Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka terror attack. Here’s what that means


Greg Barton, Deakin University

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – about 250 dead, according to revised government figures – it feels disrespectful to the people of Sri Lanka to be dissecting what went wrong even as the dead are being buried.

But the reality is that most, if not all, of these lives need not have been taken. We owe it to them and their loved ones to make sense of what happened and work towards doing all that can be done to ensure it does not happen again.

The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. And this in a now peaceful country, which for all its history of civil war and ethno-nationalist terrorism in decades past has never had a problem with jihadi radical Islamist terrorism.

A return to deadlier, more coordinated strikes

The long-anticipated claim of responsibility for the attacks was made by the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday night. This could help explain how one local cell based around a single extended family circle of hateful extremists not previously known for terrorism could execute such a massive attack. It was larger even than IS’s previous truck-bomb attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attacks follow a familiar, if now rarely seen, IS operandi of coordinated suicide bombings. The targeting of Catholic churches, which made little sense initially in the context of the domestic social issues at the heart of the country’s recent civil war, fit an all-too-familiar pattern of IS attacks on Christians, along with fellow Muslims.




Read more:
Who are Sri Lanka’s Christians?


The fact that 40 or more Sri Lankans travelled to Syria to fight with IS could help explain how the terror network was able to build vital personal links in the very small community of Sri Lankan Islamist extremists so it could subcontract its attack plans to them. At this point, the precise involvement of returnees from Syria and foreign IS supporters in the bombings remains under investigation.

The Easter weekend attacks more resemble the al-Qaeda attacks of the 2000s than they do recent attacks of IS. Like the 2000 attack of the USS Cole in Yemen, the September attacks in New York and Washington, the 2002 bombings in Bali, the 2003 truck bombs in Istanbul, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 tube and bus bombings in London, the Sri Lanka bombings involved multiple attackers acting in concert. With the exception of September 11, all of these also involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Sri Lanka bombings exceeded all but the September 11 attacks in sophistication and deadliness, despite the fact the perpetrators were previously known only for acts of hateful vandalism.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda has been unable to carry out significant attacks outside of conflict zones. It has also become increasingly focused on “reputation management” and has tended to avoid indiscriminate mass killings, all the whilst growing its global network of affiliates.




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Out of the ashes of Afghanistan and Iraq: the rise and rise of Islamic State


The emergence of IS saw the tempo and scale of terrorist attacks transformed. Most attacks took place in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Philippines).

A number of significant attacks were conducted well beyond the battlefield. There were at least four such attacks in 2014, 16 in 2015, 22 in 2016, 18 in 2017, and 10 in 2018. The vast majority of these attacks were conducted by lone actors.

Why was it that, outside of conflict zones, not just al-Qaeda but even IS at the height of its powers focused largely on lone-actor attacks?

It is probably not for want of trying. The reason is that most larger, more ambitious plots were tripped-up by intelligence intercepts. This is especially the case in stable democracies, including our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.

Why Sri Lanka?

The other big question is how one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever was able to be executed in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka was a soft target. Having successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group a decade ago through military might, Sri Lanka has become complacent. It has not seen a pressing need to develop police and non-military intelligence capacity to counter terrorism.




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War is over, but not Sri Lanka’s climate of violence and threats


At the same time, it has struggled with good governance and political stability. Just six months ago, it faced a major constitutional crisis when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his deputy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attempted to replace him with the former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The attempt failed, but in the stand-off that ensued, Wickremesinghe, and ministers loyal to him, were excluded from intelligence briefings. In particular, they say that they were left unaware of the multiple warnings issued by the Indian intelligence service, RAW, to the authorities in Colombo about the extremist figures who played a key role in the Easter attacks.

Thus, despite several discoveries earlier this year of large amounts of explosives stored in remote rural locations on the island, and multiple warnings from the Indians, including final alerts just hours before Sunday’s attacks, the government and security community were left distracted and caught off-guard.

Between “fighting the last war” and fighting each other, they deluded themselves that there was no imminent terrorist threat.

What other countries are vulnerable?

If the massive attacks in Sri Lanka over Easter serve to remind us that IS is very far from being a spent force, the question is where this energetic and well-resourced network will strike next.

