Government plans closer scrutiny of unrepentant extremists
13 Sep 2021|

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has detailed plans for authorities to more closely monitor convicted terrorists if they are freed from prison.

In a speech to an online seminar hosted by the ASPI on ‘The road from 9/11’, Andrews said terrorism remained a significant and evolving global threat and extremists would continue to take advantage of events in Australia and around the world.

Some recently freed from prisons or under surveillance because of violent views expressed online had carried out attacks in Britain and New Zealand, she said.

‘And as we witnessed in the 2019 London Bridge and 2020 Streatham attacks in the United Kingdom, convicted terrorist offenders can pose a very real threat to the community at the conclusion of their sentence. In the case of the Streatham attack, it occurred mere days following the offender’s release from prison.’

In Australia, there are 51 offenders serving jail sentences for terrorist offences and another 32 before the courts.

Andrews said that with several of these offenders reaching the conclusion of their prison sentences in the next few years, the need for effective risk-management measures to keep the community safe was greater than ever.

‘As we recently saw in Auckland, some individuals are so committed to doing us harm they cannot be deradicalised.’

Andrews said the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2020, now before the parliament, would create an ‘extended supervision order’ that could be used when high-risk terrorist offenders were released into the community after serving their sentences.

At present, the home affairs minister can seek a court order for the continuing detention of certain convicted terrorist offenders who pose an unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence if they are released into the community.

If the new bill becomes law, the minister will be able to ask the court to impose tailored supervisory conditions specific to the risk posed by the terrorist offender if they were to be released into the community. Such measures could be sought where the court wasn’t satisfied that continuing detention was appropriate to prevent that risk.

This power appears designed to deal with situations like that which occurred in New Zealand recently when police officers followed a suspect into a supermarket where he stabbed seven people.

Andrews said that by acknowledging that terrorism exists on a continuum of behaviour, and  countering violent extremism in all its forms, some individuals could be deradicalised before an attack took place.

She said that since 2014, a focus on countering violent extremism (CVE) had placed Australia’s response to terrorism within the wider context of social cohesion and it remained a core element of Australia’s response. ‘Our CVE initiatives address terrorist and extremist violence by intervening early with a range of vulnerable communities and at-risk individuals, both before and after they face a court or a prison sentence. The need for such a program has never been clearer.’

Andrews said that coupled with efforts to deradicalise such individuals, defences must be hardened against those who could not be brought back from the brink.

She announced that she’d invited Australia’s police and law enforcement ministers to a joint meeting to discuss the continued threat of terrorist attacks.

The national terrorism threat level remains at ‘probable’, where it has been since 2014.

Since September 2014, when the national terrorism threat level was raised, 140 people have been charged as a result of 67 counterterrorism-related operations around Australia. There have been nine attacks and 21 major disruption operations.

The minister said terrorism was a real and enduring threat to Australians, to their way of life, and to their national social cohesion. ‘We cannot be complacent,’ Andrews said.

‘Individuals, groups and ideologies, both old and new, continue to plot and fantasise about doing us harm.

‘Fuelled by the dark web, religiously motivated and ideologically motivated individuals and groups here in Australia do mean us harm and are planning acts of violence.

‘The changing situation in Afghanistan presents a serious concern; with the Taliban in control, Afghanistan may once again become an international safe haven for terrorist networks and cells.’

And, perversely, the 9/11 anniversary itself could serve as inspiration for some.

‘With little to no warning, a lone actor with a knife and smartphone can cause shockwaves around the world,’ Andrews said.

‘In 2021, ASIO assesses that such lone-actor attacks are the most likely form of terrorism we will experience in Australia.’

As lockdowns ended, Australians would again gather in crowds, Andrews said. ‘Sporting arenas, shopping malls, airports, and other iconic locations will once more need to contend with the spectre of terrorism.

‘I don’t say this to scaremonger; rather, to ensure we’re clear-eyed about the threat—so we can prepare now to safeguard all Australians from those who would do us harm.’

Andrews said the 9/11 attacks had served as inspiration for new generations of extremists ranging from those who were religiously motivated and seeking to replicate the attacks, to other ideologically motivated extremists exporting hate and calling for vengeance.