Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Statements on Indulgence
I rise today to associate myself and the people of Lindsay, whom I represent, with the remarks of the Prime Minister on 22 September in the House of Representatives. Our nation, our local community, our beliefs and our government have been challenged by a number of abhorrent international events. From the shooting down of Malaysian flight MH17 to the rise of the militant group Islamic State, all of a sudden our world seems very, very small. Although we may be geographically on the other side of the world, these events have been felt ever so strongly here in Australia. Australians have lost family and friends in the shooting down of MH17. People who were returning home from their holidays or who were coming to Australia for community events and for business lost their lives so tragically on that day. There have been evil images of beheadings at the hands of extremists and, sadly, and most scarily and frighteningly, by some people who have at some time even called Australia home.
These events test the international communities and the resolve of our allies. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that protecting our people is the first duty of government. I believe this too. I rise in support of the Prime Minister's words. Further, I commend the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney-General for the way they have met these challenges and the steps they have taken to ensure the safety of our local communities. I also wish to thank the opposition for their cooperation and support in this time.
Australia is a great nation, and together the entire parliament must strive to protect and support our local communities for a better future and a better life. Further, our communities have been united by the events that continue to haunt our nightly news programs. The brutality and the confronting imagery internationally and, in the past few weeks, on our own doorstep remind us of our own fragility but also of what it means to make Australia a great nation.
I believe this is a great nation, and in these times of adversity it is important that we band together. Terrorists can only succeed when they can strike to the hearts and minds of innocent people. The evil that is ISIL must not succeed. We must stay strong to the Australian life that we all love and cherish. Once again I quote the Prime Minister in his words that 'hope is stronger than fear' and 'decency can prevail over brute force'. Australia should remain a country where people trust each other, welcome newcomers and are justifiably confident that in most respects our future will be even better than our past. Our country must remain a beacon of hope and optimism that shines around the world. We should remain a country where people trust each other and where welcome newcomers are justifiably confident that our future will be even better than our past. We will fight to protect these values. Over the past two weeks, I have had an outpouring of support from my local community about the actions of the Prime Minister and the government in regard to international and local terrorism threats. I recently sent a survey to members of our local community. One of the questions I asked was, 'If you could raise an issue in federal parliament, what would that be?' Overwhelmingly, the main response was to secure our borders and to fight this international threat of terrorism. James Collins of South Penrith said:
I applaud the Government for securing Australia's borders and introducing legislation giving the Police, National security and ASIO additional powers to cope with the current terrorist situation in Australia.
Tania Cook, of Orchard Hills said:
Why allow anyone who goes overseas to fight with IS back into Australia, why not let them stay there and live in a place that has no safety or peace?
Barry Suffling of Penrith said:
People proposing to immigrate to Australia must swear to … never bring their home country's tribal conflicts or wars to this country.
Keeping Australia secure and safe for us, our children and future generations.
Graham Freeman in South Penrith answered:
Stronger Visa control on people coming back to Australia.
Mr and Mrs Richard Last of Oxley Park said simply:
Stop the terrorists.
There were so many more. That was merely a glimpse as to what has come into my office in the last few weeks.
But I can draw on this demonstration to show that people really do want to see action to protect Australia, our citizens and our way of life. The raids across Australia and in Sydney and Brisbane a few weeks ago and the unfortunate disturbing events in Melbourne in the past week proved that the local threat is real but also proved that the public should feel confident that the police, security services and government are taking every possible step to ensure the safety of the community. The government is doing whatever is possible to support our police and agencies in keeping people safe. Australia can and should always live normally.
But, even in these disturbing times, I take the opportunity to remind local communities that these security measures both at home and abroad should be against terrorism, not against religion. This threat comes from a minority group of extremists. Mostly, Australian Muslims are peace-loving people. Australian Muslims believe that ISIL is committing 'crimes against community and sins against God.' Nothing can justify the beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions, ethnic cleansing, rape and sexual slavery that have taken place and beencaptured in the towns and the cities. But we cannot blame an entire ethnicity or religious group for the actions of such a small minority—what is a death cult. The foundations of our communities, particularly in Western Sydney, are built on multiculturalism. We should all stand together, united in our outrage and disgust at this minority group, but not turn against each other due to generalisations about religious beliefs. Together, we should hope to protect Australia's way of life and to outlaw this extremist behaviour.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
When it comes to national security and when it comes to the key responsibility of government to keep our citizens safe, we in this place often speak with one voice and we often come to the same conclusions about these very important issues, but we do so bringing here many different perspectives. And our perspectives are formed and forged by our own experiences, by our reading and our understanding of history, and by the values and principles that we bring to this place. My own perspective in some of these discussions comes from my own multicultural community based around the northern end of Logan City and the southern suburbs of Brisbane. I acknowledge my colleague the member for Forde, who represents another big portion of Logan City. I consider myself blessed to represent such a multicultural community. I consider myself blessed to have people from so many different backgrounds and so many different faiths residing in the area that I grew up in, and the area that I now represent.
I know, from almost four decades of living in a place like mine, that the overwhelming majority of people from different faiths and different backgrounds want to live there in peace. They want to do the right thing. They make a tremendously positive contribution to my community. Local families just want to see that their kids have opportunities and they want to see that their kids are safe. They want for their kids what families across all of the faiths want for their kids: they want to see people's aspirations rewarded and they want to see people getting along with each other in a spirit of harmony.
It is certainly true to say that today, because of a combination of what is happening overseas and what is happening at home, my community is edgy. That edginess is based on, as I said, what is happening in northern Iraq, in Syria and in other parts of the world, and also on what is happening in activities in my own community, my own local community. Members might be aware that some of the AFP raids, for example, that have been undertaken in the last month or so—not the majority of those raids, but some of them—have taken place in some of the suburbs of my electorate, and I did want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Australian Federal Police for the professionalism that they show when they conduct these sorts of activities. I was very pleased to be able to receive a briefing quite recently from the AFP about some of these activities. I want to acknowledge and put on the record my thanks to Minister Keenan for facilitating those briefings that enabled me to get a better understanding of some of the actions that have taken place in my own community in the last little while. I also want to pay tribute to the AFP, not just for the way that they conduct some of those sorts of events but for the way that they do try to engage with the various communities of all faiths in my electorate of Rankin.
Of course, it is not just people who are doing the wrong thing who are shaken by all of this—they should be shaken by all of this—but also a lot of people who are doing the right thing. We have unfortunately seen an increase in incidents in my area against people of different faiths—of the Muslim faith. It is important that we condemn any of that sort of activity. We have had incidents at the local mosque, for example, and we need to make sure that we condemn that sort of activity, just as we condemn in the strongest possible terms some of the harsh language that comes from the other extreme in this national conversation that we are having right now.
I was pleased to join Muslim friends at the mosque open day a couple of Fridays ago. We do need to be putting that sort of effort into educating people about the different faiths. I congratulate not just the people from the mosques but also the people from the local community who went along to discuss some of these issues in a spirit of understanding and a spirit of openness. It was a very successful day, and we should see more of those sorts of efforts made to understand each other.
The link between what is happening here in our own community and what is happening overseas in northern Iraq and in Syria are the so-called foreign fighters. It is very difficult for us to understand what would take hold of somebody, who, having lived in Australia and called it home, would want to pack up and go overseas to participate in this awful conflict on the side of the thugs who are conducting this genocidal activity in the Middle East. It is hard for us to understand what would make a young Australian person want to follow the directions of these cowards that we see on YouTube videos and elsewhere. It is hard to imagine what took hold of the young 18-year-old man in Melbourne, for example, who was arrested for the incident in the last fortnight or so. I want to repeat the words of my leader, Bill Shorten, who I think spoke very eloquently about this topic. He said, and I quote:
Whatever problems you may perceive that you have, violence is not the solution. Whatever you think is wrong with the world, extremism and fanaticism will never make it right. We do need to discourage and disrupt extreme behaviour, fanatic behaviour, at all levels. We need to make sure that we take a broad approach to that; not just in terms of crime prevention or the activities of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, but a much broader approach that looks at things like marginalisation, and that makes sure that we are attacking disadvantage where it exists.
In that context, I was very pleased to have a discussion with Muslim leaders yesterday in this place. They were here as part of the Centre for Dialogue's Muslim Leadership Program at La Trobe University. We did discuss some of these issues, including marginalisation of young people.
On the other side of the world, the situation in Iraq is heartbreaking for people like us and people around the country who have arguably spent the best part of a decade debating that country, Iraq, and the various missteps that were part of the US-led activity there that began in 2003. For a previous generation—the baby-boomer generation—the Vietnam war was the defining foreign policy event. For my generation, I think it is fair to say, that the defining foreign policy debacle was really the Iraq war. My leaders—Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek—have gone through why they think that the 2003 intervention is different to the humanitarian intervention we are making now. I will not repeat those arguments, but it is fair to say that this is a very different situation now.
We support this deployment. We anticipate another announcement very soon after the deliberations of the National Security Committee of cabinet and we will play a constructive role in all of those conversations. Our positive contribution is to put boundaries around the sort of support that we are prepared to provide. Again, Bill Shorten has outlined those in detail. We can also make a contribution as individual politicians to improve the understanding of all of these issues and not diminish the understanding of these issues. It is worth noting that Senator Lambie and Senator Bernardi's comments are particularly unhelpful in this context. They are divisive. I do not think that they are well motivated. It is incumbent on all of us—I do not tar all of the government with that brush—to try and improve the understanding in our community and not diminish it.
These are really serious times. We approach these challenges calmly and with purpose. The same goes for how we approach the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 that is currently before the House. How we approach that task really centres on what the Prime Minister has described as 'the delicate balance' between security and freedom. Evaluating this balance has been a question confronting political philosophers for centuries. It is a question that thinkers as diverse as Locke, Hobbes, de Tocqueville and Benjamin Franklin have all weighed in on and disagreed on in the usual way. It is hard for us to strike that perfect balance between security and liberty or even to accept that that simplistic view that those two things are unnecessarily at odds. It is not necessarily true that there is a direct trade-off between security and civil liberties. The reality is that liberty and security is not a zero-sum game. After all, personal security is—as Hobbes would have argued—itself a critically important liberty to be defended. Human security depends on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms to be upheld. When we analyse the legislation that is before the House, and the other pieces of legislation that will come before us in the coming months, we need to keep these fundamental principles in mind. When we agree to legislation which restricts certain civil liberties, we must do so with confidence that the resulting gain in security and related freedoms is sufficiently large to make it worthwhile.
Legislation is just one aspect of the government's approach, and of course there are other jobs for us to do. I was thinking, when I was preparing my remarks for today, that our job is really, as Bobby Kennedy said all those years ago when he quoted the Greeks, 'to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world'.
Today I rise to offer my support for our nation's involvement in helping to stop the barbaric genocide taking place in Iraq. I offer my unreserved support for Australia's efforts as part of an international coalition determined to stamp out the ISIL movement around the world. And I offer my unconditional support to the new security measures being put into place to prevent terrorist attacks on our own home soil.
Australia has a long and proud tradition of doing what we can to help at home and abroad to make a safer Australia and a safer world. ISIL is a barbaric terrorist force the world has never seen before in its history. It is well financed, well armed, committed and ideologically driven. ISIL is prepared to employ barbaric, brutal tactics to show its total disregard for human life. ISIL have beheaded innocent people. I ask: 'What sort of warrior hides behind a mask and beheads innocent people who have had their hands tied behind their back and been forced onto their knees?' That is not the action of a warrior in battle but the efforts of a coward. James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Herve Gourdel were all beheaded and their executions paraded over the internet—executions by cowards in masks who were not even brave enough to be known for what they have done.
