Proposal to revoke citizenship for dual-national foreign fighters splits Cabinet

Dual nationals who take part in - or support - acts of terror could be stripped of their Australian citizenship, under controversial new laws to go before parliament.

Dual nationals who take part in - or support - acts of terror could be stripped of their Australian citizenship, under controversial new laws to go before parliament.

The proposal gives the Immigration Minister the authority to revoke a person's citizenship, but the plan has split cabinet, with six ministers strongly opposing the move.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday confirmed the government would introduce such legislation within weeks. 

"We think this is an important addition to the armoury that we have to keep the Australian people safe," Mr Abbott said.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton would be given the power to make the decision about revoking citizenship subject to judicial review.

The proposal is based on a plan implemented in the United Kingdom.

"Australia is not acting alone here, we are not ahead of the pack," said Minister Dutton.

The power would apply to those fighting or supporting terrorism overseas, as well as so called 'lone wolves' at home. It may also apply to citizens who are eligible but haven't taken out dual citizenship.

But it was a divisive issue in Cabinet. In a tense meeting last night, six cabinet ministers including the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Attorney General all raised concerns about the rule of law, worried this proposal lacked rigorous oversight and could unfairly target some groups.

The Government wants to lead a national conversation on the citizenship changes.

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock has been appointed as Mr Abbott's special envoy for citizenship and community engagement, while Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has been charged with improving relations with community leaders and trying to stop the radicalisation of young people.

She told SBS her priority would be to tackle the appeal of jihadist teachings. 

Senator Fierravanti-Wells extended interview

"We offer people respect for their race, their country of origin, their religion, their cultures, but we do have expectations that all who make a commitment to this nation and its future, will observe the laws of Australia," Mr Ruddock said today. 

Mixed reactions

Security experts say the measures should be a worthwhile deterrent, but members of the Muslim community think it's not the right way to discourage young Australian from joining terror groups over seas.  

"For the significant number [of foreign fighters] who are dual nationals, I think this does give some flexibility to create another deterrent to prevent people from going overseas. And it certainly gives us a mechanism to deal with those individuals who may wish to return," said Peter Jennings. 

But there's outrage among sections of the Muslim community.

"It's a denial of natural justice, and a basic and fundamental human right that we all accept here in Australia," said Kuranda Seyit from the Islamic Council of Victoria. 

Applying the measure to dual citizens gets around international law preventing coutnries from making people stateless, but while that may become a political issue between Australia and another country, legal experts say there are other questions of international law.

"The concerns would be that the person not be arbitrarily deprived of his citizenship, and that he should receive a fair hearing before the decision is made", said Kevin Boreham.

Labor said in a statement it is open to sensible changes to the act and will examine the details once the legislation is available.

3 min read
Published 26 May 2015 at 5:49pm
Source: SBS