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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 23 June 2015: legislation to strip terrorists of citizenship; crocodile hunting in the Northern Territory; Q&A appearance of Zaky Mallah

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Joint Press Conference, Parliament House, Canberra


As all of you I’m sure know, the absolute first priority of government is the safety of our community and as I’m sure

all of you are now only too well aware, our country does face a serious terrorist threat, particularly over the last 12

months with the rise and rise of the Daesh Islamist death cult in the Middle East and its consistent campaign to

reach out to vulnerable and susceptible people here in Australia.

As all of you I'm sure now know, some 120 Australians are known to be fighting with the death cult and its affiliates

in the Middle East. Some 160 Australians are known to be supporting them with financing and recruitment and we

are pretty confident that about 30 Australians have so far been killed fighting for the death cult in the Middle East.

Our intention always is as far as we humanly can, to stop people from becoming terrorists in the first place. If

people have become terrorists, our intention as far as we humanly can is to stop them from coming back and

that's what today's announcement is all about: it's about giving the Government additional mechanisms for

stopping hardened terrorists returning to Australia.

As all of you I'm sure would know, under Section 35 of the Citizenship Act 1948, someone automatically loses

Australian citizenship if he or she is a dual national and fights with the army of a country at war with us. So, what

we are effectively doing is updating Section 35 of the Citizenship Act to reflect modern conditions where often

people don't go and fight against us in a foreign army; they fight against us in a terrorist group.

Effectively, what we are doing with this legislation is creating two new circumstances under which dual nationals

who are terrorists will forfeit their citizenship. One is renunciation by conduct, so if you engage in terrorism against

Australia, as is currently the case with Section 35 in respect of a foreign army, you will automatically forfeit your

citizenship. The other is revocation by conviction, so if you are convicted of a terrorist offence, again, there will be

an assumption that your Australian citizenship is forfeited, should you be a dual national.

So, as far as is humanly possible, the forfeiture of citizenship by terrorists who are dual nationals happens

automatically by action of law.

The process from here is that the legislation, which was considered by the National Security Committee of the

Cabinet yesterday and by the Cabinet yesterday and was considered by the Party Room this morning will be

introduced into the Parliament first thing tomorrow morning. I have had discussions with the Leader of the

Opposition overnight and the Opposition will be formally briefed on the legislation tomorrow. That is the process

from here.

There are a couple of matters that I should probably raise at this point. First, we will ask the Joint Standing

Committee on Intelligence and Security to consider whether there should be retrospective operation of the new

law should it pass the Parliament. As drafted it’s prospective, but given that we have a number of dual citizens

currently in jail after terrorist convictions, the Committee should consider whether it should have retrospective

operation at least in those cases.

There is a further very large question and that is what do we do about the 50 per cent or so of those Australians

who are currently known to be fighting overseas with terrorist armies who are not dual citizens. This is one of

those issues that will be considered by the Ruddock - Fierravanti-Wells consultation process now taking place and

I would expect that in the months to come the Government will have further legislation in this area.

Before I close, I want to say thank you very much to my ministerial colleagues. There is no one in this Parliament

more committed to the safety of our community and the security of our borders than Minister Dutton. Peter, you've

done an outstanding job with a difficult subject and, George, there is no finer legal mind in the Parliament than the

Attorney-General, Senator Brandis QC. These two Ministers have worked extremely well together to get us to this


I want to close with this: as Australians, we will never, ever, sacrifice our freedoms, but we will defend them. We

will defend them and that's what this legislation is all about.


PM, thank you very much, George, thank you ladies and gentlemen for being here. Since September of last year

we have had two terrorist attacks in Australia and the authorities have thwarted six attacks. It is true at the same

time that since last September, 23 Australians have been charged in relation to terrorist-related matters. So, the

fact is for us, for all Western democracies, this is a very serious and increasing threat, and the privilege of

Australian citizenship is to be taken very seriously, and the Australian Government has achieved a balance in

terms of the provisions that we put forward today.

As the Prime Minister points out, there's been a lot of work and a very thorough process that's been gone through

over the course of the last couple of months. We have provided in the legislation that will be introduced into the

Parliament tomorrow, a principle of renunciation by conduct. So, the person's conduct, the acts that they are

involved in, they deliver a renunciation themselves of their own citizenship and there is for a conviction a similar


It's also important that we have been able to capture people who are not only fighting for, but serving in a

prescribed terrorist organisation, and there is, as a result of that action as well, by their own actions, by their own

conduct, a renunciation in effect of their citizenship.


