Australian Citizenship Amendment

I rise to speak in very strong support of the measures contained in the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. I think every Australian who reads the newspapers or listens to the news knows that the threat of terrorism around the world is ever increasing. Nothing has made that more profoundly clear than the events nine days ago in France which had an impact on us all. And we know that Brussels is on its highest terrorist alert. I know from the emails, calls and personal approaches I have had from my constituents—and it would be the same for many if not all members in this House—that Australians support a very strong approach to the threat of terrorism in Australia and, like this government, they take our national security very seriously.

The review of Australia’s counter-terrorism machinery found that the terrorism threat in Australia is rising— specifically, the number of Australians joining extremist groups overseas is increasing, the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists is increasing and the number of potential terrorists is rising. I read that ISIL has almost 40,000 online operatives, so it is certainly not surprising that the threat level is increasing.

Our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high priority counter-terrorism investigations. That number has doubled since early 2014. Since September last year, when the national terrorism public alert level was raised to high, 26 people in this country have been charged as a result of 10 counter-terrorism operations. That is more than one-third of all terrorism related charges since 2001. That shows you the increase and why we need to take this issue seriously in Australia. Around 110 Australians are currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, and about 190 people in Australia are providing support to individuals and groups in the Syria and Iraq conflicts through financing and recruitment or seeking to travel.

The government announced earlier this year that it would develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to provide for the removal of Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals engaging in terrorism related combat—and rightly so. Supporting and engaging in terrorist activities against Australia’s interests is a breach of a person’s commitment and allegiance to our country, Australia. Australian citizenship is a bond that should unite all citizens. Citizenship should be respected and not taken for granted.

As I was told repeatedly when I was doorknocking in 2007, especially by those who were seeking at some point in the future to become Australian citizens, they believe very strongly that it is a privilege to be a citizen of Australia, not a right. I agree with them. However, that privilege is being continually undermined by those who hold it cheaply and those who actively seek to use the laws of this land against our own people and our own communities. We need to act. As the bill states, parliament recognises that Australian citizenship is a common bond involving reciprocal rights and obligations and that citizens may through certain conduct incompatible with the shared values of the Australian community demonstrate that they have severed that bond and repudiated their allegiance to Australia. They do this themselves. This is something they choose—to sever the bond and repudiate their allegiance to Australia.

The new powers in the bill are certainly necessary and an appropriate response to what has been an evolution in the terrorist threat. Looking at the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, there have been provisions for the automatic loss of citizenship in cases where dual citizens serve in armed forces in a country at war with Australia. It is important that our laws are updated to reflect current threats to our country and our values through terrorism related activity.

My father was a migrant to this country back in the 1920s. All of his family came to Australia because it offered them an opportunity that they really respected. That is exactly what we need from people who come to this country. His family came here because they could see that this country offered them an amazing opportunity. In those early days it was the simple opportunity to work hard, feed their family, put a roof over their head and eventually, if they worked really hard and saved their money, build a small family business. To the migrants this was indeed a land of opportunity, and the privileges that went with citizenship were held in great esteem. It is interesting that so often these are the people who react so strongly when someone takes Australian citizenship for granted and engages in terrorist acts. It is these people who take this very, very personally. They see the opportunity Australia has given them and their families and they have no time for those who seek to undermine that citizenship privilege.

A person’s citizenship can also be revoked on the basis of a conviction for immigration or citizenship fraud or for a serious offence—a sentence of 12 months or more—committed prior to the granting of citizenship. Sixteen people have lost their citizenship this way since 1949. This bill amends the act and has a range of measures attached. It applies to a person who is a dual national, regardless of how that person became an Australian citizen, including a person who became an Australian citizen upon birth.

Section 33AA provides that a person who is a ‘national or citizen of a country other than Australia renounces their Australian citizenship if they act inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia by engaging in’ specified conduct. The relevant conduct is spelled out:

(a) engaging in international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices;

(b) engaging in a terrorist act;

(c) providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in, or assistance in a terrorist act;

(d) directing the activities of a terrorist organisation;

(e) recruiting for a terrorist organisation;

(f) financing terrorism;

(g) financing a terrorist;

(h) engaging in foreign incursions and recruitment.

It covers a wide range of potential terrorist activities.

The government amendments to the bill provide that the conduct provisions are limited to individuals who have engaged in relevant conduct offshore or in relevant conduct onshore and left Australia before being charged and brought to trial in respect of that conduct. The amended bill provides that the conduct provisions only apply if the conduct is engaged in with specified intentions, such as the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause; with the intention of supporting, promoting or engaging in a hostile activity in another country; or on the instructions of a declared terrorist organisation.

Existing laws provide for the automatic loss of citizenship where a person serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. This came into force in 1949. The bill expands this section to provide for automatic cessation of citizenship if a person is also a citizen of another country—a dual citizen—is overseas and fights for or is in the service of a declared terrorist organisation. A declared terrorist organisation will be a subset of those listed for the purposes of terrorist offences under the Criminal Code.

Australians expect us to take very serious measures. The outpouring we have seen from Australians for others around the world means that the continuous measures the government is taking to strengthen our national security and deal with this ongoing issue of terrorism are very rightly and strongly based and supported. The amended bill provides that the minister, by legislative instrument, may declare a terrorist organisation where the organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting or fostering terrorism or advocates a terrorist act. It provides for an organisation that is opposed to Australia or Australia’s interests, values, democratic beliefs, rights or liberties. This is what is covered when someone participates in a citizenship service. All of us in this place have been along to numerous citizenship ceremonies. They are the words of someone who seeks to become an Australian citizen, as part of their pledge, as part of the rights, responsibilities, obligations and opportunities that go with being an Australian citizen.

I was a delegate for the United Nations, to observe the elections in Cambodia, some years ago. I saw a group of people who had not had the right to vote. So many others had been killed by the Pol Pot regime. Those people were so excited. They had to put a finger in indelible ink to prove that they had only voted once. For the older people who had lived their lives through that time there was excitement on their faces. They rushed up to us outside those polling booths, in great excitement, to show us the finger that had been dipped in indelible ink. It proved that they had the right to vote and that they had done so. That is what citizenship is as well. It gives you the right to participate. How seriously we need to take that right, and it is a responsibility that has obligations.

I strongly support the measures contained in this bill. I just wanted to reiterate that the people who feel particularly strongly about measures like this and those that protect our Australian values and way of life are often those who have come to this country looking and knowing that this country would nurture and support them in the same way that they would work with and for this country for the betterment of all of us. On that basis, I commend the bill to the House.