ISIL are corrupting our young with their extremist views and their unjust, inhumane ways. In just the past two weeks we have seen a Melbourne teenager lose his life after attacking antiterrorism officers in the name of these cowards' cause, and another man, not much older, allegedly planning to behead an innocent bystander at Martin Place, one of Sydney's busiest public areas. He now faces the prospect of being behind bars for the rest of his life and, I say, deservedly so. This barbarism is not happening just here. It is global. We have recently learned that an innocent mother who spoke out against the group on Facebook has reportedly been beheaded for rejecting the Islamic faith. ISIL want to force their way of life on everyone.
We are beefing up Australia's security. This government is equipping our security agencies and border protection agencies with the resources and powers they need to detect terrorist activities at home and prevent radicalised foreign fighters from returning to Australia. More than $630 million has been provided to boost the counter-terrorism capacity of the Australian Federal Police, ASIO, ASIS, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies.
We are updating counter-terrorism legislation to strengthen agencies' capabilities to prevent and disrupt domestic security threats. Just last week we also saw the Senate beef up legislation to ensure our ASIO officers have the tools to take down any ISIL cells. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 makes it easier for security agencies to access personal computers and identify Australians' overseas data, which aids terrorists' actions. The penalty for disclosing secret information was increased from a year to up to 10 years imprisonment, and those who expose an ASIO or ASIS officer may receive up to 10 years jail as well. We will systematically update counter-terrorism legislation to strengthen our agencies' capabilities to arrest, prosecute and jail returning foreign fighters, and prevent and disrupt domestic security threats.
We are working on reforms in the second of our three tranches of legislation to address gaps in our counter-terrorism legislative framework. This second tranche has been referred to a parliamentary committee for review and will be back before the parliament in the next sitting in October. On the third tranche of legislation, the government is continuing data retention discussions with telecommunications companies and internet service providers.
I support these additions to the laws as well. I am proud to provide total support to our men and women serving in this mission, and I extend that support to their families as well. I am proud to support our involvement in coalition efforts to stop the genocide ISIL is trying to carry out in Iraq. I am proud to support our involvement in the coalition efforts to stop the barbaric atrocities being carried out against innocent women and children.
A coalition of Western nations, now backed by three Islamic nations in the Middle East, is coming together to ensure that ISIL cannot continue to expand and hurt Australia and the rest of the world. We are now part of a world coalition effort to get rid of ISIL. Forty nations have now pledged their support to rid Iraq and the world of this terrorist organisation. The sooner these cowards are held to account, the better.
I was recently honoured to be at RAAF Base Williamtown with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Leader of the Opposition to farewell the Hunter pilots and crew of No. 2 Squadron leaving for the Middle East. Australia has specifically said we would be prepared to support operations in Iraq with the consent of and at the invitation of the Iraqi government in a US led coalition intervention. We are prepared to provide a range of aircraft and prepared to provide special forces. We have now predeployed to the United Arab Emirates in the event that such a mission goes ahead. My colleague Julie Bishop recently stressed that our participation was at the invitation, and with the consent, of the Iraqi government battling ISIL. It is right for Australia to do what it can to support international efforts to prevent the spread of ISIL, to roll back its gains and to alleviate the suffering in the Middle East. Australians are fighting to get rid of ISIL.
As the Prime Minister detailed to the United Nations in New York, combating the threat of foreign fighters is an urgent, vital national security issue for Australia. Security and intelligence agencies are concerned about the increasing number of Australians working with, connected to or inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIL. The threat they pose has been increasing for more than a year. There are about 60 identified Australian citizens who, we believe, are fighting with ISIL in the Middle East, and at least 100 more back in Australia supporting this murderous, barbaric organisation. About 80 countries are believed to have foreign fighters leaving their shores to work with ISIL and to support ISIL. These radicals are not Australian. They do not represent who we are as a nation and what we believe in. They are but cowards. We can reassure Australians that their government is vigilant—vigilant at home, vigilant abroad—because the safety of the community is our highest priority.
We ask Australians how we can support this. It warmed my heart to hear the stories on talkback of Islamic religious leaders in Australia condemning the actions of ISIL, urging young Muslims not to fall for the propaganda and denouncing its evil ways. I ask ISIL supporters and sympathisers in Australia to look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether anything ISIL has done is making our world a better place. If they are Australian, they will condemn this movement for what it is—an evil one with world domination and power as its only motivations. The sooner these terrorists are held to account, the better this world be. I look forward to the Prime Minister and world leaders announcing the success of dismantling this evil force so that the world can again live in peace.
This morning Australians woke to the terrible news that ISIS forces have besieged the town of Kobani on Iraq's northern border with Turkey. Its proximity to the border with Turkey means that artillery that was intended to destroy the town of Kobani has overshot its targets and is now landing inside Turkish territory. Unsurprisingly, Turkish forces have moved to the border. There are tanks and artillery now positioned on the border, and the world waits with bated breath to see whether this conflict is going to expand across another border.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues in Syria. The slaughter of Shiahs, of Kurds, of Christians and of all those who do not agree with the ISIS sect's view of the world continues throughout Iraq. It is a terrible time and everybody looks upon it with a mixture of horror, disgust and concern for what it means for the world that we live in and what it means for us back home.
In September, I gave a statement in this House and I made four key points about why I believed it was important for us to support action against the ISIS forces. The first point I made was that it is for governments to decide, in this country, when and where we deploy our troops. I pointed out the fact that governments have at their disposal the facts and the information, and necessarily the chain of command and the resources, that are necessary to deploy our troops, so it is absolutely reasonable that governments are in the best position to make those decisions. That does not mean the parliament has no role; it does. In a Westminster system and with responsible government it is the role of parliament to hold the executive to account, and we should do that through vigorous debate. This debate is today is one such instance of that.
I also made the case for why Centre Left parties should be supporting actions against ISIS. I said that it is consistent with our values, that if you are on the left of politics you believe in the fundamental importance of dignity, the equality of all humankind and the need to protect individuals from the threats to life and limb and to attacks upon their liberty and upon their safety—particularly when those attacks are made on the basis of their religion. That is consistent with the values of the left and I also made the point it is consistent with the history of the left within Australia. I made special note of the role that John Curtin, probably Australia's greatest wartime Prime Minister, had in securing the national defences of Australia during the threatened attack by the Japanese Imperial Army—but also the journey that John Curtin had made from pacifist activist and anti-conscription activist in World War I, to leading our troops into war and national service in the Pacific in World War II.
The third point I made was about the importance and the responsibility that Australia has having been involved in the disastrous campaign in Iraq of 2003. It was an unmitigated disaster and the mess that we are witnessing in Iraq today is a direct result of that botched campaign, that botched intervention, that botched war of 2003. We were there, we messed it up, we have an obligation to do something to fix it up. The fourth point that I made, and I stand by it, is that we should—and parliament has an important role in ensuring that we do—not overreach either in our engagement in the Middle East or here at home. We should be on guard against mission creep. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow foreign minister have been quite particular in saying we support the government's actions, based on the fact that they are upon the invitation of the Iraqi government for us to be engaged in defensive operations within Iraq. They do not extend to other engagements within that particular theatre.
The other area that we need to be on guard against is unnecessary overreach and unnecessary legislative responses here at home. I stand by each of those four observations that I made in early September. I wholeheartedly support our action and involvement in Iraq. I think it is important that left of centre parties support that. I think it is consistent with our values and our histories, but that is not an unlimited licence for the government to do whatever it believes it thinks it should be doing in the name of national security.
I met this week with representatives of the Illawarra Islamic association and they expressed to me their absolute outrage at things that were being done in the name of Islam in the Middle East. They made it quite clear to me that they did not believe those who fly under the flag of ISIS are Islamic; in fact, they besmirch the name of Muslims throughout the world. They expressed to me their concerns about rising tensions throughout the community and the importance of community leaders not inflaming those tensions. We planned a number of activities throughout the Illawarra over the coming weeks, so that I can add my voice to those who are calling for calm and understanding not fear and loathing.
Yesterday, I joined with a number of my parliamentary colleagues in meeting with students from La Trobe University's Muslim Leadership Program. It was a very important dialogue. The students from La Trobe University expressed similar concerns, expressing the importance of the dialogue and seeking a better understanding of what parliament was intending and the legislation that is currently before the parliament.
Against all of this background I have to express deep concern about some of the statements that have been made by parliamentarians over the last couple of weeks. In the time that I have been in parliament I have heard many fine and impassioned speeches against the so-called nanny state, about the erosion of freedom and liberty under the dead hand of creeping government.
So you have to imagine my surprise when I see people who have given those very same speeches quoted on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald today seriously suggesting that this parliament should enter into the business of being the fashion police—that is, seriously entering into the business of passing laws which determine what people can and cannot wear in public. This is clearly inconsistent with all of these other statements they have made in the past. To dress this up as an issue of national security is nothing short of offensive.
They talk about the importance of security in Parliament House, a concern that I share. But let us be serious about this. When somebody comes into Parliament House they should have to identify themselves, or be able to be identified. Secondly, they go through a metal scanner. They have restricted access to areas of the building and there are other metal detectors in other areas of the building where there may be concerns about what people might be carrying. To seriously propose that you would have to ban a certain form of clothing in the building because it is a national security issue is nothing short of ludicrous. To the suggestion that certain forms of clothing pose a greater threat, I say that we already have laws against carrying concealed weapons. It is the concealing of the weapon that is the criminal offence, not the clothing or the garment that you are wearing, and that is as it should be.
For those who think this is a good idea, I seriously ask them to think again. Do these 'veil vanquishers' seriously think we can turn our minds to laws that are going to have the objective that they believe we need? Do we say that wedding veils are okay but that the niqab, for instance, is prohibited? Do we allow nuns to get around in habits and wimples but say that the burka is wrong? And what about hoodies—are they going to fall short of the veil ban as well? It is ridiculous. (Time expired)
I appreciate this opportunity to rise and speak on the Prime Minister's statement on national security. Whilst I agree with many of the sentiments of the member for Throsby's comments, I would also like to associate myself with some of the comments from the member for Rankin, who spoke earlier and is my electoral neighbour. Both of us represent a community that has some 215 different cultures.
I would like to reflect a little more broadly on this debate and in my opening remarks address some comments made by the Canadian academic, Salim Mansur, who recently wrote about the issues that we are talking about today and, more broadly, about what is going on in the world. In an article on the Gatestone Institute website, dated 29 September, Mr Mansur states:
Broadly speaking, the struggle within Islam is between Muslims who embrace the values of the modern world in terms of freedom, individual rights, gender equality and democracy on the one side, and Muslims opposing these values and insisting on a Sharia-based legal system on the other. Any Muslim who even questions this version of Islam they refer to as a heretic or, worse, an apostate to be killed.
For Muslims who embrace modernity, Islam is a matter of personal belief, not a political system.
A reformed Islam -- greatly desired and sought after by swelling numbers of Muslims -- cannot succeed without the support of non-Muslims.
In speaking on the Prime Minister's statement, I would like to thank the constituents who have contacted my office to raise their concerns about this particular issue. I have certainly had many discussions with constituents to rightly say to them that we need to be calm and measured in our approach to this. But they also rightly share their concerns about what is happening with the Islamic State in Iraq. As previous speakers have mentioned, we know that there are at least 60 Australians fighting within terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and at least 100 Australians who are supporting them. Furthermore, some 20 fighters have already returned to Australia.
