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Federal Inquiry into Extremist Movements and Radicalism

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This is our submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Inquiry.

12 February 2021

We acknowledge the contribution of many researchers and field practitioners, Muslim and non-Muslim, to this submission. The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference are here.

Printable version of this submission is here.


This graph from the Scanlon Institute[1], which has been constant for years, tells a sobering story of what has happened in Australia over the past two decades.

Chart, bar chart

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Graph: Mapping Social Cohesion Report 2020

Often it is assumed that a fear of Islam or Muslims is not irrational because of overseas terror groups and ‘home-grown terrorism’. However, this logic relies on collective guilt attribution (blaming the crimes of a few on the whole group), dehumanising conceptions (that Muslims are mechanically inhuman, incapable of human thought or feeling, or subhuman), and threat construction (portraying Muslims as an existential threat) – all techniques of dangerous speech that have been found historically to escalate the risk of atrocities against minorities.[2]

Australia’s counterterror laws will have significantly contributed to this outcome. The construction of these laws and the media surrounding them has unfortunately linked Islam and terrorism inextricably in the minds of the public and contributed to the current strength of right-wing groups. 

This submission focuses mainly on the Terms of Reference 3b-g in proposing changes to the countering violent extremism strategy. However, we begin with comments on proscription laws (TOR 3a) and Australia’s definition of terrorism.

Proscription laws

No right-wing extremist or white supremacist groups have been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. White nationalist organisations that have threatened or engaged in acts of violence overseas that show some signs of being active or gaining traction online here need to be listed[3]. It will send a vital resourcing signal to digital platforms and agencies guided by proscription lists.

The Royal Commission Report into the Christchurch terror attack found in New Zealand, before Christchurch, the threat of right-wing extremism was almost entirely disregarded by the public sector. Right-wing extremists were emboldened by the inaction of police and security agencies.

In 2008, the Australian Human Rights Commission (‘AHRC’) published the ‘A Human Rights Guide to Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Laws’, advocating for the replacement of the current proscription process with a judicial proscription regime. The concerns raised by the AHRC in 2008 remain true today. Presently, the legislation does not specify the considerations which the Minister must take into account in decision-making. Further, unlike Courts, the Minister is not bound by precedent and is free to exercise his/her ultimate discretion to list a terrorist organisation.


Acknowledge the transnational harm of violent extreme right, ethno-nationalist, white nationalist and white supremacist organisations by officially listing them in Australia.


Consider a court-based approach to proscription where the criteria are transparently explained, as per the AHRC proposal.

In the alternative, consider methods to distance the process from political objectives, and systematise the evaluation of a broader base of evidence to inform the proscription process.

Australia’s definition of terrorism

Although Australia’s definition of terrorism was not explicitly listed in the Terms of Inquiry, there are genuine concerns about it creating double standards of justice, sending improper signals to right wing extremists. First, we focus on the ‘religious cause’ aspect of the definition; and then consider the merits of a definition proposal put by the Victorian Expert Panel on Violent Extremism Prevention.

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            Mohamed Kamer Nizamdeen was held in solitary confinement for a month on terror       offences, only to be released after police admitted they’d arrested the wrong person. Having returned to Sri Lanka, he says the ordeal has ruined his life.  His lawyer    said the only evidence police were relying on was the notebook. A key element that      prosecutors need to prove in terror cases in Australia is motive. Dr Vicki Sentas, who    has researched these laws extensively, said being Muslim can be construed as a   motive for terror, so Kamer’s Islamic faith would have influenced police. [4]

Australia’s definition of terrorism specifically includes religious motivations. Personal religiosity in Islam is still misunderstood as a cause of extremism, with this argument levelled by opinion writers, editorial headlines and reflected in judicial discourse. In terrorism cases, Justice Fagan asked a defendant to renounce specific verses of the Qur’an. The Qur’an is a sacred text, and while help is needed to interpret the meaning of specific verses in context, asking a Muslim to denounce the word of God does not make sense. It also fails to recognise that distorted interpretations of the Quran are incongruent with mainstream Islamic scholarship or the everyday understanding by Australian Muslims.[5] Justice Fagan’s assumptions equally opposed international security studies research, which show that personal religiosity in Islam is inversely related to extremism. [6] Radicalisation is inherently a social process.[7] Unfortunately, Australia’s political class, research or media have never challenged this stereotype. While AMAN is concerned about Justice Fagan’s approach, we are even more concerned with the legal framework that seems to have enabled it.

The framing of Australia’s terrorism definition has led Australia to expend inordinate resources on investigating Muslims in criminal contexts to determine if there is a terrorism connection. Although impossible to determine the scale of misdirected resources, we can speak to the cost to the Australian Muslim community in terms of their relationship with law enforcement and the community stigmatisation and retribution incidents that follow sensationalist media coverage. It has imposed an immense toll on the psychological and physical security of Australian Muslims.

Months after the Cronulla riots in Sydney, a Muslim woman was stabbed in the stomach in broad daylight by a stranger who wanted to kill a Muslim. That offender was charged with malicious wounding but received a reduced 2 year sentence due to mental illness. There is no explicit hate crime offence in NSW.

Even if the individual who attacked this woman had expressed her desire to kill Muslims online to push back against ‘Islamisation of the West’, would this have brought them into the realm of terrorism offending from a police perspective?  

Most likely no. But we can’t say the same if the tables were turned.

And how does the forged field of knowledge on ‘Muslim radicalisation’ contend with mental health, when research points to mental illness not being necessary, but a high level of anger against Australian society within data on radicalised youth.[8] How much is this field feeding the social problem it is trying to prevent?

AMAN is aware of a recent case where police continually visited and placed demands upon a young Muslim man with a diagnosed mental illness, causing him serious distress. The mother lived in fear that one day it would escalate into a public crisis event, and she would lose her son. In an interview with the mother, a senior police officer asked her about his political views, suggesting that mentally ill Muslims were at greater risk of terrorism. This discrimination left the mother feeling distressed.

Muslim minors and youth who in some cases have mental health, trauma, drug and alcohol concerns, are often the profile of those investigated under terrorism laws. Meanwhile, activity by white individuals involving similar conduct and intent has not been treated as terrorism, with more accommodation for mental health concerns and a tendency to dismiss their harm as non-imminent. The table below compares some examples.

Comparison table of specific cases, their conduct, charges, sentences and circumstances: “preparing or planning for terrorist act”

 Two 16 year old Muslim boys[9]Three Muslim men[10]14 year old Muslim boy[11]
ConductBought  bayonet knife at a gun store   Wrote a handwritten pledge of allegiance to the caliphPlotting a shooting rampage at the Holsworthy Army Base in Sydney.   A teenager, who was 14 years old when the conspirators were planning their attacks, acquired guns as part of the plan. Terror plot targeting government sites.    
ChargePlanning a terror attackConspiring to prepare for, or plan, a terrorist attack.  Planning a terror attack
Sentence16 years each (12 years non parole)18 years each (13 years 6 months non parole)13.5 years (10 years and 1 month non parole)  
Year of sentence2018, 202020112017
Further commentaryThe court heard the boy had extremist views from a young age, refused to stand for the national anthem at high school and accessed ISIS videos online.  The men planned the terrorist attack as payback for Australia’s participation in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars  Justice B said although K had some influence over the teen, who is now 17, he did not accept the suggestion that he was targeted and groomed.  
 45 year old white man [12]26 year old white man[13]29 year old white man32 year old (assumed white) woman [14]35 year old white man
ConductTook steps to manufacture a ‘mother of satan’ high casualty explosive. Officers also found pipe bombs, a shrapnel reel, shot-gun pallets and 102 documents about explosives, weapons, and poisons at his house. Manifesto of the Christchurch mass shooter. Said his online support of the Christchurch terrorist were made “in jest”.Stockpiling weapons. Plotted mass shooting at shopping centre. White supremacist ideology. On his online profiles, he posted pro-gun violence and anti-government rants, uploaded videos of homemade guns  Threatened to behead Christians on his front lawn in retaliation for the Christchurch massacre.  Sent violent messages to members of a Canberra church over several months. Threatened to kill Christians using a scimitar he had bought from Pakistan.Stockpiling 2 barrels of fuel. Planning to blow up a navy base.Maps and photos of the targeted locations and was making a “Patriot’s Cookbook” to recruit others to take up violent acts against Muslims and leftists. Second time this person was charged for similar conduct.  
ChargeTaking steps to make an explosive device and having instructions on how to do so under suspicious circumstances (state law)  Manufacturing and possessing guns and child pornography offencesThreatening to act with intent to cause public alarm.  Preparation to commit crimes with dangerous things, which includes a person who makes, or knowingly has possession of, an explosive substance or other dangerous or noxious thing.  First charged with  possessing a prohibited weapon and possessing a precursor substance   Planning a terrorist attack. Attempting to make a document likely to facilitate a terrorist act.    
Sentence3 years and 3 months (1 year and 7 month non-parole)7 years (4.5 years non parole)3 year good behaviour bondUnknown (unreported)one month in prison and $5,000 fine.   12 years (9 years non parole) for terrorism  
Year of sentence20202017202020152020
Further commentaryShorter non-parole because suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after a car accident.    Police found 60 images on his phone relating to anti-Islamic ideology.    After Judge S handed down his sentence, he urged offender to think about changing his anti-Islamic beliefs while on parole.He identified as a member of the Christian Separatist Church, an extreme, anti-Jewish church movement in the US.  A psychiatric report suggested he was at high risk of acting on his religious beliefs, which Magistrate Boss described as “exceptionally disturbing”.   Claims to be white nationalist Muslim. Not known to Muslim community.   Magistrate said it was a hate based offence, not terrorism.    Former Lance Corporal in the Australian Army, she was arrested in NSW for throwing jars of fuel at police and a legal chamber.   Told the court that the documents taken by police mentioning “massacres” and “buildings and destruction” were satirical. Was a member of Reclaim Australia and the True Blue Crew.

