The highly controversial Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 was introduced into Parliament in June 2015. It will come back to the Australian Parliament later today in a significantly amended form following the Government’s acceptance of recommendations from the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence and Security committee (PJCIS). It is likely to be dealt with quickly and passed this week.
NSWCCL recognises that the amended Bill will be a significantly improved and far less dangerous version. We welcome these changes, but remain disturbed by, and opposed to, expanding citizenship-stripping laws. Australian citizens who are alleged to have engaged in terrorist related activities should be charged, taken to trial and, if found guilty, punished and imprisoned in Australia. To expel them from the polis is to place the person outside the reach of the State’s legal system. It will not make us safer.
This Bill is the latest in the long line of increasingly alarming legislative responses by the Government to the threat of terrorism. NSWCCL joined with other councils for civil liberties in a submission to the PJCIS arguing the Bill was a fundamental and radical departure from systems of government that have served us well. It would have no discernible benefit in making Australians safer from terrorism. It would seriously undermine the separation of executive and judicial power, long standing principles of natural justice and the rule of law. It was also quite possibly un-constitutional.
The PJCIS Report and Government Reaction
The report of the PJCIS was released on Friday 4th September. Delays in its release could indicate that the Labor Opposition, after a long absence from substantive debate on national security issues, had determined to seriously challenge the extraordinary overreach of this Bill. We had hoped they might even resist the core concept of expanding citizenship-stripping as an appropriate response for unlawful activity.
The PJCIS recommendations will greatly diminish the Bill’s overreach, scope and pervasive contempt for natural justice and the rule of law.
A very significant change is the exclusion of persons within Australia from automatic renunciation and loss of citizenship – and thereby likely indefinite detention without charge or conviction before a court or right of any appeal. This provision will now only apply to persons already overseas. The impact will be to substantially reduce the numbers of persons likely to be captured by the Bill’s initial extreme provisions. This was an issue we pushed very strongly in our opposition to the Bill.
Other PJCIS recommendations include: significant restraints on the Minister’s discretionary powers; including explicit criteria before declaring a terrorist organisation; restricting the ambit to serious offences; reinserting the rules of natural justice (specifically excluded); lifts the age at which provisions may apply to children and removes power to revoke child’s citizenship on revocation of parents citizenship; improvements in transparency and oversight of the process.
Disappointingly, the PJCIS has supported a limited retrospectivity provision for loss of citizenship. Although this will only apply to very few persons (as far as we know only 2), we oppose retrospective application of legislation with such a significant penalty as fundamentally opposed to natural justice and the rule of law.
We will analyse the Government’s amendments today and respond appropriately. We also expect the Government Bill for the fifth tranche of Counter-Terrorism Laws to surface this week relating to expanded Control Orders and advocacy of genocide. NSWCCL strongly opposes the reduction of age for control orders from 16 to 14 and so we will be advocating opposition to that Bill also.