Australia will pour more than $60 million into countering violent extremism amid an increase in conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns from MPs about their safety following last year’s murder of British MP Sir David Amess.
The nation’s security agencies have been raising the alarm about an upturn in “single-issue” violent extremism, citing anti-lockdown protests as an example.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews will on Wednesday announce an additional $61.7 million for Australia’s counter-extremism programs, doubling the funding they’ve received since 2013.
Ms Andrews said Australia was a “peaceful, tolerant, and harmonious country, but we cannot be blind to the fact that there are those among us who seek to sow hate, fear, and discord”.
“Violent extremists may have a range of ideologies and motivations, but none of them are welcome in this country,” Ms Andrews said. “This government has zero tolerance for anyone threatening the peace and cohesion of our society by trying to use violence to achieve a political, religious, or ideological goal.”
Security agencies are concerned the pandemic has supercharged a number of groups and individuals spreading conspiracy theories. While Australia has so far largely avoided violence, a heavily armed man was arrested in December in the United States after police discovered a “hit list” including the names of President Joe Biden and his chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci.
Government sources also said the murders of British MPs Jo Cox in 2016 and Sir David in October demonstrated there was a range of people prepared to use violence to strike at the heart of democratic processes and institutions.
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess said last October many violent extremists were focusing on individual issues rather than broad ideologies such as right-wing extremism or white supremacy, which gave authorities less warning time. He cited protests in Melbourne in September against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 lockdowns in which police officers were injured.