The following is an abridged extract from ASPI’s new report, Gen Y jihadists: preventing radicalisation in Australia, released today.
Australia’s counter terrorism policies cover a vast range of responses, from military operations in the Middle East to community resilience and deradicalisation programs. In ASPI’s Gen Y jihadists report, we recommend nine steps to strengthen the Australian response to defeat terrorists and Gen Y extremist jihadists.
1. Explain the reasons for Australia’s Middle East deployments more persuasively
The strategic drivers of change in the Middle East are seldom publicly explained or related to the purpose of Australian military involvement. The Australian Government should continue the practice adopted in recent years of making regular statements to Parliament about Australia’s military operations and counterterrorism interests in the Middle East, including setting out the strategic rationale for those activities. The government should also engage more directly with online critics of Australian policy.
2. Urgently expand counterterrorism cooperation with key international partners
Australia has a deep interest in working with like-minded countries not only on police and intelligence cooperation but to strengthen policy thinking on domestic counter-radicalisation. Substantial international cooperation already takes place, most effectively with Australia’s Five Eyes intelligence partners—the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. But the tempo needs to be stepped up if it’s to address the demands of domestic security in an accelerating threat environment.
3. Set a new basis for collaboration with Australian Muslims
While the majority of Australian Muslims have no sympathy for or engagement with Islamist radicals, the Muslim community must be part of a coherent national response to terrorism. Initiatives to foster resilience within communities, as set out in Living Safe Together, should be continued. We should also recognise that those disengaged and possibly more susceptible to extremism are not likely to listen to community leaders. There’s a need to ensure that attempts to engage at-risk people filter down to the levels of the community where it is most needed, and that these messages will indeed be accessible.
4. Engage schools in a practical discussion about terrorism and counter-radicalisation
As jihadists get younger, our attention must turn to what schools teach and how they manage at-risk students. There’s surely a case to start discussing Australia’s contemporary role in the Middle East—perhaps as a follow-on to studies on Gallipoli, which was also a key strategic challenge a century ago.
Counter-radicalisers say that early intervention is advisable and point to the range of social and healthcare services available to all Australians but, aside from that, thinking about the early intervention roles that schools could play is at a promising but tentative stage. Given the complexity of this issue and the numbers of players involved, a useful approach would be for the Australian Government to raise this issue in discussions at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
5. Start a discussion with the media on reporting terrorism
Under its mandate for ‘promoting good standards of media practice’ the Australian Press Council developed advisory guidelines for the use of religious terms in headlines. (APC 2004)
In addition to restating that advice, an updated set of guidelines should consider:
- appropriate terminology to describe ISIL
- handling strategies for using ISIL’s and other terrorist organisation’s propaganda (both violent material and non-violent recruitment videos)
- the suitability of adapting media standards for reporting on suicide and depression to reporting about individuals vulnerable to radicalisation
- the reporting of matters relating to the Muslim community in the context of terrorism.
6. Develop individual case management strategies for at-risk people
The Living Safe Together website points to ‘Intervention programmes [that] may include youth diversion activities, healthcare initiatives, mentoring, employment and educational pathway support and counselling’. This reflects a broadening of the government’s approach to cover counterterrorism mitigation strategies that include social services delivery. This approach offers promising possibilities, but a great deal of additional work will need to be done to define how an intervention process might work, where authority to decide to intervene will reside, and how to handle an individual from the point of intervention.
7. Combat online propaganda
A major ASPI study by Roslyn Richardson, Fighting fire with fire: target audience responses to online anti-violence campaigns, found that government online counter-radicalisation campaigns were unlikely to succeed. Young people were unlikely to trust governments, didn’t regard them as being on the same side, and didn’t consider that CVE strategies addressed issues of most importance to them. The report recommended that governments assist efforts underway within the Muslim community to develop the community’s own alternative online material opposing radicalisation.
This approach needs to be complemented by face-to-face engagement, a process of trust building, recognition of the importance of selecting the right language to describe the problem, and an understanding of the significant differences of attitude that exist within the Muslim community. Where government offers content online, it needs to ensure that this material has the quality, timeliness, reach and attention to language that’s needed to engage and persuade a sceptical audience.
8. Revise the public terrorism advisory system
When our usually classified terrorism threat level and public alert level were both raised to ‘high’ in September 2014, there was some confusion about how the public was supposed to react to the raised alert level, and about the role that terrorism advisories play in our counterterrorism machinery.
Five immediate changes could help. First, collapse the public and classified alert systems into one public alert system. Second, there should be a sunset clause that mandates the expiry of a raised level after six months unless there’s evidence that it shouldn’t be changed. Third, a generic alert level system isn’t appropriate for a country as large as Australia: our terrorism warning system should offer more advice about likely areas at increased risk. Fourth, the language used for terrorism advisories shouldn’t be arbitrary or ambiguous. Finally, a public awareness campaign communicating any changes to our terrorism advisories would be helpful.
9. Explain how government agencies use counterterrorism powers
The Australian Parliament has given law enforcement and intelligence agencies extensive new powers to deal with the terrorism threat. Community support for these powers and actions is essential for maintaining confidence in the existing arrangements and for arguing the case for any future additions or expansions to powers.
Australian governments, through COAG, should promote confidence in our agencies by presenting a 12-monthly public update on the use of counterterrorism powers in Australia. It should present a comprehensive explanation of how and why the agencies have used their powers, and what’s been done in the Australian public’s name to suppress terrorism here and overseas.