Question Time - dangers of increased terrorist recruitment of Australia's young people

  • Transcript, E&OE

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (14:10): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to reports in today's media, including this article in The Sydney Morning Herald, warning of the dangers of increased terrorist recruitment of Australia's young people. Will the minister please outline to the House what measures the government is taking to protect our youth from extremism?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin–Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:11): I thank the member for Mitchell for his question. I note his deep concern about this issue. It is vital that the Australian government work with communities across this country to counter the violent and extreme narrative of ISIL, or Daesh, as it is known in the Middle East.

This terrorist organisation is seeking to exploit the young and, indeed, mostly vulnerable people, many who have a history of mental illness or drug abuse. They are encouraging them to not only commit atrocities in this conflict but also to spread poisonous ideology and terrorist skills into other countries, particularly in the West. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon, with 23 individuals convicted of terrorism-related offences in Australia since 2001, but it is increasing in numbers and in its extent. Several major terrorist plots in this country have been foiled by our security agencies. The threat has been heightened by the rise of ISIL in recent times. Australian foreign fighters in Iraq are committing offences against Australian laws, they are adding to the suffering of the people in Iraq and Syria, and they are putting themselves in mortal danger. Indeed, we are currently seeking to confirm whether the 16th Australian foreign fighter has been killed in this conflict.

The Australian government has responded over time to this growing threat of extremism through a range of measures that include: community grants that are used to support efforts to turn vulnerable minds away from extremist influences; projects have been supported for youth mentoring; interfaith education aimed at building tolerance, team building and the like for isolated youth; sport; educational materials; and leadership training. Community engagement remains a key plank of the response to extremism, and government officials right up to the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister have been engaging with leaders of relevant communities. In fact, Senator Fierravanti-Wells and the member for Banks have arranged meetings with me, with Muslim leaders.

There is also an effort underway to raise awareness of the range of support services available to families who fear that one of their members may be influenced by radicalism and violence. One of the key responses–and this was a major part of the international response–is to tackle the incidence of violent extremism propagated through the internet and social media in particular. The Australian government is working with state and territory governments to rehabilitate people imprisoned for terrorism offences and to prevent the radicalisation of other prisoners.

We also need to better understand the attraction for some young people of violent extremism–this 'death cult', as the Prime Minister calls it. The government is supporting research to build an evidence base to better guide our response. Violent extremism is a complex and difficult enemy that requires a coordinated domestic and international response. This government will take all necessary steps to keep our country safe.

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