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New Australia Laws Target Homegrown Extremism

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks about the nation's new anti-extremism strategy during a question time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 23, 2015.

Australia plans to tighten citizenship and immigration laws, and crack down on groups inciting religious or racial hatred. The moves have been unveiled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is looking to boost his nation’s counterterrorism strategy.

A review of Australia’s national security found the country has “entered a new, long-term era of heightened terrorism threat.” Of particular concern is homegrown extremism.

It is estimated that 90 Australians are fighting with militant groups in Iraq and Syria, while at least 140 other people in Australia are "actively supporting" extremist elements.

Canberra, a staunch ally of the United States in its fights against militants, raised its domestic threat level from medium to high in September.

The Abbott government said the threat at home is getting worse, with security agencies running more than 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations -- more than double the number last year.

Earlier this month, two men were charged in Sydney after police seized an Islamic State flag, a machete and an Arabic-language video detailing an alleged plot to kill members of the public.

Announcing a crackdown on homegrown extremism, the Prime Minister plans to deny welfare payments to individuals seen as potential threats, strip the passports of those with dual nationality and curb overseas travel.

“The government will develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that we can revoke or suspend Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals," Abbott stated.

It has long been the case that people who fight against Australia forfeit their citizenship, so Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against our country, and should be treated accordingly."

The new laws will also target so-called "hate preachers," including the radical but non-violent Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

But one opposition leader called the measures an attempt by a "failing and flailing" leader to regain popularity by fueling fears in the Australian community. Earlier this month, Abbott survived a no-confidence vote among his governing Liberal party colleagues.