For all that it achieved in Sri Lanka, IS is unlikely to be able to build an enduring presence there. So long as the Sri Lankan government and people emerge from this trauma with renewed commitment to unity – and with elections at the end of the year, this is far from certain – the “perfect storm” conditions exploited by IS are unlikely to be repeated.

So where else is IS likely to find opportunity? India and Bangladesh continue to present opportunities, as does much of Central Asia. In our region, it is Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines that we should be most worried about.

Malaysia has emerged stronger and more stable from its swing-back to democracy but continues to be worryingly in denial about the extent to which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, downplaying the very good work done over many years by the Special Branch of the Royal National Malaysian Police.




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Defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is rebuilding in countries like Indonesia


Thailand and the Philippines remain less politically stable, and rather more brittle than they care too acknowledge. And both tend to delude themselves into thinking that the problems of their southern extremes will never manifest in a terror attack in Bangkok or Manila, respectively.

The people of Sri Lanka have paid far too high price for the lessons of the Easter weekend attacks to be ignored or forgotten.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University

Sri Lanka has long been subject to extremist violence. Easter Sunday’s coordinated bomb blasts, which killed almost 300 and injured hundreds more, are the latest in a long history of ethno-religious tragedies.

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, 24 people have been arrested. Three police were killed in their capture.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attacks on the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), a radical Islamist group known for vandalising Buddhist statues.

These attacks are different from previous ethno-religious violence in Sri Lanka. By fomenting generalised religious hatred, they appear to have more in common with Al-Qaeda, which has sought specific political change.




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For many, the bomb blasts immediately recalled Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war. The war was fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lanka government from 1983 until 2009.

In its final weeks, around 40,000 mostly Tamil civilians were killed, bringing the war’s total toll to more than 100,000 from a population of around 20 million.

The Tamil Tigers were completely destroyed in 2009. Many Tigers, including their leader, were summarily executed. There remains much bitterness among Tamils towards the ethnic majority Sinhalese, but there is no appetite for renewing a war that ended so disastrously.

A history of unrest

Ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka were high prior to independence in 1948, and stoked by the 1956 election of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party under Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike.

Bandaranaike proclaimed himself “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture”, and oversaw the introduction of the Sinhala Only Act. The act privileged the country’s majority Sinhalese population and their religion of Buddhism over the minority Hindu and Muslim Tamils. The fallout from this legislation forced Bandaranaike to backtrack, but he was assassinated in 1959 by an extremist Buddhist monk for doing so.

Inter-ethnic tensions continued with outbursts of mob violence. In 1962, there was an attempted military coup, and in 1964, around 600,000 third and fourth generation “Indian” Tamils were forcibly removed to India.

In 1972, and again in 1987, the predominantly Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party (JVP) launched insurrections that were bloodily suppressed. Clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils in 1983 led to an attack on a Sri Lankan army convoy. This sparked the “Black July” Sinhalese rampage against ethnic Tamils, leaving at least 3,000 dead and marking the start of the inter-ethnic civil war.

The war was noted for its bitterness, with the Tamil Tigers using suicide bombing as a tactical weapon, as well as for targeted political assassinations. India intervened in the war in 1987. In retribution, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.




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Extremist violence isn’t new

Sri Lanka’s Muslims are predominantly ethnic Tamils and make up about 10% of the population. They have been at the margins of these more recent conflicts – excluded as Tamil speakers, but at odds with the more numerous Hindu Tamils. However, they also have long been subject to Sinhalese persecution, with anti-Muslim riots dating back at least as far as the early 20th century.

As the Tamil Tiger war progressed, Sinhalese Buddhism became more radicalised. Some Sinhalese claimed that all of Sri Lanka should be exclusively Buddhist. With the Tamil Tigers defeated, Sri Lanka’s non-Buddhist communities were again persecuted. This culminated in 2013 with a Buddhist attack on a mosque. Anti-Muslim riots in 2014 resulted in a ten day state of emergency. Last year, there were more anti-Muslim riots. Buddhist monks have also disrupted Christian church services.




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Sri Lanka’s history of extremist violence, then, is far from new. Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism has been the driver of much of this conflict. It may be that the Colombo East bombings are a reaction to recent ethnic persecution.

