CANBERRA: Australia's prime minister on Thursday warned against fomenting distrust of Muslims as he outlined tougher measures against the threat posed by the Islamic State movement.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Australian laws would 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. The tighter Australian definition has limited the potential targets that Australian war planes can attack and has affected the timing of those attacks.
Turnbull, who is resisting pressure from lawmakers to ban Muslim immigration and to 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 terrorist 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 will introduce legislation to Parliament this month that would enable courts to keep prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses behind bars for indefinite periods after their sentences are completed if they continue to pose threats. The new laws could apply to 13 prisoners serving lengthy sentences in Australian prisons and another 36 suspects who are awaiting trial on serious terrorism charges.
Legislation will 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. It will carry a seven-year sentence.
Control orders that can force suspects to wear tracking devises 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 anti-discrimination laws. They want to remove a section of the Racial Discrimination Act that prohibits any act likely to offend or insult a person or group because of their race, color, ethnicity 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.