Question Time - Syria update

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

19 March 2014

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (15:06): I thank the member for Berowra for his question, and I note his deep and enduring interest in matters relating to the Middle East.

The Australian government deplores the violence and suffering that is occurring in Syria. We note the tragic loss of over 130,000 lives in this conflict. We support international efforts to find common ground for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

We are seriously concerned by reports that Australians have travelled to the Levant region to actively support or participate in fighting in Syria. Australia has put in place an arms embargo, therefore it is illegal for any Australian citizen or any dual citizen to engage in fighting for either side in Syria and it is illegal for them to fund, train or recruit someone else to fight, or to supply weapons to either side. Australia has also prescribed the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as terrorist organisations under our Criminal Code listing regime.

We are concerned about the radicalisation of Australians as a result of the Syrian conflict, particularly those who travel to Syria and return to Australia with capabilities acquired through fighting or training with extremist groups. I am aware of reports of the death of an Australian ADF member in Syria. I can inform the House that the individual was not a serving ADF member. The individual joined the Australian Army in February 2009 and was discharged in September 2010, following around three months absence without leave. He held the rank of sapper and had basic engineering training.

We do remain deeply concerned for the safety of Australians in Syria. The security situation is extremely dangerous, with ongoing military conflict, kidnapping and terrorist attacks. We will continue to review the cancellation of passports to prevent breaches of the arms embargo. Foreign ministers current and former have exercised their discretionary power under the Australian Passports Act to cancel passports.

I also remind the House that Australia co-authored UN Security Council resolution 2139 on the humanitarian situation in Syria. This was supported by all members of the Security Council. In addition, Australia has provided around $111 million in humanitarian assistance. We have also provided $2 million to assist with the work on the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria.

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