I would like to thank our police and security agencies for the wonderful job that they have done over the past several weeks, in difficult and trying circumstances, with a focus on ensuring that we keep our communities safe for everyone in those communities. We have seen the raids in Sydney and Brisbane a couple of weeks ago and in Melbourne yesterday. Also, in my electorate of Forde, Boronia Heights was the location of one of the men arrested in the raids in Brisbane. I pay due credit to my community for the way that they have handled this news and equally for the way that the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police Service have handled this. As was reported in The Courier-Mail on 24 September, there was an active plan by this gentleman, or an alleged plan by this gentleman, to seek to behead a government official. The man has, ultimately, been charged with preparations for incursions into foreign states with the intention of engaging in hostile activities and with recruiting persons to join organisations engaged in hostile activities.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 10:42 to 10:51
As I mentioned earlier, our police and security agencies are striving to stay at least one step ahead of those threatening us with harm. In the case of their recent activities over the past several weeks, the police and security agencies have been very successful. It is important that we stay calm and let the security agencies and police do their job. September 11 is a very salient reminder of what can happen if we are not vigilant and diligent, and that is why we have our security agencies and police actively prosecuting these people for breaking Australian laws.
As a preventative measure, the government will invest an additional $630 million in a counter-terrorism package. This includes $13.4 million to strengthen community engagement programs in Australia with an emphasis on preventing young Australians from becoming involved with extremist groups; some $6.2 million to establish a new Australian Federal Police community diversion and monitoring team for returning foreign fighters and those who support them; $32.7 million for a multiagency national disruption group to investigate, prosecute and disrupt foreign fighters and their supporters; and some $11.8 million for the Australian Federal Police to bolster its ability to respond to the threat of foreign fighters at home and abroad, including local and regional liaison officers and two new investigative teams to help reduce the threat of extremists leaving Australia.
In consultation with the community, packages will be developed to address the particular requirements of young Australians at risk and may include youth diversion activities, health care, mentoring, employment, educational pathways support and counselling. There will also be referral and support processes for individuals at risk to help them disengage from their activities. That will combat online radicalisation with education programs and by working with communities, industry and overseas partners.
As a result of the rise in the warning system from medium to high, there has been a rollout of high-security protocols, which will most likely be around for some time. As I said before, we need to remain calm in the face of what is happening overseas and ensure, as I said at the outset, that we assist those in the Muslim community who want to achieve something quite different in respect of the opportunities they now have here in Australia.
Roger Scruton, in his opening comments in the book The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist,makes an important point. It reflects what I started with at the outset, and that is that the outcome of the struggle within Islam today will have consequences for all of us. We need to understand this struggle and we need to work with those in our Muslim communities and help support them in achieving a better outcome, not only for themselves but also for the broader Australian community.
I would like to use these final few minutes to thank our armed services personnel who have gone to the Middle East and who are part of the multinational force that is seeking to degrade and, ultimately, entirely disrupt the activities of ISIS. I would also like to thank our local police and security agencies for the work that they are doing and recognise their families for supporting these people who often risk their own safety for the safety of fellow Australians, as we have seen with the recent events in Victoria.
In conclusion, I would like to quote three key passages from the Prime Minister's statement:
… first, the government will do whatever is possible to keep people safe; second, our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism, not religion; and third, Australians should always live normally because the terrorists' goal is to scare us out of being ourselves.
We live in a wonderful country that has succeeded where many others have failed in integrating many different cultures into our diverse community. We should, rightly, be very proud of that and continue to work hard with all of those from various cultures to ensure that that continues to be the way we move this great country forward.
I rise to speak on this ministerial statement on national security in order to address some of the fears on national security that are currently being felt in communities around the country. Unfortunately, the recent consideration of national security issues by this parliament has occurred in the context of a national fever dream of fear and paranoia about our Islamic community. In recent times we have seen sections of the media, both mainstream and social media, caught up in a hysteria about our Islamic community. We have also seen comments from members of parliament, almost universally representing areas with very small Islamic communities, attacking the choice of some women in the Islamic community to wear the burqa, the niqab or the hijab. The public statements of politicians and media reports relating to our Islamic community have real-world consequences.
I recently visited members of my Islamic community for Friday prayers and heard firsthand of the increase in harassment being experienced by members of this Australian community on public transport, in public places and, most depressingly of all, in our schools. As a member representing an electorate with a large Islamic community I want to send a very clear message on this issue: no-one in Australia has anything to fear from our Islamic community. There are almost 500,000 Muslims in Australia. In contrast, there are about a handful of perverted fanatics in this country who would seek to hijack this religion and commit criminal acts in its name. The recent legislative actions of this parliament and the recent activities of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are not targeted at the Islamic community in our country. They are targeted at a vanishingly small minority of individuals whose actions demonstrate that they are planning or supporting terrorist actions.
My electorate is home to a diverse range of Islamic communities from a range of ethnic backgrounds. However, whilst these communities may be diverse, every one of them shares the same hopes and dreams for their future and the future of this country as other Australians. I am proud of the mark that Muslims have made in our community in Melbourne's west.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of these contributions. One of our favourite Islamic sons has made his mark literally on the Australian Rules Football field. As a product of the Spotsford Football Club and the Western Jets, Richmond Tiger star Bachar Houli is a symbol to the rest of the nation of the success of multiculturalism in Melbourne's west and the enormous contribution that our Islamic community makes to it. He has been breaking down the barriers of ignorance between Muslims and the broader community for his entire career. As Martin Flanagan recently wrote in The Age:
When Bachar was 16, he captained the Vic Metro team at the national championships. His roommate liked loud music and had the TV on all the time. In the end, Bachar told his teammate that he was a Muslim and had to pray—could the television go down a little? His teammate was so impressed he got Bachar to talk to the whole team about being a Muslim. That, says Bachar Houli, was "the turning point".
Since this turning point, Bachar has worked hard to make footy, one of our great Australian institutions, more accessible to Australians from all walks of life. He founded the Bachar Houli Academy, for junior players of Islamic background with high potential, to inspire and assist the new generation of Muslim leaders to live their dream of playing in the AFL.
Sport is the great leveller in our society. It is one of those places where people from all backgrounds can leave the everyday traffic lanes of their ethnic, religious and class backgrounds and engage on an equal basis with people from backgrounds they would not ordinarily be exposed to. In this way, institutions like footy are some of the most important places to promote an increased understanding between the diverse groups in our community and Bachar's efforts in this respect cannot be underestimated.
Bachar's family are still active in the Newport Islamic Society, as are business and community leaders from the surrounding suburbs in my electorate. The Newport Islamic Society is currently working to expand its presence in our community through the construction of a new mosque designed by internationally acclaimed Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. When completed it will be one of the most striking pieces of architecture in Melbourne's west and something the whole community will be able to take pride in. A centre for prayer, learning and community activities, the mosque's design is dominated by two soaring wings leading to its entrance. This design is intended to symbolise the mosque's 'open arms to all members of our Australian society'. In a building with such spiritual significance to my local Islamic community, the symbolic message of its design cannot be missed. Near the mosque, in Altona North, is the home of Oussama Abou-Zeid, who was this year elected as premier of the Victorian youth parliament. Advocating in that youth parliament for 24-hour public transport in Melbourne's west, Oussama is intelligent, articulate and passionate about the community he lives in. He is proud of his religious faith, just as he is proud of Australia. He recently told ABC Breakfast News: 'I love my country. My parents are from the Middle East but I come from Australia. We are very multicultural. We are very welcoming. In my school there are more than 60 nationalities and it shows the diversity of our state.' I know Osama personally. He has a very promising future in front of him.
If you travel a little further north it is hard to miss the distinctive Sunshine Mosque on the skyline of Melbourne's west. It is home to the Turkish Cypriot community of Sunshine, acting as a community hub as well as a place of worship. It is at places like Sunshine Mosque that we see some of the most altruistic charity work in Melbourne's west. The community spirit of members in this mosque is clear from the wide range of charitable works that are discussed at the mosque's iftars every year.
The Australian Light Foundation, in Tottenham, is another Islamic group in my electorate that the community can take pride in. As well as being a centre for worship, it has recently coordinated aid programs in South Sudan, Ethiopia and Iraq. Locally, it has helped newly arrived asylum seekers get settled into the community by providing resourcing and support. It aims to provide a positive image of Islamic culture to the wider community of Melbourne's west.
These organisations are just some of the Islamic communities throughout Melbourne's west that contribute to making our society a better place every day. They are examples of the richness of culture and spirit found in the Islamic communities of Australia and I am proud to have them in my electorate. As their representative in this place it pains me that members of these communities feel that in recent times they have been treated by other members of the community as objects of suspicion. In situations, both subtly and overtly, their patriotism has been questioned. It is in this atmosphere that the recent reforms to our national security legislation have been debated. It is important, however, to note that the bill that was debated in the House today was not developed in response to recent events in Iraq or Syria. It was not a response to the heightened security environment and terror raids we have seen in recent weeks. These reforms are the result of a longstanding committee of inquiry into Australia's national security laws initiated by the previous Labor government. This was initiated in May 2012 under the then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon—my predecessor in Gellibrand and a staunch advocate of the rights of the Islamic community in groups in Melbourne's west.
The committee's inquiry into the architecture of Australia's national security legislation was extensive, with 236 submitters invited to appear at an inquiry that took a year to complete. The committee released recommendations for reform of these laws in June 2013 and it is these recommendations that were originally introduced into the Senate by the Abbott government in July this year. These recommendations, however, required further consideration before they were to become law. It is important to ensure that our national security agencies have the powers available to them to keep Australia safe. But equally these powers must be subjected to thorough oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure that they are being used appropriately, and they must be properly balanced against the importance of protecting the human rights of all members of our community. So Labor, through the committee process, initiated a review into the impact of the proposed changes to the national security laws. In writing its report the committee strongly recommended 18 amendments to this bill. Many of these amendments ensure that intelligence operations and any related criminal sanctions are subjected to additional constraints and balances. Labor, through the committee process, advocated strongly for these amendments.
Last week we saw the introduction of these amendments into the Senate with the support of both the government and the opposition. Let me be clear: the bipartisan support for the bill that was debated in the parliament today is the result of a detailed and thorough policy process during which different views clashed and Labor's concerns about aspects of the reforms were frequently put. It is unfortunate that this lengthy process has been conflated in the public debate with recent security events. The average man or woman on the street sees the beheading of James Foley on the other side of the world, armed guards walking around Parliament House and the changes in the powers of our intelligence agencies contained in the national security reforms debated today and assumes they are part of the same equation. It is critical that we bring clarity to this confusion, that we separate the elements out of the equation and allay the fears of the groups in our community.
Creating and continuing lines of communication are essential to stop the communities in our society from being isolated and to stop our Islamic communities from feeling alienated. Initiatives like the one occurring next door to us, where the Muslim Leadership Program, a part of the Centre for Dialogue at La Trobe University, and the Islamic Associate of Australia have brought a series of young leaders to Parliament House to hear from their representatives and make their views clear to them are important in this respect. It is a problem both for our community and for our law enforcement agencies if our Islamic community feels targeted as a group by our response to the threat of terrorism.
As leaders in our community, the members of this parliament must work together to counter this confusion in the Australian community. We must ensure that, on the one hand, every domestic terror threat is treated by our law enforcement agencies with the seriousness that it deserves, but also that every Muslim walking the streets of my electorate who is subject to violence or intimidation is also protected by our legal system. I am proud to represent the communities that produced Bachar Houli and Oussama Abou-Zeid as well as many others who work within our community to make Melbourne's west such a diverse and wonderful place to live. It pains me greatly that these communities feel targeted as a result of these laws. All of us in this place must work together to ensure that our Islamic community and the Muslim members of our society are treated with the respect and tolerance that they deserve while we fight this important security threat.
There is a very real threat to our nation and that threat exists here on our shores. It is real and it is dangerous, but it can be stopped. As I have said before, there are traitors in our midst. They are those who have had an allegiance to causes and organisations apart from this country. They place Islam, or their interpretation of Islam, above this nation. They must be found and dealt with strongly.
