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In November, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton unveiled the government’s plan to broaden the capacity for Australian nationals to be stripped of their citizenship. The proposed changes are in response to heightened domestic security threats from Australian extremists and terrorists. New laws could see those Australians convicted of terrorism offences deprived of their citizenship if it could ‘reasonably’ be anticipated that they would gain citizenship from another country through family lineage. Australia’s current Citizenship Act permits the government to strip the citizenship of terrorists jailed for six or more years, though only if they are already dual nationals.
According to Morrison, the current statutory limits are ‘unrealistic’. The Prime Minister explained that his government will push for the power to expel any person — even native-born Australians — convicted of a terrorist offence. The basis for his argument is that “… people who commit acts of terrorism have rejected absolutely everything that this country stands for”, with the government’s media release stating, “we now need to focus on strengthening the citizenship loss provisions which commenced in 2015… in order to protect our community”.
On 2GB radio, Dutton recently explained that the government has “cancelled visas at a record rate so that we can kick criminals out of the country, and we should be cancelling citizenship of terrorists and people that would seek to do us harm, because we don’t want them here”.
The proposed changes would feasibly make Australia’s system for citizenship-stripping the most expansive in the world, and many have voiced concerns over expanding these powers. According to Sangeetha Pillai, a constitutional lawyer at the University of New South Wales’ Kaldor Centre, “It is not clear that the Commonwealth has the power to kick out people who have been here for many, many generations”. The reality of the proposed legislation is that people will be left stateless at least temporarily, but in some cases the displacement will be permanent, making thoughtful consideration and debate crucial.
It has been revealed that, of the 400 terrorists currently being tracked by ASIO, a majority are dual citizens or have standing to be, based on their parents’ or grandparents’ birthplaces. Despite this, and the domestic terrorism risk remaining as high as ever, only six dual-national terrorists have lost their Australian citizenship since the current legislation was introduced in 2015. While the peace and security of Australians is crucial, the reforms would significantly lower the bar for deportation and detention. As such, the government should clarify why removing the six-year sentence and dual nationality threshold for revoking citizenship is appropriate and proportional.
Morrison has stated plainly that he wants the sweeping reforms passed by Christmas. Currently in the final Parliamentary sitting weeks of 2018, this means opposition, and cross-bench MPs have only been given two weeks to consider the reforms before the capacity of the laws may be felt.
As the bill has yet to go before parliament, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what the government envisages, although the difficulty is clear. The hard-line bill will likely face legal challenges on both constitutional and human rights platforms. The argument that additional powers are needed to respond to domestic terrorisms threats has seen both support and reservation. However, the risks surrounding statelessness and indefinite detention must be considered with the upmost priority.