AFP backs ban on flags promoting terrorism, sharing of extremist material

The Australian Federal Police is pushing for bans on flags promoting terrorism as well as the sharing of extremist material including violent images and videos, saying there are gaps in current criminal laws.

AFP figures reveal four of the 26 people arrested over the past year for terrorism offences were “ideologically motivated” extremists with nationalist and racist beliefs.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney says other than for genuine research or journalistic purposes, there are no circumstances where people should be accessing and sharing instructional terrorist manuals, propaganda and graphically violent images and videos.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney told a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia his agency supported the criminalisation of flags promoting terrorism and other terrorist insignia, as well as a ban on the possession and sharing of extremist material.

He said other than for genuine research or journalistic purposes, there were no circumstances where people should be accessing and sharing instructional terrorist manuals, propaganda and graphically violent images and videos.

Describing the internet as a “force multiplier of hate”, Mr McCartney said the AFP was particularly concerned about its influence on younger people.

There was a gap in the criminal law, he said, adding: “We think certain aspects of current criminal laws are out of step with community expectations.”

Spy agency the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation told the inquiry ideologically motivated extremism had grown from about 30 per cent of its priority counter-terrorism caseload to 40 per cent over the past 12 months.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess revealed that since 2016, there have been two “major disruptions” of ideologically motivated extremist threats. AFP officials later confirmed in the inquiry one of these referred to right-wing extremist Phillip Michael Galea, 36, who was last year sentenced to at least nine years’ jail for planning terrorist attacks on targets in Melbourne.

Mr Burgess said law enforcement agencies in multiple states had taken action recently against individuals with links to nationalist and racist groups, “focusing on offences relating to possession of extremist material, racial vilification and wilful damage”.

He reiterated the threat of a terrorist attack in Australia was “plausible” over the next 12 months, saying it came from a mix of lone actors and small cells.

He said Sunni Islamic violent extremism remained the biggest threat, but ideologically motivated extremism was the fastest-growing threat. ASIO anticipated the threat from white supremacist and nationalist extremism “will not diminish anytime soon”.

“We are facing a growing assortment of ideologically motivated violent extremists – both individuals and groups who are driven by a diverse range of grievances,” Mr Burgess said. “This reflects both an international trend and our decision to dedicate more resources to this threat. The face of this threat is evolving.

“More often than not, they are young, well-educated, articulate and middle class and not easily identified … These violent extremists are acutely security conscience and adapt their security posture to avoid attention.”

The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald revealed dozens of far-right extremists gathered in the Grampians and Halls Gap over the Australia Day weekend, chanting white supremacist slogans, raising their arms in Nazi salutes and waving flags.

But Mr Burgess said it was “important to put this threat in context”.

“The National Socialist Network is not ISIL; the Grampians is not a caliphate. And while the threat from ideologically motivated violent extremism is real, you should be reassured that ASIO and our law enforcement partners are on the case,” he said.

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