Australia intends to impose tougher visa checks on people from countries considered at high risk for terrorism as part of a 69 million Australian dollar ($62 million) counterterrorism plan released on Tuesday.
The new visa requirements, which include mandatory collection of fingerprints and facial imaging data for visa applicants from 10 countries, would help keep terrorists from evading detection, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in releasing the government's counterterrorism "white paper" in Canberra.
"Terrorism has become a persistent and permanent feature of Australia's security environment," Rudd said. "Prior to the rise of jihadist terrorism, Australia was not a specific target. Now Australia is such a target."
Under the plans, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship would begin collecting the fingerprints and facial images this year, and cross-check them with immigration and law enforcement databases in Australia and overseas, the report said. It does not name which countries would be subject to the new requirements. "We're not identifying those countries until the rollout occurs," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said. "There may be a diplomatic effort required in regards to some of those countries, as you would expect."
The report does, however, name both Yemen and Somalia as countries that are of growing concern to those combatting terrorism. Not everyone supported the government's plan to require fingerprints and photographs of visa applicants, including New South Wales Civil Liberties Council president Cameron Murphy. "I am very concerned that these things pose an ever-increasing invasion of privacy," Murphy said.
While the report says the primary terrorist threat to Australia comes from a global jihadist movement, including al-Qaida, it also cites a rise in the number of terrorists born or raised in Australia.
The government notes the 2005 London suicide bombings carried out by British nationals as an example of the growing threat of locally generated terrorism in Western democracies. Of the 38 people Australia has prosecuted or are being prosecuted as a result of counterterrorism operations, 37 are Australian citizens, Attorney General Robert McClelland said.
"That is an indication that we are not simply looking at the possibility of a terrorist event occurring from overseas," he said. Last week, a judge sentenced five men, all Australian-born or naturalised citizens, to between 23 and 28 years in prison for stockpiling explosive chemicals and firearms that were to be used in terrorist attacks.
The government plans to establish a counterterrorism control center to coordinate Australia's domestic and international intelligence efforts.
More than 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks worldwide since 2001.