Melbourne’s northern suburbs were regarded as a hot spot for potential home-grown terrorists, a Labor MP revealed yesterday.
Maria Vamvakinou, whose federal seat of Calwell includes suburbs with high populations of Muslims – such as Broadmeadows and Dallas – said the area had been under surveillance by national security agencies.
“My area, having such a high concentration of Australians of Muslim faith, was an area of interest to the federal police and to ASIO, especially immediately in the aftermath of September 11,” she said. “Most people who live in Broadmeadows, they might be of Muslim background, but they pretty much live ordinary lives.”
The federal Attorney-General’s Department has admitted several places have been identified as potential breeding grounds for terrorism, but will not name them for security reasons.
Ms Vamvakinou told a public hearing on multiculturalism that it was obvious to her constituents the area was under surveillance.
“There was a time in that early period especially…where the constant presence of Federal Police, even the Federal Police Commissioner himself, would attend our (functions) and the Federal Police would have little booths,” she told the Herald Sun.
“It was community building on the one hand, but on the other the presence there did make people feel that the area was of special interest.
“ASIO and the Federal Police have very specific jobs and they conduct their affairs in specific ways and I understand that. But there’s a point where the community needs to be allowed to develop as a community and not as a community that’s of concern.”
Ms Vamvakinou, who chairs a parliamentary inquiry into multiculturalism, told a recent hearing that surveillance of her community had had negative effects on young people born in Australia.
Ms Vamvakinou said giving community grants based on national security concerns was sending the wrong message, and the program should be run by other departments.
“If it’s coming from Attorney-General’s and Federal Police it’s got an obvious connotation, hasn’t it,” she said. “The idea that you are potentially at risk of radicalisation could be counterproductive. Young people generally are very sensitive about the way they are viewed, across the board.”