“That was a key focus of our meetings and briefings and the decision taken was to ensure that Australians were safe from any of these possible scenarios.”
Police and other security agencies have mobilised to protect places of worship and other vulnerable locations amid an incendiary debate over the rise of white supremacists who pose a threat to Muslim Australians.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi said she was “heartbroken and scared” after the attacks in New Zealand, blaming politicians and parts of the media for inciting hate and Islamophobia over years.
“Other politicians have stood by and allowed this to happen, and even hoped that anti-migrant and anti-Muslim sentiment would win them votes,” she said.
Mr Morrison visited Lakemba mosque in western Sydney on Saturday to stand alongside Muslim community leaders including Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan, who warned that “humanity will pay the price” from escalating hatreds.
“We are here to show solidarity that collectively together we aim to stand up any time to Islamophobia or discrimination or extremism that affect the social fabric of what we hold dear to our hearts,” Mr Dandan said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten warned against the threat from right-wing extremism during a visit to the Islamic Centre of Victoria, where he expressed solidarity with Australian Muslims.
“We love this country, and we’ve got to make sure that we work together to stamp out the extremists, be they of the left or the right,” Mr Shorten said.
“Enough is enough, and we’ve got to work together much more than we currently are.
“There should be no tolerance in Australia for right wing extremist hate speech because, as we’ve seen tragically yesterday, we can’t guarantee where it ends, but sometimes we can guess.”
Mr Morrison denied there was any government complacency about right-wing terrorism or the vilification of Muslim Australians, saying he had always denounced extremism and violence.
“I’ll call out extremism every time and I’ll also call out its source every time, because I think that’s important for all of us that we reject this extremism in all its forms,” he said.
“In this case, its form was right-wing extremism. There’s a debate about whether it was white supremacism or white power but it’s all ugly, and it’s all abhorrent, and it has no place in mainstream Australia.”
In a significant debate on the scale of the danger, US President Donald Trump responded to the New Zealand tragedy by saying white nationalism came from a “small group of people” and was not a rising threat.
When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked on Saturday morning whether she agreed with Mr Trump, she said: “No.”
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s last report to Parliament said it and other agencies had disrupted 14 major attacks since 2014, all but one of them related to Islamist extremism. The remaining case was a right-wing extremist charged with terrorism offences.
Mr Morrison said right-wing extremists were not new and were already “on the radar” of the authorities.
“I can assure people that we do maintain an operational capability in this area,” he said.
“It put us in a position to better respond yesterday to any possible threats here in Australia.
“There are many forms of extremism in Australia and this is regrettably one of them.”
Mr Morrison praised state and territory police for helping to secure places of worship and key locations considered vulnerable when crowded.
The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have both spoken to Ms Ardern to express Australian sympathy for victims and their families, while Mr Morrison has also exchanged text messages with Indonesian president Joko Widodo and spoken to Muslim community leaders.
“They’ve been very emotional conversations for all of us but there’s a very purposeful element to it as well, and that is to ensure that they are getting all the support they need,” Mr Morrison said of his talks with the Muslim community.
“It’s important that I can meet them privately and I can give them that support.
“My first expressions were just one of a mate to them, just being there to support them and express my condolences.”
Senator Faruqi named One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen as some of the politicians who had spread division, but Mr Dutton responded vigorously to that claim.
Mr Dutton called Senator Faruqi a “sick individual” for making a political opportunity out of the Christchurch massacre.
“Last year under the Refugee and Humanitarian program I brought in more people than in any year in the last 30,” Mr Dutton said. “I won’t be lectured by a liar like Faruqi.”
Imam Hasan Centre spokesman Abbas Aly issued a statement urging Mr Morrison to oppose hate and division.
“United as a community we can overcome these barbaric events wherever they happen. Divided we become barbaric ourselves,” Mr Aly said.
“The innocent lives lost around the world should be a sign for us to unite against hate.”
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.