ABC News Breakfast – Christchurch, Neil Prakash

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Television interview, ABC News Breakfast

SUBJECTS: Shootings in New Zealand, Neil Prakash

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: We are talking now with the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Senator Bridget McKenzie and also Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Thank you both for joining us this morning. Bridget McKenzie, I might start with you. The Prime Minister has said that this man who has been arrested in New Zealand is a right-wing extremist, he was not on any watch list. Is Australia doing enough to combat right-wing extremism – our security agencies, but also the rhetoric around right-wing extremism?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE NATIONALS: Well, it an absolute tragedy that occurred yesterday and I just want to put on the record that I, like the Prime Minister, and I’m sure all Australians, stand with New Zealand as we have for over 100 years against terrorism and tyranny, no matter where it exists, and no matter where it comes from and we do so today and will continue to do so. This right-wing extremist of Australian descent has committed these atrocities and I know that our government is doing everything it can to monitor extremism, wherever it occurs, and I think our intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies at both a federal and state level work in harmony with communities across Australia to identify those with extremist views wherever they exist-

NICHOLSON: Although, Senator, our security agencies didn’t pick up this man. Is that an issue? Do things need to change?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think it is a good point to actually examine the methods that we use and to actually look at how somebody with such violent tendencies and with the view to cause harm to the Muslim community in New Zealand, and who obviously had, from all reports, seems to have made those views publically online, how that slipped through not just our own efforts, but those efforts indeed of the online providers and platforms who are responsible for monitoring content in that space.

JOSH SZEPS: Senator, everyone across – in mainstream politics- across the ideological spectrum will of course reject any acts of violence, but in terms of the ideas that this person believed, in terms of the motives that he had, isn’t this the logical extension of a lot of concerns, anti-Muslim concerns, anti-immigrant concerns that we’ve been seeing fermented on the right?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think it’s far-right extremism at its very, very worst end, is what we’ve actually seen visited upon the Christchurch Muslim community. People of faith in their most sacred space, praying, gunned down. I think it’s an incredibly horrific thing that has occurred. You know, I think that is what is the problem with far right-wing extremism, and I think no matter where extremism exists, far-right or far-left in a liberal democracy like ours, we should be rooting that out, identifying it swiftly so that these things don’t cur.

NICHOLSON: Amanda Rishworth, was this a failure of security agencies?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Firstly I would like to extend my sympathies to the people of New Zealand and also to those families grieving so deeply, and also those of Muslim faith that feel this very, very strongly as well. Look, I think the investigation will play out and we will see what it is that we knew about this individual and potentially other individuals. I think it is a time to remember we do have very good security agencies. We need to make sure that they are well-equipped and that they cooperate around the world. I think it is a time, unfortunately in this type of era where we must cooperate and I have no doubt that our security agencies are doing our best. The investigation will play out and I’m really not in a position to comment on that, but certainly I do think it is a timely reminder that we do have to be vigilant, and that an attack on any religion is an attack on all religions, and we have freedom of religion in this country, and it is important that that is protected.

SZEPS: We do have breaking news, Amanda, that the man in Christchurch has appeared in court. He has been remanded in custody until the fifth of April. He didn’t apply for bail and he didn’t apply for the suppression of his name either. Amanda, I’ve seen pundits from not the far right but the moderate right in the wake of these attacks saying, ‘Look, this is what happens when you don’t allow people to speak freely about the problem of Muslim integration, the problem of multiculturalism and the problem of high levels of immigration’, and fundamentally calling people bigots when they raise these problems is part of what renders them extremists. Do you buy that?

RISHWORTH: I do not buy that at all. I think that was an appalling excuse for what was extreme violence that has hurt so many people. I think we must condemn extreme violence and not make excuses for it, and certainly not blame the victim whose were going about their daily life. I think we have to remember that words do have an impact, and that’s why we have laws in this country about hate speech. Hate speech incites violence and we should all condemn not only the violence, but the hate speech that goes with it. With rights come responsibilities, and I think it’s incumbent on everyone to remember that.

NICHOLSON: Senator McKenzie, do you agree and do you think political leaders have to take more responsibility about in reference to the comments that they make that might not constitute hate speech, but might play into that space?

