INTRODUCTION The Australian government is addressing the growing concern over youth radicalisation by equipping schools and teachers to identify and report young people who are at risk of religious and political extremism. In response to a ‘climate of fear’ purported by the previous Abbott Government, schools are increasingly being put on the front line for addressing Australia’s national security issues (Kenny, 2015, Peterson & Bentley, 2016). In its report, Gen-Y Jihadhists (Jennings, 2015), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has recommended that “as jihadists get younger, our attention must turn to what schools teach and how they manage at-risk students” (Jennings, 2015). In response, the Committee for Australian Governments (COAG) has made a commitment to tackling youth radicalisation, and in February 2016 released a ‘New Schools Strategy’ which will provide support for school staff to “recognise the warning signs of radicalisation”, provide classroom resources and to strengthen engagement in the wider school community (DET, 2016).
Youth radicalisation was noted as a “growing threat” by the Abbott Government, and the federal government was widely criticised for linking Islam, citizenship and refugee policies with issues of national security, a move which had marginalised communities (Peterson & Bentley, 2016; Kenny, 2015; Akbarzadeh, 2013). The current Australian Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) strategy was developed in 2011 during the Rudd Government as a response to the growing incidence of violent extremism and ‘home-grown’ terrorism following the 2005 London Bombings. Under the CVE strategy, community groups became the largest recipient of funds as a part of the ‘Building Resilient Communities’ which has now been replaced by the ‘Living Safe Together’ program which essentially covers the same principles although, over the past few years, has increasingly included public schools. (Barker, 2015). The focus on de-radicalisation is often promoted as a national security issue although policies are creeping into the education space mirroring the United Kingdom’s ‘Prevent Program’ for schools. While the federal government is aiming to “significantly boost” funding of the CVE program, community leaders have called it “misguided” as it further marginalises at-risk youth (Donoughue & Fahey, 2015). Associate Professor Anne Aly, Founding Chair of People Against Violent Extremism, suggests that the government’s view of radicalisation “is only ever seen as a national security issue, and the response is only ever going to be a national security response” (Donoughue & Farley, 2015).
Discourse surrounding youth radicalisation comes from two different view points, the first in terms of national security and the second in terms of national identity (Peterson &Bentley, 2016). In linking youth radicalisation strategies in schools with national security, the government may marginalise vulnerable young people and exacerbate the problem as evidenced in the UK’s Prevent program which is evidently seen as “counterproductive” (Shaki, 2016). The Australia government’s current approach appears to be following many Prevent strategies and the Abbott Government has done itself no favours by exacerbating alienation with language such as “Team Australia” suggesting that “if you are not with us, you are against us”, or you are one of ‘them’ (Peterson & Bentley, 2016).
Community leaders have for more than a decade been warning the government about the growing sense of exclusion, particularly of young Muslims, from wider Australian society. In a Four Corners report, Dangerous Ground, school boys interviewed felt alienated from society, the reporter revealing “when they refer to ‘Aussies’, they don’t mean themselves” (Neighbour, 2008). However, the current governments approach to radicalisation appears to be ignoring the root causes, and in the case of the Abbott Government further inflaming them.
Although this paper attempts to go beyond addressing the root causes of radicalisation, as these have been well documented (Zammit, 2015; Akbarzadeh, 2013; Kamp & Mansouri, 2009; Neighbour, 2008). The paper intends to get a sense of how blind policy borrowing combined with policies supporting conflicting interests in national security and education values, could play out. The paper will address two main problems, firstly that increased security powers to teachers could result in an over-referral of students to counter radicalisation programs, and secondly, that issues of national security go well beyond the goals of education.
The argument draws from much of the discourse surrounding recent measures to tackle youth radicalisation in schools. It argues that the policy response to issues of national security is becoming ‘entangled’ in education goals, which as problems associated with the UK’s Prevent program has demonstrated, does more harm than good. The paper will examine in what ways the government’s national security agenda impacts on Australian schools, and discusses what lessons can be learned.
Completed as a part of coursework for Education Policy and Reform in Australia, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne.
Master of Education Policy (International), The University of Melbourne.