Steve Irons MP Federal Member for Swan

Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015

November 24: Steve Irons public support for the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015.

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I support the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015.

(13:26) I rise today to publicly support the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. The amendments being made to this bill are necessary adjustments, particularly in light of recent events. It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Dawson on issues of national security. I know that he is passionate and diligent and very committed to seeing the security and safety of all Australians, as we should. His speech was very good to hear. It is a pleasure to follow him and other colleagues who have supported this bill.

On Friday, 13 November, France was the victim of a malicious, extreme and what I would call cowardly terrorist attack, which stole the lives of at least 130 people and injured more than 350 others. I would like to add to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and all my colleagues in personally extending my condolences to the people of Paris and the families and friends of those killed. No country should have to go through what France is going through. Australia stands solemnly with you in this time of grieving, and we remain united in our battle against terrorism.

The highly organised attacks saw gunmen and suicide bombers target the Parisian way of life—bars, restaurants and a sports stadium. The attacks stole innocent lives and imposed immense fear and suffering not only in Paris but around the world. The attacks were against freedom, as we all understand it to be, and what that freedom means for each of us as individuals. Like France, we too, will not stand for terrorism. We refuse to let terror win. The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 presents imperative amendments to further secure the safety of Australia and its citizens, by taking a strong stance on terrorism and terrorist organisations.

I would like to provide some context for the House. In September of last year, our national terrorism public alert level was raised to the status of high. Since then, there have been 26 people charged, resulting from 10 counter-terrorism operations and there are currently more than 400 high-priority counter-terrorism ongoing investigations being managed by our security agencies. We just heard the member for Dawson talk about the fact that we are at war. An article that was written in the paper on the weekend, also talked about the fact that we are at war and that France’s President has also declared that we are at war. Over 1,000 people have died at the hands of terrorists this year around the world. So, as the member for Dawson said, we are definitely at war.

To provide some perspective and understanding of how serious this threat is, those 400 investigations work out to an average of 2.6 high priority counter-terrorism cases across each Australian electorate. This figure has doubled from what it was only one year ago. In terms of individual involvement, there are currently 110 Australians known to our security agencies to be either fighting with or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq. The number of Australians joining extremist groups is rising. The number of supporters of extremism and potential terrorists is rising.

(16:31): I rise to continue talking on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. As I was saying earlier, before being interrupted by the 90 second members’ statements, the number of Australians joining extremist groups is rising. The number of supporters of extremism and potential terrorists is rising. Despite our best efforts, the risk of a terrorist attack on home soil is rising. Now is the time to make sure we are doing all we can to preserve the safety of our citizens. Since 1945, 4.6 million people have become Australian citizens by conferral. In 2014-15 alone, we congratulated 136,000 people on becoming Australian citizens. Regardless of whether a person’s Australian citizenship is due to birth in Australia or otherwise, it remains a privilege. It carries with it both rights and responsibilities. It gives you the rights to freedom of speech and religion, the right to equality, the right to a strong education and health system and the right to a welfare system, to name a few. It does not and will not give you the right to terrorise and impose fear.

Australia has long been a united and cohesive country built on a diversity of cultures, ethnicities and religions. It is something we pride ourselves on. In order to maintain this level of unity and cohesion, it is essential we continue to monitor, update and amend the way in which we deal with individuals and groups who threaten it. The counter-terrorism review released in February this year noted we, as a nation, have entered into a long-term era where the threat of terrorism is heightened, and the home-grown element of this is significant. As a government, we are committed to countering home-grown terrorism by investing in counter-terrorism capabilities and updating national security legislation such as the one we have before us today.

The bill amends the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 and outlines the circumstances in which dual citizens’ Australian citizenship can be revoked through their engagement with terrorism or terrorist organisations. Both the UK and Canada have similar acts in place. In 2014, the UK passed similar laws allowing them to revoke the citizenship of a naturalised person in the case where that individual engaged in conduct or activity seen to be seriously prejudicial to the interests of the UK and they are able to gain citizenship elsewhere. Similarly, Canada passed legislation that came into effect earlier this year. Canada’s laws now allow the citizenship and immigration minister to revoke citizenship of a dual national if they are convicted of a terrorism related offence.

For the benefit of the House, I would like to briefly explore the amendments being proposed. The amendment bill before us today details the terms through which the minister is able to class an individual as exempt from the operation of the bill and provides for monitoring and reporting on the bill’s application. The bill was referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on 24 June this year. The committee submitted its report, which included 27 recommendations for amendment to the original bill, on 4 September. The amendments in this bill are a direct response to the recommendations made by the committee.

Before going into the process for cessation of citizenship, I would like to explore the three elements of the amendment bill. The first deals with renunciation by conduct. It details that a citizen who is also a citizen of another country effectively renounces their Australian citizenship if they act inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia. There are a number of points which expand on the definition of conduct that would lead to this, all of which include engaging in, providing, directing, recruiting or financing terrorism or a terrorist organisation. Australian dual citizens who choose to assist and promote organisations whose primary aim is to inflict evil and impose fear now do so knowing that their right to remain an Australian citizen will be removed. The amendments to section 33AA provide that the conduct provisions are limited to individuals who engaged in relevant conduct offshore or who engaged in relevant conduct onshore but left Australia before being charged and brought to trial.

