News National Children caught in crossfire as foreign fighters on government agenda

Children caught in crossfire as foreign fighters on government agenda

More than 90 Australians fighting with Islamic State have died. Photo: Getty
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Labor has demanded the Morrison government reveal how many teenagers could be temporarily banned from returning to Australia after fighting with Islamic State overseas.

New laws to temporarily prevent foreign fighters from returning to Australia will be debated in Parliament this week.

Children as young as 14 could be banned from returning.

Labor’s deputy Senate leader Kristina Keneally has called for greater scrutiny of the laws as they relate to children forcibly taken overseas by their parents.

The ALP backs the need for temporary exclusion orders in principle, but it has warned the laws are too important to risk a legal challenge in the High Court.

“What do we make of the women and children who either went overseas voluntarily, or were taken into the ‘caliphate’? Where do you draw the line between fighter and victim? And can they be both?” Ms Keneally asked.

“It’s also important to note children under the age of 14 make up the overwhelming majority of the 80 Australians the government says are overseas in conflict zones.

“The government needs to be clear to whom and how many people these Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEO) could apply.”

Warning Australia had a responsibility to deal with its foreign fighters, she said Australia cannot dump and forget them overseas.

“In early May, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States has an expectation ‘that every country will work to take back their foreign fighters and continue to hold those foreign fighters’,’’ she said.

“Indeed, no country can pretend that the problem of foreign fighters does not exist. Each country must accept responsibility for their citizens.”

The United Kingdom introduced similar laws five years ago but Australia has not sought to legislate until now.

Senator Keneally said Australia’s laws go further because under the government’s model, the Minister for Home Affairs could simply issue an exclusion order without any judicial oversight.

“Given Mr Dutton’s track record at bending the truth and crying wolf, if there is one minister who requires oversight, it is Mr Dutton,” she said.

“Any claims otherwise – such as this bill being a ‘test for Labor’ – are nonsense.

“In fact, the national security test was actually for Mr Dutton, and he has clearly failed.

“With the UK government having their own TEO scheme in place for four years already, and countless warnings that foreign fighters would start to make their way home, it beggars belief that Mr Dutton did not introduce his TEO legislation until February this year.

She added: “Was it apathy towards the risks of foreign fighters by Minister Dutton that saw him do nothing for four years or incompetence?”

Industry Minister Karen Andrews said the government’s goal was keeping Australians safe.

“There are reported to be 40 people who have already returned,” Ms Andrews told Sky News.

“I think it’s important that we proceed to the temporary exclusion orders.

“It may take a couple of months. I don’t buy at all the urgency every time a piece of national security legislation goes through the Parliament. It’s just the way the government always cry wolf.”

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