Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:28): I thank the member for Dobell for her question, and I recognise her deep concern in relation to this national security issue. The government is taking strong action to address the evolving threat posed by foreign fighters. Sadly, we are seeing a younger cohort seeking to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq and an increasing number of young females. Members of this House will no doubt feel deeply for the frantic family and friends of three British schoolgirls who are thought to have travelled to Syria to join Daesh. It is hard not to be pessimistic about their fate.
But Australia has our share of such stories, some with tragic results. Family and friends of a 22-year-old girl from the Gold Coast were devastated last year when she was murdered within days of arriving in Syria. Her death was not martyrdom; it was a tragic, senseless loss. Yet more women are either joining their foreign fighter husbands or apparently seeking to find partners—the so-called jihadi brides—or are otherwise providing support for terrorist organisations. Some are joining all-female groupings which impose Daesh's sick and misguided doctrine on other women in Daesh-controlled areas. According to estimates, women now account for nearly one-fifth of all foreign fighters.
Over 500 women are believed to have come from Western countries. Thirty to 40 Australian women are known to be either engaging in or supporting terrorist activity in Syria, Iraq and here in Australia.
This defies logic given we know the attitude of Daesh towards women. If the killings and executions are not enough, Daesh has published instructions on the treatment of sexual slaves, which includes raping and beating women. Even children are not immune, with instructions encouraging sexual assault on girls who have not yet reached puberty.
Young women are joining Daesh, yet they are being exploited in the most appalling way. They are being used by men who know nothing but hate, used as sexual slaves, manipulated for propaganda and recruitment purposes and in some cases ending their lives as suicide bombers. Many are being radicalised online, seduced by slick exploitation of social media to spread Daesh's depraved narrative.
The coalition government is committed to countering the propaganda that terrorist groups are spreading online, but family and friends are likely to be the first to see changes in young people who are radicalising. Family and friends need to reach out to young people at risk before it is too late. The government will work with them. Through a range of community programs the government is taking firm steps to combat the radicalisation of young Australians, including women and girls, to keep this country safe from terrorism.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555