The Law Council of Australia is warning against criminalising the possession of extremist memorabilia, calling it overkill and saying it would have “unintended consequences.”
Richard Wilson SC, the co-chair of the Council’s National Criminal Law Committee, was responding to comments yesterday by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) calling for new laws to address gaps in the monitoring of extremist activity.
One recommendation from the AFP was that the possession and sharing of propaganda, flags, and insignia—along with online content—from extremist groups such as ISIS or the Nazis be criminalised.
“Symbols and insignia shouldn’t be criminalised,” Wilson told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on Friday.
“It seems overkill,” he said. “Criminalisation can, and does have unintended consequences, including fuelling extremism by heightening the sense of grievance and marginalisation felt by disaffected individuals, which made them susceptible to radicalisation in the first place.”
He also argued that mere possession of such items did not mean a person would carry out an attack, and changing the law would remove a key safeguard for people’s rights.
“Proof of such connection [between possession and intent to commit an act] is a deliberate safeguard which limits the scope of criminality, and associated police powers,” he said.
The reputation of Australian institutions, including intelligence and police services, would also be damaged.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Legal and Social Issues Standing Committee is examining state-level laws that would ban symbols like the swastika due to its Nazi connotations.
Dara McDonald, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, warned that banning symbols would not change people’s beliefs.
“If they are going to hold an abhorrent view, they are going to hold it, regardless of whether the law says it or not,” she said.
On Thursday, the AFP officers warned the committee that extremist material was reaching younger audiences in Australia.
“I have a colleague of mine who describes the internet as a ‘salad bar of hate’ in terms of what, even at a very young age, a person can access on the Internet,” Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said.
“The online environment, I think, is very much a force-multiplier for extremism,” he said.
While the chief of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, said a terrorist attack was likely to occur on Australian soil in the next 12 months.