THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim has commended ASIO’s top intelligence chief, Mike Burgess, for “sounding the alarm” about the growing security threat posed by neo-Nazis in Australia.
“The lesson of history is that if this is left unchecked, it is only a matter of time before violent words escalate into violent deeds. When Australia’s top intelligence chief speaks out publicly about an issue like this, urgent and intelligent action by government is called for,” said Wertheim.
In his delivery of ASIO’s annual threat assessment on Monday, Burgess, who is the director-general of ASIO, said, “The extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing.
“In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology.”
Following Burgess’ address, the government has been lambasted for its stance on the matter.
On Tuesday during Question Time, deputy Labor leader Richard Marles put the question to Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “Why has the Australian government not listed a single right-wing extremist group as a terrorist organisation?”, to which Morrison replied: “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 … That includes Islamic terrorists – extremist Islamic terrorists.”
While Burgess noted that “violent Islamic extremism of the type embodied by the Islamic State and al Qaeda and their off-shoots will remain our principal concern”, he said right-wing extremism is a growing concern and “obviously this threat came into sharp, terrible focus last year in New Zealand”.
After Burgess declared his concern about right-wing extremists, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton fielded criticism for telling reporters that “right-wing lunatics” and “left-wing lunatics” need to be dealt with.
He later clarified with the ABC that he was referring to Islamist terrorist groups when he called out “left-wing terrorism”.
In response to Burgess’ address, Wertheim remarked, “Part of the solution may involve the introduction of specific laws to ban the display of Nazi symbols and crack down on the promotion of racial hatred, but the main effort needs to focus on education for students and teachers alike.”
Viewing trends in recorded hate-motivated activity since 2017, Wertheim noted the “biggest areas of increase” has come from “white supremacists, Nazis and other racists”, adding that a common theme is the “white replacement myth which blames ‘the Jews’ for the supposed demise and destruction of the European races, cultures and civilisation, including in Australia.”