Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has agreed with his British counterpart Theresa May that there is too much tolerance of extremist material on social media.
He flagged a stronger international push against IT companies, including Apple, Facebook and Twitter, whose platforms are used by terrorists for communications and radicalisation.
“They, of course, are American businesses. They are headquartered in the United States and it is one of the priorities that we have and our friends in the UK have as we work as part of the five eyes intelligence community, which, of course, includes the United States, Canada and New Zealand as well, to get a more responsible approach taken to this type of material,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The other area where we need these global social media messaging companies to assist is in providing access to encrypted communications which are used by billions of people, of course, and applications like Whats App and Apple iMessage. But the security services need to get access to them.
“So we need to have a full court press against violent extremism.”
‘Islamophobia hasn’t killed anyone’
Mr Turnbull spoke after former Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended people’s right to target Muslims and Islam, saying Islamophobia, unlike terrorism, has never killed anyone.
Mr Abbott has also claimed Australia’s leadership sufferers from a “surrender mindset” which somehow weakens its defence against terrorism.
His comments, including that Australian police should have the right to shoot-to-kill terrorists, sparked more tension with Mr Turnbull who, for example, said police already have shoot to kill powers in Australia.
Mr Abbott was speaking in the aftermath of the latest atrocity in the United Kingdom in which Islamic terrorists murdered seven people and wounded another 48.
Mr Turnbull announced four Australians were among the injured. Queenslander Candice Hedge is recovering in hospital from a neck wound while Darwin electrician Andrew Morrison, also slashed in the neck, is flying home.
Mr Turnbull said “there are two other Australians…about whom we have very real concerns.
“But at this stage, we’re not able to say anything more. We have been in touch with their families, in close touch with their families as we seek to find confirmation of the circumstances of the two other Australians,” he said.
Mr Abbott said the weekend attack was “obviously another atrocity in along line of Islamacist atrocities against the west”.
“We’ve got to avoid any spirit of surrender any spirit of defeatism and all too often in officialdom’s ranks there is this notion that Islamophobia is almost as big a problem as Islamic terrorism,” he said.
“Well, Islamophobia hasn’t killed anyone. Islamacist terrorism has now killed tens of thousands of people, that’s why its absolutely critical that there be the strongest possible response at every level.”
‘Too much tolerance’
Mr Abbott’s tacit endorsement of Islamophobia, which is defined as “a dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force”, will alarm security agences who constantly urge politicians that good relations with Islamic communities are valuable in the fight against terrorism. The communities are good sources of intelligence and deradicalisation.
Mr Abbott suggested everybody was being too polite and that there was “too much tolerance”.
“We shouldn’t be societies who run and hide…we should be people who are very proud of what we have achieved and we should be people who are prepared to confront all of those who would do us harm and that why I say there should not be the slightest hint of a surrender mindset, there should not be the slightest hint of a run-and-hide mindset because we have so much the be proud of, so much to defend and uphold.”
‘Most important tool is intelligence’
Mr Turnbull indirectly rejected the claims of the predecessor and sided with the intelligence agencies.
He noted Australia’s actions in the Middle-East as well as at home where 12 serious plots have been foiled.
“The most important tool that we have in this battle within Australia is intelligence. That is why it is very important for our intelligence services, ASIO, working with the Federal Police and the state and territory police to be able to be alerted so that to these plots as they develop so they can be uncovered, such as the major plot in Melbourne just before Christmas that would have seen explosive devices ignited around Federation Square,” he said.
“It is important that we get that intelligence early so that we can intercept these plots and disrupt them and arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice. And the lengthy terms of imprisonment they deserve.
“So it is vitally important for all Australians if they have concerns or are aware of information that might suggest that somebody is radicalised or radicalising or could be contemplating violent or extremist acts of this kind, to let our police and security services know. They are working night and day to keep us safe and they are absolutely the best in the world, but it is a dangerous environment.
“We will see more of this terrorism before we see less. And so, we have to be vigilant and determined and defiant.”
Use of military under consideration
Mr Abbott is advocating that the military be called out for future terrorist incidences after the NSW police bungled the Lindt cafe siege.
He said given police were on the street, they should always be first responders but “if there is a complex terrorist situation, I think it is fitting that the military become the lead agency.”
The government already has a review underway into this issue. Mr Abbott suggested it be on the agenda at this Friday’s meeting of the Prime Minister, the Premiers and Chief Ministers.
Mr Turnbull said using the military was “a matter under very active consideration” but at the same time “it is very important that the public has confidence in our police and our security services”.
“We have to remember that they do a phenomenal job keeping us safe. 12 terrorist plots uncovered in the period since September 2014 – 63 arrests. They are constantly, 24-7, keeping us secure,” he said.
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