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Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Page: 1092

National Security

Iraq and Syria

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (14:12): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on recent developments with foreign fighters and outline the action the government is taking to prevent young Australians leaving to participate in the Syria and Iraq conflict?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:13): I thank the member for Mitchell for his question demonstrating his deep concern about this issue. The risks to Australia, to our region and indeed to the globe of foreign terrorist fighters supporting the terrorist organisation Daesh and its affiliates are escalating. The Australian government knows of about 110 Australians who have now taken up arms to fight with Daesh, or ISIL, in Syria and Iraq. Around 150 people in Australia are actively supporting Daesh. Over 20 Australians have been killed in these conflicts, and it is inevitable that more will die, not as martyrs but just in a senseless waste of life, expendable fodder for an evil cause.

The overwhelming majority of foreign fighters are vulnerable young people, often with a deeply troubled past. The demographic continues to get younger. An estimated one-fifth of foreign fighters in the Syria-Iraq conflicts are women and girls, and Daesh preys upon them. Vulnerable young people are being radicalised online, seduced by a simplistic, primitive narrative that they hope will fill some void. It will not.

Our security and law enforcement agencies are pursuing those who seek to corrupt and radicalise vulnerable members of our community. We are confronting the terrorist narrative. We have made advocating terrorism an offence under the Criminal Code. We are shutting down terrorist websites. We are removing extremist content that poses a national security risk.

Almost 100 passports have now been cancelled of those seeing to take part in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. I have also suspended seven passports, under new powers pursuant to our counterterrorism foreign fighters act, which came into force last year, and I have refused to issue around 12 more passports, based on advice from our security agencies.

For too long, Islamic extremists have exploited the tolerance and freedom of Australian society. The Abbott government has now ensured over 100 extremists have had their welfare entitlements cancelled. New laws allowing the government to cancel welfare on security grounds came into force late last year, and we will continue to look for and close any gaps in our system that would allow a foreign terrorist fighter to continue to receive welfare—welfare funded by the Australian taxpayer.

The government is taking appropriate action to prevent the radicalisation of vulnerable young Australians and to keep our country safe from terrorism. The No. 1 security priority of this government is to keep our people safe from radicalisation that leads to terrorist acts.