ABC 720 Drive, Perth, Interview with John McGlue

  • Transcript, E&OE, proof only
11 February 2014

JOHN MCGLUE We learned today that yet another Australian has been killed in the Syrian conflict as concern grows in government circles about the number of young men who've taken themselves off to Syria to fight in a civil war in that country. And with the deaths we also learned today in The Australian newspaper that there has been a sharp rise in the number of passports that have been cancelled on national security grounds. So this awful conflict in Syria is getting disturbingly close to home for Australia.

The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me on Drive. Minister, welcome to the program.

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon John.

JOHN MCGLUE Minister, nine Australians now dead and a very sizable number apparently fighting in the war in Syria. What's the latest you can tell us about the role that Australians are playing over there?

JULIE BISHOP Well we are deeply concerned for the safety of Australians in Syria. The security situation is extremely dangerous. There's ongoing military conflict. We are aware of reports of kidnappings and terrorist attacks. And I have to point out that it is illegal under Australian law for any Australian including dual citizens to fight, or provide funding, or provide training, or supply weapons to either side of the conflict in Syria.

So we're deeply concerned about the potential radicalisation of Australians as a result of the Syrian conflict, particularly those who are travelling to Syria and then returning to Australia with capabilities acquired through fighting or training with extremist groups.

And in particular we have learned that some Australians are fighting in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant which are listed terrorist organisations under our criminal code.

JOHN MCGLUE Well it's been reported that the latest Australian to die, Ahmad Moussalli is being held a martyr and a hero of Islam on social media pages here in Australia. Now it's sounding to me like the Syrian conflict is reaching well into some Australian communities. What can the Australian Government do about that and what practically can it do?

JULIE BISHOP Well, as I said our advice of the Government to Australians who are intending to travel to Syria to participate in the Syrian conflict is don't do it, it's against the law and if you choose to illegally participate in a foreign conflict then you're not only breaking the law but you're placing yourself in immense danger. So we are considering a number of measures that might have to be put in place to discourage or deter Australians from travelling to Syria to participate in the conflict.

I can't go into too much detail on the number of Australians that we believe are involved. I mean this is a matter of intelligence and security issues. But what concerns us is of course there could be some Australians in the region engaged in humanitarian work or other non-violent means of support, but I'm aware of the reported deaths of a number of Australians in Syria and we are urging Australians not to travel there.

Now what we can do is we can point out that anyone including dual Australian Syrian nationals who participate in what I'll call military activities with the Syrian armed forces, if they don't have any authorisation to do so, they are in breach of our laws and the offence under the relevant law; that's the Autonomous Sanctions Act is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment or a fine or both. So it's also – there's another act about foreign incursions – it's an offence to join or recruit someone to join organisations that are engaged in hostile activities against foreign governments. So we're trying to stop people doing this.

Now, we can cancel passports, we can cancel passports if we have belief that Australians are travelling overseas to engage in these illegal activities and we've certainly done that but I don't want to go into too much detail. And if they have gone overseas and we have information that leads us to believe that people have been engaged in fighting for either side in the Syrian conflict, we can cancel their passport while they're overseas to stop them travelling to other countries, but then provide consular assistance and limited documentation to get them back to Australia.

JOHN MCGLUE It's 20 to six on Drive. You're listening to Julie Bishop the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We're talking about the growing concern about the numbers of young Australians who've travelled to Syria to fight in the civil war over there where there are nine people now killed, confirmed dead in the fighting in Syria – reports unconfirmed of another one. And certainly Julie Bishop, it's also been reported there's somewhere in the region of 100 to 120 Australians who are currently fighting there. Why not cancel all of their passports?

JULIE BISHOP We're doing what we can to cancel passports when we have evidence to show that that was the intention of the person leaving Australia. We're taking steps to cancel passports when they are overseas and we have evidence that they have been engaged in these illegal activities to stop them travelling to other countries and then bringing them back to Australia.

We're also establishing and promoting programs that reduces the risk of home-grown terrorism and strengthening Australia's resilience if you like to radicalisation and assisting people to disengage from violent extremist influences and beliefs, whatever the motivation or ideology might be behind them. So we do have programs in place to intervene early before a law enforcement response is required.

And quite frankly John, families and friends and communities play an important role in strengthening Australia's national security and our resilience against radicalisation, so we want to work closely with groups throughout Australia to work with them to prevent the few people who are doing this impacting on the safety of all Australians.

JOHN MCGLUE Minister, on another matter – the release on parole of convicted drug trafficker Schapelle Corby, what's your view on reports the Seven Network has paid her millions for her exclusive story? You know if that's true or indeed if any money has been paid to her by anyone, how do you feel about that?

JULIE BISHOP Well, the Government's view has always been that crime should not pay and that those who profit from crimes can be subject to action by the Federal Police and by public prosecutors. These are decisions that are made separate from government. But our particular view and the principle to which we subscribe is that people should not profit from crime. I'm disappointed to learn that there are these media deals in place. There are also concerns about the terms of her parole because of course she is still in Indonesia subject to Indonesian laws.

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