ASIO boss quizzed about right-wing terror

ASIO boss Mike Burgess has downplayed the rise of right-wing extremism in Australia.
ASIO boss Mike Burgess has downplayed the rise of right-wing extremism in Australia.

ASIO boss Mike Burgess says there is no doubt the horrific Christchurch terror attack could inspire other right-wing extremists.

However, he has downplayed the risk of a right-wing attack in Australia, despite the domestic intelligence agency's annual report warning the threat had increased in recent years.

Mr Burgess told a Senate estimates hearing on Monday the threat of a right-wing terror attack was plausible, pointing to a matter before the courts in NSW.

But he assured the committee ASIO officers had been monitoring right-wing groups for several years.

Mr Burgess confirmed that no right-wing extremist groups were listed as terror organisations in Australia and was not aware the United Kingdom had recently listed one such group.

He said tracking right-wing extremists was no more difficult than other extremist groups, adding inspiration for terrorism was a global phenomenon.

The Australian government works with the Islamic community to prevent radicalisation and counter violent extremism.

Mr Burgess is not aware whether any similar community outreach programs exist for extreme right-wing groups.

"I think it is unlikely to be some public outreach to extreme right-wing groups - by their very definition they are closed," he told the committee in Canberra.

The ASIO boss said Australia faced an unprecedented threat of terrorism, espionage and foreign interference.

"These threats are not constrained to one section of the community or a single nation state," Mr Burgess said.

"ASIO identifies and investigates threats to Australia wherever they arise."

The terror threat level for Australia remains at "probable".

"Extremist groups involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, particularly ISIL (Islamic State), continue to inspire, radicalise and direct individuals in Australia to support and engage in politically motivated violence," Mr Burgess said.

"Additionally, the threat of violence from the extreme right wing continues and remains the subject of close ASIO attention."

In an annual report published last week, ASIO warned extreme right-wing groups in Australia were more cohesive and organisaed than they had been in previous years.

"Any future extreme right-wing-inspired attack in Australia would most likely be low capability and conducted by a small actor or small group," the agency said.

"Although, a sophisticated weapons attack is possible."

Australian Associated Press