“In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology,” the new spy boss said in a major address last month. Mr Burgess also warned about white supremacist online forums, sharing right-wing ideologies and encouraging violence.
The Muslim community, which includes the Australian National Imams Council and Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said existing regulatory mechanisms and criminal laws are not working to protect Muslims, despite an “increasingly radical milieu” online.
They point to a 2018 Victoria University study of more than 41,000 posts from far-right Facebook groups, which showed “Muslims are inferior, sub-human and inherently incompatible with Western liberal norms and values” was a key theme.
The groups want a new civil remedy that would make it unlawful to engage in conduct “that would, or is likely to, harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify” a person or group of persons on the grounds of their religious belief or activity.
“The government is asked to seriously consider the implications of not acting at this time.”
Mr Porter is currently working on a third public version of the bill, saying he expects it will be introduced to federal Parliament “in the near future”.
“I have spoken directly with Muslim community leaders about the Bill and am carefully considering their submission,” he told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age.
“Muslim Australians deserve to feel safe in public and online, just like every other Australian. Part of that puzzle is ensuring there are appropriate protections from religious discrimination, but it is also the responsibility of every Australian government to ensure its criminal laws are fit for purpose, and that the online environment cannot be used as an amplifier for terrorism.”
Mr Porter added that the government had done “an extraordinary amount of work to protect all Australians’ safety over recent years, before and after the Christchurch tragedy”. He noted the government was considering public submissions on a bill to improve Australia’s online safety regulations.
“But we cannot afford to pretend that there are any silver bullets, or that our safety requires anything other than constant vigilance at all levels,” he said.
Meanwhile, federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to hold a national multi-faith service on March 15, the anniversary of the Christchurch attack, to bring Australians together “to remember and reflect” and show “that we stand united against hate-filled attacks that seem to divide us”.
The Muslim community has previously argued Muslim Australians are vulnerable because they are “readily identifiable” by their names, appearance and dress and the places they worship.
The second draft of the religious discrimination bill has drawn wide-ranging criticism from across the community since it was released shortly before Christmas.
Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House