Wednesday, 24 September 2014
National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014; Second Reading
As I was saying before the debate was adjourned, it is very much like a computer: you have to have the best hardware possible, but, without the software, the computer will not function properly. Community engagement is the vital software; hence, the government's action to do whatever is possible to keep us safe depends on both working together. It is vitally important that we explain what the legislation is about and earn the respect and trust of all Australians, whom this legislation is designed to keep safe.
As the Prime Minister has indicated, sometimes the delicate balance between the freedoms we enjoy and security arrangements may have to be adjusted such that more restrictions need to be placed on more of us so that more protections can be afforded to others. The safety of our community is of paramount importance. Consequently, additional security measures may be the price that we need to pay to ensure that, as the Prime Minister has said, we maintain the social fabric of an open, free and multicultural nation.
I have been honoured over many years to have been engaged with many communities, including some which are now in the forefront of security matters. I reiterate that this bill and the proposed next tranches of legislation apply to all Australians and are not targeted at one particular community. However, for more than two years, the civil war in Syria, followed by the conquest of much of northern Iraq, has provided a fatal allure for predominantly misguided and disenfranchised young Muslim Australians. It is why I have made a concerted effort in recent months, in my role with responsibility for multicultural affairs and settlement services, to reach out to Muslim communities and, in particular, the leaders and women and earn their trust and respect.
This work, of course, is not new to me. It is part of the process that has evolved for me since my young days, when I was an advocate for multicultural communities, starting with my own Australian-Italian community. I have known some of the leaders in the Muslim community for many years and have worked with them on interfaith and other issues. Hence I have been very pleased to support the Attorney-General in the roundtables with leaders of Muslim communities, not just because of my longstanding involvement but most especially in my current role. This has been an important process. Whilst this is not about religion, regrettably it is the Muslim communities that feel mostly targeted, although I also appreciate that some non-Muslim communities also have concerns.
It is important to put the current issues into context. According to the 2011 census, 466,000 people claimed Islam as their religion, representing 2.2 per cent of the Australian population, which is an increase of 40 per cent since the previous census. It is important to note also that around 179,000 were born in Australia, and almost 39 per cent, just under half, are women and children. People claiming Islam as their faith come from different parts of the globe: Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Bangladesh, just to name a few. They are different and diverse communities, with the majority living in New South Wales and Victoria followed by Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, small numbers in the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Most importantly, we must note that young people represent a significant proportion of the Muslim population, with 57.2 per cent of Muslims aged 29 years and under. The vast majority of the communities are law-abiding citizens committed to Australian values and the Australian way of life. They have come to Australia to build a better life for themselves and their families. Many have made commendable contributions to our country, whether culturally, economically or socially.
We are strengthening our partnerships with Muslim leaders in Australia and our region to reinforce that it is illegal for any Australian to support terrorist activities. Let me stress that our concern relates to about 60 Australians who are on the ground fighting in Syria and Iraq and to at least 100 who are providing facilitation in Australia. The overwhelming majority of Australians, including Muslim Australians, find the barbarism of ISIL absolutely and utterly abhorrent.
It is vitally important at this time that all Australians, irrespective of their ancestry, are tolerant and supportive. To turn on each other on the basis of religion or race would be to play straight into the hands of ISIL who want nothing better than to divide us. Given the number of Australians now with hands-on experience and given that we have several times more than we had in Afghanistan, the challenge is much greater. For this reason, the government announced its package of $630 million on 5 August. An important component is the government's commitment to work with Australian communities to combat radicalisation of young Australians.
As part of this package there is $13.4 million to counter violent extremism, and we are developing that package in consultation with communities to address the particular requirements of young Australians at risk. This may include a whole series of measures. There will also be referral and support processes to individuals at risk, to disengage them from their activities and to combat online radicalisation with education programs and, most importantly, working with communities, industry and overseas partners.
The intervention will provide resources and support to help communities work with individuals at risk. Considerable work is already being done quietly and purposefully by various groups and organisations to support young Australians at risk, and we need to focus our efforts on enhancing and building on that work already being done. Tailored interventions need to be developed and delivered in close collaboration with those communities, but this will take time. The incident that occurred overnight—the shooting dead of an 18-year-old, by the police in Melbourne, known to be a terror suspect—reinforces the absolute priority and need for this sort of intervention.
Young people become disenfranchised for any number of reasons. When this happens, they become vulnerable. They turn to drugs, gangs, crimes or other activities. What we are seeing with some young people is this disenfranchisement manifesting itself in radicalisation. They are vulnerable and susceptible to being preyed on by those intent on radicalising them, especially through social media. As was reported in the Sun-Herald recently, the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, has warned young people not to trust 'Sheik Google and Sheik YouTube', saying that they are 'very dangerous and they have no moral or religious authority'.
It is very clear from discussions with communities and through the recent round tables that the most effective and financially beneficial way to progress our countering-violent-extremism efforts is to work directly with the communities. Community engagement has been an important component of the consultations that the Attorney and I have had with community leaders in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and that I have had in Canberra. I am sure it will be an important discussion point in future round tables in other parts of Australia.
In my 30 years involvement in the diversity that is today contemporary Australia, I have always found that open and honest dialogue is the best way to earn trust and respect. The relationships that I have built up over time enable me now to facilitate introductions and dialogue between key leaders with my ministerial colleagues to advance our necessary objective of keeping the Australian community safe—key leaders such as the Grand Mufti, imams, and influential community stakeholders, including the key women who are at the grassroots of communities affected by radicalisation issues.
As I have said, you need the hardware and the software to work together for the computer to function properly. Community engagement is the key that will ensure this bill and the additional legislation being introduced will operate effectively. We all know that terrorists and violent extremists represent a small fringe minority of Australian society. Community leaders have made known their opposition to the involvement of young Australians in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They have expressed their abhorrence at the devastating actions of ISIL. Indeed, many of the innocent people killed or affected by these conflicts are Muslims. As the Grand Mufti has said, these criminals are committing crimes against humanity and sins against God. Forced evictions, threat of execution and burning of places of worship, including churches, have no place in any faith.
The Australian government will continue to do all it can to support community leaders who play a critical role in dissuading young Australians from travelling to the conflict zone to fight. It is vitally important that the positive narrative of the Australian Muslim community and its contribution is not overshadowed by the negative publicity generated by the actions of a small number.
We are a highly cohesive nation of people from around 300 different backgrounds who speak as many languages. Since 1945, some 7½ million people have arrived here, including 800,000 under our humanitarian programs. Today, one in four of our 23 million people were born outside Australia, and 45 per cent of Australians—almost half of us—were born overseas or have at least one parent who was. The postwar immigration program has benefited our lives in many ways. These changes have enhanced our economic, social and cultural fabric and have enriched us a nation. Our successful multicultural society has been built through the efforts and commitments of millions of Australians, unified by the goal of a prosperous future for all. Australia is a nation of strength in its diversity, and we need to do all we can to protect and to help protect our rich multicultural society.