I rise here today to express my very strong support for what Australia is doing to help combat the desperate circumstances that we are seeing with ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. This is certainly a humanitarian endeavour. It is certainly not an act of war. When we see scenes of genocide, families fleeing violence, men being slaughtered, and mothers and children desperate for assistance, we must make a stand. When we hear abhorrent stories of women and children being sold into sexual slavery, we must make a stand.
We are part of an international community. We have an obligation, especially when we see the significant number of individuals coming from Australia to fight in this conflict. And it is not just fighting but returning to Australia and bringing their hatred and their violence with them. As a community, we have to stand up and say that this is absolutely unacceptable. We just cannot sit back and pretend it is not happening and that it will never affect us.
The raids in Brisbane and Sydney two weeks ago and in Melbourne earlier this week have brought very close to home the threat of violence against Australians on home soil, carried out by a very small number of extremists. Also last week, in Melbourne, there was the stabbing of two police officers by an armed terror suspect who had had his passport suspended and was unable to travel to fight overseas. This was an unprovoked attack while our Australian police officers were just doing their job. I certainly condemn that attack, but it is important to recognise that this was very much an individual act. The police are our front line against people who wish to do us harm. It is exactly this type of bravery and dedication, shown by these officers, that will continue to keep our community safe and secure. People should not feel unsafe going about their everyday lives. The core definition of terrorism is the state of fear and submission produced by acts of terrorism or terrorisation. Succumbing to terror is not how Australians live their lives. The best way to counter fear and submission is to continue to go about our normal everyday activities while being alert but certainly not alarmed.
It is important that we recognise that those who are motivated to act in these ways are a very, very tiny minority of our Muslim community. We cannot fall into the trap of viewing all of those in this community with suspicion – fuelling discrimination, hatred and more violence. As a community, as a country, we are certainly far better than that. If we carry out violence on our home soil, we are no better than those fighters overseas. I note that in Britain a social media campaign has sprung up where young Muslims make it clear that ISIS does not act in their name.
Our local Islamic community faces the same challenges, and I certainly call on the leaders to take a strong stance and condemn these actions. Unfortunately, there have already been a couple of incidents in Far North Queensland. In Cairns, the word 'ISIS' was sprayed on a vacant building and toilet block. It was an apparent response to the word 'evil' being painted on a Mareeba mosque the previous weekend. It is pleasing to see that the non-Muslim community leaders in both cases have been very quick to condemn the incidents as entirely unacceptable. In both cases, police are calling on anybody who has information to come forward. It follows an incident back in November when another radical attack was launched on a Cairns mosque, where vandals called for worshippers to integrate or return to their homelands.
This graffiti in particular illustrated the nature of intolerance and ignorance in our community. I had known the imam of the Cairns Mosque, Abdul Aziz, for many years. He was actually born and reared in Cairns, spent years on various Cairns Show, Rotary and farming committees, represented the Cairns junior soccer team when he played as a youngster in 1948, and speaks with very much a broad Australian twang. So, when vandals used bright red paint to suggest he integrate, the 81-year-old Far North Queensland Islamic leader was rather appalled and, of course, confused—'How can we integrate more than I have done?' he asked; 'I would like to know what these people have done for their community.'
I have to say that both Mareeba and Cairns are very proud of their multiculturalism. Mareeba has residents from 64 countries, including many outstanding families of the Muslim faith who came to this region 80 or 90 years ago and who have made a major contribution to Far North Queensland industries and our community. Cairns also celebrated its diversity last month when the Cairns and Region Multicultural Association hosted a very successful Tropical Wave Festival.
Around 1,000 people enjoyed art, craft, music, storytelling and food from more than 40 cultural communities. These incidents of vandalism certainly do not reflect the attitude of the wider community and again I urge tolerance.
From the government's perspective, we have three key messages on security: the government will do whatever it can to keep people safe; our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism, not religion, nor any particular sector of the community; and Australians can and should always live normally. Of course, we do not embrace the need to get involved in conflicts on the other side of the world, but nothing can justify the actions of this ISIL death cult, like beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and ethnic cleansing.
There are at least 60 Australians that we know of who are currently fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq and at least 100 Australians that are supporting them. More than 20 of these foreign fighters have already returned to Australia. It is in Australia's best interest that we stand ready with the world to help the new Iraqi government to break down the ISIL cult and regain control over their own country.
These are hard decisions to make but we have to do it. We have to step up as part of the world community. I note that the Australian Defence Force has been authorised to prepare and deploy for operations with the international force in support of the government of Iraq. The Prime Minister, as we know, has just returned from the United Nations discussions in New York, including discussions with the new Iraqi prime minister. To date the Australian Defence Force has not been authorised to conduct strike operations in Iraq or Syria. Our forces are deployed to the Middle East to engage in exercises, but any final decision to engage in Iraq will be made in due course. It is important to recognise that it is good to get a little lead time moving into these very hostile areas, to give our pilots and our ground crews an opportunity to get accustomed to the environment in which they are working. It is absolutely critical that they have this lead time. Once the decision is made, we know that they will be absolutely and fully prepared to carry out the tasks to which they have been called on from our nation. At the appropriate time, the National Security Committee and cabinet will discuss action against ISIL in Iraq as part of the US-led international coalition of nations. The Australian Defence Force Air Task Group, as I say, has already arrived and is carrying out work there at the moment.
At home, our security agents have all the resources and authority that they will reasonably need. The Australian government has committed an extra $630 million, additional personnel are to be recruited, biometric screening will be introduced to our international airports within 12 months, and there will be more people on the ground at airports. Before Christmas the government will respond to the current review of national security apparatus. We are systematically updating counterterrorism legislation to strengthen our agencies' capability to arrest, prosecution and jail returning foreign fighters and prevent and disrupt domestic security threats.
Last week, our first tranche of legislation to give our agencies stronger power to fight terrorism passed in the Senate with the support of Labor, and this week it will be finalised in the House of Representatives. Further reform will address the most pressing gaps in our counterterrorism legislation framework, and the government is continuing data retention discussions with telecommunication companies and internet service providers.
Our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism—not religion and not any sector of the community. It is not about what people wear; it is about fighting crime. I certainly commend our position on national security.
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