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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1986


Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:27): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the report on the review of the declaration of al-Raqqa province in Syria, together with the minutes of proceedings of the committee and the transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator FAWCETT: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate the tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

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.

Section 119.2 of the Criminal Code 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 laws 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 Da'esh, in Syria are well known to the committee and broader community. The organisation has control of al-Raqqa province, which is the centre of its sphere of influence.

The committee considered the declaration of al-Raqqa province to be well within the scope of what the declared area offence was intended to target.

The committee is therefore satisfied that 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 meet the threshold for declaration, at least temporarily, due to hostilities committed by Da'esh. 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 Da'esh—the Mosul district of Ninewa province, 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 about 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 community 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 Senate.

Senator FAWCETT: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.