PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra:
The Prime Minister eloquently began his national security statement last week in the following way:
When innocent people are dying at the hands of violent extremists, no matter where in the world this is happening, hard questions are asked of societies like our own—hard questions for which there are no easy answers. For all freedom-loving nations, the message could not be clearer: if we want to preserve the values that underpin our open, democratic societies, we will have to work resolutely with each other to defend and protect the freedoms we hold dear.
I believe that this issue, the rise of Islamic extremism and the challenge to our most fundamental Western values, will be the issue of our generation. We discuss this in the context of the atrocities in Paris where 130 people were murdered by sympathisers of ISIS. But, tragically, this is just the most recent attack by Islamists. Earlier in the year, journalists and Jews were targeted in Paris in the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In Australia, in the middle of Sydney, Man Haron Monis took hostage a cafe full of ordinary Australians for almost 17 hours. Tragically, two people were killed. We then watched as a 15-year-old boy brandishing a pistol shot dead Curtis Cheng outside the Parramatta police station.
These are the attacks where the terrorists have inflicted casualties. Australian authorities have stopped many other attacks by ISIS sympathises, including planned attacks on the MCG, our modern-day Colosseum. Since September 2014, 26 people have been charged as a result of 10 counter-terrorism operations around Australia. That is more than one-third of the terrorism related charges since 2001. Future attacks on Australian soil are now probable, according to our security agencies.
As the Paris attacks show, terrorists could strike anywhere—at the theatre, a normal cafe, a sport event or an office building. The terrorists seek to instil fear in our society. I have been in parliament just five years but, in that time, the official threat levels have risen, a number of attacks have occurred, including in Endeavour Hills, just across the hills from my electorate, and the amount of security is noticeably higher. Armed officers now guard this building.
The Prime Minister is right: in such a situation, hard questions are asked of our society. That includes questions such as: how did it come to this? What is the fundamental cause? Does Islam play any role? How can we prevent further atrocities occurring? These are difficult questions in part because of our strong desire to not wrongly offend or characterise the vast majority of Muslims in Australia and abroad who are just going about their daily lives like anyone else. However, we cannot ignore the fact that the violence is conducted in the name of Islam. It is also important not to deny the link, as it neuters the important voices that seek to challenge the religious interpretation of the extremists. So, as tough as these questions are, and as difficult as they are to answer, we must have a mature, open conversation about the issues. If we do not discuss them maturely then a Pauline Hanson may rise to discuss them in a very divisive way. This was the lesson of her rise in the 1990s.
In my view, there are three interconnected issues that must be addressed. The first is destroying ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as it has become the poisonous source of information, propaganda and organisational capability that is coordinating or at least inspiring much of the violent extremism today. Defeating ISIS is the ultimate aim of the coalition effort led by the United States. Australia has the second largest contribution of the 60 nations involved in the effort in Iraq. We have six FA18s involved in missions in that theatre, with 240 personnel in the Air Task Group, 90 special forces advisers and around 300 soldiers training the Iraqi army at Taji. The special forces are authorised by our government to advise and assist Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service in the field at headquarters level.
There is debate about whether we need to do more, including having troops on the ground. Clearly this could not be done without the leadership of the United States. Further, as the Prime Minister has noted, the government of Iraq believes that large-scale Western troop operations in its country could be counterproductive. If there were any request to a change in Australia’s contribution to the effort by our allies, that would be considered by the government.
The second issue is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to stop terrorism occurring on Australian soil. The government has boosted the resources of our security agencies and we have introduced five new packages of counter-terror legislation. This has included reviewing ASIO, ensuring the AFP has the necessary powers in relation to control orders and preventative detention orders, legislating mandatory retention of metadata and, overall, ensuring our criminal law is effective in all areas. Last year, the government committed an additional $630 million to better resource our security agencies. Taken all together, our agencies are now much better equipped to tackle the threat of terrorism head on. But more can always be done.
Finally, we have to address the ideological foundations that provide the platform for extremists to commit violence. This is an ideological battle for the hearts of minds of people as much as it is a policing matter. As British Prime Minister David Cameron said:
No one becomes a terrorist from a standing start.
He said that:
It starts with a process of radicalisation. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.
It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination.
This is what we must be clear about: the cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.
There are, in my view, too many journalists, leftists, social commentators and community leaders who subscribe to so-called causative factors to explain the violence and mass murder. They suggest it is poverty, our foreign policy or our security laws that are to blame. But this is wrong and must be rejected. No-one commits mass murder because they are out of a job and struggling with their finances. Moreover, many terrorists come from middle-class families and have a good education. Our foreign policy, including our support for the state of Israel, is equally not to blame. The biggest terrorist attack—9/11—occurred before the Iraq war, the intervention most commonly named. Our security laws have been tightened for good reason, but they are blind in their application. No, it is the extremist ideology that is to blame.
We must tackle the violence with our tougher security laws and enhanced intelligence and police capabilities, but equally we must tackle the non-violent creed that is the platform for violence. This means rooting out the hate preachers. It means ensuring that our schools teach liberal democratic values. It means community leaders denouncing not just the violence but also the wild conspiracy theories about the West’s intentions to destroy Islam or the supposed terrible deeds of the Jews. It means giving a stronger platform for moderate Muslim leaders so that their voices do not get drowned out by extremists.
The government have started the effort. Our investment in programs for countering violent extremism have tripled over the past four years to more than $40 million. In June this year, the government hosted the first regional summit on countering extremism.
In October the Prime Minister convened in Canberra the national meeting on countering violent extremism, bringing together all the key policy and law enforcement officials from around the country. In these meetings, together with the many other meetings across government, our police forces and our community leaders assist in developing best practice to stamp out extremism. But no one single model for countering violent extremists will work in every area or every community. All community leaders must come together and work together to stamp out this extremism, which has no place in modern Australia. This is how we can win the challenge of our generation: defeating ISIS abroad, preventing terror attacks on our shores through tougher security laws and enhanced security capabilities, and countering the extremist ideology that gives the platform for violence. Our nation is built on values of democracy, freedom and tolerance. We have the greatest multicultural society on earth. But the extremists challenge these core values and our way of life. We cannot let them succeed and we will not let them succeed.