Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther who heads the state’s counter terrorism command has warned of the rise of “extreme elements of the political left and right” and that Victorian Police “are concerned at the rise of politically motivated violence” in comments made to the Sunday Herald Sun.
Guenther added it was important the force didn’t concentrate solely on Islamic extremism “Over the last five years 80 to 90 per cent of our threat would be Islamist … (but) we need to be really mindful of politically motivated violence going forward”.
Guenther highlighted the murder of anti Brexit MP Jo Cox during the 2016 referendum in the UK as proof that “violence can be perpetrated by individuals and groups from across the ideological, political and religious spectrum.”
Over the past two years we have seen rallies and events featuring right wing or nationalist themes counter protested by Melbourne’s local far-left activists such as the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and Antifa aligned groups.
These events have often needed a heavy police presence to stop leftist protestors storming the venue or attacking attendees. Astonishingly organizers of these events have been charged protection money from Victoria Police to keep them safe from these protestors.
Ross Guenther has already overseen the introduction of Victoria’s
Fixated Threat Assessment Centre in March this year. A fixated person is defined as someone who repeatedly write letters, email or call local councillors or politicians and those who display a fixation with an ideology or religion. The centre aimed to look at ideologies and political activists on all sides of the spectrum.
Federally ASIO has previously presented a briefing to a parliamentary inquiry warning of a rise in activities of neo-Nazi groups who are “willing to use violence to further their own interests” as part of their push to obtain more funding from the federal government.
All of the above developments demonstrate that various government authorities and agencies are beginning to crackdown on political activists they deem “extreme”. The comments from Assistant Commissioner Guenther about political extremism come only weeks after Daniel Andrews Labor Government won a second term with an increased majority.
Guenther announcement of Victoria Police’s new extremism priorities came as counter-terror experts from around the world converged on Melbourne on Monday to discuss ways to respond to the growing threats from violent extremism in a three day forum.
Attendees included our own law enforcement agencies from around Australia including the Australia Federal Police and ASIO. Overseas authorities in attendance are Metropolitan Police in London and others from the US and Canada.
Melbourne over the past two years has seen three deadly vehicle attacks in the CBD with the latest occurring last month when Hassan Khalif Shire Ali detonated a car bomb and a unleashed stabbing attack killing popular Mebourne cafe operator Sisto Malaspina. The following week three Melbourne men were arrested on terrorism offences.
Victoria Police’s deputy commissioner of specialist operations Wendy Steendam cited these incidents as reasons for holding the forum “Sharing knowledge and experiences from around the world will go a long way to shape and lead innovation”.
Whether anything meaningful can come from such a talkfest is doubtful as these deadly car incidents have occurred since Melbourne hosted this forum the first time. But it is clear the focus of Victoria Police on preventing attacks has now expanded to monitoring other political groups and individuals.