Australia's Regional Summit to Counter Violent Extremism - Closing remarks

Pier One, Walsh Bay, Sydney

Friday 12 June 2015

As co-chair of Australia’s Regional Summit to Counter Terrorist Propaganda, along with my Parliamentary Secretary, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, today I have had the opportunity to observe your positive deliberations on what is needed to respond to the current and very serious threat of terrorism.

I consider this Summit an historic event, and an occasion we must build on to implement tangible outcomes that will make a material difference in this region’s fight against terrorism.

Our speakers today have identified the generational challenge we face. Given the complexity of the issues, we need a multi-pronged approach.  We must commit to enabling and encouraging community engagement, promoting a narrative that amplifies positive content, and putting in place strong legislative frameworks and operational activities to halt the forward push of ISIL will succeed.

That is why I called this Summit, heeding UN Resolution 2178 and following the White House Summit; to mobilise a concerted regional effort to counter terrorist recruitment and domestic radicalization and while we will report our progress to the UN General Assembly leaders meeting in September 2015, our cooperation on counter terrorism will endure for many years to come. In addition, the official statement of this Summit will be provided to the UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee for its information.

Mr Masagos, our Singaporean colleague, reflected this morning that ISIL is fighting two battles – one on the traditional battle field, and another in the media.

Professor Gunaratna gave us some strong insights into how ISIL, born out of Al-Qaeda, has been far more effective than past groups in exploiting social and traditional media.

Charlie Winter from the Quilliam Foundation noted it is the ability of these groups to create short, targeted material that resonates with vulnerable people.

But while the problem is a significant one, it is apparent that significant investment, both public and private, has been put into building societies that are resilient to terrorism and violent extremism.

This is in recognition that governments cannot alone effectively meet this challenge – we must develop and sustain strong partnerships with industry and civil society to not only negate those who propagate violent extremism but offer viable alternatives.

We have heard from our social media partners about their responsiveness to these challenges.  Australia certainly welcomes the initiatives of these and other organisations to contribute to the global effort.

As Monika Bickert reminded us, we need to identify the most effective speakers and we need to understand our audience. Social media will play a vital role, in educating governments and civil society about how to maximise our presence on social media and better exploit the opportunities that technology presents. 

But, as Special Envoy Hussein noted this morning, we must recalibrate what we see as success. Usually, if 99 per cent of people are on your side, it would not be a contest. But ISIL has effectively reached out to the one percent. As a region, we must empower the 99 per cent to sway the minority.

Yesterday, my co-chair, Senator Fierravanti-Wells delivered the closing remarks at the regional forum for civil society, industry and governments. The challenge for governments is in helping these groups and institutions to recognise and act at the first signs of radicalisation.

A point well made by a number of speakers was the need to switch our thinking from “countering the terrorist narrative” to retelling and amplifying our own narrative. It is a simple but effective point – we must avoid legitimising terrorist narratives and we must promote our own narrative, highlighting the values of our societies –peace, respect and social inclusion.

The warped interpretations of a few cannot be allowed to drown out the majority and undermine Islam itself.  We need to underscore the important, and effective work that is undertaken by grass roots organisations across the region, often below the radar.

We recognise, as a region, the need to empower credible and resonant voices in our communities who can challenge terrorist narratives and promote powerful alternative messages that promote the positive values of our societies. And so, over the last two days, we have discussed taking a number of practical and tangible steps, as a region, to meet the threat of terrorism.

Today we reaffirm our position as stated by the Special Envoy Rashad Hussain that violence against innocents is an unacceptable response to political and other grievances.

That can be done by:

  1. Establishing a regional network of civil society groups to foster peer-to-peer learning and partnerships, including with the private sector.
  2. Developing a regional guide for government and civil society on effective engagement with the private sector, to facilitate closer collaboration on countering violent extremism.
  3. Creating a regional best practice guide for the development of rule-of-law-based legislative responses to inhibit the dissemination of terrorist propaganda.
  4. Developing a compendium of regional counter narratives to amplify effective messages across the region.
  5. And investing in enhancing the role of communities to challenge terrorist propaganda, including by building the technical capability of grassroots organisations to elevate non-extremist voices that resonate with target audiences.
  6. We will aim, through key bodies such as Hedayah and the UN SC Counter-terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate to collect and disseminate local, national, regional and global experiences; to identify effective practices; and to address violent extremism.

And we welcome the initiative like the one announced today by our Republic of Korea colleague, Mr Shin Dong-ik, to hold a workshop next month to examine best practice partnerships between business and civil society to counter violent extremism.

By meeting in Sydney over these past two days, the leaders of our region have sent a strong message to the World - that we will not sit idle and allow terrorist groups to continue to recruit and radicalise our citizens through their perverse ideologies.

The actions that we have discussed today will form part of the region’s contribution to the United Nations General Assembly leaders’ meeting on countering violent extremism, planned for September this year.

On behalf of the Australian Government, thank you for taking the time to attend this regional summit, for sharing your valuable insights, and for committing to take further action.

Finally, I want to thank my staff from the Attorney-General’s Department, and indeed staff from my office for organising this successful event.

I thank the staff from this venue, Pier One, for hosting the Summit.

Thank you to the Australian Federal Police and others who have provided protection and security for the Summit.

I wish you a safe journey home.