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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2067

National Security

Mr MORTON ( Tangney ) ( 14:42 ): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the steps the government is taking to protect Australian interests from the threat of terrorism in our region?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:42): I thank the member for Tangney for his question. Yesterday I informed the House of the success to date in the fight against the terrorist organisation ISIS. It is a fact that ISIS has now lost about 98 per cent—almost all—of the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq. However, we still face threats from ISIS and other terrorist organisations—the fighters, the propagandists and the supporters—and we are concerned about returning foreign terrorist fighters, so tracking and monitoring their movements remains one of our highest priorities.

It is a fact that we are working very closely with our intelligence partners, key allies and partners in the region, particularly tracking those foreign terrorist fighters that we believe are coming back to this part of the world. I can inform the House that we believe that about 220 Australians were in the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq. About half of them have been killed. Some of them have returned to Australia and are being monitored. Some of them are being prosecuted. We believe that about 110 remain in the Middle East, and we are working with partners to keep tracking their movements and monitoring their whereabouts.

I can also say that our intelligence agencies believe that about 70 children are in the Middle East. They had been taken there by the terrorist fighters and, tragically, we believe that they are still there. Our regional partners are deeply concerned about the number of families that are in the conflict zone. We share their concerns. Imagine the trauma that some of these women and children have suffered. But also, disturbingly, there are more women involved than ever before in supporting terrorists and their activities. So we are working very closely with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to share information, to share intelligence and to counter terrorism however we can.

I can report to the House that as foreign minister I have cancelled the passports of about 230 Australians who we believe pose a national security threat and were seeking to join the terrorist organisation ISIS or affiliates in the Middle East. We are keeping these people here so that they can remain under surveillance, under monitoring, and to ensure that they don't go over to the Middle East, take up with a terrorist organisation and become experienced terrorist fighters. This government places the security of Australians as one of our highest priorities, and we will continue to fight terrorism both at home and abroad.