Prime Minister, Peter. The legislation that Mr Dutton will introduce tomorrow morning into the House of

Representatives has been the subject of a very, very thorough process of consideration. The policy outcomes,

though, have never been in doubt, as the Prime Minister has said. It is our obligation - our ultimate obligation -

as a Government to keep our community safe. It's also our obligation as a Government to do so consistently with

the rule of law, and within the constitution and after a very thorough process of development of this legislation that

has involved consultation among others with the Solicitor-General, I'm satisfied that this legislation achieves that

objective as well.


For dual nationals here in Australia, could they lose their citizenship without a conviction, as was flagged last



There are two broad circumstances under which people will forfeit their citizenship. The first is renunciation by

conduct; the second is revocation by conviction. Now, it could happen, either of these circumstances could apply

to people onshore or offshore, but much more typically, it would be renunciation by conduct offshore, and

revocation by conviction onshore.

I want to stress that this is about terrorists - it's about terrorists. Now, it so happens that if you are a dual citizen,

there is a particular action that we can take against you if you are a terrorist, but this is about targeting terrorists.

It's not about having a go at dual citizens, because dual citizenship has been an honourable condition since the

Howard government changed the rules back in 2002, and millions of Australians either are or could be dual

citizens for perfectly good reasons. Often we benefit greatly from the fact that some of our people are dual citizens

and I have not the slightest issue with dual citizenship itself.

My issue is with terrorism and this Government will do everything we humanly can to protect our country against



Prime Minister, the renunciation by conduct - what kind of conduct can be covered there? Does it have to be like

Section 35 now, taking up arms or can it be financing terrorism, recruiting for terrorist groups?


There will be a series of provisions in the legislation to specify the kind of conduct that is covered. But in broad

terms, it is serious involvement with a terrorist group.


Prime Minister, just to clarify that point can I just ask: you say it's automatic, this renunciation by conduct, but can

you just clarify surely there has to be some administrative decision taken - so, what is the process for such a

declaration to be made?


And, look, before I get to that I should say that the legislation will go into the Parliament tomorrow and obviously it

will immediately go off to the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security for thorough scrutiny. I have to

say that all of our legislation thus far has benefitted from the scrutiny of that committee and I would expect that this

legislation will benefit from the scrutiny of that committee, including consideration of the retrospective element. So,

just repeat the question.


What's the actual process for that?


Ok, if based on appropriate advice, the Minister becomes aware of a forfeiture under the Act, the Minister will

inform as best he or she can, the individual in question, that citizenship is forfeited under the relevant section of

the Act.


Prime Minister, one of the curious things about Section 35 - I’m sure you’re aware - is that even though it’s so

famous, it’s actually never been used. So, my question's probably better directed at the Attorney-General. With

the Solicitor-General's advice, did he go to the effectiveness of the current regime and was the problem that he

found out about Section 35 and its replacement, this issue of judicial review?


If I could just offer a thought here, thanks. Look, an old law is a good law. This law has stood for almost 70 years

unchallenged and it is now a settled part of the Australian legal system. I would refer any of you who are

particularly interested in this to the speech of the then minister Arthur Calwell, when introducing the Citizenship Act

back in our Parliament in I think 1948. So, this is a provision of long standing, and old laws…




No, no, no, just because it has not yet been used does not mean that it is in some way redundant. It's so effective,

you might say, Andrew. It has been so effective that it hasn't had to be used and we will develop it by bringing it

into the modern era.

Now, George, do you wish to add anything?


Just to add to your remarks, Prime Minister - of course, Andrew, it's completely wrong to say that a provision

that's not used is redundant or ineffective as you seem to be implying. In fact, in its very limited form at the

moment, Section 35 applies to Australians who take up arms against Australia in the army of a nation with which

Australia is at war. I'm unaware of any occasions when that has in fact occurred since 1948, but what we are

aware of, as the Prime Minister has said, is more than 120 Australians now engaged in terrorist activities fighting

on behalf of ISIL, not to mention those Australians who we know have engaged in terrorist activities onshore.


Prime Minister, with regard to retrospectivity - and Mr Dutton, you can answer this - how far back would the

retrospectivity extend and roughly how many people do you have in mind, if this were to happen?


At the moment, we aren't proposing that it be of retrospective operation. As the legislation stands, that will go into

the Parliament tomorrow, it will be of prospective operation only. So, people to fall foul of this legislation would

need to be engaged in terrorist activities from the date the legislation comes into effect.

This is, nevertheless, something that will be considered. We believe this is right and proper that this matter of

retrospective operation should be considered by the Joint Standing Committee because there are people who are

dual nationals currently in jail on terrorist offences and at some point in the future, they'll be released and the

question will then arise should they be deported. Now, if the legislation passes the Parliament with retrospective

effect, obviously, that would be a possibility. So, it is a matter for the consideration of the Committee.


