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Minister discusses Liberal Member's proposal to annul citizenship and deport immigrants involved in acts of terrorism.

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Tuesday 26 July 2005

Minister discusses Liberal Member's proposal to annul citizenship and deport immigrants involved in acts of terrorism


MARK COLVIN: One Federal Liberal MP believes he can persuade his colleagues in government that immigrants involved in terrorism should be stripped of their Australian citizenship and deported. 


Steve Ciobo is a member of the Government's advisory committee to the Attorney-General. He wants the Government to revive a proposal it considered in 2003, to change the law and make annulment of citizenship and deportation possible penalties for terrorism crimes. 


Last time, Liberal MPs vigorously opposed the move. Is Mr Ciobo right in thinking they can be brought round to the opposite point of view in today's climate? 


The Minister for Citizenship, John Cobb, says a very real problem is that the Government must not render its citizens stateless.  


He spoke to Alexandra Kirk. 


JOHN COBB: There is currently a review of Australia's counter terrorism measures, and obviously all issues relative to that are being considered in that review. I probably should stress the position at the moment is that you really cannot be… have your citizenship revoked for what happens after you come to Australia. 


So, obviously, if you were going to, if you were going to want to include that, you would have to realise that it could only be an issue where somebody would not be stateless by our revoking their citizenship, because obviously a country has to accept that person back, or accept that person. 


So, currently, you can have your citizenship revoked if you are shown to have lied in your migration procedure, or if you were shown to have been guilty of an offence for which you, well at least went to jail, in your country of origin.  


For example, if you lied about the fact that you'd been involved in a terrorist organisation, not in Australia but in your country of origin, then obviously that would be a reason for us to look at your citizenship status. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But what's being talked about now is that if somebody was involved in a terrorism act or being involved in inciting a terrorist attack in Australia, post being granted citizenship, whether their citizenship should be removed and they should be deported back to their country of origin? 


JOHN COBB: Well, what I can say is all those issues are being looked at in this review, which is a review of our counter terrorism issues or measures. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, the argument that was put in 2003 and saw… and as a result this proposal never saw the light of day, was that it would be discriminatory, that you'd create, in effect, two classes of citizens. Is that a consideration? 


JOHN COBB: Look, yeah, you're actually delving into the Attorney-General's area rather than mine. He has to be the one, obviously, it's his department that sorts out the legal niceties or the legal relevancies of it all. 


But I think we have to take into consideration a couple of things, and one is that are we better off, given that terrorism is a global issue - it's not an Australian issue, it's a global one - are we better off to punish people who incite people to acts of terrorism, as you can be now?  


You can currently be charged and jailed for up to 10 years if you incite people to commit a crime. Are we better to simply export our flotsam, as it were, back to where they came from to excite more problems? 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what do you think? 


JOHN COBB: I think, depending upon the severity of what has happened, we are better off to deal with it ourselves than simply to export our problem. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Because you think that most countries wouldn't want these people back anyway? 


JOHN COBB: Well, I think that if a person has retained their citizenship, they are going to be much more careful. I mean, people who make statements which the rest of us severely disagree with are very careful about actually breaking the law. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, back in 2003 this idea of revoking people's citizenship and sending them back to their country of origin was vigorously opposed in the party room. Do you think anything has changed since then - the sentiment in the party room, that is? 


JOHN COBB: Look, I think everybody has a different view of security to what they did then, and possibly the degree with which we handle it. I think the basic sentiments will be unchanged, that Australian citizenship must mean that it is exactly that citizenship.  


And that's why we make the distinction between what you do after you come to Australia and what you have done before you come here. If we find that you have lied to us before you come here, then naturally we'll send you back where you came from.  


But you can't get away from the issue, and it's a very real issue and a problem, if you want to start going down this path, that you can't renounce the citizenship of somebody who is stateless. 


That obviously means anyone who's born here, who is the descendent of an Australian citizen who was born here, and in some cases it will mean people who have become citizens who migrated here who no longer have a country which will accept them. 


MARK COLVIN: The Federal Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, John Cobb, with Alexandra Kirk.