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Top spy reveals scale of neo-Nazi threat

Recent demonstrations by neo-Nazi groups have sparked questions about the terror threat they pose. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling
Recent demonstrations by neo-Nazi groups have sparked questions about the terror threat they pose. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

Australia’s top spy has confirmed neo-Nazis are becoming more emboldened but the biggest threat to national security remains espionage.

ASIO boss Mike Burgess on Tuesday said neo-Nazis were staging public displays with more frequency but monitoring these groups still didn’t form the bulk of his organisation’s caseload.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing, Mr Burgess disclosed he had briefed Anthony Albanese after the Prime Minister last week claimed right-wing extremism had “for some time” posed the strongest identified threat to Australia’s security.

Mr Albanese made the comments after members of a neo-Nazi performed the Sieg Heil salute during an anti-immigration rally in Melbourne on May 13 following a similar a number of similar public gatherings earlier this year.

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ASIO boss Mike Burgess has appeared before Senate estimates. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Mr Burgess on Tuesday said these types of demonstrations were gaining prominence but said they were mainly aimed at recruiting new members and didn’t necessarily indicate the terror threat of neo-Nazi groups was growing.

“It’s a sign that those groups are more emboldened and able to come out publicly in their recruitment to push their what they believe in and recruit to their cause,” he said.

“Does that mean there’s been an increase in the numbers of them? I don’t necessarily see that correlation.”

However, Mr Burgess said ASIO had witnessed a rise in the number of people who were drawn to neo-Nazi ideology for reasons the organisation didn’t “fully understand”.

He revealed ASIO’s counter-terrorism investigation caseload dedicated to ideologically-motivated extremism, including the neo-Nazi movement, had grown over the past seven years from 5 per cent to about 30 per cent.

But the principal threat remained religiously-motivated extremism, taking up 70 per cent of the organisation’s workload, Mr Burgess said.

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Members of neo-Nazi groups have staged multiple public demonstrations this year. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Mr Burgess also revealed ASIO was monitoring for possible security threats and foreign interference as the “Yes” and “No” campaigns for the Indigenous Voice to parliament and executive government get under way.

“We are not seeing indications of people planning a terrorist attack as part of that but that’s something that we constantly look at, noting the terrorism threat level is still probable,” he said.

Mr Burgess said ASIO hadn’t received any intelligence suggesting a foreign actor was planning to interfere in the referendum — to be held sometime between October and December.

But he said ASIO was keeping an “open mind” to the possibility and remained on the lookout.

Mr Burgess said the debate in the lead-up to the referendum had the potential to result in spontaneous violence, though he said this would be a matter for police rather than ASIO.

“Unfortunately we do expect people, as they express their views and exchange their views online, that might inflame some people,” he said.

“We continue to watch if there’s anyone doing planned violence, to promote politically motivated violence, promotion of communal violence, or someone is trying to interfere from a foreign interference perspective.”