Australia

Dutton to move on legislation to ban returning Australian foreign fighters for up to two years

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has indicated the government will pursue symbolic-only change to the constitution. Source: AAP

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton will introduce revised legislation to ban Australian foreign fighters returning home for up to two years.

Labor is seeking assurances from the government that the power to ban foreign fighters from returning home for up to two years will be up to a judge, rather than Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as originally proposed. 

Under the laws put forward before the election, Australian foreign fighters who want to return home could be blocked from entering the country for up to two years by ministerial decision. 

Mr Dutton wants to fast track the legislation, saying Tuesday's Sydney terror raids reinforced the need for the temporary bans. 

"The Labor party should support them because we want to keep our country safe. They have been working in the UK and we want them to work here as well," Mr Dutton told reporters on Wednesday.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney, Thursday, June, 20, 2019. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton isn't saying whether a judge or himself will have the final say.
AAP

Revised legislation will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday, after the government adopted in part, or in full, 16 of the 18 recommendations to amend the bill made by the powerful joint committee on intelligence and security in April. 

The recommendations included changing responsibility for approving the temporary exclusion orders from the minister to a judge, as occurs in the UK. 

Mr Dutton's spokeperson confirmed the legislation would require a minister’s decision to issue a temporary exclusion order to be referred to a reviewing authority. 

Labor supports the legislation in principle but shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally said she was waiting to see a copy of the legislation.

"I would note since 2013 that the government has not explicitly rejected a recommendation from the PJCIS (Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security)," she said on Wednesday. 

Senator Kristina Keneally addresses media at the Press Gallery at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, 3 July 2019. (AAP Image/Sam Mooy) NO ARCHIVING
Labor's Kristina Keneally is waiting for the government's response to 18 recommendations.
AAP

Mr Dutton said on Wednesday there would be "appropriate safeguards". 

"If you have someone who is an Australian citizen, who has been fighting with ISIL in the Middle East and seeks to come back here to do us harm, we need to deal with that threat."

In March, the Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses told the intelligence and security committee that the legislation as a "dog's breakfast", suggesting it was dangerous and unconstitutional for the minister to hold such power. 

"Take out the word terrorism, put in there Muslim, put in there Jew, put in there a reference to a former member of the ADF (who) was fighting in a particular zone," Mr Moses told the committee. 

"At the fiat of the executive a citizen of this country could be deprived entry. That is not constitutional."

Valuable intelligence up for grabs

The Home Affairs Department estimates there are 80 Australians who left the country to fight with Islamic State remaining in Syria and Iraq. 

Counter-terrorism expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Isaac Kfir, said it is likely only a small number would try to come back such as if they are captured by Iraqi or Kurdish security forces. 

"The Iraqi criminal system when it comes to Islamic State fighters is extremely problematic. The court proceedings are short, there's often no defence and sentencing is pronounced very quickly and it's often capital punishment. So if you are somebody who is facing that outcome you may want to come back to Australia and face the consequences." 

He says Australia should want them back to glean valuable information about our enemies such as training facilities and indoctrination methods. 

"We can work with these individuals either to deradicalise them or to get them to disengage with violent extremism."

He agreed it was crucial the decision-making was left to an independent body rather than the minister.  

"When we're dealing with such a situation with such dire consequences where we could be leaving a 15 or a 16-year-old child... out of Australia possibly facing death. Surely having an independent judge review the decision would be useful."

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