Victoria calls in experts as it grapples with radicalised youth
21 Jun 2015
Source: The Sunday Age
By: Farrah Tomazin
The Andrews government has called in experts to help counter the growing threat of radicalised youth, admitting it is struggling to understand why increasing numbers of young people are turning to extremist groups such as Islamic State.
In an interview with Fairfax Media as the chair of a ministerial taskforce set up to tackle violent extremism, Deputy Premier James Merlino said there was "no doubt" more teenagers and members of their family were being recruited to fight for IS overseas, but "we don't have all the answers, frankly, as to why this is happening".
The taskforce has used its inaugural meeting to set up a $4 million research institute, bringing together a panel of academics, senior bureaucrats and other experts to advise the government on new programs to strengthen multiculturalism and understand the terror threat.
An advisory group of young community leaders will also be appointed to reach out to disaffected youth, and more effort will be placed on keeping students engaged at school in the hope they do not turn to extremist groups.
"Ten thousand people between years 9 and 12 drop out of our school system every year, so the importance of engaging with at-risk young people, making those connections and keeping them in education, is vitally important – not just in this space, but across the board," said Mr Merlino, who is also Victoria's education minister.
In recent months, principals have told Fairfax Media that they are grappling with the growing radicalisation of students and parents, with one government school revealing earlier this year that two of their students had parents who were fighting for Islamic State in Syria.
These concerns, along with last year's shooting of terror suspect Abdul Numan Haider in Endeavour Hills, has resulted in the education department appointing a senior adviser to help schools monitor students who appear at risk of turning to violent extremism.
"There's no doubt that there will be those instances, where either young people at school, or their families, are directly involved, or people they know are directly involved," Mr Merlino said.
"It's not that radicalisation is happening within schools (most youths are recruited online or by older peers) but it's about what we can do and how we can communicate and engage with young people in schools that will make a big difference."
The government's taskforce was set up amid a number of high-profile cases, including the suicide bombing involving Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi; the arrest of a Victorian boy caught allegedly planning a bomb attack; and the arrest of five men linked to an "IS-inspired" terrorist plot targeting Anzac Day commemorations in April.
The $4 million Social Cohesion and Multicultural Research Institute was signed off at the taskforce's first meeting late last month, drawing from a $25 million fund set aside in Labor's first budget.
It will be governed by an interim advisory board chaired by Mark Duckworth, chief resilience officer from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and will also include Monash University emeritus professor Gary Bouma; Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Dr Hass Dellal; Scanlon Foundation chief executive Anthea Hancocks; Victoria University director Professor Michele Grossman; and Professor Andrew Markus, the author of Monash University's Mapping Social Cohesion longitudinal study.