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Question Time: New Zealand Royal Commission into Christchurch Massacres

Mehreen Faruqi 9 Dec 2020

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:41): My question without notice is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Birmingham. Yesterday the report of Aotearoa New Zealand's Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidain was released. This report makes for highly disturbing reading. It details how an Australian man was radicalised and came to commit this horrific terrorist attack. It makes clear that the terrorist, who murdered 51 people, began forming his extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology in this country from a young age, including through engaging with online far Right groups based in Australia. While the report focuses on New Zealand, there are lessons in it for the way Australia approaches terrorism, security, online extremism and racial and religious hatred. Has the Prime Minister read the report, and how does the government intend to respond to it?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:42): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question on the very serious issue of the New Zealand royal commission of inquiry into the terrorist attacks on Christchurch mosques. The government is obviously aware of the report into the attacks and that it has been made public. It is a lengthy report, with 44 recommendations contained within it. Our understanding is that the New Zealand government has either agreed or agreed in principle, as part of its interim response, to the report. The New Zealand government has committed that it will deliver a final response to the report in the new year, following consultation with members of the New Zealand community.

Our government has a strong partnership with New Zealand when it comes to countering all forms of terrorism, including through our joint membership of the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee. I give the senator—indeed, all senators—and the Australian public the commitment that our government will examine the report thoroughly, all 44 of its recommendations thoroughly and the final response of the New Zealand government to the report thoroughly, and will engage with the New Zealand government on how it is implementing the recommendations of the report and consider any and all implications for the operation of our own counterterrorism policies and practices.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:43): Minister, the report details the man's associations with various Australian far Right groups and his donations to extremist media organisations which have regularly been given platforms and crossed over into mainstream politics and media in Australia. Some of these groups have targeted my office and planned to disrupt events hosted by me. Is the government concerned about the normalisation of far Right politics in Australia?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:44): Let me be very clear: our government condemns terrorism in all of its forms, has no tolerance for such behaviour and has no tolerance for any form of terrorism, right-wing, extremist or otherwise. Government and law enforcement agencies are committed to addressing such forms of terrorism. This year, I am advised, extreme right-wing individuals comprised between 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO's priority counterterrorism investigative subjects. Our agencies take these issues seriously, regardless of the ideology that may be the motivating factor or otherwise. Australia's counterterrorism legislative framework is agnostic towards ideology. As with all forms of terrorism, we continue to pursue investigative activities, disruptions and prosecutions, and invite the cooperation of all Australians to assist in doing so. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:45): Several of the recommendations of the report relate to properly criminalising hate speech and tracking hate crimes. The report acknowledges a link between hate crime and terrorism. In Australia, our hate speech laws are very narrow and we do not track hate crimes at the national level. Will the government change the law to stamp out hate speech and start tracking hate crimes properly?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:45): As I indicated in response to the primary question, we will work very closely with the New Zealand government in understanding all aspects of the report, and all aspects of the actions and implementation arrangements that New Zealand takes in relation to this report. In doing so, we'll be thorough in our assessment.

The PRESIDENT: Order. Senator Faruqi on a point of order.

Senator Faruqi: My point of order is to relevance. I asked a very specific question about hate speech laws and will the government actually change the laws to stamp out hate speech?

The PRESIDENT: The question contained a preamble to that specific part at the end, Senator Faruqi. I will listen carefully but I believe the minister was being directly relevant.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Faruqi, from my recollection, your question asked about recommendations in the report that went to matters of hate speech, and associated laws and regulations. So when I say that we will examine the report carefully, that we will work with New Zealand, that we will seek to understand the action they take in relation to implementation of recommendations, we will assess all of that against ensuring we have the strongest possible preventions, protections and disruptions available to ensure all forms of terrorism are prevented as much as possible. (Time expired)


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