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Parliamentary committee recommends changes to proposed citizenship laws -

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SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: Federal Parliament's Committee on Intelligence and Security has given the Government conditional approval for its controversial plans to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals involved in terrorism. The committee's made 27 recommendations in a report on the proposed laws. The Government's now weighing them up. It says passports should only be revoked for people in Australia after a court conviction and should be applied retrospectively to any dual citizen sentenced in the past decade to more than 10 years' jail for a terrorism-related offence. For dual nationals fighting with Islamic State overseas, there'd be no requirement for a conviction. The Government argues the laws are essential in making Australians safe from returned foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq.

To discuss the report I was joined earlier by the committee's chairman, Liberal MP, Dan Tehan.

Dan Tehan, thanks for talking to 7.30.


SABRA LANE: Under the recommendations your committee has made, dual nationals serving jail now for terrorism offences could be stripped of their Australian passports. How many people are we talking about?

DAN TEHAN: It would be under 10 people, as I understand it, so it would be a limited amount of individuals who would be impacted on this. We've obviously made the recommendation. It's a bipartisan recommendation of the committee and we'll have and wait and see what the Government decides to do with regards to it.

SABRA LANE: That deals with people who are in Australia. What about people who are suspected of terrorism offences who are outside Australia? What's the process there of making a decision on stripping their citizenship without a conviction?

DAN TEHAN: So these are the conduct provisions of the bill and these will occur if the committee's recommendations are agreed to by the Government would be restricted to offshore, so the individuals would have to be offshore for it to apply. And what happens there, this is the self-executing part of the bill, so if you carry out terrorism conduct, then you have, by your actions, renounced your citizenship and then what happens is if the Government becomes aware of that and then - we've put in place a few procedures and processes that the minister then has to consider and then he can revoke the citizenship.

SABRA LANE: But what's the evidence here. If you're not able to actually convict that person of these offences, what's the evidentiary bar? What's gonna be good enough?

DAN TEHAN: So what the evidentiary bar is, if you have carried out the relevant conduct, then there will be a group of officials that will come together. There would need to be, for instance, an adverse security assessment against you and this committee would advise the minister that they consider that the conduct has occurred and then the minister puts a notice - sends a notice to that person that says, "You have lost your Australian citizenship."

SABRA LANE: And that committee's made up of?

DAN TEHAN: People from our intelligence agencies, from the Attorney-General's, from the Immigration Department. It's the group of people who meet, for instance, when they - when the Government decides that it might want to suspend someone's passport.

SABRA LANE: If the Government adopted all the 27 recommendations that the committee's made here, would the laws survive a High Court challenge?

DAN TEHAN: The advice from the Solicitor-General is that the laws would stand a very good chance of surviving a High Court challenge.

SABRA LANE: It's not an iron-clad guarantee?

DAN TEHAN: No, when it comes to the High Court, obviously there are no absolute guarantees, but the advice that the committee received, and it's a letter from the Attorney-General which we've attached to the report, is that the Solicitor-General has advised that there is a good chance that the laws would survive a High Court challenge.

SABRA LANE: I'm glad that you mentioned that letter because one of the key principles of democracy is transparency. That letter that you're talking about actually relates to advice that the committee actually wanted to have a look at itself from the Solicitor-General. Now, you can't even get your hands on that. Why should we trust the Attorney-General at his word?

DAN TEHAN: Ah, well the ...

SABRA LANE: And why couldn't you get this advice?

DAN TEHAN: So the Attorney-General has provided that letter. It is common practice, whether it be - whether we're in government or if the Labor Party are in government, that the precedent is that you don't provide the advice from the Solicitor-General. It's in pretty rare instances that that would occur. I think the Attorney-General has gone beyond the normal call of duty in providing us with this letter. The committee was satisfied with that process, so that's why we've got our 27 recommendations and we say the bill should pass.

SABRA LANE: Let me pick you up there because the Labor shadow ministers on this today Richard Marles and Mark Dreyfus were pretty unhappy about that. They said that actually they wanted to see the Solicitor-General's advice for themselves.

DAN TEHAN: Yes, and what I would say to the Labor Party and to the shadow Attorney-General: why doesn't he come out and give a commitment that if Labor gets back into power at some stage, that he would be prepared to always make the Solicitor-General's advice public? Because he knows that that's not the normal precedence that - that government follows.

SABRA LANE: As part of your committee work, you recently visited Europe. How confident are you that Europe is actually capable of dealing with the refugee crisis that we're witnessing there now?

DAN TEHAN: Well, there's nine million people internally displaced in Syria at the moment. There are millions outside of Syria. I think that this is a humanitarian crisis, the like of which the world hasn't seen. I think we need the international community to act and act quickly on this. I think we need to see the United Nations really step up to the plate. They did so when it came to Kosovo when there were 230,000 people displaced. In Syria, we have 230,000 people dead and that number is growing. I think what we really need is a international call for the United Nations and the international community to really do a lot more than they're currently doing here.

SABRA LANE: If Australia's going to extend its military operations, the bombing operations into Syria, is there a moral obligation for Australia to take more refugees from Syria?

DAN TEHAN: Well I think there's a moral obligation on the international community to do more and we need to be part of that.

SABRA LANE: Well Europe and the United Nations haven't until this point. Why - why should we have any belief that things are actually gonna change?

DAN TEHAN: Well, because my hope is that they will realise that if they don't, this situation is going to get worse. They've got to look at the historical precedent for when we've had events like this and what we've seen in Syria, the world has not seen before. The numbers are just - are just staggering.

SABRA LANE: Why should Australia extend its operations into Syria given that the Australian commander of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, says that Australian air strikes in Syria wouldn't be a game changer?

DAN TEHAN: They wouldn't be a game changer, but they would show that we are prepared to act, that we're prepared to do our bit, and that, I think, gives us a greater moral right to then say to the rest of the world, "Look, we're prepared to do our bit at the moment. What we also want now though is the international community to do a lot more. And we're showing we're prepared to do something, to act. We want you also to act and we want to be a part of that action and we want to be a part of that resolution."

SABRA LANE: Dan Tehan, that's all we've got time for. Thanks for talking to 7.30.

DAN TEHAN: Thanks, Sabra.