There are growing concerns over the safety of Australian Parliamentarians, as security experts warn about an upsurge in “extreme right-wing rhetoric”.
In March this year, the director of Australia’s peak intelligence agency ASIO, Mike Burgess, identified “lone actors” as a great threat to national security.
“COVID has reinforced extremist beliefs and narratives about societal collapse and a race war,” he said.
“An ideologically-motivated terrorist attack in Australia remains plausible, most likely by a lone actor or small cell rather than a recognised group, and using a knife or a vehicle rather than sophisticated weapons.”
This warning has been elevated into the spotlight by the murder of British MP Sir David Amess.
The Conservative MP was stabbed to death during a regular meeting with his constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex on Friday.
He is the second member of UK Parliament to be killed, in the past five years.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says it serves as a “timely reminder” about the threat of a terrorist attack, which has been considered “probable” in Australia since 2014.
“This is an elected representative of the people who has been murdered and of course we need to consider what those implications are for us here in Australia,” she said.
She also recognised that this attack is resonating among Australian politicians, after concerns were raised by multiple MPs during a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday.
“I think ‘worried’ may be too strong, but I think that they are conscious of the increasing threat, people do obviously need to be able to speak to their MPs and we want that to continue,” she said.
“There just need to be some boundaries.”
Liberal Senator and Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, James Paterson, is among those sounding the alarm about the growing threat.
“I am concerned about the safety of all people in public life; parliamentarians, their staff and their families included,” he said.
“Unfortunately in this line of work we do from time to time receive serious threats to us.”
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has also expressed her concern.
“When my children were younger it was quite stressful, I’ve had situations as the NSW Premier where I’ve had the police in my house with their guns drawn, clearing rooms to ensure that an intruder wasn’t there,” she said.
“And indeed in recent months I have been the subject of threats, specific threats from specific groups. But it’s a risk of the job, I accept that, but it shouldn’t have to be.”
While there hasn’t been a life-threatening attack on an Australian politician in recent years, there have been serious threats made to elected officials and their families.
The family of Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner had to be evacuated from their home this week, after their address was disclosed at an anti-vaccine protest.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also revealed today that the lives of his own children were threatened quite openly “some years ago”.
Neil Fergus, a security expert and CEO of advisory firm Intelligent Risks, believes what happened in the UK could occur here, due to a surge in activity of extreme right groups.
“It’s always a possibility … there has been recent information, proven information of some of these groups engaging in what I would term training camps in rural areas and there is no question at all that the rhetoric coming from some of them is preparing for a race or ideological war,” he said.
He also says recent events in Melbourne, which saw far-right extremists hijack a trade union movement, could help inform security protocols at the next federal election.
“(It) would give those persons responsible for threat assessments, the holders of high office, cause to pause and reflect on whether those types of behaviours indicate that we might see more extreme behaviour going into the next federal election,” he said.
When asked whether he expected current security concerns to alter the next federal election campaign, he said: “I hope not, but you know, it’s a legitimate question. The thing is we do have very well practised and rehearsed systems in this country and resources that are appropriately trained and competent to carry out their respective tasks.”
In a statement provided to 9News, the AFP said reviews into the threats against Australian politicians are conducted regularly.
“There has been no increased reporting of threats by MP or Senators since the UK incident,” an AFP spokesperson said.
“The Australian Federal Police takes all reports regarding Australian High Office Holders safety and security seriously, and assess each matter against information provided including international incidents.
“Protection assessments for AHOHs including Ministers are conducted and reviewed regularly.
“The threat level is assessed on an ongoing basis based on numerous factors.
“All reporting is considered as part of this process.”