On Wednesday, the Australian government presented the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill to parliamentarians in Canberra. The bill would give the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, power to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals associated with terrorist groups.
The proposed legislation is to be examined by a parliamentary committee before voting, although the opposition party, Labor, is largely in favour of the bill in principle.
The bill proposes three new mechanisms by which dual-nationals would be stripped of their citizenship, which would be subject to a right of review in the Federal Court, then the High Court:
1) by extending the existing prohibition on serving in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia to include people who “fight for, or are in the service of, a specified terrorist organisation overseas”;
2) an individual could also lose citizenship through engagement in “certain terrorist conduct”, defined as: engaging in international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices; engaging in a terrorist act; providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in, or assistance in a terrorist act; directing the activities of a terrorist organisation; recruiting for a terrorist organisation; financing terrorism; financing a terrorist; or engaging in foreign incursions and recruitment;
3) an individual could also lose citizenship following a conviction for certain offences under the commonwealth criminal code: international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices; treason; urging violence against the constitution; urging violence against groups, urging violence against members of groups; advocating terrorism; espionage and similar activities; foreign incursions and recruitment; treachery; sabotage; inciting mutiny; assisting prisoners of war to escape; unlawful drilling; destroying or damaging commonwealth property; or terrorism, except offences relating to associating with terrorist organisations, control orders and preventative detention orders.
The bill is aimed against people training to join or support a listed terrorist group, recruiting for them, or financing one of the organisations considered terrorist by the government. However, there are concerns that such a law could also affect the children of extremists fighting overseas and even people who have never left the country, although it may be possible for them to claim their Australian nationality via their other parent.
It is believed that approximately 120 Australians are fighting with terrorist groups overseas, with half of them being dual nationals.
The new legislation would not target people who only have Australian citizenship, as that would render them stateless. Mr Dutton has acknowledged that such acts would be against UN conventions.
The Australian bill does not therefore appear to go as far as existing UK law, where the Home Secretary already has the power to deprive a person of their citizenship if satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good. This can even be done if it would leave a person stateless providing that the individual obtained their citizenship through naturalisation, and the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for believing that the person will be able to become a national of another country or territory.