The second element of this amendment bill is the expansion of the original provision relating to loss of citizenship. Since 1949, Australian law has provided for automatic loss of citizenship in the case that an Australian citizen chooses to serve in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. The amendments being proposed allow the same automatic loss of citizenship to occur to anyone choosing to serve and fight on behalf of a terrorist organisation. This would only apply to Australians with dual citizenship. The amendments follow all legal criteria, and terrorist organisations will be declared only when conforming to the Criminal Code. As we heard before, the member for Dawson said in his speech that it should also include a single state citizen who is eligible to hold citizenship in another country.

This amendment is of vital importance, effectively allowing the minister to assess and declare a terrorist organisation when it is directly or indirectly engaged in terrorism and is actively opposed to Australia’s interests, values, beliefs and freedoms. Provisions have been made in this amendment to ensure the laws of this act do not apply to individuals under duress and forced to be in the service of a declared terrorist organisation. An important part of Australian law is its transparency and accountability—both of which ensure our freedoms as citizens are protected. I am glad to see that this amendment allows for any declaration of a terrorist organisation made by the minister to be open to review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It is an example of how these amendments strive to deliver the best possible outcome for all parties involved and, again, to actively secure citizens’ rights and safety.

I move now to the third section of the amendment bill—that is, conviction for terrorism and related offences. The addition to the bill, section 35A, provides the minister with the power of determination of citizenship status of an individual once convicted of a relevant offence and conforming to the criteria. The criteria for determination by the minister include, but are not limited to: the conduct through which the individual has repudiated their allegiance to Australia; the severity of their conduct; the degree of threat posed by the individual; Australia’s current international relations; and the individual’s connection to the country of which they also hold citizenship. The individual must also be sentenced to a minimum of six years imprisonment, as a whole or a number of periods totalling that time frame, for relevant offences such as treason, espionage and terrorism. Although the minister holds the power of determination, the minister is required by law to automatically revoke his or her determination in the case of the individual’s conviction being overturned. Again, this highlights the government’s commitment to provide individuals with a fair and just response to all accused.

In theory, these amendments are a strong improvement on the original bill, but the process of cessation of citizenship remains a critical aspect. Once the minister has received information from our intelligence or other associated agencies, the amended bill requires the individual to be given notice as soon as reasonably possible. Notice is required to include a description of the conduct leading to the decision and to inform the individual of their rights to have the decision reviewed. The only provision to this amendment is in the case where providing notice to the individual would fundamentally destabilise or weaken Australia’s national security and defence. It also acts on the proviso that the minister, after making a determination not to give notice, should consider revocation of his decision no later than six months after making it and requires the minister to consider revocation of his determination at least every six months for a period of five years.

I note for the record that sections 33AA and 35, which I have just discussed, do not apply to any person working for, or under the direction of, an Australian intelligence or law enforcement agency. Unfortunately, in the current security climate, we must consider how to deal with minors linked to terrorist organisations. As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, last month in Parramatta we saw a 15-year-old boy shoot and kill a police worker. Although acting alone, it is believed the shooter was politically and religiously motivated and, therefore, linked to terrorism. Then, not even two weeks later, in a separate case, a 12-year-old boy was named in a court control order as being at risk of radicalisation and under the influence of multiple extremists willing to commit acts of terror in the name of the Islamic State. The conduct provisions listed in the amendments will not apply to any minor under 14 years of age. I note none of the amendments, conduct or criminal, will apply to a minor under 10 years of age. When discussing the conviction provisions, a child aged between 10 and 14 years will only be criminally responsible if they are aware that their conduct is indeed against the law. However, the burden of proving this remains on the prosecution. Each individual case with minors will be unique and will need to be treated accordingly. In the case where a child is deemed criminally responsible and subsequently convicted of a terrorism related offence, the minister is required to give serious consideration to the age and best interests of the future of the child. A revocation of a parent’s citizenship will have no impact on a minor’s citizenship status.

A key amendment of this bill, which I think is very important for its functioning as a whole, is that which brings transparency and accountability. Every six months, the minister is required by law to report on the number of notices given and unsuccessfully given and a statement on the basis of each notice. It is also required by the minister to report any unsuccessful attempts to give a notice to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security within 20 sitting days.

The amendments being proposed are essential. Despite our best efforts, terrorism remains at large. We as a nation need to continue to put the safety and security of this beautiful country at the top of our priority list. We have seen the devastation and heartbreak caused by terrorism. In our own backyard, we have seen lone actors commit terror related offences. This bill shows we are tough on terrorism. We will not stand idly by and watch our citizens fall victim to it. As I said before, being an Australian is a privilege. If an individual chooses to engage in terrorism related activity, they now do so knowing they forfeit their right to be an Australian citizen. I commend the minister and his department for their work in developing these amendments. I commend the bill to the House.

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