AFP boss Reece Kershaw warns on rising threats to parliamentarians

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Australian parliamentarians are facing an increasing number of threats to their safety, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has warned, with reports rising to 725 so far this financial year, up from just 279 in 2020-21.

During an appearance before the Senate committee on Friday afternoon, Commissioner Kershaw said he was “concerned” about the increase in reported threats in recent years.

“Over the past four years, reports of bullying, harassment, abusive and threatening messages against Australian parliamentarians have increased by 160 per cent,” he said.

Commissioner Kershaw said police had deployed additional resources to ensure the safety of MPs.

“More activities and events in 2023 brought with them increased security risk, requiring the deployment of additional resources and better risk management,” he said. “By March 31, we had seen a 35 percent increase in the movements of parliamentarians classified as significant or higher risk compared to the previous year.”

Commissioner Kershaw described the reported risks to MPs and senators as a “threat to democracy”, adding that plans were already underway for the next federal election, which is scheduled to take place no later than May 2025.

“To the federal parliamentarians present here, if you feel unsafe or need advice, please contact the AFP diplomatic liaison team for security protection,” he said.

Young people radicalized on the Internet: Kershaw

Commissioner Kershaw had previously spoken in his remarks of an “extremely worrying trend” of online radicalisation among young Australians.

“We are concerned about the activity we have observed online, as well as what is happening in the real world, including violence in schools, such as planning possible attacks on students and teachers, and the making of explosives or the possession or use of weapons.

Since July 2021, the AFP and its counter-terrorism partners have launched investigations into 27 young Australians aged between 12 and 17. Sixty per cent of them have subsequently been charged with a range of offences, including advocating terrorism, disseminating extremist material, planning a terrorist offence or membership of a terrorist organisation.

Despite the charges, Commissioner Kershaw insisted that the AFP’s top priority remains to intervene before terrorist crimes are committed.

“Wherever possible and unless there is an immediate threat to the community, the AFP places emphasis on early intervention and disruption strategies rather than criminal prosecution of young people,” he said.

“If prosecution and conviction occur, many lives will be severely destroyed.

The AFP commissioner added that “significant resources” would be needed to deal with high-risk terrorists after their prison sentences.

“Caring for each individual offender requires dedicated resources and planning typically begins two years before the release date,” he said.

“For example, between August 26, 2022 and January 21, 2024, the AFP administered and enforced the imposition of an enhanced supervision order on an adult. This required approximately 80 members and 10,300 hours of operation.”

According to Commissioner Kershaw, 25 highly dangerous terrorists currently need to be released within the next five years.

While the AFP worked with authorities and therapy services as well as community and religious leaders, Commissioner Kershaw called on parents to pay attention to their children’s “online diet”.

“There is a lot of garbage and nonsense on the internet and on social media platforms,” he said.

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