But if so, this raises the question of why Christian churches and upmarket hotels were bombed, rather than symbols of the Sinhalese Buddhist community. One can speculate about the logic of radicalisation and its possible manifestations. It is possible that, if Islamist-inspired, the bombings were not a direct retaliation for last year’s anti-Muslim riots, but part of a wider jihadi agenda.

It is instructive that, when the suspected terrorists were arrested and weapons found, three police were shot dead. Clearly, whoever was responsible was well trained, and there have been suggestions of international links. This contributes to speculation of returned Islamic State fighters having joined NTJ.

The Sri Lankan government was slow to release details of those believed responsible, as it knows ethnic and religious tensions are easy to spark. Identification of responsibility could well provide fuel for another round of inter-ethnic bloodletting.

If NTJ links are proven, or if the more radical elements of the Buddhist community are persuaded by wider speculation, it is likely Sri Lanka’s Tamil Muslims will bear the brunt of their reprisals. It is in this manner that Sri Lanka’s wheel of ethno-religious conflict turns.The Conversation

Damien Kingsbury, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch attack strains Australian-Turkish relations ahead of ANZAC day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.

The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.

President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”

He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.

“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.

Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.

Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.

Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.

Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.

He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.

Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.

The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.

Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.

“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.

“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.

He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.

“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.

The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Greg Barton, Deakin University

When lives are tragically cut short, it is generally easier to explain the “how” than the “why”. This dark reality is all the more felt when tragedy comes at the hands of murderous intent. Explaining how 50 people came to be killed, and almost as many badly injured, in Christchurch’s double massacre of Muslims at prayer is heartbreaking but relatively straightforward.




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As with so many mass murders in recent years, the use of an assault rifle, the ubiquitous AR15, oxymoronically referred to as “the civilian M-16”, explains how one cowardly killer could be so lethal.

It was much the same in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando three years ago, when one gunman shot dead 49 people in a crowded space and, though the motive appears very different, the same sort of military instrument of death lies behind the 58 deaths in Las Vegas a year later. An AR15 was used to shoot dead 11 worshippers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last October and a similar weapon was used to kill six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.

It is a credit to the peaceful nature of New Zealand society that, despite the open availability of weapons like the AR15, the last time there was a mass shooting was in 1997. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rightly identified reform of gun laws as one of the immediate outcomes required in response to this tragedy.

But lax gun laws are arguably the only area in which blame can be laid in New Zealand. Ardern, together with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was also right to refer to this barbaric act of cold-blooded murder of people in prayer as right wing extremist terrorism driven by Islamophobic hatred.

State and federal police in Australia have long warned that, next to the immediate threat posed by Salafi jihadi terrorism, they are most concerned about the steady rise of right-wing extremism. There has been some comfort in the recognition that the most active right wing extremist groups, and there are many, are disorganised, poorly led, and attract but small crowds.

On the face of it, then, right wing extremism in Australia is nowhere near as serious as the neo-Nazi movements of Europe or the various permutations of white supremacy and toxic nationalism that bedevil American politics. In America, it is conservatively estimated that there were 50 deaths due to terrorist attacks in 2018, almost all linked to right-wing extremism.

In 2017, it is calculated that there were 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques in Germany alone. Many of last year’s attacks in America involved a common right wing extremist hatred of Islam, and a targeting of Muslims, joining a long-standing enmity towards Jews.

Almost all recent terrorist attacks have been lone-actor attacks. They are notoriously difficult to predict. Whether inspired by Salafi jihadi Islamist extremism or right wing extremism, lone-actor attacks commonly feature individuals fixated on the deluded dream of going from “zero to hero”.




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One of the main reasons authorities struggle with identifying right wing extremist “nobodies” who post online, before they turn to violence, is that it’s difficult to pick up a clear signal in the noise of a national discourse increasingly dominated by exactly the same narrative elements of mistrust, anxiety, and a blaming of the other.

In Australia, as in Europe and America, mainstream politicians and mainstream media commentators have increasingly toyed with extremist ideas in the pursuit of popularity. Many have openly brandished outrageous ideas that in previous years would have been unsayable in mainstream political discourse or commentary.