The disparities between offences charged in this table need to be accounted for in the interests of justice and social cohesion, urgently. The trends have been established for some time.[15] 

Overall, this points to underlying problems with the current definition of terrorism:

  1.  Terrorism to advance a religious cause appears to be the easiest type of terrorism to prove.
  2. The law historically hasn’t captured Neo-Nazi, white nationalist or anti-Government plans to commit terror (unless that person is Muslim), with one exception in 2020. White offenders are tried under less serious offences.
  3. It’s easier to achieve convictions under state or other federal laws than prove a political or ideological motivation for terrorism. Especially where they are not connected in any way to the agenda of a proscribed entity, or have an incoherent political agenda.
  4. Bias amongst police and prosecutors also likely plays a role.
  5. Mental health is considered in sentencing under state laws[16], whilst Muslim offenders of reduced cognitive function, or minors, are deemed to warrant terrorism penalty due to being radicalised. Grooming of child towards terrorism is rejected as implausible.

Double standards of justice are never acceptable, but rather that simply placing everyone in the most serious class of offence, it’s also important that we pull apart and consider the elements of what sets terrorism apart from state laws.

The intent requirements

Australia’s definition of terrorism requires an intent to coerce or influence the public or government through intimidation to advance a political, ideological, or religious cause. Only a handful of countries require a motive, and even less which stipulate religious motives, which reflect the political era in which these laws were designed.

Victoria’s Expert Panel on Terrorism and Violent Extremism Prevention and Response Powers (2017) argued that Australia should remove these motive elements from the offence of terrorism and instead require an intention to terrorise.[17] We include this extended excerpt of their analysis because it pertains to this inquiry.

“[T]he Panel has had regard to the Lindt Café siege…That siege may be the precursor of situations in which a court is unable, even with the assistance of expert evidence, to conclude that a relevant motive existed. That was the situation that confronted the NSW State Coroner at the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Man Monis and his victims. If Monis had survived and been prosecuted and if, at the end of his trial, the evidence of motive had been as the Coroner found it at the conclusion of the inquest, a verdict of not guilty of committing a terrorist act would have probably been the proper verdict, and the legislative gap would have been exposed.[18]

It appears from the Panel’s research that there is no international equivalent, outside the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, of the Australian requirement that a ‘terrorist act’ be done with the intention of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause. When the international community as a whole considered the definition of terrorism, it expressly stressed that terrorism’s defining characteristic is not the motive of the terrorist.[19] It is the intention to terrorise.

Acknowledging that the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ has been crafted by agreement among states, territories’ and the Commonwealth, and is also reflected in some UK inspired international legislation, the Panel considers it is now out of step not only with the generality of international approaches to the place of motive in the definition of terrorism but also with the dynamic and evolving nature of terrorism. Terrorism may, in the future, be perpetrated in a wide range of scenarios and for a wide range of reasons that have so little to do with politics, religion, or ideology that prosecutors who must satisfy a jury beyond reasonable doubt of a political, religious or ideological motive may face acute difficulty.

Extremists from the Middle East have demonstrated that they are adept at promoting their suicidal and fiercely destructive brand of terrorism to disaffected elements within Western populations. It is doubtless probable that religious motives will be ascribed to those snared by this propaganda until, at their trial, expert evidence is called to the effect that their knowledge of Islam is nil, and that religion is merely a cloak to cover nothing more than a general hatred of society.

Violent extremists, as members of small groups united not so much by ideology as a desire to be accepted among colleagues who provide them with the strongest sense of belonging they have ever known, are increasing their prominence in the right / left divide. Intelligence organisations also note the increase in the terrorism risk of lone actors — persons who act on their own without outside command or direction from established ideological groups. This, too, is a cohort to whom motivation may be difficult to attribute. Each of these cohorts can intend to cause widespread terror while the authorities are hampered by the intrusion of the motive element into their efforts to employ against them the powers otherwise available to combat the terror that they intend to cause. In the Panel’s opinion, a definition which deprives the entities referred to in the Panel’s Terms of Reference of the powers they need ‘to intervene across the risk spectrum’ is a definition which should be amended. It requires those entities to engage in enquiries about something — motive — which may have nothing to do with the degree of harm caused by a terrorist act. Such enquiries would be a waste of time when time may be of the absolute essence.”

While AMAN broadly agrees with this analysis, we query whether an intention to terrorise combined with a political motive are more likely to justify the higher penalties for terrorism offences.

If ‘ideological cause’ is included, it arguably puts unnecessary emphasis of resources to determine and prove beyond a doubt the ideological cause. ‘Religious cause’ is harmful because it sets a lower, more ambiguous threshold that applies ostensibly to Muslims only, encouraging discrimination. The same evidentiary burden should exist for terrorism regardless of the race, religion or persuasion of the individual.

‘Political motivations’ captures the conduct of someone who is seeking to violently deny the diversity and pluralism of Australia’s society, by acting against Australia’s policy of multiculturalism; or by advancing the political agenda of a terror group.

We do take the point for the Victorian Panel that there may be scenarios where even a political agenda is not discernible, but then it may be considered whether it constitutes terrorism at all (for example, it could be prosecuted under state laws). We understand there are many complexities here that need to be considered together.

We are also concerned about the welfare of Muslim minors and youth being held in prisons,  who desperately need a pathway to re-inclusion in society.  


Evaluate the impacts on society and resources, for Australia’s terrorism definition to continue to include ‘ideological or religious motivations’, specifically :

a. The harmful stereotype, perpetuated by this law, the police statements, judicial comment and media reporting, that religiosity in Islam itself leads to violent extremism.

b. The scope that this creates for individuals of Muslim backgrounds to be brought into ‘terrorism’ framed investigations, fuelling sensationalist media, further negative community sentiment, and marginalisation.

c. Challenges in prosecuting ideological and political motivations.

d. The impact of apparent double standards on community confidence and social cohesion.

Focus the definition for terrorism on demonstrating, beyond a reasonable doubt, the intention to terrorise, with a political objective. ‘Political objective’ captures the conduct of someone who is seeking to violently deny the diversity and pluralism of Australia’s society, to act against Australia’s policy of multiculturalism; or to advance a political agenda of a terror group.


To support a proper analysis of the law and parole system, consider funding independent research into the

  1. The degree to which prior terror conspiracy convictions demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt an intention to terrorise, and whether the requirement of ‘religious motivations’ overshadowed this intention.
  2. The parole processes available to those convicted of terrorism-related offences, how they may be graduated depending on the degrees of the offending, and their impact on the ability of people to be rehabilitated. The current policy is focused on containment and securitisation, but it needs to have a greater emphasis on prospects of rehabilitation in pre-custody and post-custody, especially for individuals under the age of 25 years old. 
  3. The proportionality and reasonableness of long term imprisonment for conspiracy related offences where there is no intention to terrorise.
  4. The degree to which factors typically considered in sentencing are taken into account in terrorism cases. For example under NSW sentencing guidelines, deterrence is not considered an appropriate sentencing aim in cases involving a perpetrator who is mentally unsound.
  5. The parity of federal and state laws for same-for-same conduct (example, possessing a weapon and extremist materials), ensuring penalties and crime labels are consistent.

The Policy Frame of Violent Extremism

Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy needs to shift towards a broader strategy that encompasses more than criminal laws and policing. It needs to consider that radicalisation involves a multitude of risk factors, including ideological beliefs, values; sociological motivators; political grievances; psychological and economic factors. People can be socialised towards violence online and offline. Those who intend to terrorise don’t always have a clear agenda. The goals of that policy frame need to be re-evaluated. [20] 

The policy frame needs to be capable of generating systemic change across institutions of digital platforms, media, law enforcement, community-facing NGOs, government and criminal legal frameworks.

While we agree that laws and policies should operate in an ideology-neutral fashion, this does not mean we should ignore existing biases that have developed due to the current framework, or that ideology should be ignored entirely, as it serves an essential function in informing early prevention work.

The current framework incentivises both researchers and officers of the law to focus mainly on those individuals, who appear to be on the precipice of enacting terrorism, rather than dealing with narratives and online materials that were instrumental in their radicalisation. Dehumanising narratives and conspiracy theory, supported by disinformation, radicalise vast numbers of people. Roof, Tarrant, Breivik, Crusius all admitted being inspired by online extremist rhetoric.

Online dehumanisation, disgust, and wanting to harm is also reflected in offline verbal abuse and threats, demonstrating the manner in which social media platforms are directly contributing to real-world violence in Australia [21] and overseas. [22]

Hate crime data is not consistently collected or made publicly available in Australia, although the Australian Hate Crime Network and the Australian Human Rights Commissioner have published reports calling for leadership in this space. This is compounded by the inadequacy of hate crime laws around the country.

