Question Time - National Security

  • Transcript, E&OE

Mr COLEMAN (Banks) (14:39): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the threat posed by foreign fighters internationally? What steps has the government taken to partner with other countries to counter this threat?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin–Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:40): I thank the member for Banks for his question. I know that he has a genuine interest in national security issues that affect all Australians. The government is taking decisive steps to combat the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters at home and abroad. The 100 or so Australians fighting for Daesh and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq are a lethal part of the estimated 20,000 foreign fighters who are there. Reports from the Munich Security Conference this year estimate that France has around 1200 nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq, Germany has around 600, United Kingdom has around 600 and Russia has well over 1,000. Renowned terrorist expert Sidney Jones estimates that there are around 200 Indonesians and at least 60 people from Malaysia fighting with Danish and other terrorist organisations.

The foreign terrorist fighters returning from the Middle East are a real threat to Australia. The risk is that they could carry out mass casualty attack, as other countries have experience. The number of foreign fighters in our own region with hands-on terrorist experience in Syria and Iraqi is now many times greater than it was for Afghanistan in the 1990s. This is a chilling thought, because extremists who fought and trained in Afghanistan were responsible for the Bali bombings, the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, the sinking of the ferry in the Philippines and bombing of the Jakarta Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Attacks around the world claimed by extremists and terrorist groups have risen rapidly over the last 12 months, with more than 1,000 attacks last month alone. This year, there have been terrorist attacks in France, Denmark, the United States, Lebanon, Pakistani, Libya and Saudi Arabia, as well as the daily attacks in Syria and Iraq. There are many more planned terrorist attacks, including in Australia, that have thankfully been thwarted by our law enforcement agencies.

The government is determined to combat the threat posed by foreign fighters to Australians and Australian interests overseas. We are strengthening our intelligence exchange with traditional allies, engaging new counter-terrorism partners and building on our network of counter-terrorism agreements with 13 countries in our region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistani, Thailand and the Philippines. We are contributing to international efforts to combat Daesh in Iraq. At the request of the Iraqi government, there are around 300 Australian Defence Force personnel training the Iraqi army's 76th brigade. We have personnel supporting air strikes.

The meeting of the global coalition to defeat Daesh in Paris next week, I will reaffirm Australia's commitment to ongoing international efforts to prevent the flow of fighters and funds from Australia to terrorist networks. This government is committed to combating terrorism in all its forms to keep our people safe.

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