During wide-ranging briefing, senior police said about 40% of the ‘hundreds’ of extremists currently being monitored in the state were rightwing
Victorian police have revealed there is an active counter-terrorism investigation involving rightwing extremists in the state, and confirmed that separate action could be taken against a handful of people who have allegedly made vile threats against others because of their race or religion.
In a wide-ranging briefing about the extent of the rightwing extremism threat in Victoria, senior police said about 40% of the “hundreds” of extremists currently being monitored in Victoria were from that cohort – a workload that had almost doubled in the past 18 months.
Assistant commissioner Mick Hermans would not be drawn on further details regarding the current investigation, including whether it related to a group or individual.
But he said police were also awaiting advice from the office of public prosecutions regarding charging four people for allegedly breaching Victoria’s contentious racial and religious tolerance act.
A Victorian parliamentary inquiry found earlier this month that the act’s ability to address racial and religious vilification was “questionable”, and recommended Victoria police start collating data on hate crime.
Hermans said that cases brought under the act were complex but typically related to the most vile racist threats reported to police.
“Typically they are really abhorrent descriptions of, you know, we will do this to this person,” he said.
When asked about concerns about members of the far right accessing firearms, including via their links with the security industry, Hermans said police had clamped down on the access some individuals had to weapons.
But he would not comment on how many extremists had been stripped of their firearm licences or issued with firearm prohibition orders.
Access to firearms and weapons training is seen as advantageous to the most militant of far-right groups.
Hermans said police were aware that the groups recruited based on capability, meaning they could target the military and ex-prisoners, but they were not aware of any serving military involved in far-right groups nor of any active recruitment from prisons.
He also said there had been no cases of serving Victoria police being found to have far-right views, but that the force were digging deeper to ensure that was the case.
Other groups such as outlaw motorcycle gangs had attempted to infiltrate the force in the past, and far-right extremists could be expected to do the same, he said.
“We’re not blind to the possibility and it’s a piece of work that we’re working up at the moment to make sure that our perceptions are supported by the reality.
“We’re just looking at the … weaknesses in our organisation to make sure that we’re cognisant of the potential.”
Deputy commissioner Ross Guenther said it would not be “unreasonable” to think some of the force’s members held far-right views.
“Victoria police have got 22,500 employees, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that they represent the broader community … but we’ve not seen it.”
Guenther said the proscription of rightwing terror groups was limited by the ability of them to rename themselves, meaning they may no longer be proscribed, and because of the “amorphous” nature of many rightwing extremists.
Hermans said that while there was increasing overlap between far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists, and anti-lockdown protestors, the counter-terror investigation regarding the destruction of a phone tower in Melbourne’s south-east had not uncovered any evidence linking the crime to the far right.
It had also not uncovered any evidence that the far right were actively seeking to recruit those who were drawn to conspiracies or protests related to Covid-19.