Dual-national jihadists face loss of Australian citizenship, but not sole nationals yet

Coalition will introduce bill within weeks granting immigration minister power to strip citizenship, even if person had not been convicted

Tony Abbott will push ahead with proposed changes to strip dual citizens of their Australian nationality if they are suspected of terrorism, but has deferred a decision on strong new powers against sole nationals after a cabinet backlash.

The prime minister confirmed a bill to be introduced to parliament in coming weeks would grant the immigration minister the discretion to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they were deemed to be involved in terrorism, even if the person had not been convicted of an offence.

But the government is yet to settle on a position on punishing Australians who hold no other citizenship after several ministers raised significant concerns in cabinet on Monday evening.

It is understood Abbott backed the push by the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, for the power to strip sole nationals of their Australian citizenship in cases where they were entitled to apply for citizenship in another country.

But the attorney general, George Brandis, the defence minister, Kevin Andrews, and the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, are believed to be among numerous ministers who raised concerns during the cabinet discussion.

Fairfax Media reported that the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, had also questioned whether another country would be likely to approve a citizenship application for a person from whom Australia had deprived citizenship.

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Brandis emphasised that the government had not made any decisions about second-generation Australians and had instead opted to “lead a national conversation about the rights and obligations associated with citizenship”. This will begin with the release of a discussion paper for community feedback on Tuesday.

Brandis said the government was “not going to be rendering anyone stateless” and would be “compliant with the rule of law and proper rule of law principles”.

“Heavens above, in the next fortnight we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – I mean we are not going to be doing anything that is inconsistent with the rule of law but we are going to be tough,” he said.

The government’s first step will be to put a bill to parliament in June to deal with dual nationals.

Abbott said about 100 Australians were overseas fighting with terrorist groups in the Middle East, about 40% or 50% of whom appeared to be dual nationals.

Abbott said on Tuesday: “Under the legislation that we intend to introduce in the next few weeks, and that’s separate from the further discussion about citizenship … if the minister is satisfied of this, he may, subject ultimately to judicial review, strip the Australian citizenship from those individuals and obviously they will then no longer have an entitlement to return to Australia.”

Dutton said his decisions on dual nationals would be based on advice provided by intelligence agencies. He said he already relied on security assessments from Asio in relation to migrants to Australia “and a similar process would follow”.

“We would gather as much evidence as was possible and we would make a decision whether or not we thought somebody was captured by what is a tight definition in relation to somebody committing an act of terrorism, an act preparatory to, fundraising or supporting a terrorist organisation or providing financial support or indoctrinating young people into the ways of one of these cults,” he said.

“That’s the robust process that other like-minded nations go through, that we go through in other areas now, and that’s what we would adopt in relation to this matter.”

People would be entitled to seek a judicial review in response to an unfavourable decision, but the legislation is yet to be released.

On the sole nationals issue, Abbott said Britain had the ability to strip citizenship of people who may be entitled to citizenship of another country but did not necessarily have it yet.

“Because this is something which one of our principal partners and allies does, I expect it’s something that may be canvassed in the discussion paper, but we certainly have formed no intention to go down that path,” he said.

Abbott said he was “open to all mechanisms which are consistent with a free and fair and tolerant society that will help this government to keep Australians as safe as we possibly can be”.

“But at this stage I’m not flagging any particular intention by the government,” he said.

“Look, this is a cabinet that has very vigorous discussions, as you would expect. In the course of cabinet discussion a whole lot of points are made, invariably good points but cabinet comes to a unanimous view.”

The consultations on citizenship will be led by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a parliamentary secretary, and Philip Ruddock, a former immigration minister who was named as “special envoy for citizenship and community engagement”.

Abbott said he had not put a deadline on those talks. The government could consider further legislative changes after receiving community feedback.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, said the party was “open to any sensible change to the Citizenship Act that improves our current system” and would carefully examine the detail to ensure ether were no unintended consequences.

“Currently, the act states that a person will have their citizenship revoked if they serve in the military of a nation at war with Australia,” Marles said.

“It is clear the disturbing number of Australians joining groups such as Daesh [also known as Isis] pose a new threat that warrants a sensible update of our laws to reflect this.”

But the Greens accused the government of “daily chest-thumping and grandstanding” on terrorism.

The Greens senator Penny Wright said: “Any proposal to strip Australian citizens of their citizenship and leave people stateless is completely unacceptable and I’m staggered by today’s reports that the government even considered this.”

The assistant minister for immigration, Michaelia Cash, reaffirmed the government was yet to decide on a course of action for sole nationals.

“There is no intention to strip citizenship from second-generation Australians … nor is there any intention to leave anyone stateless,” Cash told a Senate estimates committee hearing.

The immigration department secretary, Mike Pezzullo, said the department did not hold data on people who were dual citizens. “Not all active claims for citizenship available through descent are known to us, are known to the Australian government or to my department,” he told the hearing.


Daniel Hurst Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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