Frydenberg accuses grand mufti of an attempted ‘cover up’ and failure of leadership

Josh Frydenberg has delivered a sharp rebuke to Australia’s grand mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed. Alan Porrit/AAP

Cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg has accused Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, of seeking to “cover up” his failure of leadership in the wake of the Paris attacks, and said Australians have to understand the “sheer nature” of the Islamic State (IS) threat.

Frydenberg said it was necessary to acknowledge that religion was part of the problem.

Those who preached hate in the mosques had to be disrupted, and “we have to focus on integration as opposed to segregation in the schools,” he said.

The Grand Mufti said the incidents highlighted that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism were not working and therefore “all causative factors” must be comprehensively addressed. These included “racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention”.

After much criticism, a follow-up statement said: “It is incorrect to imply that the reference to causative factors provides justification for these acts of terrorism. There is no justification for the taking of innocent lives.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was careful in his comments and welcomed the clarification.

But Frydenberg, in tough comments on Sky, said: “The Grand Mufti failed in his leadership with his statement. He sought to cover that up subsequently, but it was a graphic failure.

"And he has more of a responsibility, not only to the Muslim community, but to the community at large, because all our security is at risk,” he said.

“We need to acknowledge the significance of this threat, to acknowledge that religion is part of this problem and thirdly – because this is the key point – we need to deal with it at a hard edge with the military response but also we need to deal with a counter narrative.”

Frydenberg justified his allegation that the grand mufti was guilty of an attempted “cover up” by saying his first reaction “was his instinctive reaction”.

He would not be drawn on whether the grand mufti should resign. “That’s a question for the Mufti and for the Islamic community”.

The vast majority of the Islamic community appreciated the significance of this extremist threat and wanted to see the end of it, Frydenberg said.

There were wonderful members of the Islamic community in Australia “and I want to hear those moderate voices,” he said. “We need to hear more of those voices, because clearly we’re not winning the battle of hearts and minds, and we do need to win it.”

He said he would not accept that terrorism in our cities was the new norm. “Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said we have to accept that violent extremism is part of contemporary Australia. Well, I say no. That’s rubbish. I will not accept that.”

Saying this was a problem within Islam, Frydenberg said extremists were a minority – “but it’s a significant minority … and it does pose a challenge to our way of life in Australia”.

“As the Australian community, we have to acknowledge the seriousness of this threat, the reasons for it, and try to deal with it in a very considered and, as the prime minister said, calm and strategic way,” he said.

Frydenberg was in Paris after the attacks, and spoke emotionally about the experience.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, asked about Frydenberg’s comments said it was “important for all members of parliament to be leaders that bring our community together”.

“The most important partners we have in the fight against violent extremism is the Muslim community.”