Topics: Minister for Home Affairs’ intention to list The Base and the entirety of Hizballah as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code; condemnation of all forms of violent extremism; religious discrimination.
KAREN ANDREWS: Today, I am announcing my intention to list The Base and the entirety of Hizballah as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code. Listing these organisations sends a very strong message that Australia condemns the use of terrorism to achieve political, ideological or religious objectives. There is absolutely no place in Australia for violent extremism. There is no cause – religious or ideological – that can justify killing innocent people. The Morrison Government is committed to ensuring Australia has the right tools and legislation in place to combat the enduring threat of terrorism. We can’t be complacent. We know there is a threat of terrorism here in Australia and that there is a threat of terrorism right across the world. We have recently witnessed that in both the United Kingdom and in New Zealand. We know that the threat exists. The National threat-level in Australia remains at ‘Probable’ – that means we have credible intelligence that there are individuals with the capability and the intent to conduct a terrorist attack here in Australia.
We are, in Australia, a nation with a very rich and diverse cultural background. Our community is built on a very broad fabric of many and varied experiences and cultures, and our nation’s character is better off for this. The views of violent extremist groups such as these are a stain on the rich cultural fabric that we have here in Australia. There is no place in Australia for their hateful ideologies.
Once listed, Criminal Code offences can be brought against members of these groups – further protecting Australians, our values, and our way of life. Listing these organisations brings us in line with many of our international partners – including the United Kingdom and Canada. I will continue to take advice on other groups that may need to be listed in the future as terrorist organisations. I take advice from my own Department, but I particularly take advice from our intelligence agencies here in Australia. There currently are 26 terrorist organisations listed under the Criminal Code. Now, I have written to my state and territory counterparts to consult with them on the proposed listings of The Base and the entirety of Hizbollah. My aim is to move through the processes as quickly as I possibly can to ensure that these listings proceed in the quickest possible time.
Australians can absolutely be assured by this intention to list, and by the actions that we have taken, that we take Australians safety and security extremely seriously. We know that as we open our international borders, people will start to gather together, and gather in greater numbers in crowds. That’s the sort of thing that terrorists look for. Now I’m not here to scare people – I don’t want to frighten people. I actually want Australians to be able to go about their lives, particularly their lives pre-COVID. Our intention is, as a Government, to open those borders, but it is a timely reminder to all Australians that we need to be very conscious of the fact that our threat level remains at ‘Probable’ and that we should always continue to be vigilant – never complacent – about the risks that we may face as we try and go about our daily lives.
Some detail on The Base – they are a violent, racist, neo-Nazi group known by security agencies to be planning and preparing terrorist attacks. The Base is currently proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom and is known to have organised paramilitary training camps overseas.
Hizbollah’s external security organisation has been listed as a terrorist organisation since 2003. The group continues to threaten terrorist attacks and provides support to terrorist organisations, hence my intention to list the entirety of Hizbollah.
As a government, we reject extremism in all of its forms. We have one of the most cohesive societies in the world, and protecting that cohesion from the threat of extremist groups is a key priority of the Morrison Government. Since 2013-2014, the Government has allocated more than $69 million to countering violent extremism programs in Australia. Today’s announcement is another strong demonstration that the Morrison Government continues to take action to keep Australians safe and secure. Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: You’re obviously doing this for a reason – is the reason that you anticipate or believe that there is a terrorist attack being planned by either or both of these? And how many members of Hizballah and The Base are there in Australia?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’ve taken advice – since I’ve been in this role – from our security agencies and also from my own Department – Home Affairs – on the appropriate listing of terrorist organisations. It’s not a decision that I have taken lightly; it’s one that I have taken all the appropriate actions to make sure that the threat that these two organisations are posing to Australia are real and that they are credible. So a lot of work has gone into that. We continue to make sure that we are keeping Australians here safe and secure. Listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code means that further actions can be taken against members of those organisations under the Criminal Code. In terms of the numbers that are here – that is a fluid number. We know that there are individuals actively watching what is happening in Australia. We know that there is a threat posed to Australia. That is the advice that has come through to me very clearly from our intelligence organisations.
QUESTION: Individuals watching from overseas or individuals here who are active members?
KAREN ANDREWS: We have information that means that Australia’s threat level is and should remain at ‘Probable’, and that means that there are people here who have the intent and the capability to do us harm.
QUESTION: Minister, there have been calls for The Base to be listed for nearly a year or more. Why has it taken this long? And are you currently considering listing any other far-right groups in Australia? Are there other groups on your list of considerations?
KAREN ANDREWS: I take very seriously my role as the Minister for Home Affairs in ensuring that I’m across all the relevant information in terms of listing organisations as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code. As I’ve indicated, it’s not something that I take lightly, and neither should I. So I have taken the time that I need to consult broadly with intelligence organisations in Australia, and with my own Department, to get the advice to ensure that these organisations meet the threshold. I am very sure that they do meet those thresholds. That’s why I’m announcing today my intention to list them.
