A government grant program which paid for projects which allowed community groups to engage with alienated Muslims did not have its funding renewed in the June 2014 budget, it has emerged.In 2010 the previous Labor government announced a $9.7m, four-year program called Countering Violent Extremism.The intention was to reduce violent extremism in Australia with a focus on “high-risk hotspot areas” and to assist frontline workers and communities to identify and address violent extremist influences.But funding for the program was not included in the latest 2014-15 budget and no new grant round has been announced.
Asked whether the program would still be funded, a government spokesman said, “The work to counter violent extremism is now a well-embedded element of the government’s national security efforts” and that the $630m counter-terrorism package would include an expansion of programs to counter radicalisation.
“The escalating terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria poses an increasing threat to the security of all Australians, both here in Australia and overseas,” the spokesman said. “Community engagement and communications continue to be an important part of the government’s work to respond to these threats.”
Sydney doctor and Muslim community leader Jamal Rifi, who received death threats for speaking out against radical elements of the Islamic community, this week said he was concerned at the end of the Building Community Resilience program, which came under the umbrella of the Countering Violent Extremism program.
“The government’s approach of confiscating passports of individuals deemed as a security threat, is in my view a nonsensical approach,” Rifi said in a letter to the prime minister this week.
“All this approach does is keep these individuals in the local community, affecting local families, furthering their anti-social behaviour, to be dealt with by local leaders and authorities.
“Furthermore, what is concerning is that these individuals are given a badge of honour to parade and thus in turn creating for them a fan-base, without the availability for any pathways or programs for re-education.”
The various Countering Violent Extremism programs funded in the last grant round in 2013-14 included a football program, an online social marketing campaign, and a manual for young Muslim leaders to build resilient communities and develop strategies to reduce the threat of violent extremism.
Labor spokesman Brendan O’Connor said it was crucial for the government to fund the Countering Violent Extremism program for at least the next year.
“The program recognises that the majority of people convicted of terrorism offences in Australia were born and raised here,” O’Connor said.
“We have a responsibility to do all we can here in Australia to make sure our citizens do not become radicalised. Continuing to fund the program is a crucial part of Australia’s national security framework.”
Anne Aly, a Curtin University academic specialising in terrorism, counter-terrorism and policy responses, is the founder of People Against Violent Extremism (Pave) which, as part of the Countering Violent Extremism program, received $115,000 for a program to counter extremist messages online relating to any ideology, religion or concept.
Aly described the government’s counter-terrorism package to stop the threat of Islamic terrorism as “not very smart”.
“For example, the laws on the return of foreign fighters – they often go through a third country, so there are problems with evidence,” she said. “How you prove where they were fighting?
“It is not really well thought out, it’s not very smart.”
Aly said there had been a knee-jerk reaction to getting laws in place and greater care was required to review successful programs to address radicalisation and ensure measures do not become counterproductive by alienating entire communities.
Aly urged the government to take up a program to combat radicalisation based on a successful German program called Hayat, which is based on a family counselling model. It would cost $1m over three years.
“The problem is that the government is expecting taxi drivers, tradies, bus drivers, ordinary Muslims, to challenge something like Isis (the Islamic State) that is run and developed as a multinational organisation,” said Aly.
“As early as 2000, al-Qaida considered its media strategy the most important thing. These organisations have a Facebook page in every single language, a website in every language.
“They know how to use social media better than me.”
Aly said programs were needed to identify people at risk to all extremist ideologies and convince them to “walk away”.
The government announced on 4 August that it would be introducing a package of new measures which would increase agency powers to arrest, monitor and prosecute returning foreign fighters, introduce identification technology for those entering and leaving Australia, increase the number of intelligence officers and analysts, establish a national disruption group within the Australian Federal Police and increase access to metadata.