Hate crime remains an undefined, unmeasured, and thus, invisible social phenomenon, despite the apparent connection to extremist ideology and movements. From a threat management perspective, it makes sense to create a data framework that captures hate incidents and crime.

While hate crime data in Australia is rare, what has been published has shown 70 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes targeting Muslim people.[23] Most of what we know about physical assaults and threats is from the Islamophobia Register Australia. These stories also reflect a historical experience of institutional betrayal by law enforcement.[24] Some cases have been investigated by police – such as the highly publicised physical assault of a 38-week pregnant woman in hijab as she sat in a café with friends in 2019. There are no specific hate crime laws that he could have been sentenced under in NSW.

Dr. Iner is currently collecting data on Islamophobia experienced by Australian mosques. We are aware of anti-Muslim vandalism, firebombs, and firebomb threats on multiple masjids over the past few years, as well as one car being set alight, vandalism, and the placement of a bloody pig’s head in a swastika bag at the entrance of an Islamic school. [25]

Hate crimes have the potential to instil terror and fear in the targeted community. Reporting of hate crime remains very low due to the degree of humiliation, low awareness and confidence in the justice system and police, especially for Muslims.

Women and children are disproportionately affected by these forms of violence, whether ‘low-level’ or at a criminal threshold. Women represent the overwhelming majority of victims of anti-Muslim hate incidents in Australia – almost all of those women were wearing a hijab. The presence of children, pregnancy, or other vulnerability (such as being alone) appears to be no deterrent.[26] Community studies have documented social withdrawal from public life, including public-facing work, recreation, transport.[27]

This extends to civic and media engagement, with high figure women in hijab being subjected to relentless trolling and threats to their person and family. The harrowing experiences of Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Mariam Veiszadeh were scarring not only for these women but also for Muslim women generally, who felt ‘warned’ about what would happen to them if they dared to be high profile.

Muslim women anonymously interviewed as part of the Resilient women project in Victoria also cited the anxiety caused by media and anticipating hostility[28]:

“Islamophobia affects us on a daily basis; from the moment we wake up and read disturbing news and comments about Muslims from certain politicians and/or people with influence, to when we step out of the house and have to face the real world out there. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. For Muslim activists, especially Muslim women, and especially black Muslim women and Muslim women of colour, it is a daily battle because you’re constantly on the spot, and you constantly have to prove your humanity.” (2019)

“I leave the house vigilant in case of reprisals, knowing I may well be the target of someone else’s angst for atrocities unrelated to me” (2015)

Australian Muslim women have also reported that they’ve stopped wearing the hijab out of safety concerns.[29] 

The policy frame ought to encompass all forms of violence involved in ‘the violent denial of diversity’[30], a definition used by the Khalifer Ihler Global Institute. It states:

Unifying all violent extremists, regardless of their beliefs or ideological objectives, is their beliefs that peaceful coexistence with someone different from them is impossible, and that violently enforcing this either through forced submission or through eradication of diversity is the solution.

Their definition appropriately captures the continuum of violence that is the reality many communities experience, from online vilification and incitement to offline hate incidents (subcrimes) and hate crimes. Not only terrorism.

AMAN is very involved in the #BetterLaws4SafeQld campaign[31] and Australian Hate Crime Network to improve hate crime protections.


Expand the policy frame of ‘violent extremism’ to encompass the full continuum of ways in which the violent denial of diversity manifests, such as

  1. The advocacy of hatred and dehumanisation online,
  2. Incitement to violence and glorification of genocide (online and offline),
  3. Hate incidents offline, including racist speech, non-verbal harassment,
  4. Crime in part or wholly motivated by discriminatory hatred
  5. Extremist movements that may or may not have explicitly violent aims
  6. Terrorism


Support the creation of nationally consistent hate crime data whilst also supporting community reporting mechanisms


Avoid labels such as ‘violent’ and ‘non-violent’ extremist movements, as movements that are openly vilifying, and dehumanising segments of the Australian community on the basis of a protected characteristic are participating and contributing to the continuum of violence experienced by Australians.


Establish more direct and frequent feedback loops between civil society, research and government departments so that civil society can contribute to policy and influence research priorities. Include civil society representing Muslims.

Online dehumanisation

Our submission to the Australian government on the Exposure Draft of the Online Safety Bill recommends ways that the Online Safety Act could become a vehicle to mitigate against the public harm of dehumanisation, identified within Australian research on right-wing extremism[32] and ISIS’ genocidal practices[33]. The recommendations proposed here would apply universally and not be ideology-constrained.

Dehumanisation is a type of vilification, that convinces someone to overcome ordinary moral objections they might otherwise have to hurting or killing someone because the class of persons has been portrayed as less than human and as a threat to the existence or health of a society.[34]

From our observations, dehumanisation is usually enacted in insidious ways that circumvent platform policies on hate speech. While much of it appears to skirt beneath the threshold for vilification or incitement[35] if examined post by post, over time, it creates serious aggregate harm by socialising individuals towards the violent denial of that group’s right to co-exist peacefully.[36] The challenge is to competently measure and identify it in a way that is consistent and ideology-neutral.

The role and effects of anti-Muslim propaganda in extremism

Before the attack in Christchurch, much of the broader population were not aware that anti-Muslim propaganda already permeated right-wing discourse online, or in part, inspired the Oslo terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered seventy-seven (77) people in 2011.[37] 

Anti-Muslim content is considered to be a gateway to ‘gradually introducing more racially and politically extremist messages to a large audience of potential supporters’.[38] Canadian,[39] Australian,[40] US,[41] and UK[42] research has found Muslims to be a favoured ‘out-group’ around which radical right-wing activism or extremism coalesces. Of increasing concern is that the ‘highly volatile nature’ of the far-right milieu means that escalation from extremist thinking to action is not uncommon.[43]

Anti-Muslim hate organisations are also more able to publicly raise funds compared to white supremacist or nationalist organisations[44].

Our observations of Facebook and Twitter

Our research has found explicitly dehumanising language (‘invaders,’ ‘disease,’ ‘savages’) directed at Muslims is frequently not detected by Facebook’s and Twitter’s tools. Most of the vilification, incitement to violence and glorification of genocide we observed in comment threads within ‘echo chamber’ environments were undetected by autodetection frameworks of Facebook and Twitter. This is a common constraint of autodetection frameworks. Examples are provided at Annexure C.

We found that platform attempts to weed out hate speech and incitement to violence are occurring too late in the cycle when the targeted group has already been dehumanised in the reader’s mind by dehumanising materials.Users within an echo chamber are often responding to materials that seek to dehumanise an outgroup to the in-group audience. The materials, constituted mainly of links to stories on third party websites, did not trigger platforms’ consequences. Examples of these materials and user reactions are included in a paper that is under publication by AMAN. There are 5 actors we have been observing. One appears to have multiple related websites.

In August 2020, we reported 30 public pages to Facebook that were routinely sharing the material of three actors. Facebook’s investigation of these pages, including the process and criteria used was ambiguous. Only one page was removed. Previously, when we sought national media attention with evidence about the series of violations in pages and groups, Facebook has acted immediately.

At the same time, we reported several accounts to Twitter, to which no action has been taken, although Twitter has advised it is under ongoing consideration. There seems to be some early awareness about aggregate harm and how its current policies are not equipped to identify it.

It appears the only way we can currently get Facebook and Twitter to act is to document extensive evidence of violations within the comment threads on every new or existing account, page or group, to make an argument that the account or page admin is failing to moderate. This is beyond our resources and psychologically harmful to the community to continually peruse this material.

AMAN continues to engage with Facebook and Twitter on their policies and values the working relationships we have with their staff. Still, we believe the core of the resistance from platforms is an understanding that contextualised analysis of pages and groups takes human expertise, which costs money that they are not incentivised to spend.

The Online Safety Act provides an optimum framework for incentivising platforms to escalate these echo chamber environments for competent assessment and to clarify the criteria used.

Significance to the safety of Australian users

It may be argued that because the targets of dehumanising discourse within these echo chambers are not usually in those echo chambers, that the targeted community is not experiencing harm or danger as online users. This does not take into account:

  1. That users within these echo chambers also frequent the comment threads of mainstream news services in Australia, directly exposing members of our community and other targeted communities to these dehumanising conceptions and hatred and further mainstreaming them.
  2. Users within those echo chambers, including many young, child, and mentally unwell[45] users, are experiencing harm in being exposed to certain conspiracy theories and introduced to a social environment that can be a gateway to violent extremism.
  3. Users who are socialised within these echo chambers are more likely to express hatred to Muslims (or whichever other targeted community member) online or offline, leading to direct harm to Australians.
  4. When it graduates to violent extremism, it can lead to violence against Australians of many backgrounds.

Cohesive policy needed

The machinery of government has yet to evolve to be able to fully comprehend online dehumanisation. Vilification laws, under the Attorney General, are of minimal use in this context.[46] States and territories, and to an extent the Federal Attorney-General, have responsibility with hate crimes, which are inconsistently defined and patchy across Australia. Home Affairs has responsibility for violent extremism, including promoting social cohesion.

