Interview with Melissa Clarke ABC News 24 Capital Hill – Thursday, 8 October 2015




SUBJECT/S: Countering violent extremism

MELISSA CLARKE: Jason Clare joins me a short time ago from our Melbourne studio. Jason Clare thanks very much for joining us on Capital Hill.


CLARKE: Your constituents are those who are directly affected by the sorts of events we have seen over the last week. How are they coping with these recent events?

CLARE: A lot of people in the Muslim community are reeling from these events and a lot of people are worried that good people will be blamed for the bad actions of one young boy who seemed to have had his mind poisoned or brain washed by malevolent forces in our community. A lot of people are worried they will be blamed for that. If that happens it makes a bad situation worse. If we’re going to tackle this it’s not just through the work we do with law enforcement, we need the whole community to come together.

CLARKE: What can parents and community leaders do? How much influence can they have on vulnerable young people when we know that young people often don’t necessarily respect their elders or the elders might not have much influence over what young people are doing?

CLARE: It’s a really good question. Normal 15-year-old boys don’t go into a police station and start firing a gun and so we have to ask hard questions and think what can we do that is going to make a difference here?

Part of it is what happens in our schools. I remember last year, just before the Sydney siege, I asked Federal Police officers what they thought would make a real difference here and they said for the people they’re concerned about in their late teens or early twenties it’s all too late to think about what you can do to change the way they think but what we do in schools, particularly primary schools, can make a difference.

I think for parents out there that might be afraid to ring the police or ring a hotline, we have got to think about new ways to give them the support that they need.

Dr Jamal Rifi, a very eminent individual in the Muslim community in Western Sydney suggested an idea only a couple of days ago about an early intervention program that provides extra support for parents. I think that is an idea worthy of consideration – the sort of thing that the Federal Government and Federal Opposition should work on together.

CLARKE: We have certainly seen the Federal Government talk about the funding it has for countering violent extremism, particularly a unit set up in the Attorney-General’s Department that is looking at preparing materials and the like with this extra funding but certainly many in the security and police forces are concerned that that money is not being spent in the right way and with the right people to do the job. Do you have those concerns?

CLARE: I think they’re right. This is not a political point. I don’t think we got it absolutely right when we were in Government, it certainly isn’t working perfectly now and a lot of that money hasn’t been spent. We have to have a good, hard look at where you spend the money and where you’re actually going to have the most impact.

I talked about schools, the other area where I think you can have an impact is by funding outreach services. Funding youth workers to go out into parks, into railway stations, into schools, talking with young people and getting intel, getting information that will help law enforcement to know where an issue might arise. There’s a little bit of that at the moment but not enough. And a lot of the community organisations that are being asked to step up and do more work don’t necessarily have the skills or experience to tackle this sort of problem. They’ve been set up to do other things. If we are going to have tackle this problem, I think we have to help parents, we have to help law enforcement and we also have to make sure we have more people on the ground with the skills and the experience to identify young people quickly who might fall into this trap and get brain washed into doing homicidal acts.

CLARKE: Now, that obviously is what needs to be done on the ground, and close to if picture. But also the words from the top make a difference and we have seen a language change from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull as the new Prime Minister, a different emphasis instead of talking about people being out to get us, as we heard from Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull is putting more emphasis on the need to work with our Muslim community. Does that make a difference? Is that something people notice and does it have an influence on the ground?

CLARE: It does. What Malcolm Turnbull said is right and I congratulate him for it. Some of the things Tony Abbott said were counterproductive. In February he talked about Muslim leaders needing to stand up more and when they speak they need to say the truth or to believe it when they say it. That had a ripple through the community where people thought that the Prime Minister of Australia was saying that we’re lying or we’re not telling the truth. So words do matter. They do have an impact. The words the Prime Minister has used have already had an impact. But, again, Melissa, it’s one thing to have an impact on community leaders, it’s another thing to have an impact on young people that might think about getting on a plane to go overseas or going into a police station with a loaded gun. There is no guarantee that words are going to stop those sorts of actions. It’s a lot harder to tackle that sort of problem, there’s no guarantee that what we saw on Friday won’t happen again. We have to be on high alert to the fact that it could happen. That there is a real risk of it happening and we have to martial all of our forces to stop it happening again.

CLARKE: Finally in your portfolio area, in particular Communications of course, so much of the influence here on young people comes through online forces, through social media, through what they’re able to access on the Internet. That is something that is harder for parents and community leaders to monitor or to counter that influence, so how do you tackle this issue from a communications perspective?

CLARE: That is right. They’re being bombarded with information, often from overseas, telling them that your country doesn’t love you, you don’t belong there, you should be coming overseas and fighting in another war. There is not a lot of information coming in the other direction. I think that if you are going to tackle that risk, you have to make sure you have a strong message coming to young people in our schools, from their parents, from religious leaders, from political leaders as well, making it very, very clear that you do belong, you are Australians, we’re all in this together. We need to work together. If you do that, then we’ve got some chance but don’t underestimate how hard this is.

CLARKE: Indeed it’s a troubling time but hopefully we can make some you progress. Jason Clare, thank you very much for joining us.

CLARE: Thanks Melissa.