Australia has used new tough counter-terrorism laws to make it a criminal offence for Australians to travel to the Syrian province of al-Raqqa, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group has proclaimed its capital.

The province is the first region to be subjected to such a travel ban under the Australian legislation.

The Australian Parliament passed a raft of legislation in October designed to make it easier to prosecute Australians who fight with ISIL in Syria and Iraq and then return home.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was given powers to designate regions as "terrorist" hotspots where travel was banned unless legitimate reasons can be proved.

"I have today declared al-Raqqa province an area where a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity," Bishop told Parliament.

"This now makes it an offence under Australian law to enter or remain in the province of al-Raqqa without a legitimate reason," she added, warning that a conviction carried a potential 10-year prison sentence.

Critics have argued that the laws are too draconian and effectively reverse the onus of proof under Australian law so that defendants now have to prove their innocence.

Bishop said she cancelled 75 passports and refused to issue another 10 to prevent citizens from leaving Australia to fight in conflicts.

Source: AP