CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - Australia's prime minister warned Thursday against fomenting distrust of Muslims as he outlined tougher measures against supporters of the Islamic State movement.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australian laws will soon be amended to give Australian F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet pilots the same legal standing as their coalition partners when conducting airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
The Australian legal definition of combatants will be expanded to include people supporting armed fighters and will become consistent with international norms.
Turnbull, who is resisting pressure from lawmakers to ban Muslim immigration and relax hate speech prohibitions, described the Islamic State group as the most pressing national security threat that Australians face.
But he also warned there had been an increase in far-right extremism directed against Muslims in Australia. The latest alleged militant plot disrupted by police led to the arrest of an anti-immigration campaigner who was charged last month with preparing a terrorist attack in the city of Melbourne.
“We cannot be effective if we are creating division, whether by fomenting distrust within the Muslim community or inciting fear of Muslims in broader society,” Turnbull told Parliament.
“Division begets division. It makes violence more likely, not less,” he said.
The government plans to introduce legislation to Parliament this month that would enable courts to keep prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses behind bars for indefinite periods.
Legislation is to be introduced in November that will create a new offense of “advocating genocide.” The crime will enable police to make an earlier arrest when someone is radicalizing others.
Control orders that can force suspects to wear tracking devices and obey curfews could apply to 14-year-olds. Currently the minimum age is 16.
The burden of evidence would also be reduced for a court to jail a suspect with a preventative detention order on the basis that a terrorist attack could occur within two weeks.
Turnbull is resisting demands from several senators to stop Muslim immigration, and also resisted pressure this week from lawmakers in his own conservative government to water down laws that ban offending anyone because of race or nationality.
Meanwhile, a 42-year-old Sydney man was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison for helping seven men travel to Syria to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaida affiliates.
At least two of the fighters have died. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Parliament on Thursday that 110 Australians were fighting with the Islamic State group and other militant groups in the Middle East and up to 65 Australians have been killed.
The passports of 213 suspected militants have been canceled, she said, while the government has refused to issue passports to another 24 people to prevent them from joining the fight in Syria and Iraq.
A Melbourne man whose passport had been canceled was denied bail Thursday by a magistrate who ruled he posed a risk to public safety because of his Islamic State ideology.
Paul Dacre, 31, is one of five suspects who have been in custody since May, when they were charged with planning to leave Australia in a 7-meter (23-foot) power boat to fight with Islamic State militants in Syria.
Prosecutors alleged on Thursday the five planned to travel by boat to Papua New Guinea, Australia's nearest neighbor, before joining Islamic State supporters in the Philippines.