On 29 October I attended a citizenship ceremony hosted by Cairns Regional Council, where 83 people officially received their Australian citizenship. As someone who, like many others, takes their own citizenship as a given, it was an inspiring experience.
From all around the world the new migrants came—a total of 20 countries—from Argentina to the Philippines, Ireland to Laos, New Zealand to France. Individuals, couples and families stood at the front of the room with a look of pride and achievement on their faces, dressed in formal suits, colourful national dress or the more casual attire of their newly adopted country. They beamed as they received their certificates and shook hands with the deputy mayor for the cameras.
I also visited our Australian service men and women on rotation in the Middle East earlier this year. In extreme temperatures and gruelling conditions, against a foe whose barbarianism is to be feared, they put their lives on the line every day for their country. They flew eight- to 12-hour sorties into enemy territory, refuelling mid-air multiple times, knowing that, if they went down, they would be in the hands of a brutal force.
When I asked them, 'Do you think Australia should be here? Do you agree with what we are doing and the values we are fighting for?' their emphatic answer, as young men and women in the service of their country, was absolutely 'yes'.
I could not help but contrast these situations with the shooting of police accountant Curtis Cheng by a 15-year-old as Mr Cheng left work for the day to head home to his family; or the stabbing of two counter-terrorism officers in Melbourne by an 18-year-old whose passport had been cancelled because of fears he would join Daesh; or the holding of 18 people in the Lindt cafe in Sydney as a crazed hostage-taker played cat and mouse with their lives, resulting in two deaths; or the luring of Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi to extremism, courting him to travel to Syria and fight with—and eventually die with—ISIL.
Do the actions of these perpetrators, themselves Australian citizens, bear any commonality with the values held by the new citizens in Cairns or the members of our Defence Force? No they do not, and that is why we are here.
The reality is that the Australian social landscape is changing and the terrorist threat is rising. 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 certainly rising.
Our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations. This number has more than doubled since early 2014. Around 110 Australians are currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.
About 190 people in Australia are providing support to individuals and groups in the Syria/Iraq conflicts through financing and recruitment, or are trying to travel there themselves.
The bill we are debating today states:
… the 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.
We announced our plans earlier this year to amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to provide for the loss of Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals engaged in terrorism related conduct. Supporting and engaging in terrorist activities against Australia's interests is a breach of a person's commitment and allegiance to our country, a bond that should unite all citizens. These new powers in the bill are, I believe, a highly necessary and appropriate response to the evolution of the terrorist threat.
It is important to note that we already have the ability to cancel a person's citizenship if a dual citizen serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. What we are doing now is updating our laws so that they better reflect current threats to our country and our values through terrorism related activity. The bill applies to a person who is a dual national, regardless of how the person became an Australian citizen, including a person who became an Australian citizen upon birth.
I am pleased that the bill has been thoroughly scrutinised since the amendments were proposed. The parliamentary joint committee for intelligence and security reported back in September with 27 recommendations, which have been taken into account.
The list of conducts that will lead to a person losing their Australian citizenship is comprehensive: it includes engaging in international terrorism activities, using explosive or lethal devices, engaging in an act of terrorism, providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in or assistance in a terrorist act, directing the activities of terrorist organisation, recruiting for terrorist organisations, financing terrorism or financing a terrorist and engaging in foreign incursions and recruitment.
These may be carried out offshore or in Australia, where the person has then fled the country before being charged. The actions must also be carried out with specific intention, which could be to advance a political, religious or ideological cause or to support, promote or engage in a hostile activity in another country or it could be on the instructions of a declared terrorist organisation.
Since 1949 we have been able to cancel someone's citizenship if they fight on the side of the country that is at war with Australia. Now the bill extends the right to cancel somebody's Australian citizenship if they are also a citizen of another country, are overseas and fight for, or are in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation.
A terrorist organisation becomes 'declared' when it is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act or advocates the doing of a terrorist act and is opposed to Australia or to Australia's interests, values, democratic beliefs, rights or liberties, so that if a person were to fight for, or be in the service of, such an organisation the person would be acting inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia.
There are safeguards in place, because we are dealing with a highly complex situation. People will not be deemed to be in the service of a declared terrorist organisation if their actions are not intentional or if they are forced to do them under duress or if they are doing them for the purposes of independent humanitarian assistance. They also cannot have their Australian citizenship revoked if it would render them stateless, in keeping with Australia's international obligations.
Following the recommendations of the PJCIS, the list of offences is limited to the most relevant terrorism related offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years or more. It has also been extended to include offences by people who travel to foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities. This is important, as we need to make sure the bill is as effective as possible, given the activities of terrorists overseas and the actions that we have seen taken by Australians who have travelled overseas to fight.
To be considered under section 35A, a person must be sentenced to at least six years' imprisonment for treason, espionage, terrorism, international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices, treachery, sabotage and foreign incursions and recruitment. The person ceases to be an Australian citizen at the time a determination is made by the minister.
Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies operate with professionalism, thoroughness and integrity. It is these agencies that will provide the minister with information relating to a person's conduct or conviction. Again, there is a set process and time frame as to how someone's cancellation of citizenship can happen.
The minister must consider a number of factors, such as the severity of the actions, the degree of threat posed to the Australian community, the person's age and their connection to the other country of citizenship. If a decision to revoke citizenship is made, then there is of course capacity for a judicial review.
If this is successful and a person loses their citizenship under the bill, they cannot get it back again unless the minister revokes the notice or the loss of citizenship is overturned by a court or the declaration of a terrorist organisation is disallowed by the parliament. In such cases, it is as if the person never lost their citizenship in the first place.
For people who are found to be still in Australia when they lose their Australian citizenship, the process of actually returning them to the country of their other nationality or citizenship would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. This is already done regularly with people who have had visas cancelled, including permanent visa holders who may have been here for a significant amount of time.
The amended bill makes sure that people who are carrying out conduct because of their role with Australian law enforcement or intelligence agencies are not impacted. In addition, no part of the amended bill will apply to a child aged under 10 years, and the conduct based provisions of the bill will not apply to a child under 14.
The minister must take the age and the best interests of a child into account when considering whether to revoke citizenship following conviction. The bill will also not allow the minister to revoke a child's citizenship following revocation of a parent's citizenship.
Every six months, the minister must table in each house of the parliament a report that sets out: the number of notices given by the minister; the number of notices the minister unsuccessfully attempted to give; and for each notice given or attempted to be given, there must be a brief statement of the matters that are the basis for the notice. This will help to ensure accountability and transparency in the process.
Australia is not acting alone internationally in taking these steps to remove citizenship. In 2014 the UK passed legislation which expanded the government's power to revoke the citizenship of a naturalised person. Canada has also recently passed legislation expanding the basis on which citizenship may be revoked and the process by which this may happen.
On November 11 we commemorated Remembrance Day and paid tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in all wars and armed conflicts. It is timely that we debate this legislation which will reinforce the value of Australian citizenship.
This bill provides our agencies and authorities with appropriate measures to penalise people who treat their Australian citizenship with contempt. These are people who enjoy the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship, including freedom of speech and the ability to travel to many countries, yet who actively speak out or fight against the very system that has enabled these freedoms. It clearly does not make sense to allow these people to continue to remain a part of our society.
It is important that we send a very strong message to those individuals who are contemplating these sorts of actions that they are not welcome—that is not part of who we are in this country—and if they take these actions there will be very serious and lasting consequences. I commend the bill to the House.