Meet with us or be quiet .
Mr Dutton said that the Fraser government had made mistakes in letting some migrants into Australia from the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s, referring to advice that 22 of 33 terrorism offenders were second and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim Australians.
Dutton’s blame game
Bill Shorten is “sneaky and tricky” according to Peter Dutton who believes he’s been misrepresented by the Labor leader.
Ethnic communities are mobilising against Mr Dutton with 30 Lebanese organisations, including the Lebanese Muslim Association and Lebanese Community Council, meeting in Auburn on Friday night to discuss his comments.
Several community leaders said the comments reverse years of hard work in building cohesion and belittle the entire community.
“We are certainly not reducing the threat, we are contributing to the threat by those statements. Effective intervention means working with young kids and the only way you can get to young kids is working with communities,” he told Fairfax Media.
“The government has taken a 10 or 15-year step backward.”
Dr Jones, now a research fellow at the Australian National University’s School of Global Governance, has been working with Islamic community members to help design and set up youth intervention and support programs.
He said frontline police and intelligence agencies trying to build links with those communities would also likely be dismayed by Mr Dutton’s comments.
“Police struggle at the best of times with community engagement because they have the difficult dual role,” he said.
The federal government has invested millions of dollars in trying to get effective Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs off the ground. But the Dutton comments could jeopardise any progress already made, others also warned.
Professor Clive Williams, a former senior defence official now at the Centre for Military and Security Law at the ANU, slammed the minister’s comments as ” counterproductive”.
“Its not a good idea to make that kind of observation in public. We need the co-operation of families, they are the first point of contact really if there is concern developing about a young person.”
Last week Mr Dutton argued the Fraser government had made “mistakes” in parts of its 1970s’ migration program.
Challenged in parliament to identify the groups he was referring to, Mr Dutton said “of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds”.
In terms of long term damage its doing, we are really creating the terrorists of the future
Dr Clarke Jones, ANU security expert
Mr Dutton has since sought to soften the context around the remarks, telling Sydney radio host Ray Hadley on Thursday that “the point that I was making is that we should call out the small number within the community, within the Lebanese community, who are doing the wrong thing. If we do that we can hold up the vast majority of people within the Lebanese community who work as hard as you and I do, who have contributed to Australian society.”
But Diana Abdel-Rahman, president of Australian Muslim Voice, told Fairfax “the damage is done, the milk is spilt”. She said CVE programs were already having trouble gaining traction but “now I’m sure there will be a lot more who will drop out of the system”.
Jacinta Carroll, head of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Mr Dutton’s figures are correct but “don’t tell us much that is helpful”.
“Fortunately in Australia to date the numbers of supporters of Islamist extremism and terrorism are very low; so low, in fact, they’re categorised as cases and clusters rather than being statistically useful,” she wrote in an opinion piece for Fairfax Media.
“The figure of 22 represents less than 0.01 per cent of the about 180,000 Australians of Lebanese background, according to the ABS.”
Terrorism expert Greg Barton said there were lessons to be learned from the problematic Lebanese Civil War intake but that Mr Dutton’s comments were “unfortunate”.
“Instantly everyone’s back is up and people are feeling aggrieved,” Professor Barton said.
“We’re talking about an exceedingly small number of people in the Lebanese community.”
Allan Behm, a former top aide to Labor minister Greg Combet who once headed the division of the Attorney-General’s department that included counter-terrorism, said no cabinet minister should have made the kinds of remarks that Mr Dutton made.
“It simply undermines the credibility of government agencies setting about the difficult and painstaking and time-consuming work of ensuring that the various Islamic communities feel valued,” he said.