The Online Safety Act is the legislative vehicle to drive platforms to embrace ‘Safety by Design.’ That remit of online safety must be expanded to include the objective of mitigating against echo chambers and actors who socialise individuals towards the violent denial of diversity.

Existing research on this problem

The problematic materials we have identified are part of the ‘counter jihad movement.’ According to scholars like Benjamin Lee, Melagrou-Hitchens and Brun, and others, the ‘counter-jihad’ movement is classified as an extreme-right movement.[47] Unlike some extreme-right movements, however, the counter-jihad movement tends to avoid placing itself firmly within the white supremacist space by engaging in superficially liberal critiques of Islam, all while maintaining a steady diet of anti-Muslim stories. By giving false ideological context to contemporary events, Muslims are a ‘hostile and homogenised mass’ that seeks to overtake the West.[48]

The practice of sharing disinformation to vilify or dehumanise an identified group over time will be an issue to other segments of the community, however, an online scan would be needed to analyse permeations in a range of contexts.

How these materials avoid platform detection or penalty

Mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter have dehumanisation policies, but they focus on explicitly dehumanising language, a feature that ‘auto-detection’ systems can detect. However, our studies have found the presence of blatantly dehumanising terms is not necessary to effectively dehumanise ‘the other’ – in this case, Muslims.

Actors conveyed dehumanising conceptions by the headlines and content of ‘stories’ published to Facebook and Twitter via third party link.

It would appear that Facebook and Twitter are still unclear on whether conceptions from ‘counter jihad’ ideology – including propagating that (1) personal religiosity in Islam in itself leads to sub-humanity and extremism, and (2) Islam/Muslims are invading the West to take over through immigration and higher fertility rates, and (3) Islam/Muslims are in a clash-of- civilisations style violent ‘jihad’ war with the West – are harmful and dehumanise Muslims.

The latter narrative is also part of ISIS-inspired propaganda, showing the two directions in which this narrative is coming. But while ISIS propaganda is treated as violent and extremist content, the Western extreme right’s propaganda is not. 

Demographic invasion and replacement theories about Islam and Muslims are grounded in dehumanising conceptions of Muslims, as evidenced by the responses they illicit. This included the portrayal of Muslims as:

  1. mechanically inhuman46 ‘theological automatons’ who are ‘unified in thought and deed’ to carry out demographic invasion.47 Significantly, it follows that there is no way to tell if Muslims are truly peaceable or not, and therefore all Muslims are a threat.
  2. Subhuman in their inherent violence, barbarism, savagery, or in their plan to infiltrate, flood, reproduce and replace (like disease, vermin without explicitly using those terms).

We have identified Islam as a proxy for Muslims in ‘counter jihad’ contexts, which is uncovered through the language technique of personification. For example:

‘Islam exists in a fundamental and permanent state of war with non-Islamic civilizations, cultures, and individuals (a group of people, not a religion, can be in a state of war with civilisation)’

‘A halt to terrorism would simply mean a change in Islam’s tactics — perhaps indicating a longer-term approach that would allow Muslim immigration and higher birth rates to bring Islam closer to victory before the next round of violence’

‘Islam proper remains permanently hostile’

‘Islam’s violent nature must be accepted as given’

In counter jihad context, Islam is attributed human actions and qualities as a seemingly more liberal route to vilify and dehumanise Muslims as both subhuman and mechanically inhuman species.

Even labels such as cancer and disease imply that Islam is growing, which again points to Muslims, the religion’s followers, as the existential threat. This is revealed by the solutions that users also point to for this cancer or disease, including the deportation, extermination, or forced conversion of people of Islamic faith.

Our studies also showed that while digital platform may be looking for dehumanising descriptors (adjectives or synonyms), dehumanising discourses are also cumulatively and powerfully conveyed in headlines through

  1. verbs associated with the subject ‘Muslim’ (eg., ‘stabs,’ ‘sets fire’) and
  2. essentialising the target identity through implicating a wide net of Muslim identities (eg., ‘Niqab-clad Muslima,’ ‘boat migrants,’ ‘Muslim professor,’ ‘Muslim leader’, ‘Iran-backed jihadis’, ‘Ilhan Omar’) to suggest they are acting in concert.

Social media companies may rightly question how to identify whether a ‘news story’ is merely reporting news or opinion about human rights abuses, foreign affairs or violent extremism, rather than operating as part of a concerted dehumanisation project by a specific actor. This behaviour needs to be analysed with regard to contextual factors, which ought to be distilled in a transparent and explicable way to guide more competent and consistent assessments. The aim is to articulate how even lawful but harmful speech can cause serious harm in aggregate over the long-term in certain contexts.

It is a challenge to consider the dispersed social harm that stems from dehumanisation into an individualistic frame. Our recommendations have focused on the vectors of this harm, that being individuals who serially post dehumanising material; and through setting an industry standard for digital platforms when making detailed and contextualised assessments about individual accounts, pages, groups and channels. As civil provisions, this would create a consequence for both individuals serially engaged in this practice, along with platforms that disregard it. As civil provisions, it is also possible to set aside the requirement often put forward in criminal contexts that there be evidence of foreseeable or imminent physical harm.

The Rabat Plan also emphasises context: of the speaker’s power, their intent, the content and form, spread, and likelihood and imminence of harm. While imminence of harm would not be a necessary threshold requirement for the civil penalty we have proposed, the other contextual factors would be considered. It also vital that targeted communities are consulted on their particular contexts as otherwise decision-makers will fail to make fully competent judgements.

The Rabat Plan of Action noted the importance of distinguishing not just criminal and civil prohibitions, but on a broader class that will “still  raise  concerns  in terms of tolerance, civility and respect for the convictions of others.” If we limit civil prohibitions to the most severe end of spectrum (serial and clear-cut examples) and invoke the Basic Online Safety Expectations and an Industry Standard as levers to engender platform accountability on a broader range of dehumanising speech or discourse, this will go a long way to satisfy Australia’s obligations under international human rights law in terms of protecting freedom of expression.

In Australia there is disproportionate attention on ISIS and Al-Qaeda inspired propaganda because our current legal frameworks define extremist or terrorist content in line with official proscription lists, and rely heavily on the identification of organisational symbols. However fixing this problem is not straightforward. Discerning ‘extremist ideology’ could be politically fraught. Given the difficulties in determining the bounds of ‘extremist material’ as per the Criminal Code, proscribing dehumanising materials through the Online Safety Act is a way of taking action on conspiracy theory propaganda without intruding upon legitimate speech that is otherwise regarded as extreme, unpopular or fringe.

The framing of Australia’s response ought not be constrained to counterterrorism, but aim to mitigate against the socialising of individuals towards the violent denial of diversity – as that will capture the full spectrum of violence, whether it be terrorism, hate crime, hate incidents or incitement.


Introduce cohesive policy to mitigate the online dehumanisation of outgroups and lift platform performance, by integrating it explicitly within the new Online Safety Bill, and policy remit of Online Safety

Specifically, make dehumanising material unlawful and harmful content in the Online Safety Act (OSA). There are several steps to doing this:

  1. Define dehumanising material in the Act. Defining a distinct concept of harm within the Bill has a precedent in the Bill as it describes intimate images at length for example. The wording has been proposed in ANNEXURE A.
  2. Include an additional and distinct civil penalty in relation to the serial publication of dehumanising material within the Online Content Scheme, thereby integrating it within the reporting requirements attached to the Basic Online Safety Expectations, as well as opening the possibility for an Industry Standards. Initially, potential targets for this penalty include:
    • Groups that in the aggregate are spreading large amounts of serious negative dehumanising discourse (also referred to as ‘echo chambers’)
    • Individuals  who are intentionally carrying on a campaign
    • Platforms that implicitly or explicitly allow either of the previous
  3. The e-Safety Commissioner creates an industry standard regarding the assessment framework platforms ought to use to consistently and competently identify an individual or individuals who are engaged in dehumanisation over time (creating an aggregate harm). This would include the serial publication of ‘stories’ where a nexus with dehumanisation can be established. Our research has analysed the actor behaviour with regard to contextual factors, which is distilled into a proposed industry standard, also contained in ANNEXURE B.

Given the difficulties in determining the bounds of ‘extremist material’ as per the Criminal Code, proscribing dehumanising materials through the Online Safety Act is a way of taking action on conspiracy theory propaganda without intruding upon legitimate speech that is otherwise regarded as extreme, unpopular or fringe.

Incitement to violence laws

The conciliation-based anti-discrimination framework (s 18C Racial Discrimination Act) is not appropriate for containing and proscribing vilification where the perpetrator subscribes to right-wing extremist ideology and poses a potential security risk to the complainant or complainant community. It must be treated as a public harm.

Existing criminal federal laws are incapable of deterring and disrupting online dehumanisation and harassment of whole groups on the basis of their protected characteristic. The federal law for urging violence[49] against a racial or religious minority has never been used[50], and is widely regarded to be unfit for purpose. Despite this, government officials routinely point to this law as evidence that existing protections are sufficient.

Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence (s474.17) Criminal Code) has been used many times[51] but for individual harassment cases, not where a whole community has been endangered, particularly in online echo chambers. AMAN has tested this law and obtained a detailed response from the AFP. [52]

There are no coordination protocols between the e-Safety Commissioner and Australian Federal Police in relation to s80.2A[53], nor does either agency have an incentive to prioritise incitement as a harm due to the absence of any related law or policy (including in the new Online Safety Act).


