Backpackers Face Tough Travel Laws by PM Abbott

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By Athena Yenko | August 7, 2014 12:42 PM EST

Dare-devil travellers are now facing tougher travel laws under the Counter Terrorism Foreign Fighters Bill proposed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

REUTERS
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott gestures as he gives a speech on a business event at the Shanghai International Expo Centre in Shanghai, April 11, 2014.

All Australian travellers will answer to criminal offence if they visit countries and regions abroad identified to be having high levels of terrorism.

"A person who travels to a designated locality commits an offence and will have to explain that the purpose of their travel to that designated locality was for humanitarian purposes, family purposes or other innocuous purposes," Mr Abbott said in a joint press conference with Attorney-general George Brandis and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop held at the Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.

The countries and regions governed by the bill will be nominated by security agencies in the days to come.

Mr Abbott said that the bill had already been approved by the cabinet.

He underlined that the new bill is primarily aimed at the danger posed by Australians training and fighting in places such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. These Australians are threat when they go back into the country bringing with them the skills and philosophies to conduct terrorist attacks.

The new bill is needed to identify, charge, and prosecute Australians who were involved with terrorist activities.

"We need new legislation to make it easier to identify, to charge and to prosecute people who have been engaged in terrorist activities overseas such as, for instance, by making it an offence to travel to a designated area without a valid reason," Mr Abbott highlighted.

Bishop said that on top of the existing laws that allow her to cancel or refuse to grant a passport, the new bill will give her a new power to suspend a passport on intelligence advice. She said that Australia needs the capability and the flexibility of the new bill to be able to respond promptly to threats of terrorism.

According to statistic reported by Bishop,  there were 30 Australians who had engaged with the Taliban in Afghanistan; some 25 of them came back and two-thirds of those were subsequently involved in terrorist activity here in Australia.

"We know that in Syria and Iraq the conflicts there, exceedingly complex, are becoming a breeding ground for extremism and there are extremists fighting in Syria and in Iraq and that includes Australians. We also know that parts of Lybia are now under the control of al Qaeda. So, preventing Australian citizens from becoming foreign fighters in any of these conflicts or others that may emerge is now one of our highest national security priorities," Bishop added.

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(Photo: REUTERS / Stringer)
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott gestures as he gives a speech on a business event at the Shanghai International Expo Centre in Shanghai, April 11, 2014.
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