John Menadue. Don’t tamper with citizenship.

Aug 6, 2015

The Australian Government has presented new legislation that would enable the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to revoke Australian citizenship for dual nationals who might have been involved in terrorism activities. There would be no judicial review.

As a result of an apparent disagreement in Cabinet, the government has deferred a decision on how to deal with sole Australian nationals who might be linked to terrorism.

This is a massive overreaction for largely party-political purposes – promoting fear of terrorism and feeding anti-Muslim sentiment in the community. Determined not to be wedged on the issue the ALP is yet again in ‘me too’ mode.

There are good reasons why we should not tamper with citizenship. Citizenship is a critical and unifying national symbol and should not be used to address alleged short-term problems. Acts committed by Australians should be punished under criminal law and if the law is not effective for the job it should be strengthened.

Some four million Australians are dual citizens. They are a national asset. We are a country built on migration and citizenship is the culmination of that migration process. Citizenship is a key part of nation building and should never be discounted or discouraged. It should basically only be revoked on the basis of false claims in the application for citizenship. We should not be diverted from the centrality of citizenship.

A key principle of all citizenship is that people of many different backgrounds can become good and loyal Australian citizens. In the present situation that means that Muslims, like others, can become good Australian citizens. It is belief in that principle that holds this country together. If we debase that principle we should not be surprised that many people, particularly young people with origins in the Middle East might decide that they have no future in this country.

Australians citizens commit many crimes – murder, drug trafficking and child abuse. Should we revoke their citizenship? Why only IS supporters? Each year our police forces are called to intervene in over 200,000 cases of domestic violence. Surely that is a much greater problem than IS. All offences including supporting IS must be addressed with rigour but we must ensure that citizenship is open to all people who have met our criteria.

Some ministers have sought to strengthen their case for denial of citizenship to dual-citizen holders by pointing out the citizenship revocation legislation in the UK. But the UK is not a country built on migration. We are.

The government estimates that revocation of the status of Australian citizens who have dual citizenship would affect less than half of those allegedly assisting IS. The numbers would be small but the consequence would be that the legislation would probably prevent these people returning from overseas. This would leave a few of our jihadists overseas to continue their damage. How perverse this would be. It would be much better if they return to Australia and we prosecute them under our laws.

The government legislation proposes that the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection should have the power to revoke citizenship based primarily I would expect on information from ASIO or other security services. There would be no judicial review. The rule of law would be trashed. What a worry it would be relying on ASIO and Minister Dutton!

In addition to strengthening our criminal law there are other ways that we can protect ourselves against terrorism or discourage possible recruits. We can withdraw passports to prohibit travel. We can also suspend legal entitlements such as Medicare and social security payments which attach to permanent residence, and not to citizenship.

As Malcolm Turnbull has said, citizenship revocation should not be a ‘bravado’ issue and used to weaken our rule of law. Government bravado and promotion of fear is making us less safe. It is undermining citizenship.


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