The threat is real, and an example was the attack on two police officers in Melbourne last Tuesday—clearly a planned attack. Fortunately, tragedy was avoided, and the situation was resolved with the appropriate shooting of a terrorist by a police officer. The police officers offered good faith and the benefit of the doubt, but instead were met by treachery. This event makes a mockery of the view advanced by those on the biased Q&A program last week, where it was suggested that the government was manipulating events and agencies for a political gain. Those that suggest that are apologists for terrorism. They undermine the security of this country and the safety of Australians.
It is known that foreign fighters in the Iraq and Syria area have come from 80 nations and all those nations harbour the same concerns. I am proud to be part of a government that is acting in a responsible and reasonable manner in taking the action necessary to protect the people of this country from the terrorist threat of traitors. Those in this parliament, in the media and in certain communities who try to blame the rise of IS, also known as Daesh, or extremist groups on this Australian government or on the invasion of Iraq in 2003 completely ignore the reality of what happened then and in more recent years. It is convenient for them to now talk up the virtues of Saddam Hussein and the absence of weapons of mass destruction, despite everyone believing that the weapons existed at the time. The fact is however that IS, the latest incarnation of violent Wahhabism, began in Syria and not in Iraq.
I support RAAF air strikes on IS in Iraq and also other air strikes on IS and other such terrorist groups. We should be involved and the more that can be dealt with in this way the better. I also fully support the cancellation of passports and the new laws to deal with those who have fought with terrorist and extremist groups, those that wish to go and those that support them. I also encourage the Prime Minister and the cabinet to revoke the citizenship of those dual citizens that betray our nation by joining and supporting such causes.
Our approach to dealing with the threat of such extremists must be multifaceted. As I have said already, it is increasingly being recognised that those extremists are coming out of many countries around the world. Australia has already recognised our responsibility to stop Australians from going to these places and to deal with them here. While there is criticism of Turkey for allowing many to cross the border and join terrorist groups such as IS, the reality is that a long, mountainous border is difficult to close. All nations must take action in this regard, as we have done, to stop their citizens from joining terrorist groups by cancelling passports and making it an offence to go to such places.
I find it absolutely bizarre that in the light of the barbarism that we have seen on social and mainstream media, there are some people who want to find excuses for those who choose to go and join such causes, and for those who can only be described as home-grown terrorists. They try to blame the government, or to blame society, or say they are misunderstood or they are led astray by others.
Excuse after excuse is always offered, but in the end there must actually be personal responsibility and accountability. These people make a personal decision to betray their country and follow the black flag of Shahada and the Islamic State. They make the decision to forsake the opportunities to legitimately succeed in this country and instead try to tear down this country and change it to resemble the countries that they or their families abandoned in the past. It is not society's fault and it is not the government's fault. Those who are in the middle of such hatred should stop trying to avoid responsibility and instead admit that the fault is not in the external factors but in their own attitudes and decisions.
I say that those who take up the causes of betrayal and barbarism are responsible for their own actions, and there are no excuses. Those who make excuses for them and take no action when aware of that traitorous action are also culpable. An example of what I mean is when the Islamic Council of Victoria implied that the government is at fault for the attack on the two police officers, when they should have instead condemned extremism, condemned IS and others and urged loyalty to this nation. That way we would know that they are on the right side with us and not on the wrong side.
I suspect that there is sympathy and support for the actions of IS and Islamists in this country. It may be tacit, but now is the time for the Islamic community organisations to all be as clear as Mamdouh Elomar and those who initiated the proud Australian barbecue in Lakemba in their opposition to extremism and IS. Now is the time for all Australians to know that there is a clear message of loyalty that should be embraced and would resolve the unity issues that are challenging this nation right now.
Every Islamic peak body, every mosque and every organisation should make a clear demonstration of their opposition to extremists and make that opposition public. I do not think that there have been enough media interviews, and where are the clear anti-extremist messages prominently displayed on all their websites? Given the ages of those who have been revealed as being involved, all the relevant secondary schools should also be clear on this subject in school assemblies and school newsletters. The message of anti-extremism, anti-violence and anti-terrorism is a message that must be clear in speeches, in digital media and in print media. At this point I do not think that it is clear, and in some cases it is completely absent. I looked at the Islamic Council of WA's website this morning: not one statement against extremism. My main point, however, is that at as many levels as possible the message must be consistent and clear and public, thereby giving all Australians no reason to doubt the loyalty of any group in our society.
I know that some people have approached me and said things about the Muslim community as a whole. It is not right to make outrageous generalisations. The vast majority of Muslim people are not involved in extremism and in fact just want to get on with their lives and make sure that their children have better opportunities than they had and that they will be successful in their chosen fields.
I pay tribute to my friend Zuhair Ebrahim and the Iraqi community in Perth for their clear anti-extremist and anti-terrorism statements and actions. I also thank Nasraddin Silwanagh and the Kurdish community in Perth for their clear message against extremists. I think that the principle behind the anti-extremist view is that people speak of their nation first and foremost, then of their homeland but not their religion. Zuhair speaks of being Australian, and then religion is after that. Nasraddin speaks of being Australian and his Kurdish ethnicity, and it is a loyalty above and beyond religion.
Herein is the success of immigration and the unity of a nation. It is a message that more people should be clear on. Every Australian should know that we all stand together against extremists, against traitors and against barbarism. Clear statements by communities will identify who the enemy is—because it is extremists. It is not the majority of the Islamic community, because they are almost entirely with us.
It is at times like this that we should have no doubt that the reason why so many people wanted to come to this country is that where they came from was not working and did not provide them with the opportunities to succeed. No-one should forget that, if it was bad enough to leave, it is not good enough to try to replicate here. What draws people to Australia is the opportunities, and they are the direct result of the great Western democratic principles that have defined this country and underpinned its success. Opportunities for us as Australians derive from the principles of a strong democracy, the equality of the genders, the secular nature of our laws, and the rights and, above all, the obligations of citizenship. We should all, in fact, assert the primacy of these great traditions and our achievements, which, while in some ways they may be imperfect, are in any case superior to those of any other nation.
In the last week I have been fortunate to have hosted several Western Australian schools here at the parliament. I know that it has been a cause for concern for some parents that their children would be visiting parliament and that there has been a terrorist threat to this parliament. I look around the security arrangements here and I think that there is no safer place in this country. The Australian Federal Police and the security team have things well under control here, so I thank the police and our highly professional parliamentary security team for their professionalism and their diligence.
Beyond this building I would say that in all honesty there is a threat. I say that ASIO, the AFP and the state police forces are all up to the task, with the strong and unequivocal support of every community in this country. I urge all Australians to reject the conspiracy theory and not be distracted from their vigilance by partisan political viewpoints advanced on the ABC's Q&A program. Australians should keep their eyes open and listen to what is going on, but we should not change the way we live our lives. We are in charge of this country, not terrorists and not extremists. We should not let their traitorous and violent intent impact upon what we do here. There is no excuse for executing and beheading prisoners or hostages or anyone. There is no excuse for trying to kill innocent Australians. There is no excuse for plotting to destroy infrastructure or property in this country or to terrorise Australians. Those that believe there is an excuse or a reason or any form of justification, along with those that support such traitors, are all therefore against us and they must be prosecuted and dealt with.
To conclude, I say simply that we should be proud of our nation and the causes that we are prepared to defend. We should not apologise for our actions or the great traditions of Australia. We should always be prepared to fight for the good in this world and be ready to destroy the evil.
I rise to speak on the national security statement made by the Prime Minister in this place and to inform the people of Hinkler about the actions of their government. I applaud the Prime Minister for his unambiguous stance on this issue. I note his three very clear messages and they are this: the government will do whatever is possible to keep people safe; the security measures legislated by the government and indeed this parliament are directed against terrorism, not religion; and he encouraged Australians to live normally because the terrorists' goal is to scare us out of being our normal selves.
The first point I would like to make to the people in my electorate is this: the increase in the nation's alert level to high was recommended by ASIO, which is an independent statutory authority. The changed alert level will result in some inconvenience and perhaps even a level of uneasiness among some members of the public. These decisions are not made lightly and are based on intelligence gathered by highly qualified and capable people.
The first priority of any federal government, regardless of party politics, is the security of the nation. It is important to recognise that in times of flux the individuals elected to represent their communities work together in the best interests of the nation. No-one in this place wants to see an Australian injured or killed. No-one wants to see the atrocities that have been committed overseas occur here. This is Australia. It is a nation of tolerance, a nation built on immigration, a nation built on the idea of a fair go for all. I believe we as a country have always struck the right balance between upholding the rights of the individual and keeping our community safe from harm. Our way of life is an envy for many. We have free speech, a free press, freedom of religion and democratic elections, and our civil liberties are being protected. We are well served by our state and federal police, but unfortunately at this time in our history that balance must shift.
The legislative changes this place is enacting have come about because of the rise of ISIL and the group's ability to infiltrate Australia through social media. All that these ISIL extremists have needed to terrorise ordinary people is a victim, a knife and a camera phone. The exponential increase in the use of mobile devices has caused a quantum shift in the way in which we communicate as businesses, groups and individuals. With its mass communications capabilities it has already seen drastic reductions in the utilisation of traditional advertising—and it is a serious concern for parents regarding the online safety of their children. Unfortunately, modern communications have also made it easier for terrorists to prey on and recruit vulnerable and amenable young men. Criminals no longer need to meet and the days of the secret handshake have gone. All they need now is a call to action via Twitter, Facebook or email or on a website. Everything they need to enact evil is readily available. The online threat to this nation cannot continue unchecked. In order to give our security and intelligence agencies every possible opportunity to prevent an attack, we need to operate within a framework that is responsive and modern and addresses the difficulties of modern communications. It is about ensuring that the threat of home- grown terrorism can be nullified, if possible, and access to terror networks can be achieved and with the necessary haste. It is not about monitoring the entire internet; it is about providing the tools necessary to give our agencies the best chance of success. As a member of parliament and as an ordinary Australian citizen, I want to ensure our agencies have the opportunity to address threats before an attack becomes a reality. I would much rather have this debate now than be in this place 12 months from now explaining how it came about that Australian citizens were harmed.
Like everyone here, I do not want to see a another Bali bombing, a Twin Towers attack or assaults on our police. Our police have been acting in our best interests for decades and we must trust them to continue to do the job, but that role needs to be enacted in an informed manner, with the best possible intelligence available. Special intelligence operations under the amended legislation effectively mirror the existing Crimes Act, so this is not new to Australian law and existing whistleblower laws will continue to apply and are not effected. All Australians should be aware that it is illegal to associate with a terrorist organisation. You will be caught and charged to the fullest extent of the law.
Very few policy or legislative decisions are black and white; however, this one is. We must provide the tools our security agencies request. Our service personnel would rather face and fight a threat anywhere other than in this country. These ISIL extremists want Australians to live in fear, oppressed and without freedom. I cannot express my disappointment at having to explain to my three children at parliament this week why it was necessary to have armed AFP officers at Parliament House. I will tell Hinkler constituents the same thing I told my children: we should be vigilant but not alarmed; go about your daily lives, but of course be cautious. If we do not continue as normal, the terrorists will have got what they want—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11:21 to 11:31
I applaud the Prime Minister for his refusal to call a terrorist movement an Islamic state on the grounds that it demeans Islam. Early media reports called the terrorist group ISIS, which caused grief for many people in my electorate. The Isis is a beautiful district in the Hinkler electorate. The ABC even discussed changing the name of one of the teams participating in the grand final to avoid confusion with the terrorist group. The Isis Devils almost became the Childers Devils, because ABC Grandstand, which was broadcasting the game, was concerned about events overseas. Talk about political correctness gone mad!
People with the name Isis have also been unfairly targeted. A survivor of the Childers backpacker hostel fire named his child Isis earlier this year. Many people do not realise that the name Isis comes from the ancient Egyptian goddess. We have the Isis Highway, the Isis Club, and a range of other Isis businesses. In fact, an online petition imploring the media to stop using the acronym 'ISIS' has now reached more than 30,000 supporters. It was started by a US woman, Isis Martinez.
