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Money for social inclusion would be more effective at preventing terror

Penny Wright 12 May 2015

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:16): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. I refer to the Prime Minister's announcement to media outlets this morning that tonight's budget will include a further $450 million for spy agencies, taking the total of the coalition's anti-terror spending announcements to over $1 billion. My question is: why is only a minuscule proportion of this money, $35.4 million, 3.2 per cent, going to something that will actually make us safer-that is, community cohesion programs?

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania-Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:17): I think I can understand why the Greens in the reshuffle moved Senator Wright a little bit further backwards. If there is one duty of a national government, it is to protect its borders from external aggression, and then to protect its citizenry from the sorts of activities to which the senator referred-and that is terrorism. I make no apology for this government being absolutely committed to protecting its citizens and residents from terrorism and terrorist attacks. The best way to do that, with great respect, is to ensure that the law enforcement agencies have the capacity to protect us-laws against which the Greens continually vote. Why? I do not know.

In relation to social cohesion, of course everybody wants social cohesion. We all support social cohesion, but what we do not support are those people that deliberately embark on a course to ensure, in effect, the downfall of our society, and that is what some of these people, unfortunately, are dedicated to. And Senator Cameron is laughing. Well, the death cult of Daesh-

Senator Cameron: Yeah, laughing at you! I'm laughing at you.

Senator ABETZ: The death cult of Daesh-

Senator Brandis: Serious people take this seriously-

Senator ABETZ: This is a frontbencher of Mr Shorten's. This is the Labor Party attitude on such a serious issue.

Senator Wong: We show bipartisanship on this. Settle down.

Senator ABETZ: Senator Wong interjects and says, 'We show bipartisanship on this.' Then let your frontbench show it by their actions. Their actions speak so much louder than their words.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock!

Senator Whish-Wilson: On a point of order, I understand you were speaking to the Clerk, Mr President, but I was on my feet for a while, and Senator Abetz was not addressing the question. He was addressing the Labor Party, a totally separate issue to the question that was being asked.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. I think even the minister has acknowledged that. Minister, have you concluded your answer?

Senator ABETZ: Yes, I have, and the time has run out too.

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I will not stoop to personal comments-I do not need to do that-but I will ask: why is it that, when almost all counter-terror experts are recommending greater investment in deradicalisation programs, the government is directing almost every national security dollar away from community programs to prevent young people from being radicalised in the first place?

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania-Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:20): When it comes to personal comments, I would just invite Senator Wright to have a look at the comments of her Deputy Leader Ludlam in relation to the Prime Minister. So, before you seek to take any high moral ground, I suggest you deal with your own deputy leader.

Having said that, can I say that this government is absolutely committed to seeing every possible element of the government's resources being used in an effective manner to ensure the deradicalisation or, indeed, prevent the radicalisation. Of course, rather than deradicalising somebody, we would prefer they were never radicalised at all. So that is where we all in this place have an important responsibility, and part of that important responsibility is to say, without any equivocation, that IS and Daesh-the death cult-are an untold evil. (Time expired)

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:21): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister clarify why the Prime Minister continues to use the term 'death cult' even though experts say it is counter-productive, ineffective and does some of the terror groups' marketing for them? Is it because your government is more concerned-

Government senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT: Order! Just a moment, Senator Wright. On my right!

Senator WRIGHT: Is it because your government is more concerned with polling data than actually making Australians safer?

Senator Brandis interjecting-

The PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis! You will have to withdraw that.

Senator Brandis: I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator ABETZ (Tasmania-Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:22): We make no apologies for calling these evil elements a death cult, because when you line up Christians and behead them-on video-when you rape women and say, 'That's okay' because they are of a different religion-and then kill them-you know what? That is a death cult. And I do not think any Australian would disagree with the use of that terminology. So now, all of a sudden, people who engage in this behaviour should no longer be called murderers-they are murderers. We will call them murderers. And we will not rest as a government until such time as our population and the world population is safe from this evil death cult.


Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (15:30):  I rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Abetz, on behalf of the Prime Minister, to my question around national security funding. Tonight's budget will include a further $450 million for spy agencies, taking the total of the coalition's anti-terror spending announcements to over $1 billion and making spy agencies bigger and more powerful than ever before while reducing accountability. It is a huge amount of money but it will not make us safer. The fact is that the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is following an irresponsible but trusted formula to try and shore up his leadership by creating fear and division in the community and pressing the terror button. Despite this huge terror spend, only 3.2 per cent of the money is going to something that will in fact work and actually make us safer: social cohesion programs and de-radicalisation. These are fundamental to fighting terror, yet they are grossly underfunded by this government. Why could that be?

Expert after expert in Australia has lined up to say we need to stop terrorism at its source: those young people who are vulnerable to its insidious call. It is a complex matter, but anyone paying attention knows it is crucial to disrupt the recruitment of young people. Sometimes it happens by playing on their very youth. Sometimes—ironic but, sadly, true—it plays on their sense of idealism. We know that these organisations commit atrocities, but many of these young people are motivated by a sense of injustice. Sometimes it plays on their sense of alienation—complex matters. But so far, despite all the rhetoric of government, only $1.65 million has actually reached the communities who are crying out for support and at the front line of effective action. It is small change from a government which is shovelling money to spy agencies at unprecedented levels.

The Greens want to know why help for our local communities has taken so long to roll out and why so little funding is being made available. Muslim communities have clearly warned that many more young Australians are at risk of being recruited to Islamic State and other terror groups because of the federal government's delay in funding for these de-radicalisation programs. Desperate parents, troubled elders, have been calling out for help. Prevention is much better than cure when it comes to keeping us all safe from risks associated with terrorism. But, of course, that requires wisdom and thoughtful, evidence-led responses. As we know, this is too much to expect from this government. The Greens have introduced legislation to set up an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion to develop and implement best practice de-radicalisation programs. I repeat our call to the government to support the Centre for Social Cohesion today, to be wise and take up the evidence that is available there from experts around the world.


A safer Australia is a more inclusive, generous and supportive Australia. Fanning the flames of fear, difference and anxiety will only put Australians more at risk. Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, is shameless and extreme. His obsessive rhetoric around death cults has today been described as counterproductive, ineffective and doing some of the terror groups actual marketing for them. Can we expect him to stop? I doubt it. He has said it 346 times since September and he will continue to do it because he is actually promoting his own domestic agenda. A genuine response to terrorism will not isolate Muslims by targeting them or making them the focus of surveillance. Real leadership would bring people together, not divide them. Building a cohesive, tolerant and inclusive community in Australia should be our government's top priority in the national interest and could be Australia's most powerful strategy to counteract terrorism. If the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party are serious about making Australians safer, they should invest in programs that bring young Australians from all walks of life together. Rather than implementing divisive new laws and a mass surveillance society, money should be spent on building communities. That is truly in our national interest.

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