MCKENZIE: Look, I think Amanda makes an excellent point and I’m sorry, I was raised saying, I absolutely agree with what she says, and we need to make sure that the rights and responsibilities that we enjoy in the real world are actually reflected in our conversations and commentary in the virtual world. And so I think that’s one of the tensions that the twenty-first century brings us, and all the fantastic things the Internet brings us. It also brings us some real challenges about how, in a civilised country like Australia, where we do hold each other to account for how we treat each other in the real world, we need to make sure, I think, that that is applicable in the online world where so much of this hate speech, of these violent extremist ideologies are being perpetrated from both extreme ends. And I do think it is incumbent on political leaders to step up and take a stand. We live in a fantastic, pluralist community, a great multicultural community here in Australia, and New Zealand also, and it owes a lot of its strength and dynamic nature and its peaceful outlook to the fact that it is a highly multicultural community and nation, and it takes pride in that. So it is not a function of our multicultural make-up that this has occurred and we need to protect that and unite together and take a stand together against extremism, wherever it occurs in our communities and our nations.

SZEPS: Amanda, speaking of the role that the Internet has played in all of this, of course, this guy streams the stuff live to the internet and some hours later it is still available on a whole bunch of major sites that are own by major companies in Silicon Valley. You wonder whether or not if I had posted something that had, for example, a copyright infringement of a Lady Gaga song, whether it would have taken that many hours for those companies to get around to taking it down. Is there anything you can do as legislators to encourage tech companies to be faster with this stuff?

RISHWORTH: I think it is quite concerning that this footage was available and my message to anyone is please do not watch it and please do not share it. This is not something that we need to see.

SZEPS: Well, why is it up to the individual to make that calculation? That’s the thing. It shouldn’t be up to every individual citizen of planet earth to make sure these things are taken care of?

RISHWORTH: I think you’ve got a good point and I do think that we need to look at what levers we have available, but also hold these companies to account as well. What are the processes that they’ve got in place? What are the filters, etcetera? I do believe – I was concerned about the lack of response or the reported lack of response and the time that it did take. There is obviously technological challenges, but I think that as a community, as a company, and as legislators, we do need to work together to actually address those issues. It shouldn’t be above us to actually address this because I do think that we need to make sure we are responding as quickly as possible. Because people get hurt when they watch this. People do get hurt. It can traumatise people, has a detrimental effect right across our community.

NICHOLSON: Senator McKenzie, would the Government look at changing the legislation in this space?

MCKENZIE: Well, I think in response to this sort of incident occurring in our region and with such a close ally, indeed family member as New Zealand is to Australia, that is something that will probably come up for examination. I just wanted to touch on comments earlier about individual responses. Yes, it is, as Amanda said – I, too, was surprised and shocked at the tardiness, if you like, of those global entities to really address this and stop this being shared because that’s part of the problem, but at some level in our homes, particularly with our children, we all need to make sure that we do take some responsibility, like we do in real life, about the sorts of things we personally view and are allowed to become part of our consciousness, and that our children and loved ones view. So I would absolutely be echoing Amanda’s concerns and call to make sure we do not share this, do not watch this. This is not something that needs to become part of your consciousness, other than to know it is an abhorrent act and we stand united with New Zealand against it.

SZEPS: Senator, overnight in Turkey, Neil Prakash, who used to be an Australian citizen, is a member of Islamic State, has been sentenced to seven and a half years in jail. Of course, Australia revoked his citizenship because he is a terrorist. It that a legit thing to do? Could we for example consider revoking the passport because he was involved in yesterday’s act?

MCKENZIE: No, not at all. Terrorism is terrorism, I have made that point. These acts provides- our legislation provides for a case by case assessment that where people hold dual citizenship in Australia can make a determination to withdraw the Australian citizenship as they’ve done with Mr Prakash.

NICHOLSON: Amanda Rishworth, do you agree with that?

RISHWORTH: Obviously Labor has welcomed this sentence. The activities that this individual has been involved in and other activities that he is believed to be involved in are abhorrent, and, of course, they are crimes that need to be punish. It is unclear about his citizen status. Of course, there was legislation supported in the Parliament, but there are questions around his citizen status. What I would say is if he ever makes his way back to Australia, then he should face the full force of the law and actually make sure that he never walks within the Australian community.

NICHOLSON: Senator Bridget McKenzie and Amanda Rishworth, we have to leave it there because unfortunately we’ve run out of time. Thanks for your time this morning. Thanks to both of you.


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