The Australian Senate has approved comprehensive changes to the nation’s security laws.
The counter-terrorism (foreign fighters) bill was passed with support from both Coalition and Labor members on Wednesday, following recommendations from a bipartisan parliamentary committee which, it was argued, had addressed former concerns over some aspects of the new laws.
The bill gives federal authorities the power to declare overseas zones of conflict as no-go areas for Australian citizens and includes the new offence of advocating terrorism.
The law would allow Australians to be jailed for up to 10 years for travelling to the no-go zones unless a legitimate reason can be proven, such as to visit family members.
The bill passed the upper house with 43 votes for and 12 – including the Greens, Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm and independent senator Nick Xenophon – against. The proposed legislation now goes to a vote in the lower house where it is expected to be passed in to law.
Attorney General George Brandis told parliament the new laws addressed the domestic security threat posed by Australian citizens who travelled to the Middle East to fight alongside radical organisations, such as Islamic State (Isis/Isil).
“The purpose of this provision … is to say that there are some areas of the world, areas under the control of terrorist armies, which are at war against their own populations as they are in northern Iraq, which are engaged in genocide and religious persecution and subversion of legitimate governments, to which Australians should not travel,” he said.
He dismissed objections that about the new five-year jail term punishment proposed for advocating terrorism would impinge on ordinary Australians’ right to free speech.
“There is not a word in this bill that impinges upon or restricts freedom of opinion,” he said.
The government is also expected to introduce separate bill on Wednesday proposing changes which would allow greater sharing of intelligence between ASIO and the military. It is believed that this may be in order to facilitate the targeting of Australian citizens fighting with Isis.
When asked about the new laws during an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said people who travelled to fight alongside radical groups were breaking the law and were putting themselves at risk of being killed.
“We now have Australian citizens who are taking part in a conflict in countries 12,000km or more away and are breaking Australian laws, very serious Australian laws, so what we need to do is ensure that our intelligence agencies are able to share the necessary information so that we can detect and, if necessary, prosecute those who are breaking Australian and potentially international laws,” she said.
IMAGE: (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)