Introduce civil penalties within the proposed Online Content Scheme for urging violence, to capture incidents which do not meet the criminal threshold.


Replace urging violence offence with an incitement to violence provision that is workable. For example, if the offender was found for the vandalism of Holland Park mosque who wrote ‘St Tarrant’ and ‘Remove Kebab’, it should be capable of capturing this conduct.

Dehumanisation in political discourse

‘War on Terror’ and ‘Asylum Seeker’ discourses have played a leading role in fomenting hatred towards Muslims generally, and also reducing resilience to anti-Muslim hate materials from extreme right networks.

In anti-Muslim hate communities online, Muslims are routinely referred to as parasites living off welfare that come to Australia begging for help but have bad intentions. With the mainstreaming of extreme right narratives, the intensity of the existential threat is elevated through ‘threat construction’ through demographic invasion and white replacement theory. Facebook and Twitter users in these online communities commonly argue that Muslims are ‘invading’ and are ‘breeding like rats’ to ‘replace us’. This is not detected by auto-detection frameworks, and not counted within Facebook’s hate speech data presented in their self-evaluation reports, hence there is no accurate record of the scale of this problem.

As per Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Party leaders must call out behaviour from other political representatives, whether they are Ministers or backbenchers, for language that denies or diminishes the humanity of asylum seekers or seeks to portray other countries, and the people within them, as places of evil and terror.


Party leaders must remain vigilant to rally against any statements by political representatives or prominent people who dehumanise or demonise minorities within Australia, including asylum seekers.

Make this commitment part of Party Codes for elected representatives, and part of any new Parliamentary Code of Conduct.

Media reporting

A young Muslim man, 22,  is shot by police while having a mental breakdown on the highway and holding a knife. Afterwards, he is connected with a double homicide of an elderly couple in a home. Next, the police frame it as a terrorism investigation because, at some point in the past, this boy was questioned as a result of purchasing a one-way ticket to his family’s ancestral country – his lawyer said he was visiting relatives. This past inquiry led to no charges or conviction due to a lack of evidence. However, the police still made the young man ‘spend 414 days in prison on remand, for refusing to give his mobile PIN number to the police investigators or speak in court. When he was released on 3 September 2020, he was ordered to wear a GPS tracking device, despite never being convicted of anything to do with terrorism.’ [54]

The family of the boy argued he was driven to a mental health crisis through heavy handed policing tactics, discrimination and harassment over more than 18 months. As the young man’s father told 9 News, “When our children, our young people are going through a mental crisis, an identity crisis… they actually are easily labelled ‘radicalism'”. It is a vicious cycle because the counterterror law architecture adds to this identity crisis.

AMAN conducted a media sweep of this coverage, which included 114 stories from 17th December 2020 (when the young man was shot) to 23rd January 2021. On 17 December, AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney was quoted as saying that the ‘man was the man was known to the Queensland joint counterterrorism team. The AFP suspect he had been influenced by Islamic State and he was arrested on suspicion of an attempted foreign incursion when trying to depart Brisbane Airport for Somalia in May 2019’. The AFP did not clarify the relevance of this information to the police shooting of this young man on the highway.

On the 18th December, AMAN wrote to the AFP and Queensland police to confirm whether they had told the press that they were alleging the young man was a radicalised ISIS supporter, and if not, whether they would seek the Courier Mail and other news services to correct their headlines and stories.

A vast majority of the coverage concerned the terrorism investigation, with references to the young man such as ‘Radicalised ISIS Supporter’, ‘Wannabe radical’, ‘Homegrown terror’, ‘known extremist’, ‘SHOT JIHADIST’, ‘Shot Jihadi’, ‘Police gun down ISIS radical’, ‘ISIS Radical Gunned Down on highway’, ‘Killed ISIS fanatic yelled ‘llahu Akbar” as he attacked police’. Headlines that suggested he was shot because he was a terrorist.

On 28 December 2020, the Australian newspaper reports, ‘The murders are the first deaths in Queensland attributed to terrorism, and [Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford] said although the events were unusual, they had parallels to other terror incidents globally: “we’ve seen with terrorism is that it can take many different forms. We’ve seen it in homes, we’ve seen it in workplaces, we’ve seen in shopping centres, we’ve seen it on public transport. It really is limitless where a terror event could occur.” This raises questions about the role of law enforcement in stoking fears and prejudice.

As discussed in the previous part of this submission on our national definition of ‘terrorism’, we would question what evidence threshold there was for treating this investigation as more than a double homicide initially. There should be a high threshold for evidence in announcing so early and publicly that an investigation is a ‘terrorism event’, given the high emotional charge to terrorism reporting and its implications for community safety.

At this time, the Brisbane Muslim community was grief-stricken to hear that a second young Muslim man had been shot by police in 2019. The uncontrolled media reporting, enabled by the AFP, only served to drive community-police relations to a new low. There was a strong feeling that the suspected past conduct (i.e his unproven ties to ISIS)  were highlighted by the police to distract from the actual facts that had occurred during the shooting.

The first police shooting in mid 2019 was another young man having a mental health crisis. In those circumstances, he was misconstrued by bystander callers as a terrorist, leading to media misrepresentations (possibly created by a police leak), and then the police stated that it wasn’t being treated as a terrorist event – again making the association. This boy’s family spoke about the terrible heartbreak they felt on top of their grief when they witnessed these insinuations being made on media and social media.

We share these stories to illustrate how devastating police handling of media can be to community relations and social cohesion. The young man shot in December is not here to stand trial, making the principles of transparency and natural justice even more critical.

And so it was troubling when the Australian media referred to Tarrant as a gunman for a long time, and not a terrorist, when the facts were so clear in that case.

When Fraser Anning was seeking to promote himself ahead of the last federal election, he was given prime interviews on mainstream morning television news and radio, where he outlined demographic invasion conspiracy theories about Muslims and Africans – – the same ideologies used to justify terrorism by Tarrant and Breivik. He promoted these interviews through his Facebook and Twitter accounts.


Recognise that terrorism generates very high emotion and has the potential to be inciteful to audiences, exacerbating hate incidents towards members of the same community, or even creating notoriety/fame for an extremist movement or terrorist organisation. Therefore it occurs a specific duty of care with reporting. Marginalisation of segments of the community can make individuals more vulnerable to being socialised towards violent extremism.

  1. In partnership with media industry bodies, law enforcement, and civil society, develop guidelines and training for responsible reporting on extremist movements and terrorism related stories,
    1. To avoid platforming of extremist movements, organisations and dehumanising ideologies about segments of the community (or their proponents or advocates)
    2. To ensure consistent treatment of topics such as mental illness connected to these stories
    3. To determine when it is relevant to mention the race or religion of an alleged offender or individual in a headline
  • Introduce a duty of care by police to ‘correct the record’ when the media misreport an incident or mislabel a suspect as a terrorist or terrorist sympathiser, or as a radicalised X supporter where facts are yet to be determined, given the significant repercussions for community and social cohesion. This duty of care should arise whether the individual is still alive or has passed away.
  • Establish transparent police protocol of when they will refer to an incident as a terrorism event, or when it is appropriate to state that an event is ‘not terror related’, recognising the significant repercussions for social cohesion and community-police relations.
  • Introduce a duty of care by police to inform individuals in this situation of
    • Their rights and remedies under Australian defamation law
    • Media complaint processes
    • Relevant psycho-social support and legal contacts

Discrimination by law enforcement

Discrimination by law enforcement and negative profiling of Muslims, particularly under counterterrorism laws, has been raised as a serious concern over the past two decades[55], with an unknown number of Australian Muslims being subjected to extensive surveillance, detainment and coercive questioning powers. These powers were conferred by a record 85 pieces of counterterrorism legislation passed since 2001.[56]

The mental health, belonging, and wellbeing impacts of these laws and broader anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public sphere, are considerable.

The current framework encourages reliance on surveillance, with a constant push to expand security powers. Recent laws passed by parliament enables the coercive questioning of minors as young as 14 years old.

Police harassment and profiling adds to feelings of exclusion, further damaging social cohesion and adding to the sociological and political factors which may marginalise an individual and further propel them towards mental breakdown and a bifurcated worldview about the West as a threat, so predominant in the extremist ideology of overseas terror groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda. Thus it is often counterproductive. AFP community engagement officers point to this as a problem created by their colleagues within the service.

The intersection between young age, identity crisis (made worse by perceptions of discrimination and racism), and mental health are poorly understood, and perceived harassment by police can be dangerous and counterproductive. These issues were underlined in the recent case in Brisbane, and many others, whose stories have not been publicly told.

Measures are needed now to protect against discrimination in what is a ‘dark spot’ environment for human rights.  The stakes are high for both police and the individual, and political imperatives very strong. The independent review mechanism proposed below was inspired by the proposal of Indigenous barrister Joshua Creamer about referring complaints of police brutality and deaths in custody and is designed to protect human rights rather than allowing police or ex-police to investigate alleged police misconduct.[57]


Establish a publicised federal mechanism within the Australian Human Rights Commission for the independent review where there are allegations of police conduct that are incompatible with discrimination law.

Ensure there is expedited conciliation conference or hearing where particular vulnerabilities are present, such as:

  1. The complainant is under 25 years old; or
    1. has a mental illness or a disability; or
    2. has a history of trauma.

