23 July 2019






I rise to speak on the Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019 and related bill and to add a bit more nuance to the discussion we're having here today by drawing on my experience and knowledge in this area. As the member for Isaacs and shadow Attorney-General pointed out—and I'd like to reiterate this quite strongly—Labor puts the safety and security of Australians first. We do support strong laws. We seek to work in a very bipartisan manner to ensure national security. We have worked for the most part in a very bipartisan manner with the government on these issues.

My concern, and the concern of Labor, is that the current legislation is not strong, effective and impactful. The other concern, which the member for Isaacs spoke about at length, is the process for these bills. The issues raised point to the fact that, in essence, if the government were to pass these bills in their current form it would in actuality be rejecting the recommendations of its own committee. The PJCIS is run by the government, is chaired by the government and has majority government members. That has historically and traditionally worked quite well in a bipartisan manner with Labor.

I'd like to speak about the broader context of foreign fighters, violent jihadists and the situation we currently have. I'd like to make some points here. This temporary exclusion orders legislation before us gives some precedence and thought to mitigating the very immediate threat violent jihadists, who may or may not have participated in violent warfare, returning to Australia pose to Australia because they retain a particular ideology that may then fuel further violent operations. The member for Berowra spoke at length about people gaining experience in terrorism. I can tell the member for Berowra that there are people with no experience in terrorism who can cause just as much destruction as those with experience in terrorism. That, unfortunately, is the nature of modern terrorism.

Certainly, community safety and mitigating the very immediate threat of returning foreign fighters or returning violent jihadists should be of the utmost importance. There are three points I'd like to make about where the legislation falls short. Australia currently has one of the broadest suites of legislation around terrorism and terrorism related incidences of any Western country. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have a more effective and more impactful legislative suite when it comes to terrorism.

What we have here perpetuates the mistake that we made in believing that al-Qaeda, ISIS and the violent jihadi ideology could be eradicated through traditional military means alone—through the decimation of terrorist capabilities, through the decimation of terrorist training camps and through limiting their financial capacity. What we've seen and experienced is that that is certainly not the case. This is a war for hearts and minds as much as it is a battle on the battlefield.

I'd like to make some points about the TEOs and why we should not only be concerned about immediate community safety but also have medium- and long-term strategies to fight terrorism and eradicate terrorism. The first point I'd like to make on that is that a significant proportion of foreign fighters have a migratory nature. That means that they will go from one theatre of war to the next theatre of war. Foreign fighters in Syria, for example, had been trained in the battles in Afghanistan years before. When we apply these temporary exclusion orders and we keep people out of Australia for two years with the priority, and the correct priority, of keeping Australians safe and mitigating that initial threat, we also need to recognise that what we're doing is keeping them away so that they then become migrant foreign fighters chasing the next theatre of jihad. And unless we do everything that we can to eradicate the threat of terrorism at its roots, unless we do everything that we can to battle violent jihadism in all its forms, there will be another theatre of jihad. There will be another war, another combat space, and these people will simply move to that next theatre.

The second point I want to make, which again underscores the need for not just having TEOs to mitigate immediate threats but also having a medium-term vision for eradicating and dealing with terrorism, is about restitution and justice. I recently read the atrocious story of a Yazidi woman, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately, she is not alone, and the kinds of atrocities that were committed against Yazidi women by ISIS fighters show unimaginable barbarity. I think that it is important that these women, and men and children, have some form of justice, some form of restitution. How can we do that if we don't bring these people to justice? Whether it's by bringing them back here and sending them through courts or having some other form of international, coordinated effort where we can at least have some form of restitution for the horror and the suffering that the Yazidi women, the Yazidi people and other minorities in Syria and Iraq went through.

The third point that I'd like to make is that Australia is not alone in this situation. There were many countries who had a higher proportion of foreign fighters present in Iraq and Syria fighting for ISIS. We are certainly not alone. This is not an Australian dilemma and it is not unique to Australia, which points to the need for international coordination to deal with the issue of foreign fighters from all countries around the world who are seeking to return to their countries of origin. I must reiterate this point very strongly, because in 2015 I went to United Nations talks in Vienna and it was very clear there that we needed much more international coordination, and much more of an international effort, on how we deal with returning foreign fighters and how we also deal with the issue of terrorism more broadly as well.

As I've said, we support the intent of these temporary exclusion orders. We support the intent of these orders in that they give priority to keeping Australians safe and they give priority to community safety. However, the process at which we are now at, this point where we are debating this legislation here in parliament, has raised some issues of significant concern for Labor. Those issues of concern being that the recommendations made by the government's own committee, the PJCIS, have basically been ignored. When we vote on this legislation, what we are going to have is a government that is voting against its own recommendations. We're also going to have an issue where a longstanding record and history of bipartisan on national security issues—particularly through the PJCIS, as the committee with a mandate in this area—appears to have been undermined and eroded by the government's actions with regard to this legislation. It certainly sets a precedent that I think is not in the interests of all Australians and certainly not in the interests of the safety of all Australians.

As I have said, I believe that the TEO is absolutely necessary to ensure immediate community safety. But as with all legislation, it cannot be effective if it is not backed up by a much more robust and comprehensive approach to countering the threat of terrorism in Australia. That process, that agenda or that suite that we have cannot purely be legislative. I note that the member for Berowra in his speech recently, just here, talked about children who have been taken to Syria and Iraq in ISIS combat zones. They may well have been raised into a radical ideology, and they would be coming here—if we allowed them in—and would not be monitored. Yes, he's absolutely right. That's because this government has failed to develop any kind of effective program of early prevention, of deradicalisation—to use the term quite loosely, as an umbrella term—and of social reintegration, particularly for children and young people who have fallen prey to radical ideologies.

The government have talked a big game on this. They have talked a big game about providing $13 million for deradicalisation programs. They have talked a big game about $60 million for eradicating the threat of terrorism. The fact is, as I know and as people who I have worked with in the past know, there is nothing there on the ground. We have 13-year-olds who are becoming radicalised. Their parents are crying out for programs and support, but there's nothing available for them.

While we can keep an eye on legislation and temporary exclusion orders—to keep people out, mitigate that risk and all of that—this is not a problem that's going to go away after two years. We can keep them out for two years; but, after two years, we're going to have the same problem. There may perhaps even be a greater problem if a new theatre of jihad arises somewhere and they all migrate to that new theatre of jihad or if they end up staying where they are and become more radicalised, have more children and raise more children in a radicalised setting. This is not a problem that is going to go away with these TEOs.

I urge us all, everyone in this House, if we are serious about the safety and security of all Australians and if we are serious about national security, to look beyond these temporary exclusion orders. We have to look beyond short-term legislative responses to long-term ideological existential threats.