I reiterate the Prime Minister's comments. Actions taken by the government are not about religion; they are about criminality. According to the latest census, there are about 450 residents of the Islamic faith in the electorate of Hinkler. That is, around 0.5 per cent of the adult population. There are two mosques, one in each major centre. They are valued members of our community.
Racial vilification of any kind is deplorable and will not be tolerated. We cannot and must not let the likes of ISIL win, because, if they do, this nation will be changed forever, and that is unacceptable to me. A nation dominated by the actions of terrorists is not the Australia I want my children to inherit. We will act, because we must.
I would like to acknowledge the Gray family visiting from my home town of Launceston. It always lifts my spirits when I have people from northern Tasmania visit the parliament. Thank you for coming along.
I would also like to acknowledge that excellent contribution from the member for Hinkler, who quite presciently said that the first priority of any government is the safety and security of its people. This objective is at the heart of the government's response in recent months to the ruthless and brutal threat posed by transnational terrorism. As we have seen, it is a threat that transcends borders.
I would also like to say how fortunate we are to have the Labor Party, in a bipartisan way, standing shoulder to shoulder with us in confronting that threat. I thank the Labor Party. I have seen that bipartisanship in particular in the parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, of which I am a member.
Recent commentary about Australians carrying out suicide bombings in the Middle East, terrorism arrests in Sydney and Brisbane, planned executions in our streets and police being attacked is chilling. What that demonstrates is that the threat is both international and domestic.
I submit that there is virtue in the outcomes that we seek from the Prime Minister's recently announced prepositioning of military forces in the Middle East. The Prime Minister has announced FA18 combat aircraft, an E7-A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft, a KC30A refuelling tanker, a special forces task group to assist and advise, and Australian personnel integrated in US headquarters to make sure that we are coordinated with our ally and other partners.
Importantly, military forces always need prudent planning time in order to pre-position themselves. The prudent planning, warning and pre-positioning of our troops means that we are now well placed to contribute to an international coalition to counter some of the barbaric activities that we see on our television screens all too regularly.
Subject to the Prime Minister's decision to commit forces to specified and agreed missions in Iraq, if we distil what we are trying to achieve, we can break it down into two key areas. The first is the humanitarian objective of containing the terrorists' barbaric savagery in Iraq, and the second is to ensure that the terrorists do not gain a foothold—that they cannot actually preside over ungoverned spaces from which they can then decentralise the mayhem.
By working with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, we assist their control of the security situation. By degrading the terrorists' capabilities, we protect Iraqi citizens from potential genocide and our own people from a murderous death cult with global ambitions. I repeat that no nation is immune.
It is undoubtable that the threat to Australia is clear, present and pressing. At least 60 Australians that we know of have put their allegiance to brutal murderers ahead of their duty and obligation to Australia and its people, and 100 or more Australians are actively supporting them from home. We know that some have received instructions to carry out acts of barbaric savagery on our own streets, random murders in our own streets of Australia.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 11:37 to 11:45
I note that the foreign minister has cancelled more than 60 Australian passports on national security grounds. But the savagery of the terrorists has also given rise to a growing international unity, a realisation that doing nothing is the greatest danger. Doing nothing emboldens the terrorists, creates ungoverned spaces, ignores potential genocide and reinforces the inevitability that ISIL's brutality will be exported. The Bali and Jakarta bombings proved that, as did the counterterrorism arrests in recent weeks. I mention the Bali-Jakarta bombings in the context of the broader regional threat. I speak here of the risk posed by South-East Asian fighters who go to Syria or Iraq, and then return to regional transnational organisations like Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf group.
Given the relative weakness of institutional structures in some regional nations, the freedom of action that those committed and upskilled fighters enjoy is reason for additional concern. In Australia's case, that is because of the enormous number of Australians and other Westerners who transit and/or holiday in our region each year. So far, informed estimates suggest that there are potentially hundreds of Indonesian fighters in Syria. Almost certainly that figure is growing, perhaps fast. Professional recruitment videos call on Indonesia's youth to answer the siren song of transnationalism and they are likely to stimulate further interest within disaffected communities in Indonesia and elsewhere in our region. The threat of regional separatists is an inter-regional dilemma, with known terrorists finding their motivation, inspiration and training in the Middle East before returning to apply their skills at home. Such individuals can lie dormant within their home countries but still possess the heightened potential and confidence to strike at soft civilian targets, including Western visitors and tourists.
It is fair to say that Australia has been fortunate to date in being able to confront and successfully check would-be terrorist combatants on distant foreign soil, and to do so with relatively few casualties. Regrettably, neither a distant battlefield nor a low casualty toll may always be possible in what we must remember is the longest war—the all too conveniently forgotten global war on terror. I am pleased to see in the aftermath of the important Indonesian national election that both our nations have worked together to understand and cooperate more closely and consistently towards the goal of a safe and stable region.
I am appalled that in response to some of the realities I have highlighted that the Greens party and their fellow travellers engage in ideological hand-wringing and calls for historical reflection. Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, based in my home city of Launceston, has said, 'I think we need to find better words than "terrorist" and "terrorism" because, to me, this implies a very one-sided view of the world.' He went on to say, 'Often our forces could be seen by Iraqi civilians as being terrorists.' The Senator was quite rightly lambasted for these views. The Greens' do-nothing approach in relation to events in Iraq, ignores the self-evident truth that action is required not further talk by politicians. No amount of talking to terrorists under the Miranda tree in my home state of Tasmania will avert IS from their strategic aspirations. In my view, Greens leader Christine Milne has, once again, dealt her party out of the rational policy debate.
The Greens also demand endless parliamentary debate and a parliamentary vote to deploy troops. We already have parliamentary debate on these issues. And in relation to a vote, neither the Constitution nor defence legislation supports the Greens position. The use of the military dimension of national power has always been a prerogative of executive government, which in turn answers to the parliament. As is customary, the opposition has been briefed by national security experts and, as I said in my introduction, stand shoulder to shoulder with the government in supporting the necessity for the action we are taking.
Only the Greens choose sideline sloganeering in place of responsible leadership, yet on every occasion they fail to tell the Australian people what their alternative is, and a do-nothing approach is the worst option on this occasion. This is the same Green party that regularly demands military action to protect whales in the Southern Ocean but illogically refuses to accept the need for military force to protect thousands of people at risk of genocide or to degrade the IS capability so it does not land on our doorstep in the future. Moreover, the suggestion by the Greens that our military commitment makes us more vulnerable ignores history and the advice of experts like former ASIO head, David Irvine, who reject their claim.
Australia was a target of terrorist groups well before these military deployments. Indeed, the first intercepts relating to threats against Australia, which resulted in the recent arrests, were first detected last May, well before any thought of military action. History has proven that appeasement does not work, particularly when you are confronting illogical, irrational actors like the ones in Iraq, who demand subservience to their perverse ideological ends.
The government is taking strong action in responding to this threat. At home we are equipping our security and border protection agencies and we are moving legislation through the parliament to ensure they have the means at their disposal to act and respond appropriately. Australia is aware of the heightened threat level at the moment, with security carefully considered at places like airports, prominent buildings and events. Our recently announced military commitment is legal, just and consistent with our national interests. In company with a growing international coalition, we are responding in a measured and proportionate way to an aggregated terrorist threat that seeks to establish a Middle Eastern caliphate and then to decentralise the mayhem. Doing nothing is not an option.
I would also like to acknowledge the contribution that my colleague the member for Bass has made in defence of our nation over many, many years. Indeed, protecting and keeping Australians safe is the first and fundamental role of government. The bipartisan approach, the support that we have received in this from the Labor Party and those opposite, is indeed welcome. It is not an attack on religion. It is not an attack on any religion. It is, indeed, an attack on terrorism: criminals and people who wish to do us harm because of who we are and what we believe in. The very best way to respond to this is to go about our business with the knowledge that the security and intelligence forces, and the agencies, are doing their job. The government is doing everything it can to keep Australia safe, and we should go about our business as normal.
The armchair experts, the keyboard warriors, and the anonymity that social media provides concern me most—uninformed opinion suggesting that this is motivated from a political perspective. It is not. It is dangerous; it is ill-informed and it is simply baseless in fact. The decisions government make are based on information that is received by our security and intelligence divisions—the Federal Police, ASIO or ASIS. Social media is being used as a weapon by ISIS to inspire and attract support from marginalised youths, in the main, from around the world. It is believed that up to 12,000, maybe even more—15,000 was mentioned the other day—foreigners are fighting under the flag of the death cult that is ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, this part of the world is far more accessible, and this is exacerbating the propensity of young people to travel to this part of the world. The role and responsibility that the media play in reporting and commentating on this is also significant. Speculating does nothing and this is, in my humble opinion, fundamentally dangerous.
It is a role of government and a responsibility of government—and it is what is expected of government—to keep Australians safe. Indeed, that is what this government is doing, led ably by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Foreign Minister Bishop, and the security and intelligence personnel that are informing the decisions that the government is making.
I also call on the members of the Greens to refrain from the political posturing and the very dangerous speculation in which they have been engaging. They represent, in fact, less than 10 per cent of Australians, and once again they appear to be completely out of touch with mainstream Australian views. I trust and believe that Tasmania is perhaps one of the safest places on earth to be. One would hope it is the safest place, indeed, in our country. However, the potential for the attack on any Australian is an attack on every Australian, no matter where they live. It is an attack on our values and our way of life because of who we are and how we live.
More than 20 fighters have returned from Syria and Iraq, and we are aware of more than 60 currently fighting overseas with ISIS. More than 100 people are supporting their activities here in Australia, and many others have had their passports confiscated for fear—and information that would suggest—that they would also like to leave Australia to fight in the Middle East. We are also aware that there were two-thirds of those, albeit much smaller, numbers that returned from Afghanistan, who were involved—and ultimately charged—with crimes relating to terrorism. The threat is real and the actions that the government are taking in relation to security are indeed vital.
The tragic events in Melbourne last week raise the question as to why a young man would be motivated to attack public officers. For many Australians it is completely unimaginable, and indeed chilling, that we have such thoughts and such deeds occurring amongst us. I feel for his family. My thoughts also are with the officers that, in their line of duty, were injured and their families, that must have suffered also.
I remind you that this is indeed different to 2003. This conflict is reaching out to us and we must respond. We will indeed be judged very harshly if we do not. Leadership is being shown on the global stage. President Obama, leaders of Middle Eastern countries, and Muslim and other religious leaders from around the world understand the threat and, rightly, are condemning the actions of a group that do not act in the name of any religion. This is a barbaric and evil death cult. Leadership is being shown locally by community and religious leaders. I commend them for their work in condemning terrorism and their support for the government's work.
Finally, I repeat the words of the Prime Minister:
First, the government will do whatever is possible to keep people safe; second, our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism, not religion; and third, Australians should always live normally because the terrorists' goal is to scare us out of being ourselves.
IS is neither Islamic—they act not in the name of Islam—nor a state. It is an evil death cult and I support the government wholeheartedly in their actions at this time.
I have really wanted to contribute to this debate on national security and the government's pending commitment to send troops to the conflict in Iraq, so I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to rise today.
As a former chief of staff of the Minister for Defence, I have in the past been directly involved in these types of operations. In addition, during the last term of parliament I was the member for Curtin's principal adviser on foreign affairs and trade when she was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Back in 2001, when I was the chief of staff for the Minister for Defence, it was not Iraq that we were going to war in, but actually Afghanistan. It directly followed the dreadful attacks on 9/11. Indeed, I was relaxing at home watching television at the very time that the terrorist event occurred. In fact, I was watching the US television drama, The West Wing; what else would you expect a political staffer to be watching?