Ensure the relevant Commissioners (race, disability, for example) are notified of the complaint and privy to the complainant’s allegations.


Repeal coercive questioning for minors as young as 14 years old until the psychological impacts of such practices are fully understood.

Building community resilience to dehumanising conspiracy theory – civic relationship building

Apart from the low awareness in the Muslim community, there is also low awareness within the broader Australian community that these views are not regular religious criticism or slander – they have specific origins, purpose and context.

Research has been done in Victoria on local governments’ potential role in raising resilience to RWE rhetoric and dehumanising discourses.[58]

As Leanne Close from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said, ‘communities and families need to be educated and supported with the right tools to work with young people in discussing extremist rhetoric, countering misinformation and navigating social media.’ [59] Internationally it is shown though that the medium is really important, and big campaigns don’t work as well as local experiences.

Hope not Hate, a civil society and research based organisation in the UK, recently released a teachers resource on identifying the signs and symbols of hate.

AMAN is aware of an extensive racial discrimination complaint made by a former (Muslim) police officer against the WA Police Service, involving conduct by a number of police colleagues who acted with impunity. WA Police are yet to take responsibility for the corrosive harms he experienced, but it points to the need for cultural change within law enforcement – and that must be reflected at the top.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is “strong” and “probably quite widespread” among Australian defence force members and was higher among those who had undergone cultural sensitivity training, according to 2016 research commissioned by the army. Soldiers from four special operations units based at Holsworthy army base were asked whether they believed “the Muslim religion promotes violence and terrorism”. Of the 182 people who took part, an estimated 80% agreed with the sentiment, according to lead researcher Charles Miller from the Australian National University.[60] This points to the combined problem of dehumanisation with exposure to war, and ‘war on terror’ narratives, and provides caution, that ‘cultural diversity’ training is not enough to unpack more hardened Islamophobia. It is important that efforts connect with military and ex-military as it appears they are more likely to hold these negative views.


Investigate offline community resilience-building work, including

  1. Safe spaces created for people to speak freely air their concerns and grievances, and dialogue with people of different views or perspectives. Consideration ought to be given to the community organising/table talks model used by the Queensland Community Alliance during their listening campaigns[61] and other recent research on this in Muslim, local government contexts[62], and international contexts.[63]
  2. For offline education, particular focus should be given to youth, ex-military, military and front-line law enforcement workers.
  3. A distinction should be made between debunking conspiracy theories and anti-racism education.
  4. With anti-Islam conspiracy theory, in particular, non-Muslim Australians need to take the lead with this education and community development work, focusing on the middle cohort of Australians who do not have hateful views on Muslims but are unsure or concerned.[64]


Anti-racism and anti-discrimination work

The Islamophobia in Australia  showed the situation for Muslim children was particularly dire and underscores the need for prevention strategies in schools. The report indicates that Islamophobic abuse experiences start for children in pre-school years, when their identifiably Muslim parents accompanied them. This continues in school years through multiple perpetrators in the school environment, such as school peers, teachers, school administration, other students’ parents or other adults targeting Muslim students on the way to school.[65] Discrimination in the workplace and schools can have debilitating and corrosive effects on mental and physical health.

The Scanlon Institute reports also show that Muslims continue to be the subject of the highest xenophobia of any religious group at a exponentially more significant scale. Sudanese, Iraqis, Lebanese, and Asian ethnic groups receive the highest xenophobic attitudes in terms of ethnicity. Many Muslims cross over these ethnic communities, facing a significant amount of xenophobia and distrust.

While a range of groups may be denigrated and dehumanised within extremist ideologies, it needs to be recognised that certain groups are the subject of the greatest xenophobia. In terms of racism more broadly, racism to First Nations peoples is the oldest and most entrenched form.


More broadly, anti-racism strategy must deeply deal with anti-Muslim, anti-Middle Eastern, anti-African, and anti-Asian sentiment, given research has pointed to these communities receiving the highest degree of xenophobic views in social cohesion studies.[66]

These communities should be resourced to educate and support individuals with discrimination and vilification complaints. The anti-discrimination framework provides a vehicle for restorative problem-solving in the workplace, schools, and other public environments through conciliation processes.


Ensure that Muslims have protection against vilification like Jews, Sikhs, and other racial minorities, noting, in particular, the gap in Australian discrimination and vilification laws at the Federal, NSW, WA, SA, NT jurisdictions.


Possible definition for “dehumanising material” within the Online Safety Act

  • This section sets out the circumstances in which material is dehumanising of a class of persons for the purposes of this Act.

Dehumanising language

  • Material is dehumanising of a class of persons if::
  • The material presents the class of persons to have the appearance, qualities or behaviour of an animal, insect, form of disease or bacteria; or
  • The material presents the class of persons be inanimate or mechanical objects, which are incapable of human thought or feeling; or
  • The material presents the class of persons to be supernatural threat

In circumstances in which a reasonable person would conclude that the material was intended to cause others to see that class of persons as less deserving of being protected from harm or violence.

Implicitly dehumanising disinformation or discourse

  • Material is dehumanising of a class of persons if:
  • The material presents that evidence of a person committing a heinous crime is proof that this person’s entire group, on the basis of a protected characteristic, has subhuman qualities; or
  • The material presents that a class of persons are to be held responsible for, and deserving of collective punishment for the specific crimes, or alleged crimes of some of their ‘members’; or
  • The material expresses that the whole class of persons are polluting, despoiling or debilitating[67] society

In circumstances in which a reasonable person would conclude that the material was intended to cause others to see that class of persons as less deserving of being protected from harm or violence.

  • Context maybe considered to determine if the conditions in subsections (2) and (3) have been satisfied, including the
    • Form of the material
    • Speaker’s power or influence
    • Audience responses to the material
    • Forum or forums where it is posted
    • The content contained on a website or social media page that is publicly linked to a forum where the material is shared
  • It is not necessary to establish the risk or imminence of physical harm to satisfy conditions in subsections (2) and (3).
  • Class of persons means a group identified on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.[68]
  • Dehumanising material that is not directed at a protected characteristic is not included.


Industry Standard for determining whether an actor has over time dehumanised a group of persons identified on the basis of a protected characteristic. [69]

The following predictors could be used to assess aggregate conduct that has dehumanised an identified group. This conduct may include the posting of links to content on third party websites:

  1. Dehumanising conceptions on the actor’s third party website in relation to an identified group. This may be expressed explicitly on the external website through language or narratives that portray the identified group as subhuman, mechanically inhuman or supernaturally inhuman.[70]
    1. The features of the headlines of stories or content that are serially posted, specifically
      1. The subjects or participants routinely identified in the headlines of stories or content that they post. Analysts will be looking for signs of essentialising an identity as part of a dehumanising discourse about an ‘outgroup’. For example, their identity is routinely emphasised in headlines to collectively attribute guilt for specific members’ heinous crimes within that identified group.
      2. Verbs or actions attributed to those subjects to achieve cumulative association with sub- humanity, barbarism, or serious threat to the in-group.
      3. Use of explicitly dehumanising descriptive language or coded extremist movement language with dehumanising meaning in headlines.
      4. Proportion of headlines that act as ‘factual proofs’ to particular narratives about this identified group. Here, narratives could be defined as narratives that have been used previously to justify atrocities or violence against this identified group.
      5. Presence of ‘baiting’ headlines to in-group audience. Those are headlines that use rhetorical techniques like irony to draw an even more hateful response towards the identified group.
    2. Evidence in the user comment threads of a pattern of hate speech against a group on the basis of a protected characteristic. This would include blatantly dehumanising remarks, iteration of extremist ideology concerning the target group as an existential threat to white or western civilisation, or glorification of, or incitement towards, violence against the target group. Where that pattern is evident in relation to a high proportion of links shared from one host website, this can be taken as a primary sign that the website is engaged in a project of hatred or dehumanisation. However, the absence of comments does not signify that dehumanisation has not been successfully enacted in the user’s mind.

