Peter Dutton has lashed out at “silly, stupid, petty” suggestions Australia’s intelligence and security agencies should devote more resources to the growing threat of right-wing extremism.
The home affairs minister said it was “ridiculous nonsense” to treat the far-right differently from Islamic extremists.
“If there is a lunatic who is preaching some neo-Nazi propaganda or some perverted interpretation of the Quran and they have the same desire to hurt Australians, they get treated exactly the same,” he told reporters.
“If somebody wants to blow up a movie theatre, or if somebody wants to go in with a semi-automatic weapon into a food court, I don’t care what their dress is, I don’t care about their religion, their skin colour, their creed.
“Our resources will be applied to neutralise that threat.”
Labor and the Greens have spent many months urging the Morrison government to pay more attention to far-right extremists.
Mr Dutton said his sole focus, and that of Australia’s security agencies, was to keep people safe from harm.
“We are not going to take our foot off the throat of somebody who is an extremist, who is seeking to kill Australians or take somebody hostage or whatever it might be, because of their ideology,” he said.
“I just don’t care what their ideology is, what I focus on is the threat.”
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney was quizzed about terror threats during a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra.
“With Islamic-inspired extremism, they often have the intent but don’t have capability,” he told committee members on Friday.
“But we often find with right-wing extremism they may have the capability – for example firearms – but the challenge is determining what their intent is.”
He said right-wing extremists were likely to plot online, which made proposed dark web investigative powers before parliament crucial.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said right-wing groups were not as well structured or organised as Islamic terror cells and also tended to be hampered by internal issues.
“The attack planning, on our experience, with Islamic extremism is low-cost and often low-tech devices, whether that be a pipe bomb or anything like that,” Mr Kershaw said.
“Our experience is often these extreme right-wing individuals have firearm licences or access to firearms at a greatest level than in the Islamic extremism area.”
The rise of right-wing extremism now occupies a third of investigations by Australia’s domestic security agency, but Sunni Islamic activity remains the primary threat.
Roughly 15 per cent of AFP’s operations relate to right-wing terrorism.
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess recently warned the coronavirus pandemic hastened the spread of both terror threats, with extremists weaponising the global crisis to spread hate and fear.