Soon after the first plane hit the first tower at the World Trade Centre in New York, the television show was interrupted and went to a live coverage from the Twin Towers. It was after 9 pm at night, and I recall it so vividly. I was actually watching live via satellite when the second plane slammed into the second tower. It was at that wrenching moment that we all knew that this was not just an aviation accident but something much more sinister and evil. It was soon after that I got a call from the chief of staff of the then Acting Prime Minister, John Anderson, requiring me to find the Minister for Defence, Peter Reith. In essence, all hell broke loose. We had Prime Minister John Howard in Washington, and we needed to be concerned about his safety and of course the safety of all Australians that were in the US at the time. A National Security Committee of Cabinet meeting was hastily arranged. When that occurred, the next morning we were already discussing the invoking of the ANZUS Treaty with the United States for the first time.
I do not have to go through all of the other events of the next few days. Terrorism had hit our country and many other countries. Since then we have been living with the terrorist threat. I remind the House that these attacks on 9/11, which saw 2,977 innocent people die, including 11 Australians, were before the US or Australia ever went into either Afghanistan or Iraq. It was only after that event that these other actions occurred. Indeed, before the 2003 operation in Iraq, Australians were also subject to a further attack by Jemaah Islamiyah. A total of 88 Australians died in the 2002 Bali bombings.
This issue has been brought home to us because of the actions of extremists. We now face a continuing threat. As the Prime Minister had said:
For more than two years, the civil war in Syria, followed by the conquest of much of northern Iraq, has been sucking in misguided and alienated Australians. There are at least 60 Australians that we know who are currently fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, and at least 100 Australians who are supporting them. More than 20 of these foreign fighters have already returned to Australia. As a peaceful and pluralist democracy, we naturally shrink from getting involved in conflicts on the other side of the world, but sometimes these conflicts reach out to us, regardless of anything we might do now or have done in the past.
We are now facing an enemy that grandiosely calls itself the Islamic State, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. It is a travesty that it should call itself by these titles. As the Prime Minister says, 'It is neither Islamic nor a state, but a death cult.'
We are working in partnership with some 40 other countries, led by the United States, in confronting this appalling enemy that is ISIL, which has been involved in attempted genocide, mass killings, beheadings and crucifixions. It is a cult more suited to the Middle Ages than the modern world. But unfortunately it is here and now.
The government has announced the prepositioning of RAAF and SAS forces in the United Arab Emirates. As the chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of the UAE, I am very glad to see that our Emirati friends are assisting with this important struggle. However, it is a pity that we have not got the full backing from the United Nations Security Council on this issue. No formal resolution has been put to the United Nations Security Council. It is a failure on its behalf. I understand that this is because Russia has a veto and they are fully expected to use that veto. It is also possible that the Chinese, who also have a veto, would abstain from a yes vote. That is not as bad as a possible veto, but it would not be a good look.
So I understand that the western nations are not pushing the issue. It simply illustrates the extent of the United Nations Security Council's effectiveness. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. It must be galling to all those people who invest the United Nations Security Council with so much legalistic authority but who also believe that there is an implied necessity in international law for the world community to exercise the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.
On our side of politics we are not so much concerned about dithering around on these legalistic and philosophical debates. Instead we prefer to initiate action before too many more people get killed. We simply cannot ignore statements of ISIL when for example its spokesman, al-Adnani, recently stated: 'If you can kill an American or European infidel, especially the spiteful and filthy French, or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the infidel fighters, then rely upon God and kill them in any way possible.' This is what we are up against.
The events in Sydney and Brisbane two weeks ago to stop a potential gruesome beheading in Martin Place in Sydney under the direct orders of ISIL are a case in point. To think that the Australian Greens, particularly Senator Whish-Wilson, were seriously arguing the other day that we should not be calling these people terrorists. They are atrocious barbarians. We cannot ignore that. We have to deal with the issues. But let me equally say that we need to be very careful about rabblerousing statements like those of Senator Lambie. It does her no credit.
I have lived and worked in the middle east in the Gulf state of Bahrain. I was there with my wife, daughter and son. The Bahrainis are warm and hospitable people. I always felt safe and it was a very positive experience. I am proud of the fact that Bahrain has joined the coalition to help fight ISIL. People should be very careful about how they express themselves so as not to create unnecessary divisions when we need to all pull together in facing the current challenges. We need to talk in calm terms and we need to examine our security legislation and ensure it adequately protects the Australian people.
The government is working with the opposition to do this and the Attorney-General is proceeding with three pieces of legislation to deal with the threats. I welcome the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has supported the government position. Unfortunately, it is not clear that he has the full support of his caucus, however all power to the Leader of the Opposition on this issue, if on no other. Let me add that the member for Denison's outrageous personal attacks on former Prime Minister John Howard are beneath contempt.
I was recently asked on an ABC radio interview: 'Why can we now afford to spend all this money on military action in the Middle East, given the government has also been arguing that there was a serious budget problem? Indeed, I understand that the operations will cost as much as $500 million in annual terms.' The answer is simple: part of the reason we need to repair the budget as soon as possible is because more than $25 billion was ripped out of Defence in the course of the last six years. The share of GDP spent on defence in the 2013-14 budget was just 1.59 per cent—the lowest level since 1938. The first duty of a national government is to protect the Australian people and that is what we are endeavouring to do to the best of our ability.
In conclusion, there may be very dark days ahead. In recent combat situations, particularly Afghanistan, there have been many deaths and many wounded. Let us hope this conflict is not protracted. Unfortunately, I think it very well could be. Some military people have said it could take 15 years to resolve the issues. That may be so—that is the daunting prospect. However, from what we can see now and for the short future over the horizon we need to stay the course and commit our best effort to this ugly necessity.
I welcome the opportunity to address this chamber, with ever more concern for many in the community here in our own country, on the security situation in Iraq and Syria,. Firstly, I will speak directly to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, throughout these early stages of the renewed threat of terrorism here in Australia, and in response to acts of gross terror, genocide and atrocities in Iraq and Syria, you have shown to the nation a level of leadership that has been scarce in our political discourse in recent memory. You have not been quick to war but you have demonstrated courage in confronting the threat of terrorism in Australia and courage in defending the vulnerable in Iraq. Definitive leadership at this time will mark your prime ministership and will more importantly ensure that this nation does not spend decades in a brutal war, as foreshadowed by former Chief of Army, Professor Peter Leahy.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives —
Sitting suspended from 12:09 to 12:16
Secondly, I address the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have been operating in Iraq in recent weeks, providing humanitarian support to the people of that country. On behalf of my electorate and the people of Tasmania, I thank you for the commitment that you have shown to the national interest by undertaking dangerous humanitarian missions in Iraq.
Since the Prime Minister delivered his statement on security to the parliament, outlining numerous humanitarian missions undertaken by Australian forces, there have been additional missions including airlifts of supplies to the Kurdish regional government in Erbil. Furthermore, the Iraqi government and the United States government have made formal requests to the Australian government for military support. I believe a response by cabinet to Iraqi and US government requests is imminent. Requests for military action are treated with extreme caution and consideration. I have every confidence that the Prime Minister and the foreign minister, together with the cabinet, will make the right decision according to our national interest and our ability to support the Defence Force in their action but also according to the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.
If the cabinet decides to commence combat operations in Iraq, Australia will join an ever-growing group of nations committed to facing the threat of ISIS head-on. In addition to Iraq and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Albania, Estonia and Hungary have entered the conflict. Furthermore, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain have joined the fight in Syria against the ISIS. It is also possible that Russia and Turkey will provide assistance in the coming days.
Within just a few short weeks of the United States's commitment to combating ISIS, a significant coalition of nations has been formed. While the United States are often the first nation to take criticism for their level of military action throughout the world, they were the first country outside of the region to act in support of the Iraqi people and they have been the most determined to build the coalition. The United States, it is my belief, are again demonstrating international leadership in this conflict, and I thank them.
Such an alliance underlines the seriousness of this challenge. It underlines the historic response to an evil culture that knows no bounds. Only a fool would suggest that such a culture does not mean the risk of barbaric acts being witnessed in our own peaceful national backyard. Accusations both in this place and from the wider community, including the media, that in some way current security responses are over the top only go to prove that, sadly, for some, their politics will always rule over the greater good and the pursuit of peace and safety.
Importantly, to the Braddon community I echo the Prime Minister's words and urge all of us to be aware but reassured. Be aware of the difficulties we face as a nation in combating the scourge of militant Islam, aware of our surrounds and aware of the need to be mindful of the need of security services as we go about our daily lives but also be reassured that this government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the foreign minister, the defence minister and others, and of course with the support of the opposition, is taking every necessary step to protect this country from attack, every necessary step to support the Federal Police, ASIO and ASIS in their work and every necessary step to support our troops in operations overseas.
I know that many of my constituents are concerned that Australia is considering involvement in another conflict in a region of the world few of us understand. I say to those people that I too am apprehensive about possible military action, as I believe we all should be. Any decision to undertake military action is weighty, and often the consequences of those decisions cannot be foreseen, but I say to you that this conflict will be played out in many countries throughout the world and that not undertaking decisive action now has the very grave potential to increase the risk that this conflict will reach out to us with devastating consequences. Indeed it already has, with Australians partaking in the conflict and returning to Australia and the concerning incident recently in Melbourne.
As noted by the Prime Minister in his statement to the parliament last week, over 60 Australians have taken up arms in Iraq and Syria in support of ISIS, with 20 of those returning to Australia. Just as concerning is that approximately 100 Australians are actively supporting those fighters and foreign fighters through the provision of finances. This is a great betrayal of Australia and her people, a betrayal that cuts deep because the people we see on our television screen in the evening who have decided to betray us appear to us to be everyday Australians. Some, by all accounts, are those that we have opened the door to, welcoming them to a new life full of hope and prosperity. They watch the cricket and they play football, yet somehow they have been sucked into a death cult that has no respect for the dignity or sanctity of human life.
For the record, let me repeat comments that I recently made to local Tasmanian media, and they are that no law other than Australian law should rule or guide our lives. If people have a deep desire to live by any other law, they have a serious decision to make about where they live. Our allegiances are either to Australia or against it. I believe the law should apply indiscriminately to all. Surely this long-held principle in law is not being challenged by the politically correct brigade.
Just as the Prime Minister and cabinet are giving due consideration to the question of military action, so too are they giving due consideration to the question of a legal response here in Australia. Clearly, new laws are required to tighten legal loopholes that may allow foreign fighters to betray Australia, but it is important to protect the freedoms that we enjoy in this nation, and I believe that the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General are wisely walking that fine line with due consideration.
There will no doubt be many more opportunities for each of us to speak to the international challenges that we face. For now, let me conclude by humbly thanking those who are at the front line of conflict or, equally, at the front line of strategic planning. We are Team Australia, and we should not underestimate the need for us to be realistic about the challenges the world faces and the need to be appropriately measured in our response. As I conclude, let me quote the words of Albert Einstein. He said: 'The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don't do anything about it.'
We live in troubled times. The deeply disturbing images and terrorist taunts coming out of the Middle East are a chilling daily reminder that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. More than ever before we need to stay strong and be united in the face of evil that is IS, ISIL or ISIS. These Islamic militants—madmen—want to be called a state. This is not a state. A state protects its people and builds things on behalf of its people. It does not systematically slaughter innocents. It does not engage in ethnic cleansing. It does not commit genocide.
ISIS tears down, destroys, murders, practices barbarism and brutality; it hates. When events such as those callously unfolding at present in Iraq and Syria occur, Australia faces tough choices. We can, if we choose, simply sit back and say: 'That is happening more than 10,000 kilometres from us. It has been going on for centuries and it is someone else's problem.' In one sense, that is a valid argument. You hear this sentiment expressed often: 'Why should we worry? Why should we even care?' We have an obligation to do something. The Commander of the Australian Joint Task Force in the Middle East, Major General Craig Orme AM, CSC, often says about the continuity of our presence in the Middle East, 'To have a friend, be a friend.' In other words, we cannot, as the Greens would have us do, pack up and quit—cut and run—especially now. We have to stay the course, as difficult as it might prove, and help put that region and its people back on a peaceful footing.
