The Federal Government is considering options for revoking the Australian citizenship of people involved in terrorism, even if they are not citizens of any other country.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the Coalition would amend the Citizenship Act so dual nationals could be stripped of their Australian citizenship in such circumstances.
Now the Government is looking for a way to revoke Australian citizenship even when the person has no other allegiance.
“I think most Australians would want to make sure that people who have Australian citizenship treat it as a privilege,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told the ABC.
“If people are going to act against our national interest in the name of terrorism, then we seriously have to question whether or not they can continue to be Australian citizens.”
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Some nations, such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, reserved the right to revoke citizenship when they signed on, but Australia did not.
Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege that should involve a solemn and lifelong commitment to Australia.Prime Minister Tony Abbott
“We could’ve done the same thing in 1973 but we didn’t,” Dan Tehan, the Liberal MP who chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, said.
“My view is we should look at whether we need to do it now.
“If there is an option for someone, for instance if they were naturalised, to go back to the country from where they came from, then that option would be available.”
It would not affect people involved in terrorism who were born in Australia.
Mr Dutton said it would only be applicable in a small number of cases.
“The fundamental principle is that we don’t want to render people stateless,” he said.
“But we want to hold those people to account.”
When asked whether getting an exemption from the UN Convention would erode civil liberties, Mr Dutton said it was about getting the right balance of freedoms.
“We have to make sure we protect the rights of Australians who are walking down malls, going to shopping centres, kids going to school, to make them as safe as possible,” he said.
Labor behind previous measures, not briefed on latest idea
The Coalition’s national security measures have so far had bipartisan support from Labor.
The Opposition backed new powers for the Foreign Minister to cancel passports of suspected terrorists.
“It [is] something that both sides of politics, us included, have taken a very strict view on,” Opposition manager of business Tony Burke said.
“[We’ve] followed very closely on the advice we’ve been given from the security agencies.”
But Labor has not been consulted on the latest idea and is treading cautiously.
“National security issues need to be dealt with with a sober mind and a sensible conversation,” Mr Burke said.
Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege: Abbott
In February, Mr Abbott outlined other ways citizenship could be restricted for Australians involved in terrorism.
“Those could include restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments,” he said in the National Security Statement.
He said Australia had been built on immigration and that Australia was richer for it, but citizenship had to “mean something”.
“Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege that should involve a solemn and lifelong commitment to Australia,” Mr Abbott said.
“Those who live here must be as tolerant of others as we are of them.”