Prime Minister, if the legislation passes, though, there are people who are now fighting in that circumstance. Do

you have a number on how many of those would fall under this law?


The best advice we have is that up to 50 per cent of those who are currently fighting in the Middle East with

various terrorist armies are dual nationals.


Prime Minister, do you plan to seek some bilateral agreements with countries to ensure that they are not left

stateless, these people that we strip of their dual nationality? And will you be trying to seek some other extradition

treaties or anything of that nature?


We are not going to overcomplicate this matter. We are going to act very firmly in Australia's national interests and

it is absolutely in our national interest that wherever we reasonably can, we stop hardened terrorists from coming

back to our country where they could be at loose on our streets plotting harm to our citizens. So, this is the

overriding objective: to try to stop hardened terrorists from coming back to our country. The point I keep making is

that if you are a terrorist and you are a dual national, we will do our best to strip the citizenship off you.

Now, obviously, we have other countries with which we work very closely - our five eyes partners - we work very

closely with them. We work very closely with a number of regional countries, with a number of friendly countries in

the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. Obviously, we will talk to other countries and let them know what we are

doing, but in the end, the Australian Government will operate very firmly in defence of our national interests and it

is in our national interests that as far as is humanly possible we stop terrorists from being loose on our streets.


Prime Minister, on that, how does the legislation actually define terrorism? I'm thinking particularly of examples of

people who have gone overseas and fought with the Kurds. Is it linked to prescribed organisations, is that how you

define terrorism and if they are cancelled overseas, is there any legal redress for them to seek a court to look at

that later?


As you know, there are a number of organisations prescribed at law by the Attorney - I think there's 21 from

memory. The legislation will give the Minister for Border Protection the opportunity to specify from amongst that list

terrorist organisations for the purposes of this legislation, because some of those currently prescribed, while

they’re terrorist organisations and we don't like them, are not particularly aiming at us. So, this Minister will have a

chance to make a selection out of this Minister's list of terrorist organisations and if we believe, on appropriate

advice, that the citizenship of a dual national is forfeit by virtue of participation in serious terrorist activity under the

law, well, the relevant notification will go out.

The role of the Minister is not adjudication; it's notification. That's the role of the Minister. It is the law - the law

itself - it will be the operation of the law that actually strips people of their citizenship rather than the ministerial

decision as such. If, however, the person so affected believes that there is some problem, this matter will be

legally reviewable, as we have said all along.


Prime Minister, the revocation for conviction in Australia is dealing with the home-grown threat. Can you talk us

through how that would work? Obviously not the retrospectivity that would happen, but currently now, how would

that work and what would they need to be convicted of and how would they lose their citizenship and presumably

be deported?


Again, there are a range of terrorist offences that will be specified in the legislation, and if someone is convicted of

one or more of those offences, well, then their citizenship, other than in circumstances where the Minister believes

that for various reasons it would be in our national interests not to, will be forfeited.


Prime Minister, do you accept that this is a long way back from the ministerial discretion power that you were

talking about initially and that perhaps the Government had misinterpreted Brett Walker's recommendations?


I think if I may say so, with respect to a distinguished Senior Counsel, he's changed his mind. That's what's

happened. For all sorts of reasons he's changed his mind and I don't want to speculate on what those reasons

might be because it was a very, very clear and unambiguous recommendation and his report back in March, I

think, of last year, that there should be the capacity for the Minister on national interest grounds to strip terrorists

who are dual nationals of their citizenship...


[inaudible] at this point yourself?


But again, what have we all along wanted to do here? We have wanted to strip citizenship from terrorists who are

dual nationals. That's what we have wanted to do and we have wanted to be able to do so without needing, if you

like, a prior judicial process - without needing a prior judicial process - and that is exactly what we believe we

have achieved through this legislation.


Mr Abbott, nevertheless, you have stepped back from ministerial discretion, which Peter Dutton was arguing for I

think as late as last week very vigorously, saying that it was necessary. Do you now think that the original

submission should have had more consultation before it went to Cabinet, more input from Senator Brandis so that

you could have avoided what seemed to have been a lapse in judgment about process?


I don't accept the premises, Michelle, of your question. Can I say that this matter one way or another has had an

exhaustive discussion and consultation both within and without the Government. This matter was first considered

to the best of my recollection by the NSC in the first half of last year. At the time, we decided that it was not to be

proceeded with, but, of course, a lot of things changed since then.

