A multi-million-dollar government helpline set up to support people worried their family or friends may be at risk of violent extremism appears to be failing to gain traction.
The Step Together helpline was launched in June by the New South Wales Minister for Counter Terrorism, David Elliot.
Costing $3.9 million over three years, the initiative is part of a $47 million program designed to fight radicalisation following the murder of NSW police accountant Curtis Cheng.
The helpline markets itself as an advice and counselling service, and is staffed by professional counsellors seven days a week from 7:00am to 9:00pm.
But Mr Elliot has confirmed the helpline had only received "around five phone calls" in the two months since its launch.
One source, who spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity, said: "It costs millions, but only a few people have called it. One call was a wrong number, the other was a parent worried their kid was dating a Muslim."
Prominent Muslim community leaders have also told the ABC they warned the NSW Government the helpline was unlikely to be trusted if it was linked to intelligence gathering or policing agencies.
Despite this, Mr Elliott said the Government expected the low volume of calls to increase, "as the marketing efforts gradually expand".
He added that the associated website had received 800 hits.
Mr Elliot refused to say when the expanded marketing would take place or whether it would cost more money.
The Minister insisted the helpline had the support of the community.
"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.
Helpline viewed with suspicion in Muslim community
But prominent members of Sydney's Muslim community, and terrorism experts have told the ABC a different story.
"In theory it ticks the boxes. In reality, and in the streets of south-west Sydney, nobody is going to use this helpline because, they don't trust it," Dr Jamal Rifi said from his medical practice in the Sydney suburb of Belmore.
"We have always said that such an initiative needs to be arm's length from security agencies [and] from police."
The helpline is run by an independent contractor but Dr Rifi said launching it under the Ministry for Counter Terrorism meant the service was doomed.
"I doubt it very much — people [using] this hotline … it is going to be seen as embedded to the anti-terror sphere rather than the health, preventative-action sphere," he said.
An expert in de-radicalisation at the Australian National University, Dr Clarke Jones, said authorities were focusing on the wrong things.
"Everything to do with Muslim communities is to do with security and intelligence," he said. "Life doesn't work like that.
"You'll find there's much more problems around domestic violence and youth suicide, drug and alcohol offending. Violent extremism may be less than 1 per cent.
"So when you're dealing or working with Muslim communities, it just doesn't make sense that the whole focus and all this money is placed in violent extremism."
Dr Jones wants governments to tackle the symptoms that lead to radicalisation.
"If you put money towards social services or building community capacity, the outcome would be better. In fact, you'd reduce the chances of violent extremism," he said.
Program 'well intended but sold wrong way'
Counter-terrorism expert and director of Intelligent Risks Neil Fergus said: "To be frank, the most effective tools that we have within Australia, in terms of community engagement, are the personal contacts being made by ASIO officers and police officers".
Mr Fergus said community liaison officers, while clearly linked to Government enforcement agencies, were upfront about who they were. He said some community members could suspect Step Together was a front for intelligence gathering.
"There are understandable concerns in a lot of the target communities about who they are talking too and how it will be actioned … whereas, the National Security Hotline, all these matters are well known."
The National Security Hotline was set up in 2002 in the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre and, closer to home, the Bali bombings.
The hotline clearly states its role as a reporting line, with information received relayed to ASIO, and federal and state police.
It received 5,293 calls in the two months of July and August this year.
By contrast, Step Together — which received five calls — is seen by some as sending mixed messages to users. It promotes itself as a place to seek advice and counselling, but is overseen by the Minister for Counter Terrorism.
"His role is seen in our community to hit hard people who pose any threat to this country, which is rightfully his role. But the fact that he is [also] calling people to call this helpline … it's not going to work," Dr Rifi said.
Dr Jones believes the program, "was well intended but I think it was sold in the wrong way".
"At some point, it's got to come out of the national security space. When it does, I think you'll find there is more community buy-in," he said.
The ABC asked the Minister's office if it would consider moving the helpline out of the Counter-Terrorism Ministry and into Social Services.
A spokesperson said it was a "hypothetical" and it was not willing to comment at this stage.
For now, the Minister stands by the initiative.
"We only need one successful phone call and the helpline has paid for itself," Mr Elliot said.