The Lindt cafe siege may have been prevented had the country implemented the proposed citizenship reforms before Man Haron Monis became a citizen, according to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
At a Senate committee hearing in Canberra, David Wilden - First Assistant Secretary in the Immigration and Citizenship Policy Division - initially said the citizenship reforms were not about dealing with terrorism, but were designed “to strengthen citizenship requirements for a multitude of reasons”.
But under questioning from Greens Senator Nick McKim about the link between the reforms and terrorism, Mr Wilden offered “one very simple example”.
“If we had these citizenship laws in place, the Lindt cafe siege may not have occurred,” he said.
“I know that’s contentious, but, because if these laws were in place, the gentleman in question would not have made it in all likelihood - all things being equal - into the citizenship status. At which point other offences, which he had undertaken, he would have been subject to a 501 (visa) cancellation and would have been deported.”
In December 2014, Iranian migrant Man Haron Monis held 18 people hostage in a store in Martin Place for 16 hours before he was shot by police. Two hostages were also killed.
Monis was granted citizenship in 2004. As part of his application for citizenship, ASIO advised the Department of Immigration that, in its assessment, Monis did not pose a direct or indirect risk to national security, according to the inquest into the siege. He had earlier been subject to an adverse security assessment by ASIO, in 1999.
His first known criminal offence according to the inquest was in 2007.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has identified four key changes in the reforms:
- Increasing the residency requirement from one year to four years,
- Introducing a standalone English test,
- Introducing a "shared values and responsibilities" component into the test, and
- Requiring a demonstration of integration into the Australian community.
The committee also heard that the risk of bureaucrats sitting on their hands could ultimately lead to a backdown from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Mr Dutton has declared the government will not process any citizenship applications received after April 20, when the reforms were announced.
250 staff in the citizenship processing section are scheduled to complete processing pre-April 20 applications at the end of the year.
Mr Wilden said it will be up to Mr Dutton whether staff start processing the newer applications when they finish with the earlier batch - even though there is legal precedent to require them to be processed in a "reasonable" amount of time.
"If at the time we don’t have a bill and we are about to exhaust our options we would obviously go to the government and highlight this is the case and seek advice from the Minister on how they would wish to proceed,” he said.
Labor and the Nick Xenophon team have both expressed reservations about the laws, suggesting their passage through the Senate may be protracted.