We had the rise in the terror threat level, we had the two terrorist incidents here in Australia, we’ve had the six

disruptions of imminent terrorist attacks here in Australia, we have had the very large numbers of Australians

going overseas to fight with the death cult and a sensible Government has an evolving response to an evolving

situation. As this situation has evolved, we have constantly changed and lifted our response. So that's the first

point I would make.

Again, I just want to say that all along, what we wanted to do was to create a situation where it was possible to

stop terrorists from returning to Australia without a prior judicial process. That was always our objective and I

believe that is exactly what we have achieved in a way which I think is very legally strong.


What’s your response to reports overnight of the deaths of Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf?


Look, both of them were terrorists. Both of them are evil. They are both evil terrorists. Now, I can't finally confirm

any outcome, but I just want to say that both of them were out and out terrorists and the warning that we have

been giving to Australians is: don't go overseas to join a terrorist army. You are putting yourself in harm's way and

it may well be that serious harm has come to these two individuals.


[inaudible] someone's renounced citizenship by conduct and brings that recommendation to Mr Dutton and can I

also ask are you still attracted to the idea of stripping sole citizenship from those who can claim it from other



The second part of your question, Michael is a matter that will be considered as we’ve made clear all along as

part of the citizenship consultation process, which Philip Ruddock and Connie Fierravanti-Wells are currently

leading. So, that's something which the Government will reconsider, along with what might possibly be done in

respect of people fighting with terrorist armies overseas who are wholly and solely Australian citizens. That matter,

too, will be considered in due course after the consultation is complete.

The actual forfeiture of citizenship envisaged by this legislation will take place by operation of law. It will take place

by operation of law in precisely the same way that Section 35 has long envisaged that dual citizens would lose

their Australian nationality under particular conditions. If they elect to do particular things, their citizenship would

automatically be forfeited. So, this will take place by operation of law, obviously it would be the Minister, in this

case Minister Dutton, who notified individuals that by virtue of the operation of the relevant section of the

Citizenship Act, their citizenship had been forfeited.


If a person's citizenship is revoked onshore and they can't be deported for whatever reason, perhaps the other

country won't take them back, is indefinite detention the other option?


Well, look, that's a bridge that we would cross if and when we came to it. But the point that I make is that under no

circumstance will this Government resile from reasonable lawful action which keeps our community safe.


Do you think that crocodile safari hunting should be allowed across Northern Australia and why do you think your

Indigenous Affairs Minister is so keen on it?


Look, I'm not going to answer for Nigel. All I'm going to indicate is that as far as the Commonwealth Government is

concerned, there are no plans to change any relevant law in this area.


Just a question on the children of terrorists. Could they, too, have their citizenship stripped because of the

activities of their parents?


Well, they will be subject to the law. They will be subject to the law. And the law will be enforced with its full rigor by

this Government to keep our community safe. So, anyone who falls foul of this legislation will be dealt with, with

the full rigor of this legislation.


Just to clarify something you said, you said earlier that in the first half of last year you decided not to proceed with

citizenship changes. What was the reason for that decision at that time?


I'm not going to give an endless commentary on process. All I'm saying is that this broad subject has been a

matter that has been very, very thoroughly discussed, very, very thoroughly consulted upon, both within

Government and without government. And as I said, the culmination of the process, the culmination of a very long

and quite exhaustive process, was the decision of the NSC yesterday. NSC decisions, as you know, are not

required to go to the full Cabinet, but I thought given the significance of this, it ought to go to the full Cabinet. It did,

it was duly endorsed by the full Cabinet and it's gone to the Party Room today.


You apparently had a colourful description of ABC's Q&A in today's Party Room meeting. Is that a description you

stand by publicly, one? And, two, as you make laws like this, isn't that the very time that Australians ought to be

hearing from radical people in our community and their points of view even although we might very severely

disagree with what they have to say?


Well, Tim, I'm certainly not going to repeat things that were said in the confidentiality of the Party Room. As you

know, the Party Room is sacred space and what goes in the Party Room stays in the Party Room, other than

formal decisions which are subsequently announced such as the decision we took today.

On the subject of last night's Q&A, what our national broadcaster has done is give a platform to a convicted

criminal and terrorist sympathiser. They’ve given this individual, this disgraceful individual, a platform and in so

doing, I believe the national broadcaster has badly let us down.

I think many, many millions of Australians would feel betrayed by our national broadcaster right now, and I think

that the ABC does have to have a long, hard look at itself, and to answer a question which I have posed before:

who's side are you on? Who's side are you on here? Fair enough, we all believe in free speech, but in the end we

have to make judgments and I think that the ABC made a very, very serious misjudgement last night.

Thank you so much.