Donald Trump can be deservedly singled out for making the unspeakable the new normal in mainstream right wing politics, but he is hardly alone in this. And sadly, for all of the relative civility and stability of Australian politics, we too have now come to normalise the toxic politics of fear.

No-one put it better than The Project host Waleed Aly in saying that Friday’s terrorist attacks, although profoundly disturbing, did not come as a shocking surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention and who really cares about the well-being and security of Australian society has observed the steady growth of right wing extremist and right supremacist ideas in general, and Islamophobia particular.

They have seen the numerous attacks on Muslims and Jews at prayer and worried about the day when the murderous violence that has plagued the northern hemisphere will visit the southern hemisphere. But more than that, they have worried about the singling-out of migrants, and in particular asylum seekers, African youth and Muslims as pawns to be played with in the cynical politics of fear.

Scott Morrison is right to say these problems have been with us for many years. But he would do better to point out that our downward trajectory sharply accelerated after John Howard’s “dark victory” of 2001. The unwinnable election was won on the back of the arrival of asylum seekers on the MV Tampa in August followed by the September 11 attacks, and at the price of John Howard and the Liberal party embracing the white supremacist extremist politics of Pauline Hanson.

Both major parties, it must be said, succumbed to the lure of giving focus groups and pollsters the tough language and inhumane policies the public appeared to demand and reward. We are now beginning to see the true price that we have paid with the demonising of those arriving by boat seeking asylum, or looking too dark-skinned, or appearing too religious.

The result has been such a cacophony of hateful rhetoric that it has been hard for those tasked with spotting the emergence of violent extremism to separate it from all the background noise of extremism.

There are, of course lessons to be learned. Authorities need to do better. We can begin with a national database of hate crimes, with standard definitions and robust data collection. Clearly, we need to pay attention to hateful extremism if we are to prevent violent extremism.

But ultimately, we need to address the permissive political environment that allows such hateful extremism to be promulgated so openly. The onus is on commentators and political leaders alike. They cannot change the past, but they will determine the future.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The psychology of fear and hate, and what each of us can do to stop it



File 20190316 28468 1elsvdi.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has travelled to Christchurch after yesterday’s terror attacks.
NZ Prime Minister’s office, CC BY-SA

Stephen Croucher, Massey University

As an immigrant to New Zealand, I am saddened and outraged by the events in Christchurch. The apparent innocence of New Zealand has been stripped away by acts of cowardice and evil.




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Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


Police remain on high alert and authorities are still responding to events following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people and seriously injured many more. Three people have been arrested, and one, an Australian living in New Zealand sporadically, has appeared in court on murder charges.

My research focuses on how members of a majority perceive a growing immigrant population, and what we can all do to keep fear and hatred in check.

Migrants target of hate

The alleged gunman (whom the Conversation has chosen not to name) is a self-identified white supremacist. Before the attacks he posted an 87-page manifesto online. In his manifesto and social media accounts, he refers to the rise of Islam, and to towns and cities being shamed and ruined by migrants.

He posts photos of ammunition, retweets alt-right references and praises other white supremacists. The manifesto includes references to “white genocide,” which is likely a reference to a conspiracy theory embraced by the alt-right and white supremacists that “non-white” migration dilutes white nations.

The gunman’s motivations seem to echo those of other white supremacists who have committed similar atrocities: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Charlottesville attacker, the Charleston church shooter, and attackers in Sweden, Quebec and Norway.

In each of these cases, the attackers voiced hatred toward minorities or immigrants and expressed a belief that their way of life, the “white” way, was being destroyed by these groups who were infiltrating their societies.

Over the past decade, my team has conducted research in India, France, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, analysing how members of the dominant group perceive minorities and immigrant groups. The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.




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Combating fears to reduce hate

Normally such fears are benign and lead only to misunderstanding or lack of interaction. But as we have seen too often, they can lead to prejudice, hatred and much worse.

Recently, such fears have become more visceral with the proliferation of social media platforms. With the use of social media, individuals can easily find others who share their feelings, and therefore not feel alone. The ability to find a community that shares one’s feelings provides a sense of security and validates ones fears and feelings of hate.




