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Statements on Indulgence: Terrorist Attacks around the World
I want to associate myself with all of the excellent remarks from members of both sides of the chamber in relation to the recent terrorist attacks around the world, not only those in Paris. I think it is very appropriate that this debate is cast in wider terms because, whilst the atrocities in Paris have brought this matter front and centre, there have been a range of attacks around the world that basically were carried out with the same motivation.
The attacks in Paris were devastating, though. We know that 130 people were killed at the hands of Islamic terrorists. In addition, there were 368 people injured, including what appears to be one very brave Australian. Obviously, this really resonates for Australians because, as the Prime Minister has said, Paris is a destination that many of us have visited—and even for those who have not visited, given that Paris is a beacon of art and culture, history, architecture, you name it. We all know it as the City of Light. Being an economic powerhouse and a city of around 10 million people, it really is a centre of Western history and civilisation; there is no doubt about it. So an attack on Paris really sticks with us all.
Notwithstanding the greatness of Paris as a city, at the hands of just a few Islamic terrorists it was brought to its knees in a way that has not happened since World War II. It is a city that, as we all know, has experienced its fair share of turmoil over the centuries and in recent history. While the French people and other Europeans have been grappling with terrorism for a number of years now, the rest of the world has not experienced it in the full force and fury of just some weeks ago. They are the worst attacks since the Madrid bombings in 2004 and they again highlight the seriousness of the threat that all Western liberal democratic nations face.
In the early 2000s, terror attacks such as those in Madrid and, most notably, of September 11 were carefully planned by remote operatives based in Afghanistan and loosely referred to at the time as al-Qaeda. The threat we now face in the West, as is evident from these recent attacks, originates from a far more sophisticated set of jihadists and is based around the ISIS death cult, and unfortunately the tentacles of influence of ISIS spread far beyond its geographic sphere of control in Syria and northern Iraq.
It is quite sobering to note that it is estimated that more than 20,000 people from across the world have travelled to Syria to participate in the conflict in that region since fighting broke out in 2007, and it is clear that a large number of them would have been motivated to be and would have ultimately become combatants for ISIS. Of the many thousands from Europe who have travelled to Syria to join the conflict, people from France, lamentably, are among the highest numbers.
This becomes, as it has become for the French, a national security concern when those citizens return to their home countries. In nearly all cases, I would say, we can assume they return home with very clear instructions from Islamic State, with additional training and an additional understanding of the ways and means to achieve their objectives. They are there to carry on that jihadist movement in the Western liberal democratic nation to which they have returned. It is clear that some of the attackers who carried out the atrocities on 13 November were people who travelled from Syria—taking advantage of weak borders along the way to get to Paris—as well as French citizens.
This is a very alarming set of facts and, in some respects, an inconvenient set of facts for all of us to grapple with. What is most alarming, quite frankly, is that these attacks could have happened anywhere: London, Berlin, Rome, Washington or even, heaven forbid, an Australian city—but for the grace of God. It has not occurred on Australian soil. Because of our amazing security services and others, it has not. But we must look at this template that Islamic State have used in Europe and ensure it is not a template that can be utilised here in Australia.
We have suffered our share of terrorist attacks. The Bali bombings and the Marriot Hotel bombings were directly targeted at Australian interests and at Australians.
As a thriving Western democracy we are not immune from hate groups like Islamic State. Unfortunately, we know that Australia, similar to France, has its fair share of recruits to the ISIS cause. This is why it is so important that we as a government have acted categorically to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals whose allegiance is shown to be to a perverted, barbaric creed, cause or ideology rather than to Australia.
Clearly, it is the view of this government, it is the view of this House and it is the view of Australians that those who participate in acts of war for Islamic State, raping and pillaging with a medieval barbarity that we have not seen for centuries, do not deserve the privilege of calling Australia home. I am very glad to have seen strident moves in this House to ensure that that legislation comes into full force as soon as possible. Of course, the events in Paris also show the importance of maintaining strong border controls because governments must be able to appropriately vet every person who either is seeking asylum or wants to become a citizen of our country. We should never, ever cede that sovereignty. We have an obligation to all Australian people to guarantee, as best we can, that every person who wants to make Australia home is somebody who does not share in the world view of bloodthirsty death cults.
It is sad that a number of Australians have joined to initially fight with extremist groups such as ISIS. They are participating in conflicts in places such as Syria and northern Iraq. It is clearly a failure that we have people who, in many cases, were born and grew up here do not feel an allegiance to Australia. In many cases, they are people who have been able to revel in the freedoms and the relative prosperity that we have in this country but who, somehow, are drawn into or are instructed in believing this barbaric ideology. It is quite disappointing, and it is something that we must always remember when framing policies in this place. Our security agencies have publicly said that they are managing 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations—a number which has doubled, I might add, since the start of this year. This is an alarming statistic. I think that, if we spoke to most people in the street and said that that was the case, they would find it very hard to believe. As I said earlier, I have no doubt that much of the reason we have not faced similar attacks to the ones that we are discussing tonight is due to the outstanding work of our security agencies, including the AFP and ASIO. We really do owe them a debt of gratitude. The way that we can show them that gratitude in this place is to continue the modus operandi of this government—that is, when the security agencies ask us for any legislative or regulatory assistance in doing their job, we give it to them unhesitatingly. We, as a parliament, must always balance competing rights. There are the rights to privacy, the rights to freedom of movement and the rights to free speech. But, in my view, all of those rights are trumped by the right to life and the right of an Australian citizen to go about their daily life unhindered and without fear that they might be in a building, in a theatre or at a concert that is targeted by one of these barbarians who proclaim the creed of Islamic State.
We cannot pretend that, without constant review and constant change, it will be always be okay. As many around the globe have said publicly, Islamic extremism is a problem that we must confront honestly and respectfully but, ultimately, with a view to keeping our citizens safe. We must be prepared to have an open dialogue about why a small but, quite frankly, growing number of Muslims continue to be attracted to this extremist ideology that wishes to do harm to, in many cases, their fellow countrymen. I completely respect and understand the view of my Muslim friends and constituents who say, ‘People like that aren’t practising Islam. They are not practising my religion,’ but the reality is there is something that they are using to justify their actions. There is a perverse reading of the relevant religious texts that is giving them, in their mind, the pretext that they need to do abhorrent things in the name of religion. We have to make sure that we confront these issues together. Often, confronting these things is uncomfortable. The truth can be uncomfortable. But what is our obligation in this House? Our obligation here is to do everything that we can to make sure that our citizens are safe and that our children and our grandchildren can grow up in the kind of safe society that we have all benefited from ourselves.
I will not be one of those people who allow a misguided view of political correctness to get in the way of calling things out and calling it as I see it. Clearly, Islamic leaders in our communities must continue to do more in condemning acts of violence from their own communities. These messages are much better coming from leaders within the community than coming from those without. There can be absolutely no excuse for the barbaric behaviour that ISIS espouses. I never want to again see any tacit excuses provided by an Islamic leader, because that, ultimately, is misguided and will give fuel to those who seek to perversely interpret Islamic texts. We in this parliament, and particularly in this government, are keenly aware that our first duty is to ensure the safety of our citizens. Our duty is to ensure that our Western, democratic, liberal values are upheld and they must take primacy over everything else. In my view, that obligation absolutely trumps any kind of political correctness that has enveloped our media and our political lexicon. I can assure you that I will continue to make sure that, to the greatest extent possible, the terrorist attacks that we have seen around the world are stopped from ever occurring in Australia.
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