Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under pressure to reveal whether Neil Prakash is stateless after Fijian officials confirmed again on Thursday he does not hold dual citizenship.
Declaring that Australia would decide who is an Australian citizen, Mr Morrison dodged the question speaking in Suva, Fiji after the first prime ministerial visit in more than a decade.
“We will continue to act in accordance with our laws and the Fijians will act in accordance with theirs,” Mr Morrison said.
Australia cancelled the Islamic State fighter’s citizenship just after Christmas, insisting that he holds Fijian citizenship through his father.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed on December 29 that Prakash was no longer an Australian citizen, and that his first priority “will always be the safety and security of Australians”.
But Fiji insists that’s simply not the case and remain underwhelmed by Australia’s attempt to export the terrorist to the tourist hotspot.
In an attempt to not create a diplomatic incident, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama did not directly raise the issue in talks with Mr Morrison during his visit.
“No. No, he did not raise it with me because that had already been dealt with before our meetings today,” Mr Morrison said.
“As the Fijian government has been saying, we are here about a much bigger partnership than that. We’ve been able to work through those issues and I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
However, Fiji’s immigration director Nemani Vuniwaqa told Sky News the terrorist was not welcome in Fiji, because he was not Fijian.
“It is a non-issue because he is not a Fijian citizen. We would be dealing with it if he was a Fijian citizen. Full stop,” he said.
Asked if Australia had bungled the citizenship cancellation, Fiji issued a carefully worded response.
“The Australian government has its way of handling things. I will not say it was badly handled by them. But it is how it was handled and we leave it at that,” Mr Vuniwaqa said.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government must urgently clarify whether Mr Prakash was now stateless.
“Mr Morrison has to explain to the Australian people how this mess came about,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“We now don’t know what the status of this terrorist, Neil Prakash, is. I mean, is he an Australian citizen or not?
“He can only have ceased to have been an Australian citizen if he is a citizen of another country and the country selected by Mr Morrison’s government, Fiji, has said in unequivocal terms that Neil Prakash is not a citizen of Fiji.
“So, again, Mr Morrison has to explain to the Australian people what is the status of this terrorist.
“The government has made a shocking mess of this.
“It’s not too early to apologise. I think the starting point should be an apology to the people of Fiji for the extraordinary behaviour of Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison in trying to tell Fiji how their own citizenship law works.”