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In our increasingly connected world, it’s essential we take steps to combat these fears to reduce the chances of such atrocities happening in the future. First, how families talk about minorities and immigrants is critical. In work that we conducted in Finland, we found prejudicial opinions of Finns toward Russian immigrants are largely shaped during adolescence. It’s incumbent upon parents to be role models for their children and adolescents and to promote tolerance and mutual respect early.

Second, in an increasingly computer-mediated world, it is our shared responsibility to challenge racist and hateful cyber messages. If you see a YouTube clip that you deem abusive or offensive, report it.

Third, the more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information onto one another and improve overall social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society. It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognise our diversity and to face the psychology of hate that would attack our home and us.The Conversation

Stephen Croucher, Professor and Head of School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can a senator be expelled from the federal parliament for offensive statements?


Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

In the wake of comments about the Christchurch massacre, members of the public have raised the question of whether a senator can be expelled from the Senate for making offensive statements.

It is now well known that members of parliament can have their seat vacated in the parliament due to their disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution for reasons including dual citizenship, bankruptcy, holding certain government offices or being convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer.

But there is no ground of disqualification for behaviour that brings a House of Parliament into disrepute. This was something left to the house to deal with by way of expulsion.




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What powers do the houses have to expel?

Section 49 of the Commonwealth Constitution provides that until the Commonwealth parliament declares the powers, privileges and immunities of its houses, they shall be those the British House of Commons had at the time of federation (1901).

The House of Commons then had, and continues to have, the power to expel its members. The power was rarely exercised, but was most commonly used when a member was found to have committed a criminal offence or contempt of parliament. Because of the application of section 49 of the Constitution, such a power was also initially conferred upon both houses of the Australian parliament.

The House of Representatives exercised that power in 1920 when it expelled a member of the Labor opposition, Hugh Mahon. He had given a speech at a public meeting that criticised the actions of the British in Ireland and expressed support for an Australian republic.

Prime Minister Billy Hughes (whom Mahon had previously voted to expel from the Labor Party over conscription in 1916), moved to expel Mahon from the House of Representatives on November 11 – a dangerous date for dismissals. He accused Mahon of having made “seditious and disloyal utterances” that were “inconsistent with his oath of allegiance”. The opposition objected, arguing that no action should be taken unless Mahon was tried and convicted by the courts. Mahon was expelled by a vote taken on party lines.

In 2016, a private member’s motion was moved to recognise that his expulsion was unjust and a misuse of the power then invested in the house.

The power of the houses to expel members, as granted by section 49, was subject to the Commonwealth parliament declaring what the powers, privileges and immunities of the houses shall be. This occurred with the enactment of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.

It was enacted as a result of an inquiry by a parliamentary committee, which pointed out the potential for this power to be abused and that as a matter of democratic principle, it was up to voters to decide the composition of the parliament. This is reinforced by sections seven and 24 of the Constitution, which say that the houses of parliament are to be “directly chosen by the people”.

As a consequence, the power to expel was removed from the houses. Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 says:

A House does not have power to expel a member from membership of a House.

This means that currently neither house of the Commonwealth parliament has the power to expel one of its members.

Could the position be changed?

Just as the parliament had the legislative power to limit the powers and privileges of its houses, it could legislate to amend or repeal section eight so that a house could, in future, expel one of its members, either on any ground or for limited reasons.

Whether or not this is wise remains doubtful. The reasons given by the parliamentary committee for the removal of this power remain strong. The power to expel is vulnerable to misuse when one political party holds a majority in the house. Equally, there is a good democratic argument that such matters should be left to the voters at election time.

However, expulsion is still an option in other Australian parliaments, such as the NSW parliament. It’s used in circumstances where the member is judged guilty of conduct unworthy of a member of parliament and where the continuing service of the member is likely to bring the house into disrepute.




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It is commonly the case, though, that a finding of illegality, dishonesty or corruption is first made by a court, a royal commission or the Independent Commission Against Corruption before action to expel is taken. The prospect of expulsion is almost always enough to cause the member to resign without expulsion formally occurring. So, actual cases of expulsion remain extremely rare.

Are there any other remedies to deal with objectionable behaviour?

