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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13306


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (17:39): I too rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill, which seeks to update our current citizenship laws in the face of home-grown terrorism. I do not think that anyone in this chamber takes much pride in having to be part of changing the laws to reflect this. The issue about home-grown terrorism, Deputy Speaker, as you and everyone else are aware, is that it is something that is a recent development not only in this country but around the globe. The legislation which is before us forms part of a suite of national security measures designed to address the issue of home-grown terrorism.

In fact, when you think about it, the word 'terrorism' is becoming all too familiar following: the escalating security crisis in Iraq and Syria; what we see occurring now in the Middle East; the ongoing terrorist threat; but also the increasing prospect of terrorism in Australia and countries that share our beliefs, particularly when it comes to freedom and liberty. It has been only nine days since a wave of ISIS attacks occurred in Paris, which killed 130 people. Clearly, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of France, who are coming to terms with that tragedy on their soil. Brussels are currently in their highest state of terror alert as they search for a fugitive that was involved in the Paris atrocity. Brussel's public transport and their schools—all those things that we would normally take for granted—have for the last three days been closed. Another tragedy unfolded in Mali, where two gunmen held up 170 hostages at a luxury hotel. The siege lasted for more than seven hours and resulted in 19 people being killed. Only a few weeks ago, we saw the downing of a Russian airliner. We saw the atrocities of the bombings that occurred in Lebanon, where 40 people were killed. This is not something that is peculiar to Australia as we go about our business addressing terrorism; this is now very much a worldwide occurrence.

Bear in mind that since last September, we have seen three home-grown terrorist attacks inspired by ISIS on Australian soil: the attempted stabbing of two police officers in Melbourne in September last year, the Martin Place siege in December of last year, and the fatal shooting of a New South Wales police employee in Parramatta only recently. Following these events, Australian authorities have also disrupted six planned attacks and arrested more than 30 people for their involvement in the conspiracies, during counter-terrorism operations around Australia. These occurrences have prompted a review of many of our laws, to safeguard the Australian way of life and to ensure the integrity of our national security as we guard against terrorism-related activities.

The Australian Citizenship Act has not been updated since, effectively, it was first written in 1948. Under existing provisions, a person's citizenship automatically ceases if they served in the military of a nation at war with Australia. Subject to the discretion of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the minister may also revoke Australian citizenship if a person is found to have procured their citizenship through fraud, or if they are convicted of serious offences which occurred before the person became an Australian citizen. However, given the evolving nature of the threat of terrorism and violent extremism, the government, in June of this year, introduced amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act, which propose to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who have engaged in acts of terrorism.

I appreciate that, following the announcement of these amendments, there has been considerable consternation amongst many Australians that this bill could somehow render dual citizens lesser Australians. That is clearly not the case and never was the position in the negotiations that occurred around amendments to the Citizenship Act. Dual citizens are just as Australian as anybody else, and it is important to note that nothing has been put before this parliament that does anything to erode that fundamental principle. This has always been the approach adopted by Labor in the consideration of this legislation, right from the start.

On 4 September, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released their detailed report. That report detailed 27 recommendations relating to the government's amendments to the bill. It is important to note that those recommendations were unanimous. This was clearly a bipartisan report. It was certainly designed to improve the bill. In doing so, it looked at providing stringent safeguards relating to situations where dual citizenship holders could have their Australian citizenship removed.

Effectively, under the recommendations of the committee, dual citizens can only have their citizenship stripped if, firstly, they are convicted of a terrorist offence in Australia; secondly, they are currently overseas engaging in terrorist activities; or, thirdly, they are collaborating with a terrorist organisation. That was pretty specifically laid down by the committee, and the government has accepted those recommendations. These amendments, if passed, will set a very high bar. They will reduce the scope of the legislation to a much narrower set of circumstances and will give a much more focused approach in addressing the real difficulties, as we see them, of home-grown terrorism.

The foreign fighter phenomenon, in particular, as I said earlier, has taken many in the West, not just here in Australia, by surprise, with the number of people travelling to the Middle East to participate in and fight alongside organisations such as ISIS in their endeavours in Syria and Iraq. As I understand it, it is reported that, as of June this year, 120 Australians are currently fighting with terrorist organisations overseas and 160 Australians are supporting organisations through financing or recruitment from this country. According to an ASIO report to the parliament, around 30 Australians have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq, 19 of whom have been subsequently involved in terrorist plotting and eight of whom have subsequently been convicted of terrorism offences. The proportion of foreign fighters who have gone on to be convicted of terrorism related offences in Australia has been surprisingly higher than many of the pre-ISIL averages across other Western nations. Therefore, one of the key concerns of these amendments also relates to the potential threat that these foreign fighters pose to domestic security upon their return.

However, in line with the committee's recommendations, this does not mean that Australians will lose their citizenship simply because of untested suspicions or concerns relating to their conduct. Citizenship is one of our most fundamental rights and we do not support any measure that would erode or undermine this significant principle. Therefore, it is significant to emphasise that a person who is found to have been convicted of a terrorist offence, is engaging in overseas conflict or is found by the courts to be collaborating with a terrorist organisation will have the right to appeal any determination by the minister to have their citizenship revoked. The minister's determination of that would be a matter that could be tested at law. Therefore, an individual's rights are secured, provided they believe they are sufficiently innocent of the criteria of either participating in, associating with or collaborating with terrorist organisations. This is an important safeguard, given that we believe this is a fundamental right for all citizens, adhering to our notion of freedoms and human rights.

I understand that a number of questions have also been raised during discussions with the government regarding the views of various legal experts of the constitutionality of certain aspects of the bill. We have raised those matters with the government on many occasions and I note from the shadow Attorney-General that the committee has been provided with a letter from the Attorney-General himself assuring it of the bill's constitutionality. I know that is clearly not a legal advice, and it is not something that you would roll up to court with to justify your position, but I assume that Senator Brandis has appropriate legal authority to provide that correspondence. I would like to emphasise that the issue of constitutionality is an issue for the government. At the end of the day, it is for the government to ensure that the legislation put before this parliament is constitutional.

Labor takes the issue of our national security very seriously. We also take seriously the question of ensuring that whatever legislation passes this parliament will never create two classes of Australian citizens. Having said that, Labor supports the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, as the recommendations, we believe, certainly improve the bill. We note the government has also accepted those 27 unanimous recommendations of the committee. We believe that the bill, embracing those recommendations, does not represent a significant change to the principles underpinning our country's citizenship laws but will simply bring the laws up to date so that those who seek to do our nation harm can no longer be considered to have an allegiance to it. I support the bill.