Labor and the Coalition will vote for new laws this week that will strip dual nationals of their citizenship at the discretion of the immigration minister.
Both major parties agree that the laws should also apply retrospectively to those sentenced to at least ten years’ jail.
A bipartisan committee released a report on the proposed laws on September 4 and recommended that some of its measures be watered down.
Originally the bill proposed that a person suspected of a broad range of criminal offences, including “damaging commonwealth property”, could be deported if they had dual citizenship. The report recommended this now should only apply to those who have been convicted of a terrorist offence with a sentence of at least six years in jail and will no longer apply to children.
But one of the worst aspects of the law has been retained, that is, the immigration minister has the discretion to strip a person of their citizenship even if they have not been convicted of an offence.
Under these laws, if a person engages in “terrorism related activity”, they will be assumed to have automatically renounced their citizenship because their actions are inconsistent with “allegiance” to Australia. They do not need to have been convicted by a court to have their citizenship stripped.
Writing in The Conversation, Monash University law lecturer Sangeetha Pillai said: “This means that a person could lose their citizenship ... without trial, and subsequently be tried and acquitted of an offence arising out of the same conduct that triggered citizenship loss. The bill does not clarify whether the person’s citizenship would be reinstated in that circumstance.”
Leaked discussions from a Coalition cabinet meeting in May, when the idea for the laws were first made public, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald that Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce opposed the laws, saying: "If you don't have enough evidence to charge them in a court, how can you have enough evidence to take away their citizenship?"
Immigration minister Peter Dutton reportedly replied: "That's the point, Barnaby. You don't need too much evidence. It's an administrative decision."
Chillingly, some Coalition ministers also wanted the power to strip Australians of their sole citizenship, if they were eligible to apply for citizenship elsewhere. But this was defeated by the cabinet.
Under similar laws passed last year, Dutton recently revoked the residency of Sam Ibrahim, a Sydney man charged with running an illegal firearms syndicate. Ibrahim was born in Lebanon but came to Australia when he was a small child. He has not been convicted of the charge but could be deported on the grounds he has failed a “character test”. What constitutes good character is left to the immigration minister to decide. Ibrahim is appealing the decision.
The Tony Abbott government is desperately ramping up the threat of domestic terrorism to shore up its position before the next election. And the Labor opposition is falling into step alongside it.
The Labor caucus agreed on September 8 to support the bill if the committee’s recommendations are accepted. But the Greens have slammed the amendments.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said: “Despite making 27 recommendations, that offer slight improvements of the original bill, the framework of this irreparably flawed bill remains intact.
“We have seen today that the Labor Party has once again capitulated to the government’s populist fear mongering under the banner of ‘bipartisanship’.”
If the laws pass, University of NSW law professor George Williams expects them to be challenged in the High Court.