Federal Politics

Labor candidate and terrorism expert Anne Aly questions citizenship laws, slams 'politics of fear'

David Wroe

Prominent counter-terrorism expert turned Labor candidate Anne Aly says there is a need to "revisit" the controversial citizenship laws, which the Opposition supported.

Professor Aly, who is one of the nation's best-known specialists in understanding why people are drawn to religious and political extremism, announced on Thursday she would stand for Labor in the Liberal-held seat of Cowan in Western Australia.

Professor Anne Aly will contest the Liberal-held WA seat of Cowan for Labor.
Professor Anne Aly will contest the Liberal-held WA seat of Cowan for Labor. Photo: Christopher Pearce

She slammed the national security debate as one often driven by the "politics of division and fear".

The 48-year-old will be pitted against the conservative Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins, who holds the seat with a 7.5 per cent margin. It was previously held by Labor MP and prominent military veteran Graham Edwards.

Professor Aly has been a vocal critic of the Coalition's approach to national security, saying that the tough policies were not balanced by "soft" solutions, such as building better cohesion between Muslim and mainstream communities.

In particular, Professor Aly told Fairfax Media she remained concerned about the new citizenship laws, which were passed in December with Labor's backing. These will strip the Australian citizenship of dual national terrorists, in many cases without the need for a court conviction.

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"I think the citizenship thing we need to revisit in terms of its effectiveness as a counter-terrorism measure," she said. "I do have concerns about it. It may be law but how is it going to be implemented? How do we operationalise it?"

She added that Labor had played an important role in putting additional safeguards into the legislation.

Professor Aly, 48, is an academic at Edith Cowan University and has been working in countering extremism for more than a decade, including in grassroots roles steering young people away from radical views.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, she came to Australia at the age of two. She describes herself as secular.

She said as well as her terrorism expertise she was passionate about education.

She said the national security debate had often been driven by the "politics of division and fear".

"I don't think we've had a reasoned debate at all in this space," she said. "This debate has been dominated by a political narrative and that needs to change ... We definitely have a politics of division and a politics of fear … particularly with Liberal governments who have a very adversarial style of politics."

She said Labor and Bill Shorten had taken "a very firm stance" against this.

Professor Aly is one of many national security experts who have criticised the strong focus on the "hard" side of counter-terrorism, saying that more effort needs to be made on "soft" approaches such as building greater social cohesion.

She said on Thursday that while the rhetoric had improved since Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, there was still more to do on preventing Islamic radicalisation in the first place.

"I think it's very fair to say that I've been critical but that criticism is based on research and pretty robust evaluation and analysis based on my research," she said. "I'd like to see a hugely different approach to policy – one that works and one that draws on international best practice.

"If you get prevention right, ultimately you won't have any radicalised individuals."

She said strongly cohesive societies were more resilient to radicalisation taking hold.

"Radicalisation of individuals does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in environments. So what you want to do from a preventative approach is ensure that those environments don't arise."

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