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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8607

National Security

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:22): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. What is the government doing to keep Australians safe from the threat of terrorism?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:22): Thank you very much indeed, Senator Johnston, for that very timely question. Senator Johnston, as you know, this government is committed to keeping Australians safe. We are doing that through our work both at home and overseas. We are doing it through resourcing our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to give them the capability, the people and the resources they need to do their important work. We are doing it by constantly keeping our counter-terrorism laws under review. As part of that continuing review, the government has discussed a range of reforms with law enforcement and security agencies to respond to the lessons learned from the increased operational activity over the past 12 months. Implementing those reforms will ensure that the laws meet the needs of law enforcement and security agencies in responding to a rapidly evolving threat environment.

And, Senator Johnston, importantly, the government is working closely with our international partners. Yesterday, Prime Minister Turnbull and his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Najib, announced a strategic partnership between Australia and Malaysia that will strengthen our cooperation on counter-terrorism and defence. Last week, the Minister for Justice, Mr Keenan, and I met with the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, General Luhut, to discuss closer engagement and cooperation on intelligence between Australia and Indonesia to thwart terrorism. At that meeting, we agreed to meet in Jakarta next month to discuss ways in which Australia and Indonesia can work even more closely together to make our two nations and the region safer and more secure.

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Attorney for his answer and I further ask: what is the government doing to prevent the incidence of home-grown terrorism in Australia?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24): Senator Johnston, as well as the measures that I described in my answer to your primary question, we are also utterly committed to countering violent extremism in our communities. Every country in the world is grappling with the question of what makes people susceptible to both extremist influences and recruitment by terrorists.

As highlighted by the tragic events in Paris and over the weekend in Mali, the issue of radicalisation is a very complex one. Governments across Australia are working with communities to identify young people at risk of radicalisation. To meet this challenge, the Australian government is investing more than $40 million over four years in CVE and counter-radicalisation programs. That is one of the many measures on which we will continue to work with communities to make them safe and to keep Australia safe.

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Lastly, I ask the Attorney to update the Senate on what the government is doing to counter the threat of foreign fighters.

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): Once again, Senator Johnston, you identify a particularly important problem. I am aware of reports that at least one of the individuals involved in the Paris attacks had previously fought with the militant group ISIL in Syria. I can tell you and the Senate that, at the moment, we judge that around 110 Australians are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq, among more than 25,000 foreign fighters—almost a fifth of them from the West—who have travelled to the region to join groups such as ISIL. Approximately 30 Australians have returned home from fighting in the conflict.

The government is addressing the threats we face. We work closely with law enforcement and security agencies to give them, as I said, the tools that they need, including the fifth tranche of counter-terrorism legislation which I introduced on 12 November. We are unstinting in our efforts to— (Time expired)