An Australian earlier this year was stopped from leaving the country to fight with an extreme right wing group on a foreign battlefield after authorities received a tip-off from ASIO.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has previously said the government would list right-wing extremist groups if the advice from ASIO recommended it.
The definition of terrorism in Australia and the UK is similar but British authorities can list a terrorist group if they make threats “for the purpose of advancing a racial cause” or a group “glorifies” extreme violence by sharing images or symbols on social media.
The “glorification” criteria was one of the justifications used by the British government to list right-wing extremist group National Action after it posted tweets and images about the murder of British Labor MP Jo Cox and the Orlando nightclub attack.
A senior government source said there was no evidence a lack of reference to race in the Australian definition was stopping the government from listing right-wing groups, as these groups could be captured by the “ideological” criteria if they were committing violence or making threats.
As New Zealand marks the one year anniversary of the Christchurch massacre, Senator Keneally told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age ASIO’s warnings about right-wing extremists seemed inconsistent with the fact no right-wing groups were on the terror list.
“It may be that the criteria for listing organisations in Australia isn’t fit-for-purpose when it comes to right-wing extremism,” Senator Keneally said.
“For example, the definition of terrorism in Australia and the UK is similar but with a stark difference: the UK definition of terrorism explicitly extends to violent acts or threats made for the purpose of advancing a racial cause.
“The Australian government and all federal parliamentarians must now take the terrorist threat of right-wing extremism seriously and respond. The Morrison government could begin this work by referring Australia’s terrorist listing criteria to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review.
“Our job as parliamentarians is not to play politics or engage in culture wars over such issues, and the PJCIS does neither. Keeping Australians safe is too important for that.”
Senator Keneally also said the government should consider establishing a “hate crimes database” similar to that used by the FBI to track racially motivated violent extremists, as well as dedicated police units to investigate right-wing extremist threats similar to those in the US and Germany.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said security agencies actively review which organisations should be listed.
“It is the Australian government’s longstanding practice not to comment on any consideration of the possible listing of terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code,” the spokesman said.
Listing an organisation on the terror list would criminalise any membership or association with the group. The decision to proscribe a terrorist organisation lies with the Governor-General, on the advice of the government.
Terror law expert Nicola McGarrity, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, said she didn’t think the inclusion of a “racial” motivation would achieve much.
“The categories of ‘religious’, ‘political’ and especially ‘ideological’ motivation are so broad that they are likely to capture any of the world-views of far-right extremists,” she said.
Kristy Campion, a lecturer in terrorism studies at Charles Sturt University, said there had been an increase both in Australia and overseas of extreme right-sentiment in recent years.
“Around the world you can observe an increase in violence or advocating of violence, that being said you can also observe an increase in thwarted plots,” Dr Campion said.
“What we tend to see is an attempt to participate in political processes first. After that failure, we see them starting to stockpile weapons.
“We don’t often see groups explicitly advocate terrorism. Often it’s more implicit.”
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.