Australia proposes to ban extremists' return for 2 years

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's government on Thursday proposed new laws that would prevent extremist Australians from returning home for up to two years, as the country prepares for the repatriation of Islamic State group supporters from the Middle East.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced the legislation based on British law as part of a raft of counterterrorism and asylum seeker bills in the first parliamentary session since elections in May.

The law would give Dutton the power to prevent suspected Australian extremists from returning home for up to two years while law enforcement authorities made plans to manage the risk posed. The orders could also apply to Australians who intelligence agencies assess to be a "risk to security for reasons related to politically motivated violence."

Dutton said 230 Australians had flown to Syria and Iraq to fight with extremist groups since 2012.

"Around 80 are still active in conflict zones. The advice of Australia's national security agencies is that many Australians of counterterrorism concern who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to engage in that conflict are likely to seek to return to Australia in the very near future," Dutton told Parliament.

"This bill will ensure that law enforcement agencies can effectively manage these returns in a way that will reduce the threat to the Australian community," he added.

The order could not be applied to an Australian under 14 years old. When considering making an order against children aged 15 to 17, Dutton must make the child's interests his primary consideration.

The orders can be appealed to review boards, but the reasons might not be revealed if the disclosure of that information was not in the public interest, Dutton said.

Dutton said the need for such orders was highlighted on Tuesday when 20-year-old Sydney man Isaak el Matari was arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack in Sydney and attempting to fly to Afghanistan to fight with the Islamic State group.

Matari had returned to Australia in June last year from Lebanon, where he had spent time in prison for allegedly attempting to travel to Syria to fight. He underwent a deradicalization program on his return to Sydney and was under continuous police surveillance.

Australia continues to beef up its counterterrorism laws as questions are being asked about whether they impose too many restrictions on human rights and free speech.

Police were widely accused of attempting to intimidate the media when they raided Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s Sydney headquarters and a News Corp. reporter's Canberra home in June in search of leaked government documents.

Australia's three largest media organizations — ABC, News Corp. and Nine Entertainment — joined forces last week to demand legal reforms that would exempt journalists from national security laws passed since 2012 that "would put them in jail for doing their jobs."

They also want a right to contest warrants such as those executed in Sydney and Canberra. The organizations have called for greater legal protections for public sector whistleblowers as well as reforms to freedom of information and defamation laws.

Executives of the three organizations plus Seven West Media, SBS and Free TV met at Parliament House on Wednesday with Attorney-General Christian Porter and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to discuss reforms.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement on behalf of the organizations after the meeting that "we remain frustrated that a month after search warrants were carried out by the Australian Federal Police the fate of our journalists remains unclear."

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