Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

Given Canadian debates over how to “label” different forms of extremism, interesting take on Australia’s shift towards more neutral but yet clear terminology:

Last week Australia’s spy boss sent ripples through the national security community with the announcement that Asio will shift from using “rightwing extremism” and “Islamic extremism” to using “ideological extremism” and “religious extremism”. In his second annual threat assessment, director general Mike Burgess told a Canberra audience that “words matter”, and the old words were no longer fit for purpose.

Words do matter. Burgess’ words in his first public address in 2020 which took aim at the extreme right wing, were lightning bolts in Australia’s post-Christchurch discourse. The organisation’s disclosure that 30-40% of its caseload was associated with these issues gave invaluable context to a public debate that was severely lacking.

While the quick pivot away from these terms took many by surprise, it has not happened in a vacuum. The change is similar to one undertaken by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 2020. Far from signalling the diminishing resolve of the country, Canada took the bold step of listing the Proud Boys on its terror register in February. Likewise, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified memo dated 1 March 2021 which contained similar rhetorical shifts throughout. The memo, which warns more “racially motivated extremist attacks” will “almost certainly” take place in 2021, was in the process of being released to the public when a gunman shot and killed eight Asian Americans in Atlanta.

Following this year’s address, Burgess told Guardian Australia that political pressure did not factor in the organisation’s decision process. But as the director general acknowledges, the organisation doesn’t control or seek to control the way Australia’s leaders in politics and the media discuss these issues and this is where rhetoric plays its most important role.

Source: Equivocating over the existence of rightwing extremism will cost Australia dearly

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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