Sample of user responses (echo chamber discussion) not detected by auto-detection on Facebook and Twitter

  1. Audience responses to the article ‘Paris update: Muslim beheaded teacher in street because he had shown Muhammad cartoons in class’, shared on this actor’s Twitter account, included dehumanising references to Muslims (separate to the murderer) as a cancer, virus, animals, and savages, and spawned significant commentary on the ‘existential crisis’ faced by France and the Western world from Islamic invasion, aided by liberals and the political establishment (with exception of Trump).
  2. Audience responses to the same article on Facebook also revealed how these captured audiences interpret acts of terrorism and extremism conducted by ideologically motivated Muslims, and the frequent tendency to attribute blame to all Muslims and Islam, rather than the perpetrators alone. However, in this example on Facebook, it also escalated quickly to fantasies about violence. On Actor A’s Facebook page, users responded with dehumanising insults (‘They are worse than rabid animals, no brains of their own and vile to the core,’ ‘MOSLEMS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH HUMANKIND,’ ‘never trust them they are two faced. Like two people in one being. Ultimately their loyalty is towards Islam which is evil. If they never change their views on Islam no Matter how friendly, caring, compassionate they seem. If it came down to it they can become the most evil vile & depraved creature’); calls to expunge Muslims (‘Do not let this atrocity happen in the US, vote the squad out, they are the enemy of mankind’); repetition of demographic invasion/white genocide theory (‘They don’t come to assimilate into western society, they come to dominate and conquer the infidels!! Wake up sheeple, these are barbarians!!’, ‘The ppl of Europe have to be detoxified from the twin evils of multiculturalism and diversity and then get rid of the leaders that spew lies and willingly put their own citizens to danger and evil’); glorification of genocide of Muslims (‘The muslims are the only people on Earth who will earn their genocide, but they will be the only genocided people for whom nobody will have a drop of tear’); calls to war (‘Europe has been Invaded and occupied by Muslims, who have claimed Europe as theirs, since they have Proclaimed Sharia Law! NATO will have to declare War on the European Islamic Caliphate Attack European Muslim Strongholds, if they want to become an Independent Europe again?’, ‘this cult should have its head cut off before it is too late ,have you ever thought about when the oil runs out this cult will be looking at us ,and they will show no mercy’); andcalls to vigilante violence‘Servicemen only ask: CAN WE GO KILL THESE FUCKERS YET ……….. Barbarians/E.F.Whulfh’ posted by a user along with the meme to the right)
  3. In one Australian Facebook page that routinely shares this actor’s articles, the users responded to this article about the Paris beheading with: ‘Go in hot an shoot the lot’ (which attracted 7 ‘like’ and ‘love’ reactions), ‘U let them in, they multiply rapidly n impose their will on you. High time France takes the upper hand. Learn from China n Russia.’ and ‘Time to behead all paedophile moslems. NOW….’.
  4. A story headline from the same actor,‘Muslims migrate to Australia, file complaint with Human Rights Commission because food they’re given isn’t halal’ produced numerous responses expounding on demographic invasion and replacement. Common dehumanising conceptions from those on Twitter were that Muslims originate from ‘cesspools,’ ‘toilet bowl countries’, and ‘shitholes’, and that resisting their plot had to be done for the sake of ‘civilised world and culture.’ It appeared to ‘trigger’ users who saw this as an attempt to ‘placate the Moslem invaders’. One user commented, ‘Physical appearance of mooslems is like normal human being but mentally like cold blooded demon, Ogre.’ The world ‘infiltrate’ was preferred to migrate. Many spoke about the ‘stages’ of ‘jihad’ in taking over a country: ‘It starts with halal food, next is burning cities and killing infidels.’ While others lamented that the west was contributing to its defeat: ‘A secularism & multiculturalism is a breeding ground for deadly peaceful community virus (Islam).’ The disgust prompted by this headline also led to calls to expunge: ‘What are the options available with Australia? Will they let the cancer spread there also like it has in Europe?’
  5. Another significant sized Australian Facebook page, with more than 120 000 followers, routinely shares third party links from an Australian based ‘counter-jihad’ actor. In 2019 they posted a cartoon meme explaining the premise of the ‘great replacement theory.’ It compared a Muslim and non-Muslim family in terms of their number of children. The meme was accompanied by similar derogatory statements implying that Muslims plan to conquer countries like Australia through higher fertility rates. The intense reactions to this poster were revealed in the extensive comments, with a significantly high proportion employing dehumanising language, as well as expressions of wanting to kill or see Muslims dead. Some responses included: ‘Shoot the fuckers’, ‘Islam is a cancer on global society for which there is no cure’, ‘You import the 3rd world you become the 3rd world. And when they become the majority then what next? They won’t have whitey to leech off. Just like locusts, infest & strip everything until there is nothing left’, ‘Deport the PEDO crap’, ‘They breed like rats’, ‘Disgusting religion. Ugh On the outside they hide their bodies but under cover they turn into raging sex addicts, breeding faster than rabbits. Tarts in hidden cloth’, ‘if we get our guns back we can take back parliament and force these idiots out,’ ‘Drown em at birth’, ‘Fun those scumbags.muslums….reminds me of aids’, ‘Society should start culling the Muslims,’ ‘I think I now understand why during the serbian / croat the serbs culled the women,’ ‘I’m going out tonight to do as much as i can to solve this problem.’

[1]                 Scanlon Foundation Institute, Mapping Social Cohesion Report 2020, <>

[2]                 Jonathan Leader Maynard and Susan Benesch, ‘Dangerous Speech and Dangerous Ideology: An Integrated Model for Monitoring and Prevention’ (2016) 9(3) Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 70.

[3]                 Antipodean resistance, a group that has been active in Australia, is regarded as being connected to Atomwaffen Division (see map here ).There is also evidence of Combat 18 being active – stickers placed in Victoria, SA (evidence from the Islamophobia Register forwarded to the AFP in 2019). This group was listed as a terror organisation by Canada, along with Proud Boys.

[4]                 Avani Dias, ‘The colleague, the girl, the police: Student framed and imprisoned over terror offences tell           whole story for the first time’, ABC Triple J Hack, 22 April 2020.

[5]                 Rane H, Duderija A, Rahimullah RH, Mitchell P, Mamone J, Satterley S. Islam in Australia: A National           Survey of Muslim Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents. Religions. 2020; 11(8):419.

[6]                Johannes Beller and Christoph Kröger, ‘Religiosity, religious fundamentalism, and perceived threat as predictors of Muslim support for extremist violence’ (2018) 10(4) Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 345; Anne Aly & Jason-Leigh Striegher, Examining the Role of Religion in Radicalization to Violent Islamist Extremism’(2012) 35 Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 12; Anthony Cordesman, ‘Islam and the Patterns in Terrorism and Violent Extremism’ (Center for Strategic & International Studies, 17 October 2017).

[7]                 Shandon Harris-Hogan & Kate Barrelle (2020) Young Blood: Understanding The Emergence of a New Cohort of Australian Jihadists, Terrorism and Political Violence, 32:7, 1391-1412; Adrian Cherney , Emma Belton , Siti Amirah Binte Norham & Jack Milts (2020): Understanding youth radicalisation: an analysis of Australian data, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression,

[8]                 Cherney et al, ibid.




[12]               Meagan Dillon, ‘Adelaide man who made ‘Mother of Satan’ explosives eligible for parole within months’, ABC News, 8 September 2020 <>

[13]               Harriet Alexander, ‘White supremacist Michael Holt sentenced to 4.5 years for weapons child porn offences’,  Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 2017. <>

[14]               A woman who recently moved to Cairns was allegedly planning to blow up the Cairns Navy base

[15]               See this summary from Sydney Criminal Lawyer, Ugur Nedim, 31 December 2016.

[16]               The Adelaide individual was found to have PTSD from a former car accident, and was invited by the judge to                   reconsider his anti-Islamic beliefs while on parole. Above n 12.

[17]               Expert Panel on Terrorism and Violent Extremism Prevention and Response Powers Report 2, 2017, accessed online <>

[18]               Reference from cited text (ibid): A guilty verdict could only have been justified if the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that Monis had a political motive. He may have argued that he lacked the capacity to form one, or at least one capable of being sensibly identified.

[19]               Reference from cited text (ibid): See, for example, SC Res 1566, 5053rd mtg, UN Doc S/RES/1566 (8 October 2004). For examples of definitions that omit any reference to motive, see The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, opened for signature 12 January 1998, 2149 UNTS 286 (entered into force 23 May 2001) art 2, and The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, opened for signature 10 January 2000, 2179 UNTS 232 (entered into force 10 April 1992) art 2(b).

[20]               As a 2019 study of CVE programs in Australia and overseas found “Unfortunately, to the extent that CVE efforts have been studied, the majority of evaluation efforts to date have focused on assessing individual programs, rather than on developing a comprehensive system approach to evaluate broader CVE outcomes.” p 59

[21]               Ordinary citizens occupied in their daily routines received death threats for no reason but being Muslim. Of the reported 202 offline cases 11% included death threats. This opens a wider debate about what being Muslim means to the abusers, how the backdrop of being Muslim is publicly crafted and takes form in the perpetrators’ psyche’: Iner, Derya (ed),’ Islamophobia in Australia Report II 2017-2018’ (Sydney: Charles Sturt University and ISRA, 2019), 9.

[22]               Muslim Advocates and the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE), Complicit: The human cost for Facebook’s disregard for human life, 21 October 2020.

[23]               Gail Mason, ‘A Picture of Bias Crime in New South Wales’ (2019) 11 (1) Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: an Interdisciplinary Journal 47.

[24]               Below are some examples AMAN is aware of through the Register: A Sydney female student in Grade 9 was brutally, physically assaulted and verbally abused in front of her class, including having her hijab removed. The psychological trauma from her hate crime was exacerbated by the failure of the NSW police to record the hate elements of the crime, and inaction by the school. Another NSW family was attacked by a chef of a café who told them to leave because he didn’t want Muslim patrons, and threw punches at the father. The chef was taken away by police, but there were no charges laid. A Queensland family was on the train returning from a museum trip when a stranger began violently threatening to throw their small children off the train. When the father attempted to report to police, he was turned away.

[25]               Iner, above n 21.

[26]               Iner, above n 21.

[27]               April Kailahi, Semisi Kailahi and Tatjana Bosevska, ‘Resilient Women’s Project: Muslim Women and their experiences of Prejudice’(Melbourne: Uniting Church in Australia, 2019); Asha Bedar, Nesreen Bottriell, Shahram Akbarzadeh, ‘Supporting Muslim Families and Children in Dealing with Islamophobia’ (Melbourne: Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights  & Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University, 2020).

