The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 2015

On 24 June 2015 the Australian Government introduced the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015, which seeks to introduce new provisions into the Australian Citizenship regime. 

The proposed changes raise arguably, the most serious questions of law and civil liberties facing our country to date. Civil liberties and legal organisations around Australia have already raised significant concerns with respect to the proposed amendments.

The Bill tramples upon the doctrine of the separation of powers and proposes complete and absolute power in the discretion and opinion of the immigration Minister (who is part of the “Government of the day”) as to whether an Australian citizen should have their citizenship revoked. Even if that Australian citizen was born here.

The ability for citizenship to be automatically renounced is proposed to occur in three situations:

If an Australian citizen engages in “terrorist offences and certain other offences” (which is entirely too broad and covers “damaging commonwealth property);

If an Australian citizen engages in the service of the armed forces of an enemy country or terrorist organisation; and

If an Australian citizenship is convicted of terrorism related offences.

Tony Abbott mischievously told the Australian public in various press conferences that the three situations were based on the Independent National Security Monitor’s Report issued by the esteemed Brett Walker SC.  This is incorrect. It is only the third situation that was discussed in the INSM Report and the situations referred to in item 1 and 2 above, has no basis in the INSM Report.

This led Walker to state that “his (Tony Abbott’s) position is indefensible and he should apologise.” He went on to say that no one from the Australian Government had contacted him to discuss his recommendations contained in the INSM Report since 2014.

The context in which the Bill has been introduced is also concerning. Abbott accused the honorable Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and the Australian Labor Party of “rolling out the red carpet” to terrorists when proposing that it would be more appropriate for Australian citizens to face the criminal justice system rather than have citizenship revoked.

Further, Abbott has also presided over the largest Cabinet leak in Australian history which demonstrated that his own Cabinet were being left in the dark regarding the drafting of the Bill.

At no stage has evidence been presented that revoking citizenship would make our country safer. In fact, the dangerous consequence of passing this Bill could mean that “ex-citizens” are detained indefinitely without charge or conviction.

There has been no discussion regarding whether implementing these laws could affect global security or stability. Or how the current rhetoric feeds into the propaganda produced by terrorist organisations. This Bill represents the desire of the Australian Government to circumvent the legal system and the courts, resembling an Orwellian State rather than the democratic country of Australia.

There are also fears that the laws will operate retrospectively, meaning that the Australian citizenship of every dual national that has been convicted of an offence (as trivial as damaging Commonwealth property) is at stake.

The Bill also seeks to oust section 39 of the ASIO Act, which will result in the Minister being permitted to rely on ASIO intelligence in coming to the decision to revoke citizenship. Intelligence that can be unreliable and untested (remember Haneef?).

There is no ability for the affected person who has had their citizenship revoked to check or consider the information or it’s source that led to the revocation. There is no review of the decision. The Bill expressly states that natural justice does not apply and that the Minister does not need to reconsider his decision.

The Bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) and only two weeks has been given for legal experts and civil liberties organisations to prepare detailed submissions canvassing the possible human rights, civil liberties and legal issues at stake if this Bill is passed.

The PJCIS lacks diversity, with its membership consisting of nine men from the Coalition and Labor. There is no opportunity for any other Senator or MP to appear at the PJCIS and ask questions of those presenting evidence. This, combined with Abbott’s seemingly deliberate actions to keep his own Cabinet in the dark, should have you very concerned.