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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13303

Mr VARVARIS (Barton) (17:28): I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this bill today and to add to the comments made by my parliamentary colleagues. The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 is another manifestation of the coalition's commitment to protecting the sovereignty of this country and the safety of its citizens. At the heart of this bill is the importance of a connection to Australia, a commitment to the country's laws and a respect for the mutual obligations which exist between individuals and the state and which are expected to be fulfilled by all Australian citizens.

I have said this before, but I am happy to elaborate once again. The inauguration of the Australian Citizenship Act in 1949 was a key marker of our development as a fully fledged independent nation accepting migrants on its own terms. Since Federation we have evolved from having a restricted immigration policy to having one of regulation, accepting individuals from other nations who wish to bring skills and contribute to Australia, accepting those seeking refuge from persecution and taking in those seeking humanitarian assistance.

Citizenship is a tool by which we invite individuals from all over the world to join our national story and to contribute to our shared community life. For that reason, it should be treasured, celebrated and upheld. The Australian legacy is that of shared generosity, of helping our mates and of lending a hand to those who need it most. Over the years our community's social fabric has been one of cultural diversity and it is through that diversity that our community has strengthened its bonds. Within that diversity, a common thread that unites us all in our citizenship is a commitment to Australian values such as mateship, egalitarianism and a fair go for all.

I know that the issue of citizenship is one that my electorate of Barton feels strongly about. Citizenship has benefited many Barton residents, with 48.3 per cent of people in my electorate being born outside Australia. Barton residents are often first-, second- or third-generation migrants, and they have all embraced the Australian way of life in their path to citizenship. Those in my electorate who have attained Australian citizenship after having been born overseas are always expressing to me the high value they place on Australia's decision to bring them into the fold of our community. None take their citizenship lightly. They all understand their obligations as citizens, express devotion to our country, and are willing to continue to build this nation and become proud members of a strong and diverse society. The government's role expected by our citizens is to protect citizens from harm and ensure they remain safe from terror and safe from those who have little regard for human life. The coalition's highest priority is to keep the Australian community safe from those who would seek to do us harm. Australians have a right to expect protection from domestic threats of harm and from international threats to our security. Sadly, the threat of terrorism facing our nation is not a figment of imagination; it is real, it is serious and it will worsen unless action is taken.

The Review of Australia's counter-terrorism machinery earlier this year confirmed that the threat of terrorism in Australia is rising. Specifically, the number of Australians joining extremist groups overseas is increasing, the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists is increasing and the number of potential terrorists is rising. Our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations, which has more than doubled in the last 1½ years. Since September last year, 26 people have been charged as a result of the 10 counter-terrorism operations undertaken, which is more than one-third of all terrorism charges since 2001. Approximately 110 Australians are currently fighting with or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. A further 190 people in Australia are providing support to individuals and groups in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts through financing and recruitment, or are seeking to travel to those conflicts.

The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 will amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to ensure that dual nationals who fight for or who are in the service of a terrorist group, or who engage in terrorism-related conduct will automatically lose their Australian citizenship. Citizenship is to be respected, not taken for granted. This applies to all Australians. Since the commencement of the Nationality and Citizenship Act in 1949, there have been provisions for the automatic loss of citizenship in cases where a dual citizen serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. Our laws must be updated to reflect current threats to our country and values through terrorism-related activity. Those found to be betraying their allegiance to this country by engaging in terrorism and related conduct will have their Australian citizenship overturned. The bill will also ensure that dual nationals who are convicted of specified terrorism and related offences lose the privileges of Australian citizenship. Protecting our national security and the right to safety for our citizens are our highest priorities. They should be the highest priorities of all governments. This is not about compromising individual rights, it is not about rendering an individual stateless but it is about reinforcing the notion that those who betray our state will face the full extent of the law. This is an appropriate response given the evolution of global terrorism. Furthermore, an individual who has lost his or her citizenship will be able to seek judicial review of the facts.

The measures in this bill operate automatically at the time a person engages in the specified conduct or is convicted. There are three new ways in which a dual national can lose their citizenship. The first is through conduct such as engaging in terrorist threat activities, engaging in a terrorist act, providing or receiving terrorist training, directing activities of a terrorist organisation, recruiting for a terrorist organisation, financing terrorism, financing a terrorist, or engaging in foreign incursion or recruitment. The second is through fighting for a declared terrorist organisation. This bill expands the scope of the existing section to provide for the automatic cessation of citizenship if a person who is also a citizen of another country is overseas and fighting on behalf of, or in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation. The declared terrorist organisation will be determined by the Attorney-General under the Criminal Code. The third way is through conviction for terrorism and related offences. Proposed new section 35A provides that a person automatically ceases to be an Australian citizen if they are convicted of a specified terrorism or related offence.

I want to take this opportunity to pre-empt any concerns fellow Australians may have on two important fronts. Firstly, a child will not automatically lose their citizenship because of the actions of his or her parents. However, an individual under the age of 18 can lose their citizenship under the bill's provisions if they have engaged in acts of terrorism, as clarified previously. The minister will have the discretion to determine whether an individual loses citizenship or not. The minister will also have the discretion to exempt any individual in public interest cases. In the case that an individual has his or her citizenship revoked, the person, if they are in Australia at the time, would be returned to the country of their other nationality or citizenship. This would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, similar to cases of people who have had their visas cancelled.

These changes are part of a multifaceted approach to countering the threat of terror posed by an increasing number of foreign fighters, sympathisers and supporters of extremists and potential terrorists. The threat is simply too serious to ignore. As I mentioned previously, attaining citizenship through birthright or acquisition carries reciprocal obligations. Australian citizenship confers great benefits but, equally, rights and obligations. We have fair expectations of our citizens to defend our shared values, which will stand us in good stead for as long as we embrace them. The majority of Australians never need to be reminded of this. Most citizens would never dream of betraying a country that has bestowed them with hope, opportunity and reward. But, for the small percentage who do, it is not acceptable to ignore the potential threat to human life that they pose.

We do not need to think far back or look too far to realise how dangerous some terror groups have become—notably Daesh and ISIS, who are systematically displacing millions of people in the Middle East, notably Syria. It is unthinkable to imagine Australians who are dual citizens of these nations, travelling abroad and fighting amongst them, completely against our shared values of democracy and peace. The alarming rate at which young dual nationals are fleeing to join terrorist organisations is horrifying, and, as a responsible government, we cannot sit back and do nothing. If and when they return, they cannot simply glide back into this country, slip through Customs and resume life like everyone else. It is very unlikely that they are able to resume civilian life and demonstrate loyalty to Australia if they have witnessed the horror of, and actively participated in, the torture, killing and persecution of so many innocent people. Many Australians do not feel these individuals have the right to resume life here. I know many Barton residents have telephoned, emailed and written letters to me expressing their disgust that terrorists and sympathisers alike should be allowed to remain in Australian society without punishment, especially if they deploy similar acts on our shores.

There is a real difference between breaking social codes of conduct and engaging in an act of terror. The gravity of the latter cannot be underestimated. As an Australian citizen, the first allegiance is always to this country. The Allegiance to Australia Bill is an expansion of the circumstances in which Australian citizenship may be lost. However, this has been done at a crucial time, when dealing with terror organisations which completely oppose democratic values and respect for human life. It is fundamental that our citizens remain connected and loyal to Australia. Citizenship is not an aspiration of being part of the Australian community; it recognises that the applicant is already part of that shared life, with reciprocal obligations and respect for this country's laws. The new powers in this bill are a necessary and appropriate response to the evolution of the terrorist threat. I commend the bill to the House.