Australia will toughen laws to target home-grown terrorists and those who fight overseas over fears violent jihadist citizens in Syria and Iraq will return home, officials said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the terror threat to Australia had not subsided since the September 11, 2001 attacks and remained at the highest level it had ever been.
Officials have said up to 150 Australians are fighting alongside militants overseas, with warrants issued last week for two Sydney men suspected of fighting in Iraq, including one who posed for photos with severed heads.
Counter-terror legislation under preparation would make it easier to identify, charge and prosecute people who have been engaged in terrorist activities overseas, and prevent extremists departing, Abbott said.
It will also make it an offence to travel without a valid reason to a so-called designated area, as nominated by intelligence agencies.
The laws will also attempt to ensure officials are best able to monitor potential terror activity in Australia while including “the usual range of safeguards and warrants”, the prime minister said.
In making the announcement, Abbott revealed that proposed changes to a law banning racial slights, which ethnic minorities had warned could give licence to bigotry, had been shelved.
The government had planned to repeal a section of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it illegal to “offend, insult or humiliate another” because of their race, saying it should not be used to stifle free speech.
Abbott said he had made a “captain’s call” to dump the proposals.
The prime minister said Aus$630 million (US$588 million) would be spent over four years to boost counter-terrorism via security and intelligence agencies.
The government also plans legislation to improve the collection and admissibility of evidence abroad and update Australia’s telecommunications interception law, which predates the Internet era.