Australian laws to criminalise travel to terror hotspots

Tougher counter-terror laws to crack down on foreign fighters were introduced to Australia`s Parliament Wednesday, that would make it a crime to travel to places considered terror hotspots.

Sydney: Tougher counter-terror laws to crack down on foreign fighters were introduced to Australia`s Parliament Wednesday, that would make it a crime to travel to places considered terror hotspots.

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 offence will not operate retrospectively, and will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years` in prison. 

The proposed changes will go to parliament`s intelligence committee for review and they have until October 17 to consider them.

The bill also creates a new offence of `advocating terrorism` which would carry a maximum penalty of five years in 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".

Attorney-General George Brandis said the reforms addressed "the most pressing gaps" in Australia`s counter-terrorism legislation, particularly with regard to the emerging security threats posed by the return of fighters.

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 elements, including those related to so-called designated terror hotspots, which he called unprecedented in Australian law and in need of greater scrutiny.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance criticised some of the changes, saying citizens who travelled to places such as Syria and Iraq would be presumed to have terrorist links unless they could prove their innocence to a court upon their return.

"The proposed legislation would also give police greater powers to arrest and detain Australian citizens to prevent a terrorist act," it said.

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