The houses retain powers to suspend members for offences against the house, such as disorderly conduct. But it is doubtful that a house retains powers of suspension in relation to conduct that does not amount to a breach of standing orders or an “offence against the house”. Suspension may therefore not be available in relation to statements made outside the house that do not affect its proceedings.

Instead, the house may choose to censure such comments by way of a formal motion. Such motions are more commonly moved against ministers in relation to government failings. A censure motion is regarded as a serious form of rebuke, but it does not give rise to any further kind of punishment such as a fine or suspension.

The primary remedy for dealing with unacceptable behaviour remains at the ballot box. This is a pertinent reminder to all voters of the importance of being vigilant in the casting of their vote to ensure the people they elect to high office are worthy of fulfilling it.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why overhauling NZ’s gun and terrorism laws alone can’t stop terrorist attacks



File 20190315 28499 1m1jb6b.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Grieving members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor in Christchurch.
EPA/Martin Hunter, CC BY-SA

John Battersby, Massey University

My research focuses on terrorism in or affecting New Zealand. Until yesterday, my phone didn’t ring that often because few were interested in anything I had to say. Since yesterday, it has not stopped.

There is no understating the horrific nature of the Christchurch tragedy. Forty nine people have been killed, and more than 40 are being treated for injuries at Christchurch hospital.

Three people have been arrested in relation to the mosque shootings. One Australian citizen has appeared in court today charged with murder.

New Zealanders will need to come to terms with this tragedy, vent emotions and frustrations, and they will want to know why this could not be stopped. These are valid questions.

New Zealand is a small country, geographically distant from the rest of the world. It has been happy in the assumption that the violent extremism that has showed itself on multiple occasions on five continents over the last 20 years had never happened here. Many New Zealanders believed that because it hadn’t, it couldn’t.




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Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


Geographic isolation no protection

There was a definite realisation by those in the security sector that this assumption was not safe. The spread of extremism through social media simply obliterates geographical distance and there is really nothing to prevent overseas events being replicated here.

The emphasis was on monitoring and detecting extremism – in whatever form it took. The few arrests for possession and distribution of ISIS related propaganda exhibit that fact. It was not confined – as some commentators have suggested – to just those engaging with violent jihadism.

Another key problem is hindsight. Now that the culmination of a sequence of activities has become so painfully clear, it will be inevitable that several points will be picked out that security sector operators perhaps did see, or could have seen. A retrospective case will be made that therefore they should have seen this coming.

But any sign there was, would have occurred in the context of the day before yesterday. Trying to convince the average New Zealander that anything like this could ever happen here would have been no easy endeavour.

Review of gun and terrorism laws

There will be questions over the resourcing and powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and rightfully so. But we must be mature and evidence-based in the conclusions we take from all this.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a review of gun laws. New Zealand doesn’t have a gun register, but there are an estimated 1.3 million legally owned firearms, with illegal firearms a significant problem.

It is not just the law that needs a review. Gun control, monitoring and enforcement will need to be tightened, but changes need to be considered calmly and focus on the individuals that are not likely to abide by any new law. The vast majority of licensed gun owners are not a problem, but they will need to accept that military-style automatic weapons will likely be banned and a national register will become a reality.

New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act was found wanting in 2007, following the “Urewera raids”. Police relied on the act to spy on and arrest activists who allegedly trained to use semi-automatic weapons in military-style camps in the Urewera forest. Then Solicitor-General David Collins QC described the act as “incoherent and unworkable”. Nothing meaningful has been done with it since.

Social media to blame

New Zealand is a democratic country in which freedom of expression, conscience, religious freedom and free speech are valued. Any legislative change will need to impinge on these as little as possible, but people need to be safe here.




Read more:
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Regardless of how big and well-resourced security agencies are, overseas experience has shown that individual actors, or small tightly integrated groups can slip through any security filter. It is simply impossible to monitor people’s thoughts, intentions, sayings and social media accounts so closely that every signal that someone might be planning to carry out an attack is seen.

Australian media suggestions of an “intelligence failure” are useful to a point. But the fact that at least one of the Christchurch offenders left Australia a short time ago and was not on any watch-list of concern in Australia, where police and intelligence powers are much more comprehensive, demonstrates this is a very difficult failure to guard against.

