Vic public offices received extremist threats during pandemic peak

By Tom Ravlic

June 16, 2022

parliament house victoria
Operation Watts was the inquiry into branch stacking and misuse of public funds in the Victorian elections. (Image: Adobe/FiledIMAGE)

A Victorian government submission to an inquiry into right-wing extremism has revealed 85 referrals were made to the Victorian Fixated Threat Assessment Centre related to threats against public officers during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The submission, which was made to the Victorian parliament’s inquiry looking at the growth of right-wing extremism, said a majority of those referrals, made between 1 July 2020 and 31 March 2022, related to current ministers in the Andrews’ Labor government.

“All referrals were assessed against the unit’s fixated risk-assessment tool and either accepted as an active case or, where not accepted, advice was provided to Public Office support staff in managing quarrelsome and fixated individuals,” the submission said.

“In addition, VFTAC has provided tailored training to Parliamentary Security staff in assessing potential referrals, and all Parliamentary Security staff are trained in completing VFTAC’s fixated referral form.”

There were 19 charges or forthcoming charges issued from 1 June 2020 to 31 March 2022, with the submission revealing that individuals charged with making threats to parliamentarians and other holders of public office were known to the Counter Terrorism Command of the Victoria Police.

“Of those charged, the majority had minor criminal histories in Victoria. These threats are almost certainly a reflection of personal grievances of individuals experiencing negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions,” the submission says.

The government submission says that the coronavirus pandemic had become a gateway for some people to engage with far-right extremism, or what the submission refers to as Nationalist and Racist Violent Extremism (NRVE).

“While there have been some commonalities identified between the ideological views of NRVEs and those advocating anti-government conspiracy theories, the significant rise in prominence of the latter does not necessarily equate to a corresponding and equivalent growth in the broader NRVE movement,” the submission says.

The government submission says that the anti-lockdown protesters are less likely to be involved with other extremist elements once their lives return to something approximating a pre-pandemic tempo.

“This assessment has more recently been supported by the downturn in protest activity and threats to Members of Parliament and Public Office Holders following the easing of government-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.

“The impact of the pandemic, including anti-lockdown groups as a gateway into NRVE groups, nonetheless necessitates ongoing evaluation as government-mandated restrictions ease and eventually end.”

Protesters who sought to bring an end to government health-related mandates were not seen by Victoria Police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation as being a part of a movement that fits a traditional typology on a political continuum such as left or right.

“Instead, these individuals are ‘driven by a diverse range of grievances, including anti-vaccination agendas, conspiracy theories and anti-government sovereign citizen beliefs’,” the submission says.


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