SYDNEY (Reuters) - A member of an Australian anti-immigration group accused of planning an attack may face additional charges in what the government said was the first time federal terrorism laws had been used to target such right-wing groups.
Phillip Galea, 31, has been charged with acts done in preparation for a terrorist act and collecting or making documents likely to facilitate a terrorist act, after being arrested in Melbourne on Saturday.
Victoria state Assistant Commissioner Ross Guenther told reporters that he or his associates may face additional charges. Galea will return to court on Tuesday for his next hearing.
“That’s always a possibility given that we’re in an early part of the investigation,” Guenther said on Monday.
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has been on heightened alert for attacks by home-grown Islamist radicals since 2014 and authorities say they have thwarted a number of plots.
But far-right activist groups and political parties opposed to Islam and Asian immigration are on the rise in Australia.
One Nation, a political party headed by right-wing firebrand Pauline Hanson, secured four senate seats and king-maker status in national elections held last month by running on a protectionist, anti-Islam platform.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan said that the charges showed that Australia’s tough new counter-terrorism laws, which some Muslim leaders have said unfairly subjected them to racial profiling, were unbiased.
“This is the first time in the history of Australia that we have used Commonwealth terrorism laws to charge someone who is alleged to have been a right-wing extremist,” Keenan told reporters in Perth.
Galea was a fixture at rallies held by the far-right True Blue Crew, which has previously been involved in violent clashes with pro-immigration groups, group co-founder Kane Miller told Reuters.
Miller on Monday distanced himself and the organization from Galea, whom he said had never openly discussed any alleged plot. The group does not condone violence, Miller said.
“I‘m not going to lie, I did know him and he did attend our events,” Miller said.
“All lives are precious. Muslim lives over in Saudi Arabia, although I don’t agree with them, are precious.”
Galea denied the charges against him during an appearance before a judge in Melbourne on Saturday and said they were part of a conspiracy against the so-called “patriot” movement.
He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Ed Davies