This attack was enabled by, and certainly comprised a strong element of, social media. Social media has been wilfully and readily adopted across modern societies. This has happened without much thought being given to its usefulness to organised criminals or extremists to spread their toxic views, or its ready use as a means of sourcing an audience for terror attacks.

As a society perhaps we should take pause to consider the broader implications before rushing to adopt every new piece of communications technology. It’s all very well to ask the security sector what could they have done to stop this attack, when we could ask ourselves the same – what could we have done?The Conversation

John Battersby, Police Teaching Fellow, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


Colleen Murrell, Swinburne University of Technology

Like so many times before with acts of mass violence in different parts of the world, news of shootings at two Christchurch mosques on Friday instantly ricocheted around the world via social media.

When these incidents occur, online activity follows a predictable pattern as journalists and others try to learn the name of the perpetrator and any reason behind the killings.

This time they did not have to wait long. In an appalling example of the latest technology, the gunman reportedly livestreamed his killings on Facebook. According to reports, the footage apparently showed a man moving through the interior of a mosque and shooting at his victims indiscriminately.

Amplifying the spread of this kind of material can be harmful.




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Mainstream media outlets posted raw footage from gunman

The video was later taken down but not before many had called out the social media company. The ABC’s online technology reporter, Ariel Bogle, blamed the platforms for allowing the video to be shared.

ABC investigative reporter Sophie McNeil asked people on Twitter not to share the video, since the perpetrator clearly wanted it to be widely disseminated. New Zealand police similarly urged people not to share the link and said they were working to have the footage removed.

Following a spate of killings in France in 2016, French mainstream media proprietors decided to adopt a policy of not recycling pictures of atrocities.

The editor of Le Monde, Jérôme Fenoglio, said:

Following the attack in Nice, we will no longer publish photographs of the perpetrators of killings, to avoid possible effects of posthumous glorification.

Today, information about the name of the Christchurch gunman, his photograph and his Twitter account, were easy to find. Later, it was possible to see that his Twitter account had been suspended. On Facebook, it was easy to source pictures, and even a selfie, that the alleged perpetrator had shared on social media before entering the mosque.

But it was not just social media that shared the pictures. Six minutes of raw video was posted by news.com.au, which, after a warning at the front of the clip, showed video from the gunman’s helmet camera as he drove through the streets on his way to the mosque.




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The risks of sharing information about terrorism

Sharing this material can be highly problematic. In some past incidences of terrorism and hate crime, pictures of the wrong people have been published around the world on social and in mainstream media.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the wrong man was fingered as a culprit by a crowd-sourced detective hunt on various social media sites.

There is also the real fear that publishing such material could lead to copycat crimes. Along with the photographs and 17 minutes of film, the alleged perpetrator has penned a 73-page manifesto, in which he describes himself as “just a regular white man”.

Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 people on the island of Utøya in 2011, took a similar approach to justifying his acts. Before his killing spree, Breivik wrote a 1,518 page manifesto called “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”.




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The public’s right to know

Those who believe in media freedom and the public’s right to know are likely to complain if information and pictures are not available in full view on the internet. Conspiracies fester when people believe they are not being told the truth.

Instant global access to news can also pose problems to subsequent trials of perpetrators, as was shown in the recent case involving Cardinal George Pell.

While some large media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, are under increasing pressure to clean up their acts in terms of publishing hate crime material, it is nigh on impossible to stop the material popping up in multiple places elsewhere.

Members of the public, and some media organisations, will not stop speculating, playing detective or “rubber necking” at horror, despite what well-meaning social media citizens may desire. For the media, it’s all about clicks, and unfortunately horror drives clicks.The Conversation

Colleen Murrell, Associate Professor, Journalism, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


File 20190315 28512 1c5h6c9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Members of the Armed Offenders Squad push back members of the public following a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch.
AAP/Martin Hunter, CC BY-SA

Paul Spoonley, Massey University

Tonight, New Zealand police continue to respond to events following shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch. The national security threat level has been lifted to high. Mosques across New Zealand have been closed and police are asking people to refrain from visiting.

So far, 49 people have been killed. According to media reports, 41 people were fatally shot at the Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue; others died at a second mosque nearby.