Much of our commerce, energy and trade lines—particularly by sea—and those of our major trading partners emanate from that region, albeit a part of the world in great turmoil. It is a key economic region for so many reasons; besides, having an ongoing base in the Middle East is both principled and warranted. To do nothing is to allow ISIS to grow and its hideous actions to multiply. We must act and play our part. We also need to honour the sacrifice of those who have fallen in recent times. We have lost 41 of our best and bravest in Afghanistan since October 2007. Sombre ramp ceremonies with flag draped coffins are not the way the Australian Defence Force wants its heroes to return. It is certainly not how deceased soldiers' families want their beloved boys to come home. Sadly, sometimes that is the awful cost of war, defending an ideal, protecting those who need our military support, restoring peace and doing what is just and right.
There are those who question our involvement in Afghanistan. Being there in early August to see the progress made was indeed an eye-opener. More than 100,000 university students, and tens of thousands more children, mostly girls, are attending school. Higher life expectancy and increased gross domestic product—Afghanistan is improving in all the key areas. Things that those in western countries largely take for granted since the war on terror began. This would have not been possible without western intervention and the ADF's help. We can stand proud as a nation for what we have achieved on behalf of those Afghans who want what we want: health, wealth and freedom. We can stand proud for what our wonderful men and women who so stoically wear the ADF uniform have accomplished in driving the Taliban out of so many areas and into hiding.
We can stand proud for having the courage and the decency to not stand back and say: 'That is happening more than 10,000 kilometres from us. It has been going on for centuries and is someone else's problem.' It is easy to be passive, turn our backs and pretend as though we do not see the pain and suffering being endured—admittedly half a world away—by others who desperately need our help. Sure, we do not know the names of those who are hurting; we never will. Those trapped on Mount Sinjar and others too. In August 2014, as many as 50,000 Yazidis fled to the mountains following attacks by ISIS forces on the city of Sinjar, which fell on the third day of that month.
The Yazidi refugees faced what a relief worker called a genocide. He saw what looked like hundreds of dead bodies from his Iraqi Air Force helicopter evacuating the trapped refugees. 'You can imagine what it is like when you land amongst 5,000 people and can only take 10 or 20, and everyone tries to get on the helicopter,' Mirza Dinnay told the British Broadcasting Corporation. Stranded without water, food, shade or medical supplies, the Yazidis had to rely on airdropped supplies of water and food. I attended the 12 August meeting at Camp Baird, the Australian domestic compound at Al Minhad Air Base, south of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, in which the first airdrop was arranged. The mood in that room that afternoon was tense yet determined. They knew of the desperate plight of those in northern Iraq. They knew what had to be done and how to do it. They were also well aware of just how dangerous the mission would be. Flying large military aircraft low enough to drop off supplies, whilst avoiding surface-to-air missiles, takes skill, pluck and luck.
But our ADF personnel are the best trained in the world. American Army generals hold us in the highest respect for our capability, professionalism and spirit. It is ingrained in our uniformed men and women. It is the Anzac way, forged at Gallipoli, honed at Kokoda. A week after the capture of Sinjar, Kurdish Peshmerga and officials had saved some 30,000 of the refugees by opening a corridor from the mountains into nearby Syria and from there into Iraqi Kurdistan—with the help of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, commonly referred to by its Kurdish acronym, PKK. Yet, as Major General Orme, an inspirational leader, was chairing the meeting to organise the food and supplies airlift, thousands of helpless and hungry men, women and children remained stranded on Mount Sinjar. Three hundred Yazidi women were taken as slaves and more than 500 men, women and children were killed—some beheaded or buried alive in the foothills—as part of an effort by the Islamists to instil terror generally and specifically to desecrate the mountain the Yazidis consider sacred. A witness reported that Yazidi girls raped by ISIS fighters committed suicide by jumping to their deaths from Mount Sinjar. Missions to airdrop food and supplies including medicine were successful. Thank God for that. Our planes returned to base safely. Thank God for that. How good are our people doing these mercy runs? How good are they?
Recent videos showing the executions of United States journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines, wearing orange garb and kneeling beside their black-masked ISIS killer, are simply outrageous, atrocious. Australian Attorney-General Senator George Brandis said the latest killings show why Australia is engaged in the international fight against ISIL. Senator Brandis told ABC television:
It just serves to demonstrate—not that it's really necessary for there to be more evidence—how barbaric and evil these people are. This is a problem for the world and that is why we in Australia are engaged. We need to be engaged … this terrorist entity, ISIL, is a fundamental threat to the Western world in particular.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would not be intimidated by the killing, and we will not. We need to be alert but not so fearful that we change the way we go about living our daily lives.
I must say I despair when I hear the Greens, locally in my electorate of the Riverina and here in Canberra, questioning the position our nation is taking in response to the escalating Middle East crisis. To the Greens I say this: start putting Australia first instead of knocking and mocking all the time. To suggest the government is doing anything other than what is in the nation's best national security and long-held global partner interests is, I would argue, beyond the pale. Strong words I appreciate, but consider the narrative the Greens have been running in recent weeks. Greens Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson was way off the mark when he said:
I think we need to find better words than 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' because, to me, this implies a very one-sided view of the world.'
We use that word because it is a very simple word to use and it demonises people.
No, Senator, we use that word because that is what they are: terrorists, heartless killers, butchers, people who have no regard for human life—not their own and certainly not others'. You would think, given the sensitivity of the situation at present and Senator Whish-Wilson's unwise words, that his leader, Senator Christine Milne, would distance herself and the party from such a statement—but no, alas, quite the opposite. The Greens' only member in the lower house—one too many, I might add—the member for Melbourne, did not do himself any credit after the 23 September Narre Warren shooting of a terror suspect by uttering:
We have to ask the serious question what is it that makes someone, a teenager, so disaffected with their own country that they want to kill people.
I mean, seriously? The Australian public should feel safe and secure in the knowledge our police, security services and governments are taking every possible step to ensure the safety of the community. What we do not need now is the Greens and their empty, un-Australian rhetoric, which does not represent the view of the majority.
The media also has a role and a responsibility to play, and headlines such as that online at The Sydney Morning Herald of 14 September, 'Fools rush in: Tony Abbott joins a war without definition', when cabinet committed 600 Australian military personnel and more aircraft to the Middle East conflict as tensions escalated, are not helpful or patriotic. Throughout the course of Australian history, from the Boer War to Baghdad, our involvement in international conflict has been a test of the national character and our true mettle, and it will be so again.
I rise here today to express my very strong support for what Australia is doing to help combat the desperate circumstances that we are seeing with ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. This is certainly a humanitarian endeavour. It is certainly not an act of war. When we see scenes of genocide, families fleeing violence, men being slaughtered, and mothers and children desperate for assistance, we must make a stand. When we hear abhorrent stories of women and children being sold into sexual slavery, we must make a stand.
We are part of an international community. We have an obligation, especially when we see the significant number of individuals coming from Australia to fight in this conflict. And it is not just fighting but returning to Australia and bringing their hatred and their violence with them. As a community, we have to stand up and say that this is absolutely unacceptable. We just cannot sit back and pretend it is not happening and that it will never affect us.
The raids in Brisbane and Sydney two weeks ago and in Melbourne earlier this week have brought very close to home the threat of violence against Australians on home soil, carried out by a very small number of extremists. Also last week, in Melbourne, there was the stabbing of two police officers by an armed terror suspect who had had his passport suspended and was unable to travel to fight overseas. This was an unprovoked attack while our Australian police officers were just doing their job. I certainly condemn that attack, but it is important to recognise that this was very much an individual act. The police are our front line against people who wish to do us harm. It is exactly this type of bravery and dedication, shown by these officers, that will continue to keep our community safe and secure. People should not feel unsafe going about their everyday lives. The core definition of terrorism is the state of fear and submission produced by acts of terrorism or terrorisation. Succumbing to terror is not how Australians live their lives. The best way to counter fear and submission is to continue to go about our normal everyday activities while being alert but certainly not alarmed.
It is important that we recognise that those who are motivated to act in these ways are a very, very tiny minority of our Muslim community. We cannot fall into the trap of viewing all of those in this community with suspicion fuelling discrimination, hatred and more violence. As a community, as a country, we are certainly far better than that. If we carry out violence on our home soil, we are no better than those fighters overseas. I note that in Britain a social media campaign has sprung up where young Muslims make it clear that ISIS does not act in their name.
Our local Islamic community faces the same challenges, and I certainly call on the leaders to take a strong stance and condemn these actions. Unfortunately, there have already been a couple of incidents in Far North Queensland. In Cairns, the word 'ISIS' was sprayed on a vacant building and toilet block. It was an apparent response to the word 'evil' being painted on a Mareeba mosque the previous weekend. It is pleasing to see that the non-Muslim community leaders in both cases have been very quick to condemn the incidents as entirely unacceptable. In both cases, police are calling on anybody who has information to come forward. It follows an incident back in November when another radical attack was launched on a Cairns mosque, where vandals called for worshippers to integrate or return to their homelands.
This graffiti in particular illustrated the nature of intolerance and ignorance in our community. I had known the imam of the Cairns Mosque, Abdul Aziz, for many years. He was actually born and reared in Cairns, spent years on various Cairns Show, Rotary and farming committees, represented the Cairns junior soccer team when he played as a youngster in 1948, and speaks with very much a broad Australian twang. So, when vandals used bright red paint to suggest he integrate, the 81-year-old Far North Queensland Islamic leader was rather appalled and, of course, confused—'How can we integrate more than I have done?' he asked; 'I would like to know what these people have done for their community.'
I have to say that both Mareeba and Cairns are very proud of their multiculturalism. Mareeba has residents from 64 countries, including many outstanding families of the Muslim faith who came to this region 80 or 90 years ago and who have made a major contribution to Far North Queensland industries and our community. Cairns also celebrated its diversity last month when the Cairns and Region Multicultural Association hosted a very successful Tropical Wave Festival. Around 1,000 people enjoyed art, craft, music, storytelling and food from more than 40 cultural communities. These incidents of vandalism certainly do not reflect the attitude of the wider community and again I urge tolerance.
From the government's perspective, we have three key messages on security: the government will do whatever it can to keep people safe; our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism, not religion, nor any particular sector of the community; and Australians can and should always live normally. Of course, we do not embrace the need to get involved in conflicts on the other side of the world, but nothing can justify the actions of this ISIL death cult, like beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and ethnic cleansing.
There are at least 60 Australians that we know of who are currently fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and at least 100 Australians that are supporting them. More than 20 of these foreign fighters have already returned to Australia. It is in Australia's best interest that we stand ready with the world to help the new Iraqi government to break down the ISIL cult and regain control over their own country.
These are hard decisions to make but we have to do it. We have to step up as part of the world community. I note that the Australian Defence Force has been authorised to prepare and deploy for operations with the international force in support of the government of Iraq. The Prime Minister, as we know, has just returned from the United Nations discussions in New York, including discussions with the new Iraqi prime minister. To date the Australian Defence Force has not been authorised to conduct strike operations in Iraq or Syria. Our forces are deployed to the Middle East to engage in exercises, but any final decision to engage in Iraq will be made in due course. It is important to recognise that it is good to get a little lead time moving into these very hostile areas, to give our pilots and our ground crews an opportunity to get accustomed to the environment in which they are working. It is absolutely critical that they have this lead time. Once the decision is made, we know that they will be absolutely and fully prepared to carry out the tasks to which they have been called on from our nation. At the appropriate time, the National Security Committee and cabinet will discuss action against ISIL in Iraq as part of the US-led international coalition of nations. The Australian Defence Force Air Task Group, as I say, has already arrived and is carrying out work there at the moment.
