The Politics    Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Blinded by the right

By Paddy Manning

Blinded by the right

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on February 6, 2020. © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

The Morrison government is failing to crack down on far-right extremism

The threat of far-right extremism is growing on this government’s watch, and today’s commentary from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton shows why. Last night ASIO director-general Mike Burgess delivered his first annual threat assessment, and highlighted the rise of right-wing extremism, particularly since last year’s horrific Christchurch massacre: “In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology.” Burgess mentioned the right-wing threat half a dozen times. He mentioned the left-wing threat zero times. Yet Dutton, in a doorstop press conference this morning, immediately started gaslighting with a false equivalence about risks on both the far right and far left: “If the proliferation of information into the hands of right-wing lunatics or left-wing lunatics is leading to a threat in our country, then my responsibility is to make sure our agencies are dealing with it, and they are.” Dutton’s wilful blindness apes that of Donald Trump, who infamously claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” after the white supremacist rally at Charlottesville in 2017, where a far-right extremist drove a car into anti-fascist protesters, killing one.

Equating a very real threat to a non-existent one is the same as downplaying it. Downplaying the threat of far-right extremism allows it to flourish, and has very real consequences. Labor’s Tim Watts, for example, responded to Burgess’s speech by pointing out the June 2019 terrorism taskforce recommendation: Australian government agencies, academia, researchers and civil-society bodies that monitor and review terrorist and extremist organisations share with digital platforms indicators of terrorism, terrorist products and depictions of violent crimes. That hasn’t happened.

As deputy Labor leader Richard Marles asked at the beginning of Question Time today, “Why has the Australian government not listed a single right-wing extremist group as a terrorist organisation?” Prime Minister Scott Morrison fobbed that question off with some partisan mudslinging: “In 2013, this government came to office to keep Australians safe, and no government has invested more and applied itself more to give those who are working on counterterrorism in this country the resources they need to go after those who would seek to do Australians harm. That includes right-wing extremists, Mr Speaker. That includes Islamic terrorists – extremist Islamic terrorists, Mr Speaker. Whatever their cause of hate, whatever their motivation to do Australians harm, this government is standing up to them with the resources and the commitments and the legislation and the powers and the tools that those opposite never had the stomach to put in place. And on each occasion, Mr Speaker, it would seem that every time we’ve sought to get stronger national security legislation achieved in this place, those opposite have sought to water it down.”

Morrison cannot give a straight answer about why his government has failed to crack down on right-wing terrorists. Dutton plays down the threat by downright lying – he can point to no left-wing terrorists. So no wonder the threat of right-wing extremism is growing. Notwithstanding ASIO’s efforts, an Australian terrorist last year live-streamed the murder of 51 people at a Christchurch mosque, a horrific act that shares much in common with last week’s anti-immigrant killing spree in Hanau, Germany, in which 10 people were shot dead by a far-right extremist.

The result, too, is a resurgence of anti-Semitism, as Holocaust survivors observed at the recent 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This resurgence is also happening in Australia: the most recent report on anti-Semitism by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry noted a marked increase in some of the more serious categories of incidents including direct verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation and graffiti attacks.

Dutton today said he was proud of the work that ASIO does and “very, very proud of the speech last night, frankly, that Mike Burgess made”. So perhaps he should do something about it.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“WikiLeaks has published evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse and corruption the world over. It’s for this that Julian Assange sits in a high security prison facing 175 years in prison in the United States … This is a political prosecution. We’ve also heard in court today the mistreatment that he will suffer if he is returned to the United States … This is an unprecedented attack on free speech, and an unprecedented attack that could be used against the rest of the media.”

Julian Assange’s lawyer speaks to journalists outside a London court hearing that will decide whether he is extradited to the United States.

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“The vulnerability assessment will involve entities estimating the potential physical impacts of a changing climate, including extreme weather events, on their balance sheet, as well as the risks that may arise from the global transition to a low-carbon economy.”

A Monday letter to all major banks, insurers and super funds from APRA executive board member Geoff Summerhayes, flags the regulator will next year conduct assessments of climate vulnerability designed in conjunction with CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The list

“Koang has toured extensively in the United States and Canada, and first played shows in Australia in 2012, two years before he and Biel claimed asylum here. The two men are members of the Nuer tribe, South Sudan’s second-largest ethnic group. In 2013, the outbreak of the South Sudanese Civil War saw Nuer people massacred in pogroms led by government soldiers loyal to the country’s reigning president, Salva Kiir, of the majority Dinka people. This targeted ethnic violence was particularly dangerous for Koang, who was born blind.”

“No one can yet estimate the eventual cost of COVID-19, because we don’t know the future course of the disease. There are some signs its spread is being contained in China, but meanwhile it is spreading to other nations. What we can be sure of is that it will be much greater than SARS. China is far more enmeshed with global markets than it was in the early 2000s, and its economy is now by some estimates the second-largest in the world.” 

“Grant has had talks with both sides of politics about running for parliament … He is already ‘in politics’, he says. ‘I’ve realised that the classical role of detached broadcaster is too tight a fit for me now. I’m in advocacy.’”

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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