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Wednesday, 18 March 2015
Page: 2712

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (10:01): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security I present the committee's report entitled Review of the declaration of al-Raqqa province, Syria.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr TEHAN: by leave—I am pleased to present the committee's report on its review of the declaration of al-Raqqa province, Syria, for the purposes of section 119.2 of the Criminal Code. This section makes it an offence to enter or remain in an area of a foreign country declared by the foreign minister. There are exceptions to this offence for persons entering declared areas solely for one or more of the legitimate purposes listed in the code, including for the purposes of humanitarian aid or visiting family members.

Al-Raqqa province is the first area to be declared, for this purpose, following the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014. As a result of amendments to that bill, recommended by the committee in its October 2014 report, the committee is able to review all declarations made under the new levels within the 15-sitting-day disallowance period.

The committee's ability to review declarations is a significant additional safeguard for the declared area offence. Through its reviews, the committee will focus on ensuring that declarations are justified, that the boundaries of declared areas are appropriately drawn and that declarations are clearly communicated. Advice provided to the committee indicated that al-Raqqa province meets the required threshold for declaration, that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in a hostile activity in the area against all the relevant criteria.

Al-Raqqa was described as the de facto capital of the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, and the base from which much of its operations are directed. The atrocities being committed by ISIL, also known as Daesh, in Syria are well known to the committee and broader community, sadly. The organisation has control of al-Raqqa province, which is the centre of its sphere of influence.

The committee consider the declaration of al-Raqqa province to be well within the scope of what declared area offence was intended to target. The committee is therefore satisfied the declaration of al-Raqqa province is appropriate and has recommended that the legislative instrument declaring al-Raqqa province, for the purposes of section 119.2 of the Criminal Code, not be disallowed.

During its review, the committee noted there were other parts of both Syria and Iraq that were likely to meet the threshold for declaration, at least temporarily, due to hostilities committed by Daesh. To be effective, however, the committee accepted that it is necessary for declared areas to be relatively stable, with highly specific boundaries that are easily communicated to the public. The committee has also recently started its review of a second declared area involving Daesh, the Mosul district of Ninewa province in Iraq, which was declared by the foreign minister on 2 March 2015.

The committee has noted the activities that have been undertaken, by the government, to inform the community of both the declaration of al-Raqqa province and the declared area offence more generally. The committee considers that a sustained effort will be required to inform the committee about the risks associated with travel to conflict zones. The committee also considers that the government should continue its advocacy, both bilaterally and multilaterally, for action against the threat posed by foreign fighters. I commend the report to the House.