AFP boss Reece Kershaw warns on rising threats to parliamentarians

Australian MPs 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, compared to just 279 in 2020-21.

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

“Over the past four years, reports of harassment, harassing, abusive and threatening communications against Australian MPs have increased by 160%,” he said.

Commissioner Kershaw said the force had dedicated additional resources to ensuring the safety of MPs.

“A greater number of activities and events in 2023 resulted in a higher level of safety risk, which required the implementation of additional resources and risk treatments,” he said. “As of March 31, we saw a 35% year-over-year increase from 2023 related to MP movements assessed as significant or greater risk.”

Describing the reported risks against MPs and Senators as a “threat to democracy”, Commissioner Kershaw added that plans are already underway to plan for the next federal election, due by May 2025 at the latest.

“For federal MPs here today… if you feel unsafe or need advice, please contact the AFP Diplomatic Security Liaison Team,” he said.

Young people radicalized online: Kershaw

Earlier in his speech, Commissioner Kershaw spoke of the “very worrying trend” of online radicalization of young Australians.

“We are concerned about the activities identified online, as well as what is happening in the real world, including violence in schools, such as planning possible attacks against students and teachers and the production 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, with 60% subsequently charged with a range of offenses including supporting terrorism, distributing extremist material, planning a terrorist crime. or be a member of a terrorist organization.

Despite the allegations, Commissioner Kershaw maintained that the AFP’s priority was still to intervene before terrorism-related crimes were committed.

“Whenever possible, and where there is no immediate threat to the community, the AFP prioritizes early intervention and disruption strategies rather than prosecuting youth,” he said.

“Once there is a prosecution and a conviction, many lives are severely disrupted.

The AFP commissioner added that “significant resources” are needed to deal with criminals at high risk of terrorism after they have served time behind bars.

“Managing each offender requires dedicated resources, with planning generally starting two years before their release date,” he said.

“For example, the AFP administered and enforced the conditions of the extended supervision order on an adult between 26 August 2022 and 21 January 2024. This required approximately 80 staff and 10,300 operational hours.”

Commissioner Kershaw said there are currently 25 high-risk terrorist offenders due for release within the next five years.

Just as the AFP worked with treatment agencies and services, as well as community and faith leaders, Commissioner Kershaw called on parents to pay attention to the “online nurturing” of their children.

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

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