Tougher counter-terror laws to be introduced to Australia’s parliament Wednesday would make it a crime to travel to places considered terror hotspots, punishable by up to 10 years’ jail.
The changes are in response to concerns by the government that some 60 Australians have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside jihadists, and could return home and commit violence.
The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill proposes to make it an offence to enter, or remain in, a so-called ‘declared area’ where the foreign minister is satisfied a terrorist organisation is engaged in hostile activity.
The law will not prevent a person travelling to an area for legitimate purposes such as providing humanitarian aid, in an official capacity for Australia or the United Nations, reporting on news events or visiting family.
But it notes that “those that travel to a declared area without a sole legitimate purpose or purposes might engage in a hostile activity with a listed terrorist organisation”.
“These people may return from a declared area with enhanced capabilities which may be employed to facilitate terrorist or other acts in Australia.”
The offense will not operate retrospectively, and will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ in prison.
The proposed changes, which will go to parliament’s intelligence committee for review, also create a new offence of ‘advocating terrorism’ which would carry a maximum penalty of five years’ jail.
It would apply to those who “intentionally counsel, promote, encourage or urge the doing of a terrorist act or the commission of a terrorism offence and the person is reckless as to whether another person will engage in or commit a terrorist act.”
Opposition Labor spokesman Mark Dreyfus said his side of politics would readily support some measures, including a proposal to allow for the temporary suspension of passports to prevent people joining the conflict in Syria or Iraq.
But he said there were other proposals, including those related to so-called designated terror hotspots, which he called unprecedented in Australian law and in need of greater scrutiny.