload,” he said.
Mr McCartney said Islamic-inspired terrorism continued to be the biggest threat, with Sydney and Melbourne the centres of that activity.
But he said the threat remains across the country, due to the tendency for right-wing extremism to spread online.
“What we see with right-wing extremism, particularly with the effect and the power of the internet in terms of those sites, it's apparent that it is more spread throughout Australia,” he said.
The domestic spy agency ASIO has reported far-right violent extremism now accounts for up to 40 per cent of its counter-terrorism workload, up from 10 to 15 per cent before 2016.
ASIO director general Mike Burgess later told the Senate estimates committee his agency has diverted additional resources towards dealing with the evolving threat, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Many of these groups and individuals have seized upon COVID-19, believing it reinforces the narrative and conspiracies at the core of the ideologies," he said.
"They see the pandemic as proof of the failure of globalisation, multiculturalism and democracy and confirmation that societal collapse and a race-war are inevitable."
Mr McCartney recognised the AFP’s power to intervene against the threat through a law enforcement approach but said this must also be addressed across the community through public messaging and education.
“The importance of leaders in the community to dispel some of the hatred that’s circulated on the internet,” he said.
With additional reporting by AAP