Deradicalisation helpline receives ‘five calls’ in first months

The helpline, as opposed to a hotline, was set up in June to support people who are worried their friends or family might be coming under the influence of violent extremism.

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It’s a counselling service as opposed to a mechanism to report people suspected of being involved in extremist terrorism.

The initiative is part of a $47 million program, committed to by the government in the wake of the 2015 murder of NSW police accountant Curtis Cheng.

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But so far, the helpline has only received “around five calls” according to NSW Minister for Counter Terrorism David Elliott.

However, Mr Elliott refuted suggestions the $3.9 million helpline is a waste of money.

“We only need one successful phone call and the helpline has paid for itself,” Mr Elliott said.

“We expected early call volumes to be low, and they are, at around five calls to date.

“This is expected to build as the marketing efforts gradually expand.”

Leading Lebanese community figure Dr Jamal Rifi told the ABC the helpline is viewed with distrust by the community.

“We only need one successful phone call”: David Elliott the NSW Minister for Counter Terrorism.AAP

“In theory, it ticks the boxes,” Dr Rifi said. 

“In reality, and in the streets of south-west Sydney, nobody is going to use this helpline because, they don’t trust it.

“We have always said that such an initiative needs to be arm’s length from security agencies [and] from police.”

But Mr Elliott disagrees.

“Early response from a number of community organisations about Step Together have been positive and many have appreciated being engaged about the initiative,” he said.

More than 240 community groups were consulted on the purpose and design of the helpline, including anti-racism not-for-profit organisation All Together Now.

The Step Together website is faring better than the hotline, however.

Mr Elliott says it’s received more than 800 unique hits since launching on June 28.

Helpline, not a hotline

At the launch, Mr Elliott was keen to emphasise that Step Together is a helpline, not a hotline and that Step Together was never intended to replace the National Security Hotline.

Launched in 2002 in the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, and the Bali bombings, the National Security Hotline is specifically for reporting information that is relayed to ASIO, and federal and state police.

The hotline received 3287 calls in August alone, and more than 5,000 since the Step Together’s launch.

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