Neo-nazism and other far-right extremist ideologies are a growing threat in Victoria and are putting marginalised groups at risk of violence, a new report says.
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In the 150-page report tabled in state parliament on Tuesday, the Legal and Social Issues Committee delved into the rise of far-right extremism within Victoria.
It found declining mental health, social isolation and economic insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has stoked far-right extremism.
Misinformation, conspiracy theories peddled on social media and the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric in mainstream media have also put vulnerable people at risk of radicalisation and made them more susceptible to racist narratives, it said.
Multicultural groups, women and LGBTQI members were identified as common targets of far-right extremists.
The Greens-initiated inquiry was prompted by a neo-Nazi gathering in the Grampians in January 2021 and the erection of gallows outside parliament as MPs debated pandemic legislation in November.
Far-right extremism refers to people or organisations who promote exclusionary nationalism, oppose democratic principles and processes, and favour authoritarianism
It includes groups who consider violence a legitimate way to achieve ideological goals.
The movement has always existed but re-emerged in the middle part of the 2010s before being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said.
"We saw this type of rhetoric being promulgated particularly during a pandemic as more people were using digital spaces to connect," she told reporters outside state parliament.
"We saw these movements exploit people's legitimate fears and anxieties, spreading misinformation and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories."
Among its 12 recommendations, the inquiry called on the Victorian government to develop better social cohesion and community building strategies, and ensure public information in future health crises is in plain language, timely and accessible.
It also wants the state government to review if the Firearms Act should be changed to expand the "fit and proper" person test to include extremist group members and push the Commonwealth to list known groups active in Victoria.
Committee Chair and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said the report doesn't hold all the answers to solving the problem but opens the door for conversations on how to tackle it.
"There's so much that we can do at a state level to prevent extremism from happening," she said.
"So rather than constantly being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, we can create fences for our community to keep it safe."
The state government has six months to respond in writing to recommendations.
Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich, who spearheaded Victoria banning the intentional public display of the Nazi swastika, said the report was a timely wakeup call about disaffected young people being recruited at an "historic level".
"This is an alarming trend that needs to be disrupted," Dr Abramovich said.
"White-supremacists and neo-Nazis are dialling up their spread of poisonous ideology in order to attract new followers, and this is a problem from hell that we can't run or hide from."
Liberal and Nationals MP committee members released a one-page minority report to express their disappointment that the inquiry's terms of reference were confined to examining only one form of extremism.
"Narrowing the scope of our inquiry was a significant missed opportunity," they wrote.
Australian Associated Press
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