NSW Premier Mike Baird last Tuesday 2 November revealed a comprehensive program to counter violent extremism (CVE) in the state of New South Wales.

The $47 million suite of measures has been developed by the NSW Government in response to the rise of violent extremism – measures that have been accelerated after the terrorist attack in Parramatta that cost the life of NSW Police Force worker Curtis Cheng.

“We are locked in a global struggle with cynical manipulators who exploit vulnerable young people and children to commit acts of terror,” Mr Baird said.

The Premier announced more counselling and support services to be provided to students in NSW schools and staff given access to additional training to assist schools in countering violent extremism.

Training will be available for counsellors and other school staff for the start of the 2016 school year to ensure they have the skills to identify vulnerable young people, and help them access support programs.

Additionally, up to five Specialist School Support Teams costing around $15 million will work proactively with identified schools and respond to critical incidents, linking in with the efforts of community leaders and ensuring schools have the support they need.

Along with measures to support schools, the package includes a range of programs designed to build community cohesion and maintain cultural harmony.

In addition to a $4 million program already announced and commencing this year, there will be a further $8 million directed at community resilience programs to be delivered by a range of organisations committed to youth engagement and community resilience.

Additionally, a Community Cohesion Ambassadors’ program will involve high-profile community leaders working within the community to promote social cohesion and cultural harmony.

A CVE training program for front-line NSW Government workers, such as Family and Community Services officers, will be established to ensure they too can respond to the needs of vulnerable individuals and families.

The NSW Government will also establish a support and advice telephone line, along with online services, for community and family members seeking advice on how to best protect and support young people who may be exposed to violent extremist influences. The line will be managed through the NGO sector.

“CVE programs are not a substitute for strong law enforcement measures – they are a necessary complement, Mr Baird said.

There have been criticism of programs where teachers have been asked to report on tendency towards extremism in schools.

University of Sydney South Asia Study Group co-ordinator Hussain Nadim said the move was counterproductive.

“The entire idea and the entire issue of radicalisation, its roots are embedded in this very notion that kids, especially Muslim kids, feel isolated and aren’t able to integrate and having these programs run at the school level will not help countering that; it will only allow further isolation and further radicalisation of kids at the high school level,” he said.

Dr Andrew Zammit, a counter-terrorism expert from University of Melbourne,  who has been consulted by the federal government on deradicalisation in schools, said asking teachers to spot the signs of radicalisation was likely to be counter-productive.

“The false leads generated by teacher guesswork could divert attention from the small number of genuine threats. The distrust bred could inhibit cooperation in the cases where it is really needed.”

He recommended programs that encourage “critical thinking” among students rather than suspicion by teachers.

Last Sunday Hizb-ut-Tahrir organized a conference in Bankstown, Sydney attended by more than 500 people with the topic “Innocent until proven Muslim.”

Speakers criticised the atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevailing in the country as a result of exaggerated risks from radicalization and terrorism leading to the criminalization of the whole Muslim community.

Mr Uthman Badar, media representative of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, in a column published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 November titled “The Muslim is a tool for the cheap politics of fear”, wrote that “Deradicalisation” programs were meant to make Muslims less Islamic and an agenda for forced assimilation justified by exaggerated fears of a security threat.

Summary of CVE measures

Support for schools

  • Provide additional training and support for the expanded school counsellor workforce the Government is providing NSW public schools
  • Establish up to five Specialist School Support Teams to be deployed to identified schools and work with them to develop strategies based on their specific needs.
  • Develop additional resources for teachers and parents to identify and manage violent extremist behavior.
  • Enhance the case management framework for supporting school children at risk of engaging in violent extremism.
  • Expand the incident reporting system to ensure all NSW schools are reporting incidents of violent extremist behaviour so the NSW Police Force is informed of incidents of concern immediately.

Build community resilience and cohesion:

  • Develop a comprehensive package of community cohesion programs as an early and important preventative strategy.
  • Establish a Community Cohesion Ambassadors’ Program for community leaders to work with students in schools and the community.
  • Establish a Premier’s fund for social cohesion initiatives for schools and local community organisations.

Support for community:

  • Establish a support and advice telephone line and online services for community and family members to seek advice on CVE.
  • Establish a CVE training program for front-line NSW Government workers, such as teachers and Family and Community Services officers.

Ensure all efforts are coordinated and based on best practice:

  • Establish a Premier’s CVE Expert Council of experts to provide advice on NSW approaches.
  • Establish a Committee of School Education Leaders to provide advice to both the CVE Council and the Minister on schools policies.