At home, our security agents have all the resources and authority that they will reasonably need. The Australian government has committed an extra $630 million, additional personnel are to be recruited, biometric screening will be introduced to our international airports within 12 months, and there will be more people on the ground at airports. Before Christmas the government will respond to the current review of national security apparatus. We are systematically updating counterterrorism legislation to strengthen our agencies' capability to arrest, prosecution and jail returning foreign fighters and prevent and disrupt domestic security threats.
Last week, our first tranche of legislation to give our agencies stronger power to fight terrorism passed in the Senate with the support of Labor, and this week it will be finalised in the House of Representatives. Further reform will address the most pressing gaps in our counterterrorism legislation framework, and the government is continuing data retention discussions with telecommunication companies and internet service providers.
Our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism—not religion and not any sector of the community. It is not about what people wear; it is about fighting crime. I certainly commend our position on national security.
I rise today, like so many other speakers, to address the grave situation facing our national and global security. As we all know, and as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, protection of our people and the defence of our nation is the first duty of government. To reiterate our Prime Minister's statement on national security to which I reply, I want to emphasise three key messages to my electorate of Deakin. First, the government will do whatever is possible to keep you and all Australians safe. Second, our security measures at home and abroad are solely directed against terrorism, not religion or any community. Third, Australians should always live normally, because the terrorist's goal is ultimately to scare us out of being ourselves.
For some months now the militant organisation which calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—of which many speakers have mentioned—has managed, in some places of Iraq and Syria, to fill the void resulting from the ongoing power struggle between the Sunni and Shiah populations in those conflict zones. Their influence has subsequently spilled over the Syrian border into the northern parts of Iraq, and the territory under their control has grown rapidly.
Like so many other Australians, I have monitored the growth of this movement in these parts of the Middle East with growing concern and despair for the local populations in those respective areas. We all know that the politics and stability of the Middle East has always been far from secure. However, the developments of the past few months reveal a new and far more deadly chapter, particularly for the rights of persecuted minorities in this part of the world.
Most strikingly for my community in Deakin, and what is raised with me on a regular basis, has been the manner in which ISIL has viciously targeted the minority Christian communities in Iraq and other places in the region. Some of these Christian communities are as old as Christianity itself and, gravely, many face extinction at the hands of ISIL. But it is not just minority Christian communities that are now being targeted by ISIL. ISIL has shown itself to indiscriminately target and murder countless numbers of Muslims who simply do not adhere to or follow their very narrow and medieval understanding of the Islamic faith. These groups include the local Shiah, Kurdish, Alawite and countless other groups who are just unfortunate enough to be living in a part of Iraq or Syria that now falls under the control of ISIL.
We further know that ISIL and its followers do not recognise any borders between Iraq and Syria. They are aiming to create, in their own words, a caliphate in the area and are also claiming political authority across the broader Islamic world. The ruthless advance of ISIL in those regions has ultimately provided a haven for those from all parts of the world attracted to this ideology, and I regret to say these include some radicalised and traitorous Australians.
So far we know that there are at least 60 Australians currently fighting in this part of the world and many more from other Western nations, such as France, the United States and the United Kingdom. The danger here is that those who return to Australia, or to other Western countries, will come back even further radicalised. They will also be brutalised and determined to spread the evil ideology of ISIL on our own shores. We also know that ISIL operatives in Australia have been instructed by their commanders in Syria to prepare attacks against Australian targets, including attacks against our own parliament.
As we so tragically saw last week in my home state of Victoria, one Australian Federal Police officer and one Victorian police officer were subjected to an unprovoked attack from an 18-year-old terrorist with a knife. The attacker was a person of interest to our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. While the two officers were wounded in the attack—one seriously—thankfully these two honest, decent and brave men will both be able to return home to their families. This is further to events from the previous week where a terrorist operative here in Australia instructed his followers to perform demonstration executions, beheadings, similar to those that have taken place against individuals in the Middle East. Then, just yesterday—again in my home state of Victoria—we saw the Victorian police and the AFP working cooperatively to conduct raids that resulted in the arrest of a man who was subsequently charged with funding a US citizen to fight in Syria. His arrest and the six charges laid against him come after what is reported to have been eight months of surveillance. So our intelligence agencies are doing an incredible job of dealing with what is a significantly enhanced threat to our country, and for this I want to sincerely thank them.
It is this increased threat, coupled with the important humanitarian aspects, that makes it clear that it is in Australia's national interest to do what we can to combat ISIL and to continue to participate in an international coalition with the aim of strengthening the Iraqi government. This will mean weakening and removing a dangerous death cult that provides a haven and leadership for those seeking to carry out attacks against us in Australia and to ultimately threaten our way of life. Indeed, as a nation that values liberal democracy and the protection of the rights of minorities, we cannot stand by and watch the plight of the persecuted people in Iraq and Syria. We just cannot watch genocide taking place on our television screens every night. Equally, we cannot allow ISIL to use the territory it has overrun to become a base for future attacks to be launched on Australia and other democratic nations.
That is why I am proud of Australia's commitment to support a broad-based coalition of nations taking the fight to ISIL. It is also encouraging to see numerous states in the Middle East with large Islamic majorities joining the push against ISIL. These include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan. Back here in Australia I also welcome the commitment by the government to ensure the security and safety of our own people. While there is a delicate balance between freedom and security, one which has been debated by political philosophers for many centuries now, there is no simpler way to see this than the reality that the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to walk the streets unharmed and to sleep safely in our beds at night.
For these reasons, I welcome the additional funding provided to our security agencies in the budget this year and welcome legislation which will create new terrorist offences, seek to curtail returning foreign fighters and extend powers to monitor or detain terror suspects. In my view, any Australian who leaves our shores to fight with the bloodthirsty cult ISIL should be barred from returning to Australia. However, I reluctantly accept that this may not be possible in all cases. So we must send a clear message to those Australians who return home from fighting with ISIL, often with a view of carrying on the fight here in Australia, or to their terrorist supporters here in Australia, that they will be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for a long time. Our new counter-terrorism laws will assist in this task. Ultimately, in my view, by supporting and fighting with ISIL, such people just do not deserve the freedoms and prosperity that Australia provides.
In closing, I would like to again emphasise that I strongly believe that the ongoing crisis and instability that is engulfing the Middle East due to the actions of ISIL and its supporters must be dealt with in a decisive and swift manner not only by the international community but by all members of our society. I therefore, in response to the Prime Minister's statement, welcome his commitment and the commitment of the government of which I am a part to ensure that Australia will lend our strength to ensure that ISIL is destroyed and hopefully becomes just an unfortunate footnote in the history of barbarism.
It is a pleasure to rise today to support the comments of the member for Deakin and others who have spoken on this statement that the Prime Minister made in the parliament, a very important statement. It was a statement which dealt with the issue that we have before us today of a heightened security risk in our nation.
The first thing that I think the Prime Minister made very clear was that this is a real threat. It is a threat which exists and it is a threat which the government is taking incredibly seriously. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister has reassured Australians that the No. 1 priority of this government is to keep Australians safe. As the member for Deakin put it so succinctly, that freedom to be able to walk down the street and to sleep in your bed at night is a fundamental freedom that the government wants to protect. That is why the security of Australians is, rightly, our No. 1 priority.
What is the threat that we are facing? I think that in the statement he made to the House and in other public statements that he has made, the Prime Minister has articulated it extremely well. We have 60 Australians fighting in Iraq and Syria at the moment and we have 100 Australian supporting them in one way or another, whether that be through financing, helping with travelling arrangements or other types of activities. Concerningly, more than 20 of these foreign fighters have returned home to Australia. We have to assume that many of those 20 will be radicalised and, I think, capable of undertaking brutal and abhorrent acts as a result of what they have been doing over in Iraq and Syria.
The evidence points to the fact that fighters who have been over to these areas and who do come back do, sadly, have on their minds carrying out terrorist attacks in this country. We only have to look at Afghanistan; history shows that what occurred there demonstrates that the threat we have now is extremely real. There are about 30 Australian foreign fighters who went to Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda. We know that 20 of those came back to Australia. The figure is roughly about 18 who were suspected of potentially having an interest in carrying out a terrorist attack, and eight of the 30 were convicted. That should be a worrying sign for what we now face; that was 30 in Afghanistan and we are now looking at over 100 Australians in Syria and Iraq. And we know that 20 of those have returned to Australia already.
This is why the government is taking this threat so realistically. It is absolutely paramount that we put in place the measures to be able to deal with this, and that is what the government is doing. Three tranches of legislation are going to come before the House. Already we have one tranche that will pass the House today. There will be another tranche, which has been introduced in the Senate and which will come before this parliament once the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security has dealt with it. That committee will report to the House on that particular bill on 17 October and, as the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister have indicated, there will be a third tranche of legislation, most likely to be introduced by the end of the year, dealing with the retention of data so that our intelligence agencies can once again keep our nation safe.
These three pieces of legislation equip our intelligence agencies and our police force to keep Australia safe. That is what they are designed to do. But they also have within them safeguards to make sure that those freedoms that Australians enjoy can also continue to the maximum extent possible—and the government is concerned about ensuring that it gets the balance right. I would say to those—especially in the media—who have recently been raising concerns about the first tranche of legislation, which has passed through the Senate and which hopefully will pass through the House today, that we are taking the right to freedom of the press seriously.
You only have to look at the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security to see that. Recommendations 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 deal specifically with special intelligence operations and ensuring that the proper scrutiny is there and where there are some freedoms that are impinged upon, especially when it comes to the freedom of reporting, that these are valid. I would say to all journalists who have raised concerns in this area, 'Please look at those recommendations because you will see that the government has accepted every one of those as a result of the concerns which were raised.'
We know the threat is there. We know that the government has acted and put in place legislation to ensure that we can deal with this threat. The government has also put its money where its mouth is. Six hundred and thirty million dollars has been provided collectively to the AFP, to Customs, to ASIO, to ASIS and the ONA to deal with this threat. This money was necessary. It is all very well us talking about the threat, but we have to make sure that our agencies are financed to deal with it as well. That is why the government has acted rightly in this regard.
I would like at this stage to point to one issue which I think also needs to be looked at. This is an issue which, once again, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security has raised, this time in its review of administration and expenditure of Australia's intelligence agencies. Recommendation 2 of our most recent report says:
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review the continued application of the efficiency dividend and other savings measures to the agencies comprising the Australian Intelligence Community. Particular consideration should be given to the cumulative impact of these measures on operational capacity, including maintaining optimal staffing levels, and the ongoing ability of agencies to protect Australia’s national security.
It is correct that we give additional resources to our intelligence agencies, but we also must be cognisant of the fact that efficiency dividends seek to take money away from these agencies. At a time when we have a heightened threat, at a time when we are looking to thoroughly resource our intelligence agencies, we do need to consider whether the efficiency dividend should continue to apply to those agencies that are on the front line of dealing with this threat. I am sure this is something which the government will be considering; but this is a bipartisan recommendation made by the committee and I think it is something that the government needs to take seriously and needs to look at. I commend the $630 million that has been provided, but I do think that the efficiency dividend, as it applies to our agencies, is something that we also need to keep in the back of our minds.
I commend the Prime Minister for his statement to the House. I commend him for the leadership that he has shown on this issue, not only here in Australia but internationally as well. The way he has responded in a purposeful, respectful but determined manner has meant that the Australian people feel like they have a government that is doing all it can to keep the nation safe. That is absolutely vital at a time like this. I also commend the government for ensuring that those agencies that have to fight this heightened security threat have the resources to be able to do this through providing the additional $630 million.
Federation Chamber adjourned at 13:04