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Government divided about removing citizenship of foreign fighters without dual nationality -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Dual nationals could soon have their Australian citizenship stripped away if they fight with Islamic State or any other terrorist group.

But Cabinet has put off a decision about stripping sole nationals of their Australian passports, with a split between ministers over how it would work.

Here's political correspondent Sabra Lane:

TONY ABBOTT, PRIME MINISTER: This is all about combating terror.

The words of the citizenship pledge must mean something.

SABRA LANE, REPORTER: The Government first floated the idea of stripping dual citizenship from Australians caught fighting or supporting terrorist groups like Islamic state 15 months ago.

TONY ABBOTT: This is a very serious problem. It is perhaps the most serious national security challenge that we will face in our lifetimes.

SABRA LANE: Today, flanked by his Immigration Minister, the Prime Minister announced a move to do just that.

TONY ABBOTT: Today I announce that, as flagged by me in my national security statement in February, we will be legislating within a few weeks to strip dual citizens involved in terrorism of their Australian citizenship.

SABRA LANE: The new laws will also involve unprecedented action against people suspected of being terrorists and planning attacks on home-soil - even if they haven't been convicted.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, it's a weighty business to take away someone's citizenship, even the citizenship of a dual national. And we don't lightly do it. Nevertheless, given the challenges that we face, we think this is an important addition to the armoury that we have to keep the Australian people safe.

SABRA LANE: Peter Dutton is the man who'll have the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals.

PETER DUTTON, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: They include an act of terrorism. They include acts preparatory to. They include fundraising, other elements within the Crimes Act. And we've released that detail today.

And if the Minister can satisfy themselves that that person has committed an act within the scope of those sections within the Crimes Act then, presuming that somebody's not going to be rendered stateless, then that gives the Minister of the day the ability to take away Australian citizenship and allow that person to fall back to their original citizenship.

SABRA LANE: But that's even just a suspicion, not a conviction?

PETER DUTTON: In Syria, for argument's sake, if somebody had been involved in a rape or a murder, or a terrorist act within Syria: to come back to Australia, it's very hard for us to gather the evidence and prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt in our courts here.

So necessarily we rely on the advice from the intelligence agencies and the information available through gathering of all of that information. That's the information that ministers in other like-minded countries rely on when they make a decision in this area. There's already discretionary approach available to the Minister under the Citizenship Act now and this is an extension, a modernisation if you like, of that power.

SABRA LANE: Minister Dutton says his decisions will be subject to judicial review at three levels: by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Court and the High Court.

The Government estimates about half of the 100 Australians fighting with IS forces are dual nationals.

BRET WALKER, FMR NATIONAL SECURITY MONITOR: They are really very serious and important issues. I'm very glad the Government's looking at them.

SABRA LANE: Bret Walker is the former national security legislation watchdog.

BRET WALKER: There is something very disturbing about a person with another citizenship ending up fighting against Australian soldiers when he or she is also an Australian citizen. That ought to trouble people. And I'm very pleased the Government is addressing it. The detail is the thing, though.

SABRA LANE: The proposals are controversial inside and outside of Canberra - indeed, within Cabinet itself.

Before the Prime Minister made the announcement, it was leaked from Cabinet that many ministers strongly opposed some ideas put to it, particularly the proposal to strip sole citizens - Australians who have no other passport of their citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Cabinet won't make a decision on that idea now. Instead, it's contained in a discussion paper about the rights and obligations of being an Australian citizen.

GHAITH KRAYEM, ISLAMIC COUNCIL OF VICTORIA: To be able to take that away without even having the same level of evidence required to convict someone is: you know, it's a really worrying sign of where things are going.

PETER DUTTON: We've included that aspect in the discussion paper and not the legislation initially, because we believe it's worthy of community consultation, further discussion within the public about whether that might be appropriate to include in legislation at some point. We're certainly open-minded to that provision.

SABRA LANE: The ABC's been told that some of your Cabinet colleagues believed you and the Prime Minister were being rather "gung-ho" - their words - in the proposals that you put to Cabinet. How do you respond to that?

PETER DUTTON: Well, who are these people?

SABRA LANE: They're my sources. I'm not going to name them to you.

PETER DUTTON: Right, well, I don't think it's accurate at all, with due respect. And I think the debate that we had in the Cabinet, the overwhelming support that we had in the party room, frankly reflects the review in the Australian community.

GHAITH KRAYEM: The Prime Minister went to all sorts of effort not to name our community today. On one hand, that's a good thing. But the reality is: we know where these laws are going to be applied. That's the reality. And it's sending a clear message to the broader community that there's a problem with Muslims.

SABRA LANE: The president of Victoria's Islamic Council, Ghaith Krayem, says he and this community are deeply troubled by the proposals.

GHAITH KRAYEM: No one's fighting against Australia. Australia is over there. How about we pull the troops out of the Middle East? It would solve the problem. Nobody's fighting against Australia.

You know, and if we're talking about people who are potentially are going to commit a crime within Australia: are we going to deport all criminals to some other country? Are we suddenly now exporting our problem to other countries to deal with? I think it's a nonsense.

TONY ABBOTT: I want to offer that absolutely profound reassurance. I want to offer my personal guarantee, as well as the commitment of this Government, that we are in the business of bringing our country together. And obviously, if we are bringing our country together, it's got to be on the basis of a profound commitment to this country by everyone.

SABRA LANE: Bret Walker says he wants to see the detailed legislation before giving final judgement on the proposed laws but believes there will be adequate checks in place.

BRET WALKER: Anybody who has had their citizenship revoked will have ample standing to challenge it. Whether they will have the capacity in their absence from this country to carry out such a challenge in a court is another thing altogether.

I wouldn't be too troubled by that. If somebody is, as it were, too busy fighting in the wars in Syria to attend to their business as a litigant in Australia, I'm not sure many people would be too upset. I certainly wouldn't be.

LEIGH SALES: Sabra Lane reporting.