The Abbott government has recently stated that they intend to make changes to Australian citizenship, namely to revoke Australian citizenship from Australians suspected of committing terrorism offences.
Citizenship is a right and not a privilege-despite what the Abbott Government would lead you to believe. To believe otherwise, would allow our political leadership to walk away from their responsibilities towards its citizens.
Believing that citizenship is a right also means believing citizens have civic responsibility. We are in danger of abdicating our democratic rights to the very political leaders who are threatening to curtail these rights.
Whilst the legislation has not been introduced yet, concerns have been raised over the legal implications and the “unintended consequences” of making any such amendments to Australian citizenship. There is concern over what the Abbott Government has publicly said regarding the issue so far.
Australia is a signatory to several human rights conventions that state that we cannot allow anyone to become “stateless”. Some members of the coalition have proposed making a late “reservation” that would allow Australia to make citizens who only hold Australian citizenship (and not dual citizenship), stateless. Minister Phillip Ruddock has implied that there will only be a mere presumption of an entitlement to second citizenship.
In other words, there may not be any requirement that the suspected person actually holds second citizenship before their Australian citizenship is revoked.
It is difficult to imagine what other country would grant citizenship to a person who has had their Australian citizenship stripped on suspicion of committing terrorism offences. On national radio last week, Minister Ruddock used an example of an Australian born person from Lebanese heritage as someone they would assume could obtain Lebanese citizenship.
If you are in Australia when your citizenship is revoked, you could be detained without charge indefinitely. If this were to occur, this would be the birth of an Australian “Guantanamo Bay”.
The Abbott Government has also stated that citizenship would be stripped based on suspicion that a person has engaged in “terrorism offences” and not after a conviction in a court of law. Suspicion would be formed from “intelligence” which is then passed on to the Minister (from the Government of the day). This is outrageous. We have never had a Government that speaks so much about “the law” whilst simultaneously taking active steps to undermine legal processes. Ministerial discretion and the judicial process are not the same.
The fact that intelligence forms the basis for citizenship stripping, means that an affected person would have very limited means of appeal. Any appeal would be conducted in a Tribunal (not a court) similar to a passport cancellation matter. You would be limited in seeing the “intelligence” against you, as it is secret and related to national security. Intelligence are not facts. Simply, you cannot prepare and effectively participate in any appeal process if you do not know what the details are that are alleged. This in itself is a process that has no place in a democracy.
Last year, the Abbott Government said Australia had an obligation “to stem the flow of foreign fighters”. Now, they are doing a complete backflip and saying “we do not want these people in our backyard”. Australia has the most robust criminal laws relating to terrorism amongst the western democracies. Yet the Abbott Government seeks to bypass the legal system and seek discretional power to revoke citizenship. The discretional power to strip citizenship is pure “counter terrorism theatre” with very dangerous implications for our country.
If and when the Bill is introduced, further information will be provided. In the meantime, contact your State and Federal members to express your concerns regarding the proposed changes.