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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 202

Syria


Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (14:38): My question is to the Attorney-General and Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brandis. The question is: can the Attorney-General please update the Senate about reports of a suicide bomber in Syria which has killed 35 people?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:38): I thank Senator Eggleston for his question. The Australian government is aware of these reports and deplores the violence and suffering that is occurring in Syria. We support international efforts to find common ground for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

I am aware of reports that a jihadist has killed himself in a suicide bombing in eastern Syria and I can inform the Senate that the Australian government understands that the individual is indeed an Australian. If that were to be confirmed, that would be the first time an Australian citizen has killed himself in a suicide bombing. This is a new and serious development.

I remind the Senate that it is illegal under Australian law for any Australian, including a dual citizen, to fight, provide funding for, provide training or supply weapons to either side of the conflict in Syria. The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 prohibits any participation in an armed insurgency against foreign governments including preparation and recruitment. As well, on 13 May 2011 the then foreign minister announced sanctions measures against Syria under the Autonomous Sanctions Act. Those measures also make it illegal for an Australian to engage in fighting for either side or to fund, train or recruit someone to fight or to supply or fund weapons to either side of the conflict in Syria. The foreign minister may also cancel the passports of anyone likely to engage in harmful conduct including travelling overseas to illegally train or fight in a conflict.


Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (14:40): Mr President, my supplementary question may in fact have just been partly answered at least. Is the government concerned about Australians travelling overseas to engage in terrorist activity?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:40): Indeed, Senator Eggleston, the government is seriously concerned about Australians fighting in Syria including some who, we understand, are fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is a listed terrorist organisation. As the Director-General of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation reported in the ASIO annual report, which was tabled on 31 October this year, there has been an increase in the number of Australians travelling overseas to participate in terrorist training and to engage in foreign disputes, with Syria being the primary destination. The concern is not only for Australians who risk their lives overseas but also we are concerned about the likelihood of radicalised Australians returning home with an increased commitment and capability to pursue violent acts on our shores. The government shares the Director-General's concerns about radicalised Australians who return home and pose a serious threat to Australia's national security.


Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (14:41): Mr President, I would like to ask a second supplementary question, and that is: what is the government doing about the issue of Australians engaging in terrorist activity overseas?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Arts and Attorney-General) (14:41): In addition to the criminal sanctions and the embargo I mentioned in my earlier answer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs may cancel the passports of anyone likely to engage in harmful conduct, including travelling overseas to illegally train or to fight in a conflict. Australia has listed the al-Qaeda linked groups fighting in Syria under the counter-terrorism listing regimes. The Jabhat al-Nusra Front was listed under Australia's domestic implementation of the UN Security Council 1373 on 16 March 2013, and al-Qaeda in Iraq has also been listed under the Criminal Code since 2 March 2005 in implementation of the UN Security Council al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee resolution 2004. The government is considering what other measures may be necessary to discourage or deter Australians from travelling to Syria to participate in the conflict and will continue to monitor the situation and in particular the involvement of Australian citizens. (Time expired)