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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9916


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (11:32): It is with great conviction I stand today to second the motion put forward by the member for Mitchell. I strongly support this motion to recognise the ongoing violence, intimidation, harassment and discrimination of religious and ethnic groups in Iraq and Syria at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The swift and bloody emergence of this lethal terrorist group is of deep concern to this government and we strongly condemn their brutal activities in Iraq and Syria. Considered a terrorist organisation by many countries, including Australia, the Islamic State has committed violent atrocities against civilians and foreign expatriates, including: the ruthless persecution and targeting of religious and racial minorities in Iraq and Syria; the barbaric kidnapping and killing of two American journalists and a British aid worker; and the mass execution of its enemies. Whilst conflicts in Syria and Iraq are far from our doors, this gross violation of human rights is of deep concern to this government and many Australians.

I believe it is important that this House welcome, recognise and commend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the immigration minister for their comprehensive response to the growing humanitarian crisis. Australian officials have repeatedly raised the Islamic State's blatant violation of human rights with the Iraqi government and the United Nations Security Council. Australia co-sponsored a new UNSC resolution to condemn and express disapproval for all terrorist acts committed by the Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria. The resolution, adopted on 16 August, makes clear that the international community will not tolerate their brutal activities. In step with the Iraqi government, Australia also made the first flight of military stores to the Kurdish region and participated in a humanitarian airdrop to the besieged town of Amerli. The drop included the delivery of 15 pallets of food, water and hygiene packs—enough for 2,600 people for a day.

These initiatives are important because, while we as a government have the responsibility to protect the security of our own citizens, it is through our concern and compassion for the welfare of all humans that we commit to helping others who are suffering in the international community. As such, I call on the House to commend this government's contribution to international efforts to protect people against the advances of the Islamic State.

On 19 June, this government announced that it would contribute $5 million to the work of the United Nations refugee agency and the World Food Program in Iraq. In addition to financial assistance, we have also considered ways that Australia can contribute to the international humanitarian crisis closer to home. The government has set aside a minimum of 4,400 resettlement places in the 2014-15 refugee and humanitarian programs for ethnic and religious minorities fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Christians and Yazidis are also now listed as eligible for special humanitarian visas.

The security implications of the escalating Islamic State terrorist situation are not geographically confined to Syria and Iraq. The growing reach of the deadly Islamic State poses a threat to the security of all Australians, both here and abroad. And just as the wellbeing of Macarthur residents is my highest priority, the collective safety and security of the entire Australian population is the highest priority for this government. I move that the House acknowledge the government's steadfast commitment to strengthening our national security through international and domestic channels. Abroad, we have intensified our international counter-terrorism engagement, particularly through multilateral efforts, targeted financial sanctions and travel bans with countries of the Middle East and South-East Asia and key allies.

I also urge this House to recognise the serious threat that the growing number of Australians travelling to Syria and Iraq pose to Australia's national security. The number of Australians involved in the Iraq and Syria conflicts is substantially higher than in previous foreign conflicts, including Afghanistan, in which eight Australians were later convicted of planning terrorist attacks back in Australia. According to ASIO, around 60 Australians have been identified as currently fighting in Iraq and Syria and a further 90 Australians as involved with extremist groups within these countries in other ways. There is a real and growing concern that upon their return to Australia they would use the deadly skills they have learnt from supporting and fighting with the Islamic State to do harm to Australia, its national interests and its citizens. That is why the government is committed to prosecuting people who have engaged in terrorism related activities and to strengthening our ability to monitor, arrest and prosecute people who have been involved with terrorist groups abroad.

To boost Australia's counter-terrorism capacity, this government is providing a further $630 million over the next four years to the Australian counter-terrorism agencies. The funds will make a crucial contribution to a range of counter-terrorism measures, particularly those that give security agencies the resources, technical skills and legislative powers they need to combat the evolving challenges of home-grown terrorism. Terrorists and violent extremists represent a fringe minority and are an affront to the values of all Australians. This government refuses to bow down to the Islamic State. There is no place in Australia or anywhere else in the international community for such groups, and this government will not tolerate such barbaric activities in Australia or their infliction on innocent civilians overseas. I stand firm today to call upon the government to continue to focus on the humanitarian aid mission and to work closely with our allies to ensure that more people are not exposed to the brutal extremists of the Islamic State.