[28]               Ibid.

[29]               Iner, above n 21.

[30]               ‘White supremacists wish for all people in their community to be white, they thus see it as legitimate to both kill and intimidate those who are not, or those who support the idea of peaceful coexistence. Islamist extremists such as ISIS wishes for everyone to follow the same interpretation of Islam, they enforce this by killing and intimidating those they disagree with, and through threats and intimidation seek to convert others to subscribe to their interpretation. The violent components of violent extremism can broadly be categorised under the definitions of violence developed by peace-researcher Johan Galtung. He divided violence into the categories of Cultural Violence, Structural Violence and Direct violence which is a fitting framework also for understanding the violence of violent extremists’: Khalifa Ihler Institute, ‘Hate Map: Definitions, Scope, Terms’, <>.

AMAN notes that the causes, origins and objectives of both those movements are more complex that this describes but acknowledges this a useful illustrative point by the Khalifa Ihler Institute about a feature that is common between the two movements.

[31]               Serious vilification and hate crime reform: The need for legislative reform.        

[32]               Department of Security Studies and Criminology. (2020, October 9). Mapping Networks and Narratives of Online Right-Wing Extremists in New South Wales (Version 1.0.1). Sydney: Macquarie University.

[33]               Marczak N. (2018) A Century Apart: The Genocidal Enslavement of Armenian and Yazidi Women. In: Connellan M., Fröhlich C. (eds) A Gendered Lens for Genocide Prevention. Rethinking Political Violence. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[34]               Dehumanisation is a concept recognised in international genocide prevention law and expounded in literature:

Maynard and Benesch, above n 2.

Nick Haslam. (2006). Dehumanization: An Integrative Review. Personality and social psychology review: an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 257.

[35]               Will Baldet, “How ‘Dangerous Speech’ Is The Mood Music For Non-Violent Extremism: How do we define websites, groups and individuals who stay the right side of our hate crime laws but whistle the tune which advances the rhetoric of violent extremism?”, Huffpost, 9 May 2018.

[36]               Khalifer Ihler Global Institute define violent extremism as the violent denial of diversity: “Unifying all violent extremists, regardless of their beliefs or ideological objectives is their beliefs that peaceful coexistence with someone different from them is impossible, and that violently enforcing this either through forced submission or through eradication of diversity is the solution.” Khalifa Ihler Institute, ‘Hate Map: Definitions, Scope, Terms’, <>.

[37]               Toby Archer, ‘Breivik’s Mindset: The Counterjihad and the New Transatlantic Anti-Muslim Right’ in Max Taylor, P M Currie and Donald Holbrook (eds), Extreme Right Wing Violence and Political Terrorism (London, 2013) 149-169. See also Andrew Brown, ‘The myth of Eurabia: how a far right conspiracy theory went mainstream’, The Guardian [online newspaper], 16 August 2019, accessed online via < conspiracy-theory-went-mainstream>.

[38]             Mario Peucker, Debra Smith and Muhammad Iqbal, ‘Mapping Networks and Narratives of Far-Right Movements in Victoria’ (Project Report, Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities, Victoria University, November 2018).

[39]             Jacob Davey, Mackenzie Hart and Cécile Guerin, ‘An Online Environmental Scan of Right-Wing Extremism in Canada: An Interim Report’(Institute of Strategic Dialogue, June 2020). Anti-Muslim and anti-Trudeau rhetoric are the most salient topics of conversation among RWE actors in Canada. On Twitter we found that highly prolific extremist users were more likely to be engaged in anti-Muslim conversation, and spikes in activity often contained anti-Muslim conversation. Similarly, on Facebook we found that Muslims were the most widely discussed minority community,
and the most common target of posts containing explicit hate speech (23%), with anti-Semitism being the second largest grouping of hate speech (16%).

[40]             Peucker, Smith, & Dr Muhammad Iqbal, above n 38, 7.

[41]             The Institute for Strategic Dialogue conducted weekly analysis of online hate communities in the lead up to US 2020 election called ‘Lens on Hate’. From these records, they frequently identified anti-Muslim communities to be the top five most active hate communities.

[42]             William Allchorn and Andres Dafnos, ‘Far Right Mobilisations in Great Britain: 2009-2019’ (Center for the Analysis of the Radical Right, October 2020).

[43]               Mario Peucker, “Should we stop referring to some extremists as right-wing?”, ABC Religion and Ethics, 20 October 2020.

[44]               Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Global Disinformation Index (2020) Bankrolling Bigotry: An overview of the online funding strategies of American hate groups.

[45]               For example, Moonshot CVE tracked high levels of anxiety and fraying mental health among former & current QAnon support base. This points to a genuine risk of suicide/self-harm, and shows vulnerability of audiences caught up in this web of lies online.

[46]               AMAN can provide further evidence on this from its experience of using vilification avenues to        remove online          content. It takes significant resources and time (more than a year), and is very                cumbersome for dealing with serial actors.

[47]               Benjamin Lee, ‘A Day in the “Swamp”: Understanding Discourse in the Online Counter-Jihad Nebula’ (2015) 11(3) Democracy and Security 248, 251-3; Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Hans Brun, A Neo- nationalist Network: The English Defence League and Europe’s Counter-jihad Movement (London, 2013).

[48]               Lee, ibid, 252.

[49]               Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s80.2A

[50]               Response by Senator Marise Payne on behalf of Minister Christian Porter, to Senate Question 1210 put by Senator Kristina Keneally on 4 March 2020.

[51]               Ibid.

[52]               AMAN referred a matter for criminal prosecution to the AFP involving an online actor who produced and shared to a large public forum a series of dehumanising articles about Muslims, implying they were planning to take over Australia and the West through immigration and high fertility rates; and that being religious in Islam led to subhumanity. This content, shared on more than one occasion with the same audience, prompted extensive comment threads where users expressed disgust, dehumanising slurs, repeated demographic invasion theories, and expressed a desire to see Muslims dead or to be expunged or killed. The AFP’s response to a criminal prosecution referral made by AMAN on 20 October 2020 stated: “The material does espouse anti-Muslim sentiment, which dialogues on social and religious viewpoints. It does not encourage, nor directly threaten, harm to any person.”

[53]               See response to Question on Notice:

[54]               Priya De, ‘Police intimidation and media scapegoating behind the Brisbane killing’, Red Flag, 

[55]               See for example, Islamic Council of Victoria (2020) Position Statement on Islamophobia.

[56]               Tom Switzer, ‘Between the Lines: The Legacy of September 11, 2001’, ABC Radio National, 26 November 2020.

[57]               Joshua Creamer, ‘Why so many Black deaths in custody and so little justice?’, Indigenous X, 3 June 2020 ‘

[58]               Mario Peucker, Ramón Spaaij, Debra Smith, and Scott Patton, ‘Dissenting citizenship? Understanding vulnerabilities to right-wing extremism on the local level: A multilevel analysis of far-right manifestations, risk and protective factors in three local municipalities in Victoria’ (Melbourne: Victoria University, August 2020).

[59]               Leanne Close, ‘ Right-wing extremists ‘hiding in plain sight’, 23 October 2020, The Strategist.

[60]               Michael Safi,  ‘Anti-Muslim sentiment strong and widespread in Australian army, study shows’, The Guardian                 Australia, 9 June 2016.

[61]               Table talks bring people together in their local community to reveal in small groups what they are most passionate about changing and why, using a personal story if they choose. People discuss a variety of issues from finding secure employment, disability access to education, educating about family violence, overcoming trauma or loneliness, community support for veterans, community support for single parent families, dealing with racism, better parking at a local hospital. Due to the structured but intimate format which requires uninterrupted but time-boxed listening to each participant, followed by group discussion, it gives connection and voice to many people who don’t feel heard. This becomes the basis for community organising around issues of concern. This example is raised here as a way to start conversations and build positive bridges, but it’s not a way of facilitating potentially more controversial dialogue as per Peucker et al, ibid.

[62]               Sara Cheikh Husain, Muslim Community Organizations’ Perceptions of Islamophobia: Towards an Informed Countering Response. Religions 2020, 11, 485. Peucker et al, above n 58.

[63]               Explore the work of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue which offers program curriculum to former extremists, to youth and more, aimed at building critical consumers and connected citizens.

[64]               Challenging research project, unpublished research.

[65]               News release from Charles Sturt University on the 2019 Islamophobia Report,, quoting from the Chief Investigator Dr Derya Iner.

[66]               Scanlon Foundation Institute Report, Mapping Social Cohesion 2020, <>.

[67]               Maynard and Benesch, above n 2, 80.

[68]               Taken from the UN Definition of hate speech: United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech

                  Detailed Guidance on Implementation for United Nations Field Presences, September 2020. This ought to be considered in context with existing categories of       protection in Australia, and include some consultation in regard to most targeted groups. The Australian Hate     Crime Network also highlights disability as a targeted group.

[69]               Ibid; The Australian Hate Crime Network generally recommends that the list include identity based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexuality or disability.

[70]               Where an ideology is not explicitly identified by the site, as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue has done in these circumstances, a sample of the site’s produced material could be subjected to qualitative assessment. The other factors listed in Annexure B would assist in that assessment.