All Terror Threats to Australia Should Be Treated Equally: Dutton

All Terror Threats to Australia Should Be Treated Equally: Dutton
Australian Liberal MP Peter Dutton in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Nov. 25, 2019. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said anti-terrorist agencies should regard all threats equally when asked if Australia should be more concerned about the growing threat of right-wing extremism.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Friday, Dutton said he was worried about both right-wing and Islamic extremism.

"If somebody wants to blow up a movie theatre, or if somebody wants to go in with a semi-automatic weapon into a food court, I don't care what their dress is, I don’t care of their religion, their skin colour, their creed," he said.

"Our resources will be applied to neutralise that threat," Dutton said.

Dutton also explained that the main focus for himself, ASIO, Home Affairs, and other agencies is not ideology but the level of threat extremist groups pose to Australians

"We are not going to take our foot off the throat of somebody who is an extremist, who is seeking to kill Australians or, you know, take somebody hostage or whatever it might be because of their ideology. I just don't care what their ideology is, " he said.

In October Australia's intelligence agency chief Mike Burgess noted that ASIO was facing elevated levels of threats. In particular, he noted that while Islamic extremism was Australia's greatest threat, right-wing extremism was also a growing hazard. Right-wing extremists now represent between thirty and forty percent of ASIO’s priority caseload.

"Many of these individuals and groups have seized on COVID-19 as “proof” of their ideology, and are using the pandemic to amplify their messages of hate online. We are seeing young Australians—some just 14 years old—being radicalised," Burgess said.

Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney also spoke about terror threats during a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra.

"With Islamic-inspired extremism, they often have the intent but don't have the capability," he told committee members on Friday. "But we often find with right-wing extremism they may have the capability—for example, firearms—but the challenge is determining what their intent is."

He said right-wing extremists were likely to plot online, which made proposed dark web investigative powers before Parliament crucial.

The Greens Party and the Labor Party have also repeatedly urged the federal government to pay close attention to far right-wing groups.

Pushing back against these calls, Dutton reiterated that there is no difference between Islamic or Neo-nazi extremists and said any alleged implication that ASIO was lenient to right-wing groups was false.

"ASIO does not differentiate, they assess the threat based on the intelligence, the evidence that they’ve got, and that will remain the case," he said.

"I mean if there's a lunatic who’s preaching some Neo-Nazi propaganda or some perverted, you know, interpretation of the Quran, and they’re with the same desire to hurt Australians; they get treated exactly the same by me and by ASIO and by our agencies," he said.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.