The Abbott government will crack down on hate speech, targeting Hizb ut-Tahrir

Tony Abbott. Getty / File

The Abbott government will introduce new prohibitions on “vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred” as part of its suite of measures to combat the rise of Islamic extremism in Australia.

In his speech this morning setting out some of the details of the counter-terrorism package, the prime minister said the government would be “taking action against hate preachers” and said groups “spreading discord and division – such as Hizb ut-Tahrir – should not do so with impunity.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is a worldwide network of radical Islamic political activists which advocates the creation of a global Islamic society. It is active in Australia and regularly holds meetings addressed by fiery preachers – one in 2013 in western Sydney was attended by 600 people.

The group’s spokesman in Australia, Uthman Badar, told Business Insider last year that the group was “not pacifists”.

“We don’t say Islam is a peaceful religion. It’s all too fuzzy. We’re not pacifists,” he said. “As a political party we don’t take [sic] violence. But if you attack we will defend. We uphold the right of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine to defend themselves militarily.”

In opposition, the coalition had proposed imposing a ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir but it seems to have retreated from making it illegal. Here’s what the PM said today:

Organisations and individuals blatantly spreading discord and division – such as Hizb ut-Tahrir – should not do so with impunity.

Today, I can confirm that the Government will be taking action against hate preachers.

This includes enforcing our strengthened terrorism advocacy laws.

It includes new programmes to challenge terrorist propaganda and to provide alternative online material based on Australian values.

And it will include stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.

These changes should empower community members to directly challenge terrorist propaganda.

One of the advantages of having Hizb ut-Tahrir out in the open is that its activities and attendees at its assemblies are easier to monitor by intelligence services. And if it was banned it would likely move underground or be replaced by a new organisation with a different name.

Roger Shanahan, an expert in Islam at the Lowy Institute, told the ABC over the weekend that an outright ban would be ineffective:

People who may have been a member of this organisation may just form a different organisation under a different name but with the same general outlook. It’s very difficult to completely legislate against ideas that you might disagree with but aren’t illegal.

We haven’t seen the legislation yet, but the “stronger prohibitions” promised by the PM indicate certain types of incitement to hatred could become a criminal offence.

In its first year in office the federal government tried to loosen restrictions on free speech by changing the controversial section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it an offence to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a group of people based on their ethnicity.