Steve Irons MP Federal Member for Swan

National Security Statement: Iraq and Syria

2 October 2014

NSHotlineI too rise to join with my colleagues on all sides of the political divide in commending the Prime Minister for his strong resolve in responding to the very real threat ISIL presents to Australia’s national security, both here on home soil and abroad. I have just listened to the member for Herbert, and prior to him two of my other colleagues. They have all taken a different angle about this particular issue, but it is all collegiate. It is all responding to the threats of ISIL and, in a very collaborative type of way, acknowledging and recognising the threats to our home soil and abroad.

The Australian government and our collaborative defence forces are not new to responding to conflict on our soil, or globally, to protect our nation’s rights, freedoms, civil liberties and values from those who seek to take, destroy, maim or kill our people and destroy our way of life. It is not against Australian law to disagree with these values, and we have just heard the member for Herbert talking about the differences in our communities for the two centuries that Australia has existed. In fact, these values—the ability to disagree with each other—are promoted by Australia’s long-held affirmation of every person’s right to freedom of speech, if done so peacefully.

But what we are seeing on our television screens, on social media and now on our streets is not disagreement. It is hatred: hatred by people who live in Australia and take advantage of our way of life, our freedoms, our education system and, despicably, our welfare system—which is there to support those who need a helping hand—while they plot to kill us and praise their brothers in Iraq and Syria for their barbarism in the name of the Islamic State.

I join with the Prime Minister and our international allies in separating these extremists from the Islamic religion, whose believers do not deserve to have their religion degraded because of this evil. I heard the former Leader of the Opposition Brendan Nelson recently talk at a function where he said, ‘These evil people have stolen the good name of Islam to be used for their own purposes.’

Australia has been seen as a legitimate threat for Islamic extremist groups for over a decade, but the scope of the security environment has fundamentally changed. This is clear when we begin to compare the threat of ISIL to al-Qaeda. In the last ten years of the Afghanistan war, there were 30 known Australians who went to Afghanistan to fight, yet what we have witnessed with ISIL is 60 Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq in just 12 months.

Of course, as members in this place know, the threat is not just abroad. Thirty other fighters are known to have returned to Australia, and there are over 100 known supporters of these extremists living amongst us. These are extremists who are responsible for multiple massacres, suicide bombings, executions of prisoners and the taking of innocent women and children from their homes to be used as sexual slaves.

In the case of ISIL, the threat, particularly here in Australia, is from individuals or small terrorist cells that are not necessarily looking to blow up a building or landmark but instead will use any opportunity to spread their poisonous messages. Just last month, Melbourne teenager Abdul Numan Haider tried to kill two Australian policemen, and the reality of this threat also struck home on 18 September when Australia’s largest ever counter-terrorism operation took place to prevent a plot to behead Australians in a public place and post these heinous acts on social media.

At that time, more than 800 police and security agents were deployed in Sydney and Brisbane to execute 30 search warrants to investigate and disrupt this terrorist plot. To date, one person has been charged with serious terrorist offences and further charges may still be laid. On Tuesday additional raids occurred in Seabrook, Flemington and Kealba, with one man, 23-year-old Hassan El Sabsabi, being charged with allegedly sending $12,000 to an American citizen fighting in Syria.

The threat of home-grown terrorism is very real, just as the threat of genocide is the reality that citizens of Iraq and Syria are faced with every day. Who can forget the pleas by the woman in the Iraqi parliament to save her nation that had been, she said, wiped out? And this is not the first attempt to wipe it out.

Yesterday, the first of this government’s three bills aimed at strengthening Australia’s national security and ensuring that our security agencies have the resources and authority they need to investigate suspected terrorist operations and the reasonable means to prevent acts of terrorism on home soil and stop foreign fighters returning to our nation was passed by the House.

The bill proposes some significant changes to the operations of intelligence agencies, expands their powers to ensure officers are able to better respond to threats to Australia’s national security, and implements new measures to update offences relating to unauthorised communications under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 and the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

Last week, the government’s second tranche of legislation, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014—known as the foreign fighters bill—was also introduced to strengthen our intelligence agencies’ ability to prevent and disrupt domestic terrorist threats, including creating new offences for advocating terrorism and for entering or remaining in a declared zone.

These legislative changes are part of the government’s overall commitment to strengthen our borders, bolster our national security laws, and increase our emphasis on preventing Australians from becoming involved with extremist groups through engagement programs.

The government has also committed an additional $630 million over four years to counter-terrorism measures, including biometric screening and an increased number of Border Force personnel at international airports.

We have also contributed to the international coalition’s efforts to stem ISIL’s poisonous occupation of Iraq and Syria by taking part in humanitarian airdrops, airlifting military supplies and providing defence force equipment and personnel in Iraq. This included 600 personnel, eight Super Hornets and two heavy support planes to a standby position.

Today the Prime Minister expanded this role with Australian Defence Force aircraft taking part in their first aerial mission over Iraq in support of allied operations. I highlight that this mission was purely in an assistance capacity, with no decision yet being made to further extend this role to combat.

This government has taken a considered approach and acted with precision in responding to the deplorable acts of terrorism that we have seen abroad and on home soil. There has, however, been much debate surrounding Australia’s future military involvement in Iraq and Syria. Simply, this cannot be predicted and should not be pre-determined by this government or those of our international allies.

Like our allies, this government is sickened by the heinous acts of terrorism that we have seen in Iraq and Syria and will assess any calls for additional military involvement in the context of both Australia’s domestic and international responsibilities.

In saying that, while I stand in this place to commend the Prime Minister’s statement, I also commend President Obama’s recent address to the United Nations and the sentiment that the threat of ISIL will not be stopped or degraded through peaceful discussion—the only option the international coalition has is to fight force with force. As President Obama stated:

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning—no negotiation—with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

With this statement in mind, I also take a moment to address those in this place who have claimed that this government’s response to the protection of our national security is just a beat-up for other political purposes. We just heard the member for Wright talk about the recent ABC Q&A program. To those people I say: I hope your condemnation of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 and the government’s actions to try to prevent or reduce the threat level onshore and abroad is not answered by the harsh whip of reality when you turn on your television screens.

This is not about politics. It is about the safety of every Australian, whether they were born here or have chosen to call our great nation home and live peacefully under our laws.

It is shame on them for not being able to look past their own cynicisms and see the bipartisanship that has been shown by this government and by the other colleagues in this place.

It is shame on them for not opting to be part of the unity that could be and should be fostered in the name of national security, and it should be shame on them for not having the ability to look past the strain of their own shadow and the need to see their name branded across the headlines.

Unlike them, I stand in unity with my fellow Australians in this place and outside it who understand that we have a responsibility to protect all Australians and the innocents abroad from this evil.

I stand in unity with the Prime Minister and my fellow government colleagues who are doing everything in their power to keep Australians safe and to ensure that, no matter what age, gender or race we and our international allies come from, we will fight this evil together.

I recently met the Turkish community president in Western Australia and had a lengthy discussion about where this is going. He also said, as we have heard other people say: people who come to this country should join us, not change us.

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