Citizen laws need major overhaul: inquiry

Prime Minister Tony Abbott may have to overhaul proposed laws allowing dual nationals to be stripped of their Australian citizenship.


A bipartisan report released by federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee found flaws in the government’s bill due to be debated next week.

The committee said stripping citizenship should be limited to people “engaged in relevant conduct offshore” or who were “engaged in relevant conduct onshore and left Australia before being charged and brought to trial in respect of that conduct”.

On people still in Australia, the committee says the laws should only apply to those who have been convicted of a terrorist offence with a sentence of at least six years in jail, or retrospectively to terrorists jailed for 10 years or more.

The committee, chaired by Liberal MP Dan Tehan, took a dim view of the government’s broad-brush approach to the type of criminal offences covered by its legislation.

Mr Tehan said “damaging commonwealth property” did now warrant loss of citizenship.

The report said “unlawful drilling” and “urging violence against groups” would have also been unnecessarily caught up in the laws.

The report said if a conviction is quashed or overturned the minister should consider providing citizenship back to that individual.

“It is now up to the government to consider those recommendations and then obviously they will advise the parliament of that and then the bill will progress through the parliament,” Mr Tehan said.

With more than 120 Australians fighting for Islamic State and 170 people actively supporting extremist groups in Australia “the terrorism threat is real”.

“We need to give the necessary instruments to our police and security agencies to confront this threat,” Mr Tehan said.

The laws were heavily criticised by constitutional lawyers who argued they would not stand up to a High Court challenge.

But the report included a letter from Attorney-General George Brandis which gives an assurance “the government has received advice from the Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC that in his opinion there is a good prospect that a majority of the High Court would reject a constitutional challenge to the core aspects of the draft bill”.

Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the opposition would support the draft laws – subject to caucus approval – if the committee’s changes are made.

“These mean that only persons who have been convicted of a terrorist-related offence or who are overseas collaborating with terrorist organisations can have their citizenship removed,” he said.

“This represents a far narrower and more targeted set of amendments than those which were first considered by the (Abbott) cabinet.”

However Labor retains concerns about whether the bill would stand up in the High Court, given that the government has refused to release the full advice of the Solicitor-General.

The federal cabinet is likely to be divided on the changes when it meets next week.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Friday said she had a problem with any laws being retrospective, but was prepared to look at specific circumstances where it could apply.

Fellow cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year voiced concerns about the bill’s constitutionality.