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Government takes time on citizen laws

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The federal government is taking further advice on new laws to strip terrorism suspects of their citizenship after legal and civil liberties concerns.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was expected to bring in the bill this week, but it is now likely to be introduced next week.

The bill would allow the minister to act on intelligence agency advice and strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals.

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Former independent national security legislation monitor Bret Walker said on Monday it was “constitutionally unthinkable” to revoke a person’s citizenship without a court conviction, and that he “never dreamed it would be possible” when he advised the government on the issue.

The bill wasn’t considered by cabinet on Monday, nor was it discussed in the coalition party room on Tuesday.

Government sources say legal advice is still being taken.

While there have been many external critics, there is also caution within the cabinet itself.

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull.

Cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull said he understood the changes would not be as radical as previously suggested, but would ensure those who lost their citizenship still had access to the courts.

“You can’t stop people from applying to a court,” Mr Turnbull told Sky News on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to make sure we protect the national security of Australia … we also have to do so within the law of Australia.”

Asked whether he believed the laws would also apply to terror suspects on Australian soil, the minister said: “The focus is very much on protecting Australians against those people … fighting with Daesh in Syria and Iraq.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament the government was acting on Mr Walker’s original advice.

He quoted the advice as saying it would be a “power for the minister for immigration” to revoke the citizenship of Australians found to have engaged in acts prejudicial to Australia’s security.

Bill Shorten said Labor would ensure that proper review processes were put in place. Photo: AAP

Labor leader Bill Shorten told a caucus meeting the opposition would continue to play a constructive role on new national security measures, but wanted to see the details of the bill.

Labor would “jealously guard the separation of powers” and ensure that proper review processes were put in place, Mr Shorten said.

Mr Abbott said there were some members of the ALP who did not take national security as seriously as they should.

Previous counter-terror legislation had been watered down because of splits inside Labor, he said.

Independent MP and former intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie said the government had drummed up fear in the community.

He said Islamic State was a product of a war which Australia helped start and the government should acknowledge this with an inquiry.

“The government is shamelessly whipping up fear in the community and getting people unduly worried purely for political gain,” Mr Wilkie told AAP.

“The irony of this is it is leveraging off the emergence of Islamic State which we helped make happen.”


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