RUDDOCK TO THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Will the Minister advise the House of steps the government is taking to prevent extremists from leaving Australia to fight in the Syria / Iraq conflict and to keep Australians safe from the threat of terrorism?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:27):  I thank the member for Berowra for his very important question. The government places the highest priority on national security and that includes the threat posed by extremists who are supporting or joining terrorist organisations. Despite some recent gains against ISIL, or Daesh, in Syria and Iraq, the threat posed by foreign fighters remains. We estimate that about 15,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 80 countries are fighting with terrorist groups in various conflicts in Syria and Iraq. The United Nations estimates that about 200 foreign fighters are joining ISIL every month—so the threat is growing. Since January of this year, ISIL has focused on capturing and consolidating control over large areas of Iraq and Syria, with the Syrian province of Al-Raqqa serving as its de facto capital from where much of its operations are being directed. ISIL uses terrorist attacks extensively against civilians. This includes frequent mass casualty attacks and mass executions, including beheadings. ISIL boasts of these atrocities through social media and magazines that depict these violent acts. Five of these videos have featured American or British citizens and have included statements intended to threaten or intimidate western audiences. In recent months, ISIL atrocities in Al-Raqqa have included the beheading of 50 Syrian soldiers, with their heads being mounted on stakes, the kidnapping of thousands of women with them being sold as sex slaves and the routine raping by ISIL fighters in Syria of girls as young as nine.

Under the provisions of our foreign fighters legislation I have today declared Al-Raqqa province an area where a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity. This now makes it an offence under Australian law to enter or remain in the province of Al-Raqqa without a legitimate purpose. Anyone who enters or remains in Al-Raqqa faces a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. This does not prevent people travelling to the area for legitimate purposes.

It might be useful to the House if I table the maps depicting Al-Raqqa. I will pass one over to the Leader of the Opposition, as I briefed him earlier today.

Today's listing will help law enforcement agencies bring to justice those who have committed serious offences, including associating with or fighting for terrorist organisations overseas. There is more to do. I have also cancelled around 75 passports and refused to issue around 10, to stop extremists leaving Australia to fight in conflicts. This government is committed to taking whatever steps are necessary at home and abroad to keep Australia safe from terrorism.

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