QUESTION: Are you considering any other far-right groups in the future?
KAREN ANDREWS: I will continue to take advice from ASIO in particular but also the Department of Home Affairs and also from other agencies here in Australia. I am very open to the prospect of looking at any organisation that threatens to do Australians harm, and where they meet the thresholds I will not hesitate to list.
QUESTION: Minister, it’s been reported here that The Base has a limited but growing number in Australia, that they are trying to recruit Australians to their cause. Are you worried that their numbers are growing or they are planning, as you mentioned, you know, training camps or those sort of initiatives here in Australia?
KAREN ANDREWS: I have sufficient information in front of me to be concerned and to understand that The Base meets the threshold for listing as a terrorist organisation. We are aware of their activities within Australia and overseas, and we will continue to monitor them and their activities. We will look closely at their membership and we will take action once they are fully listed under the Criminal Code. Yes, we are concerned about activities of The Base here in Australia.
QUESTION: It’s been reported some of these groups are sort of making links with locally grown Australian groups. Are you concerned about the cross-seeding between international organisations into local extremist organisations?
KAREN ANDREWS: The short answer to that is ‘yes, I am’. I am concerned of the threat here in Australia. I am concerned about organisations that may and have in the past worked closely together. So I think it goes to the point that we cannot be complacent here in Australia, and the Morrison Government is never going to be complacent where terrorism is concerned.
QUESTION: Minister, is there a political calculation in this? In that you wouldn’t be listing The Base if you weren’t listing Hizballah at the same time?
KAREN ANDREWS: No.
QUESTION: So it’s got nothing to do with the fact that The Base is a right-wing extremist group?
KAREN ANDREWS: I took each recommendation that came to me independently and I looked at Hizballah and listing in its entirety. I took into account a number of factors in relation to that. Similarly, when advice came to me in relation to The Base, I looked at that. So it is a matter of really practicalities, that I’m making the announcement today about listing The Base and listing Hizballah in its entirety.
QUESTION: Minister, you said today ‘the government rejects extremists in all its forms’. We’ve heard two separate Premiers accuse the Prime Minister of dog-whistling and double speaking to extremists. Has Scott Morrison done enough to call out extremist conduct or by saying he shares a sympathy of the frustrations of these people did he essentially provide a wink and a nod that he’s for them?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t think the Prime Minister indicated at all that he was supportive of any extremist action in Australia. The Prime Minister has always made it very clear that he does not support extremism in any of its forms.
QUESTION: On religious discrimination, can you – in your own words – explain what the problem is that the Government’s trying to solve with this bill?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, as you would be aware, this issue is a longstanding issue and dealing with this is something that we have discussed in its entirety for a particularly long period of time. So I’m pleased that we are proceeding with the bill, and I think what’s important is that we look at all forms of discrimination. I’m going to answer your question very broadly, and I’m doing that very intentionally. I think we have to look at all forms of discrimination. As I’ve already said in my introduction today in relation to a terrorist organisation – Australia’s background is one that has been very cohesive. We need to make sure that when we look forward and as we move forward – particularly as we’re coming out of the COVID environment and we’re looking to reopen our economy and our way of life here – that we look at all forms of discrimination in Australia and we call it out. People should not be discriminated against for any of the views that they hold. Now that – in very simple terms – is what we are looking at in particular when we look at what the discrimination will be. So I think the process that’s being outlined in particular with regard to that bill is something that we should all look at very openly as a positive step forward for us, not a negative. Because, quite frankly, discrimination should be called out in all its forms.
QUESTION: What form of discrimination? Simply said, what’s the discrimination as you see it?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s any forms of discrimination, and I said that I would answer your question very generally because I think that as an Australian citizen myself and representing the Australian community what we should all be very conscious of is making sure that – in all of our behaviours –we are not discriminating against other people. People have the right to hold various views on a number of things, including religious matters, and they should be able to hold those views and they should be able to do so without having any discrimination against them.
QUESTION: Minister, just one on the portfolio, as Home Affairs Minister are you comfortable with Nationals MP George Christensen persistently and consistently blocking requests for access to information regarding a police assessment into his travel to the Philippines?
KAREN ANDREWS: George Christensen is on the record with his views of his travels in relation to various matters there. I would encourage all politicians of any particular policy background to do all that they can to assist in an investigation into any matter that they have any knowledge of, particularly if it’s concerning their own conduct.
QUESTION: Does that include transparency and allowing documents about relevant assessments to be released?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think that there is a responsibility for politicians to be open and transparent in – quite frankly – just about every single matter. If there is a matter that concerns them or their particular issues in relation to – for example travel as you have raised – I think that every Parliamentarian has a responsibility to cooperate to the best of their ability. Thank you.