Key issues

Victoria Police has identified a number of key issues which over the next four years are likely to continue to exert an important influence over the local threat environment, and around which we will concentrate our activities.

Key issue 1: Individuals radicalising to violence

The threat from religiously and ideologically motivated violent extremist groups and individuals continues to influence the Victorian security environment, particularly through the endurance of master narratives and underpinning ideologies.

Despite the demise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) Caliphate in the Middle East, violent Islamist narratives from groups including ISIL and al Qaeda continue to resonate with individuals globally, including within Victoria, propagating an ‘us versus them’ worldview.

Similarly, Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE) propaganda and activities can be equally divisive, reinforcing perceptions of the existence of an ‘out group’ against which violence can be used.

Beyond IMVE and Religiously Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE), the COVID-19 pandemic has also enlivened a variety of issue motivated groups and individuals, creating opportunities for further polarisation and the spread of conspiracy theories.

The radicalisation of youth is also of growing concern to Victoria Police and our law enforcement and intelligence partners.

The number of children at risk of radicalisation to violence, including those being exposed to extremist material and ideas, has increased.

Due to a number of local and international circumstances, this development is also a manifestation of youth vulnerability in general given that this cohort is in a period of identity formation and is more susceptible to external influences.

Identifying individuals at risk of radicalisation to violence within this environment has become increasingly challenging for law enforcement.

Behaviours that may indicate the transition toward violence can be complex, occur within short timeframes, and occasionally even appear in conflict with individuals’ ideological or religious views.

Interpreting indicators can be further complicated by a range of personal factors and circumstances, including mental health issues and drug use.

Key issue 2: Convicted terrorists

Over the coming years there will be an increase in the number of convicted terrorists eligible for release into the Victorian community following the completion of their sentences.

With this comes the concern that these individuals may re-enter the community with undiminished ideological views.

While some may actively participate in prison rehabilitation programs, others may continue to adhere to their violent ideologies for a variety of reasons.

The potential consequences of this were demonstrated in the United Kingdom, where several recently released terrorists went on to commit attacks (Streatham in 2019 and London Bridge in 2020).

While terrorist recidivism in the Australian context is relatively rare, the potential for terrorist recidivism raises a number of issues, including those related to the management of convicted terrorists post-release, the durability of violent extremist beliefs, as well as their potential to exacerbate the local radicalising environment by virtue of their so-called notoriety.

Key issue 3: Mental health and extremism

There has been an increase in the presence of mental disorders among individuals that undertake acts of terrorist violence. This is particularly true among lone actor terrorists.

Mental illness can influence an individual’s decision making and behaviours in diverse ways, adding layers of complexity to our efforts to identity and effectively manage these individuals.

The interplay between mental health and extremist vulnerability is complex.

Mental disorders, when present, may not be the driving factor when mentally unwell terrorists decide to undertake acts of violence, but one of many aggregating factors that contribute to a person’s desire to act.

Understanding how mental disorders may influence an individual’s vulnerability, along with how the threat may present, assists case managers in determining the most appropriate mode of intervention.

Key issue 4: Returning foreign fighters and families

Australian foreign fighters and their families that may return from international conflict zones continue to represent a potential threat due to their exposure or commitment to violent extremist ideology, the acquisition of combat skills, and relationship with violent extremists.

However, it is anticipated that most future repatriations will be of children and their mothers.

The extent to which they may exert any influence will likely be felt primarily through their capacity to exacerbate the local radicalising environment, which will be difficult to determine in the short to medium term.

Additionally, due to the nature of repatriated children’s experiences in particular, they will likely face reintegration and re-socialisation challenges.

While the precise nature of each child’s experiences might never be known, it is likely that returning children will have been exposed to significant physical and psychological trauma.

Moreover, religiously and ideologically motivated Australians may continue to consider travel to international conflict zones in response to events that appeal to, or resonate with, their peculiar ideological and psychosocial needs and circumstances.

Key issue 5: The internet and social media platforms

The anonymity of the internet affords users the ability to express views that they may not otherwise share for fear of repercussion or public condemnation. Moreover, the online environment is attractive to terrorists as it is not subject to centralised control, lacks censorship and is widely accessible.

Online platforms are therefore often utilised as a mechanism to radicalise individuals to violence, propagate hate speech and other extreme views, and promote a range of conspiracy theories.

It can also fulfill other important roles, including providing extremists a forum through which to engage in covert communication.

The online environment also has the capacity to extend the reach of terrorists and terrorist organisations throughout the world.

The internet and social media platforms have allowed terrorists overseas to virtually target, radicalise and recruit individuals in Victoria with greater ease than ever before, creating significant challenges for Victoria Police and its partners.

The targeted removal of extremist material by some mainstream social media platforms has also led many extremists to move their messaging and conversations onto encrypted platforms and the dark web.

This not only hinders the ability of police to identify communication of national security concern but can also hasten individuals’ radicalisation to violence by limiting opportunities for exposure to alternate or moderating views.

Encrypted communications utilised by extremists will likely continue to present challenges for the foreseeable future.