Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:44): I think the member for Wannon for his question. I can inform the House that I have today received an update from our ambassador in Baghdad on the conflict in Iraq, including reports of new sectarian massacres committed in northern Iraq by the terrorist organisation ISIL and other extremists. These are appalling reports of mass executions in areas that have come under the sway of ISIL. It is shocking—indeed, beyond comprehension—that some Australian citizens have boasted of being involved in these atrocities, including the murder of Iraqi soldiers. The Australian public must also have been deeply disturbed by the release of a video depicting ISIL fighters urging others to join the conflict, and it was simply chilling to hear one of them speaking with an unmistakable Australian accent. Of the up to 150 Australian citizens involved in Syria and Iraq, here and overseas, some are directly involved in fighting while others are assuming leadership roles in terrorist organisations seeking to radicalise and find new recruits or providing support for logistics and the financing and procurement of weapons. There is no doubt that these extremists pose a major and direct threat to our security. Just as Afghanistan in the 1990s was a breeding ground for terrorists, including those responsible for the Bali bombings which claimed 88 Australian lives, the Syria-Iraq conflict is providing a similar opportunity for extremists who would do us harm.
To put the current situation in perspective: approximately 30 Australians are believed to have engaged with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the NATO-led intervention. With five times that number already believed to be directly engaged in the Syria-Iraq conflict, the risks have increased exponentially. The government recognises this escalating threat and we are taking firm action. There are severe penalties, as I have informed the House, including imprisonment of up to 25 years for a range of terrorist offences. I am taking action, on the advice of our security agencies, by cancelling the passports of those believed to be a security risk.
Today I spoke at the ANU's Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies and reiterated our commitment to work with our partners in the Middle East to combat the terrorist threat. We are strengthening our partnership with Muslim leaders in Australia and in our region to help articulate the devastating impact of the conflict on the people of the Middle East and to reinforce that it is illegal for any Australian to support terrorist activities. The government will shortly introduce new legislation giving our security agencies greater powers to counter the terrorist threat. The government will not hesitate to take strong action against any person or any group that is a threat to our national security.
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