Four people, three men and a woman, have been taken into custody in connection with the shootings. One man in his late 20s has been charged with murder.

In the hours after the attacks, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern made it clear this was a terrorist attack of “extraordinary and unprecedented violence” that had no place in New Zealand.

She said extremist views were not welcome and contrary to New Zealand values, and did not reflect New Zealand as a nation.

It is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. Many of the people affected by this act of extreme violence will be from our refugee and migrant communities. New Zealand is their home. They are us.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


She is right. Public opinion surveys such as the Asia New Zealand Foundation annual surveys of attitudes tend to show that a majority of New Zealanders are in favour of diversity and see immigration, in this case from Asia, as providing various benefits for the country.

But extremist politics, including the extreme nationalist and white supremacist politics that appear to be at the core of this attack on Muslims, have been part of our community for a long time.

The scene of the mass shooting, Masjid Al Noor mosque on Deans Avenue, in Christchurch.
AAP/Martin Hunter, CC BY-SA

History of white supremacy

I completed research in the UK on the National Front and British National Party in the late 1970s. When I returned to New Zealand, I was told explicitly, including by authorities that were charged with monitoring extremism, that we did not have similar groups here. But it did not take me long to discover quite the opposite.

Through the 1980s, I looked at more than 70 local groups that met the definition of being extreme right wing. The city that hosted many of these groups was Christchurch.

They were a mixture of skinhead, neo-nazi and extreme nationalist groups. Some were traditional in their ideology, with a strong underpinning of anti-Semitism and a belief in the supremacy of the “British race”. Others inverted the arguments of Māori nationalism to argue for separatism to keep the “white race pure”.

And yes, there was violence. The 1989 shooting of an innocent bystander, Wayne Motz, in Christchurch by a skinhead who then walked to a local police kiosk and shot himself. The pictures of the internment showed his friends giving nazi salutes. In separate incidents, a Korean backpacker and a gay man were killed for ideological reasons.

Things have changed. The 1990s provided the internet and then social media. And events such as the September 11 terror attacks shifted the focus – anti-Semitism was now supplemented by Islamophobia.

Hate speeech online

The earthquakes and subsequent rebuild have significantly transformed the ethnic demography of Christchurch and made it much more multicultural – and more positive about that diversity. It is ironic that the this terrorism should take place in this city, despite its history of earlier far right extremism.

We tend not to think too much about the presence of racist and white supremacist groups, until there is some public incident like the desecration of Jewish graves or a march of black-shirted men (they are mostly men) asserting their “right to be white”. Perhaps, we are comfortable in thinking, as the prime minister has said, they are not part of our nation.

Last year, as part of a project to look at hate speech, I looked at what some New Zealanders were saying online. It did not take long to discover the presence of hateful and anti-Muslim comments. It would be wrong to characterise these views and comments as widespread, but New Zealand was certainly not exempt from Islamophobia.

Every so often, it surfaced, such as in the attack on a Muslim woman in a Huntly carpark.

Families outside following a shooting at mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
AAP/Martin Hunter, CC BY-SA

An end to collective innocence

It became even more obvious during 2018. The Canadian YouTuber, Stefan Molyneux, sparked a public debate (along with Lauren Southern) about his right to free speech. Much of the public comment seemed to either overlook or condone his extreme views on what he regards as the threat posed by Islam.

And then there was the public protest in favour of free speech that occurred at the same time, and the signs warning us about the arrival of Sharia law or “Free Tommy” signs. The latter refers to Tommy Robinson, a long-time activist (cf English Defence League leader) who was sentenced to prison – and then released on appeal – for contempt of court, essentially by targeting Muslims before the courts.

There is plenty of evidence of local Islamophobic views, especially online. There are, and have been for a long time, individuals and groups who hold white supremacist views. They tend to threaten violence; seldom have they acted on those views. There is also a naivety amongst New Zealanders, including the media, about the need to be tolerant towards the intolerant.

There is not necessarily a direct causation between the presence of Islamophobia and what has happened in Christchurch. But this attack must end our collective innocence.

No matter the size of these extremist communities, they always represent a threat to our collective well-being. Social cohesion and mutual respect need to be asserted and continually worked on.The Conversation

Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.