Recent ‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies and counter-rallies across country highlight social tensions and xenophobic fears.
Australian police have revealed that a 12-year-old is on the radar of counterterrorism authorities as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged closer cooperation with Muslim leaders to combat a growing “terror” threat.
The warnings came on Thursday, just days after the federal government announced controversial plans to bolster its counterterror laws.
The 12-year-old boy was listed on a federal court order among a group of males that may have helped Farhad Jabar, 15, who shot a police employee in the back of the head in Sydney earlier this month while reportedly shouting Islamic slogans.
“We’re shocked that a 12-year-old is on police radar for these types of matters,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
“This threat has evolved; it’s become younger.”
He added that “the problem is getting worse for Australia, not better”.
Information about the 12-year-old boy’s possible involvement in the Sydney shooting was confirmed a day after the Australian government issued a statement saying it was seeking to strengthen counterterror laws
“The new laws will, among other things, lower the age at which a control order can be applied from 16 to 14 years of age,” the statement said.
Control orders can be used to prevent people suspected of “terrorist” activities from leaving Australia or visiting certain areas and can also restrict the movement of individuals by forcing them to remain under house arrest or wear a tracking device.
The proposed laws have riled legal experts in Australia, who say the government has not been able to justify why they need to be strengthened.
Amnesty International Australia’s legal affairs spokesperson Katie Wood told Al Jazeera that, even though the details of the proposed laws have not yet been released, it was apparent that the new legislation would be inconsistent with the country’s international human rights obligations.
“It is important to remember that these orders would be placed on kids who have not been charged with a crime,” Wood said.
“At their height, the orders can amount to house arrest. So when you think about it, this would be like a young kid being placed under curfew by the police.”
Turnbull has said the new laws are in direct response to the Sydney shooting on October 2.
At the launch of a security summit on Thursday, which was attended by police and intelligence officials, Turnbull said, “The shocking act of terrorism perpetrated by a 15-year-old boy reminds us yet again that radicalisation, extremism can be seen in the very young.”
He added, “People that we would regard as children – this is a real home-grown threat, and it appals all Australians and it appals all Muslim Australians,” he said, adding that closer cooperation was needed with Muslim leaders.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan confirmed to the ABC there would be no Muslim community representatives at the security summit.
Additional reporting by Mark Worley