Home affairs minister Karen Andrews updates terror list, making membership of either group a crime
The Australian government will list the neo-Nazi group The Base as a terrorist organisation, together with the entirety of the Lebanese Shia political party and militant group Hezbollah.
The home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, announced the plan to designate the two groups under Australia’s criminal code, which outlaws being a member, providing support to or associating with listed terrorist organisations.
Andrews described The Base – which has already been proscribed as a terrorist group by Canada and the UK – as “a violent, racist, neo-Nazi group known by security agencies to be planning and preparing terrorist attacks”. It was, she said, known to have organised paramilitary training camps overseas.
The government also moved on Wednesday to expand the listing of Hezbollah, which represents the Lebanese Shia community and has military, political and social components.
Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation has been designated as a terror organisation in Australia since 2003, but broadening it to cover the entire group follows the lead of the US, Canada and the UK.
Police have previously raised concern that the existing listing requires prosecutors to prove an individual supports Hezbollah’s external security organisation specifically.
Andrews said Hezbollah “continues to threaten terrorist attacks and provides support to terrorist organisations such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades”.
The minister was unable to specify on Wednesday how many members each of the groups had in Australia, saying the numbers were “fluid”. But she said the listings were based on advice about “real” and “credible” threats posed to Australia.
The move follows long-standing calls for the government to list far-right groups, after warnings from intelligence agency Asio about the growing threat they pose.
Some within the government have previously raised concern about the use of the phrase right-wing extremism, and Asio now classes them under the umbrella category of ideologically motivated violent extremists.
Asio says this “ideologically motivated” category now accounts for about 50% of its priority onshore counter-terrorism caseload, with the remainder being religiously motivated violent extremism.
Asked why it had taken so long to list The Base, Andrews said she did not take such designations lightly and wanted to make sure the groups met the legislative tests.
She said authorities were concerned about The Base’s activities in Australia and would “closely look at their membership and we will take action once they are fully listed under the criminal code”.
Door open to more far-right listings
Andrews, who replaced Peter Dutton as home affairs minister in a reshuffle in late March, kept the door open to listing other far-right groups in future.
“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,” she told reporters in Canberra.
“I am very open to the prospect of looking at any of the organisation that threaten to do Australians harm and where they meet the threshold, I will not hesitate to list.”
The Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group listed as a terrorist organisation in Canada, has not been designated as such in Australia.
Sonnenkrieg Division was listed in Australia in August, with the government describing it as a “UK-based extreme right-wing organisation which adheres to a violent white-supremacist ideology”.
Andrews said the views of violent extremist groups were “a stain” on Australia’s “rich cultural fabric”, adding: “There is no place in Australia for their hateful ideologies.”
She denied there was any political calculation in revealing the listing of both The Base and Hezbollah at the same time, saying she looked at each recommendation that came to her “independently”.
James Paterson, the Liberal senator who chairs parliament’s intelligence and security committee, welcomed both listings. Designating Hezbollah in its entirety is in line with a bipartisan recommendation his committee made earlier this year.
“I thank the minister for home affairs for acting on the committee’s recommendation and recognising the overwhelming evidence that all of Hezbollah is responsible for its decades-long global campaign of violent terror against innocent civilians,” Paterson said on Wednesday.
After the head of Asio, Mike Burgess, mentioned the extreme rightwing threat in his first annual threat assessment speech in February last year, Dutton raised concerns about extremism of the “far left” and “far right”, saying the authorities would tackle any threats posed by either “rightwing lunatics or leftwing lunatics”.
Labor’s home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, welcomed the move to list The Base, saying it would be only the second right-wing terrorist group proscribed by the Australian government.
“However, both of these groups are overseas groups, with limited activity in Australia,” Keneally said.
“Labor urges the government to look closely at the far-right groups known to be active within Australia, such as the National Socialist Network.”
Keneally urged the government to act on Asio’s warnings about right-wing extremism: “As the violent threats at recent protests demonstrate, we can’t dismiss or ignore this growing threat to our community safety.”
She also noted the Hezbollah listing was in line with a bipartisan committee recommendation.
Before Wednesday’s announcement, there were 26 terrorist organisations listed under Australia’s criminal code. The federal government has begun the process of consulting state and territory governments about the proposed new listings.
The federal election is due by May and the Coalition has been seeking to emphasise it is “strong” on national security, despite generally bipartisan agreement on major security challenges.