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Issue #1692      July 8, 2015

Citizenship – Rights jettisoned

The concept of citizenship takes on a new meaning in the Citizenship (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. The Bill requires allegiance to Australia and “Australian values” as a condition of citizenship. Citizenship can be revoked and is conditional for Australians with dual citizenship or eligible for citizenship in another country.

The Bill was introduced to Parliament on June 24. It purports to protect Australia from the threat of terrorism. The minister has the power to extend its scope to members and supporters of organisations such as trade unions, left political groups, peace organisations, environmental groups, etc.

The Bill contains a specific clause outlining its purpose: “… 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.”

The Bill recognises the Macquarie Dictionary (5th edition) definition of “allegiance” – “the obligation of a subject or citizen to their sovereign or government; duty owed to a sovereign or state.”

It introduces three ways in which an Australian can lose their citizenship:

“Renounces” citizenship

The first way is when “the person renounces their Australian citizenship.” This is not some declaration or decision made by the citizen. It occurs “if the person acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia by engaging in specified terrorist-related conduct.”

Such conduct includes:

  • Serve outside Australia in a foreign army at war with Australia or in a proscribed terrorist organisation *
  • Engage in certain terrorist conduct or
  • Are convicted of certain terror related offences **.

The Bill states that “a child of the person may also cease to be an Australian citizen.”

“The minister will declare those organisations that are opposed to Australia or Australia’s values, democratic beliefs, rights and liberties,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in his Second Reading Speech.

The second offence is if a citizen fights for, or is in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation. A declared terrorist organisation is any organisation as defined by the Criminal Code and declared by the minister to apply.

Terrorism offence

The third is when a citizen is convicted of a specified terrorism offence as prescribed in the Criminal Code. Such conduct includes:

  • engaging in a terrorist act (act means an action or threat of action)
  • providing or receiving training connected with a terrorist act
  • directing the activities of or recruiting for a terrorist organisation
  • financing terrorism.

Minister replaces courts

The Allegiance to Australia Bill introduces a new and alarming denial of the right to citizen. The prospect for political intervention in such a right is extremely dangerous.

The definition of terrorist act is wide open: Visit a website, “like” a Facebook page or purchase videos on line, if these suggest an interest in a terrorist organisation or the use or making of weapons. Make a donation to an overseas relief agency which ASIO says is a front for a terrorist organisation. Any of these could fall foul of the Bill and result in loss of citizenship.

The process is shrouded in secrecy with no public accountability, no court appearances where evidence is aired and can be challenged.

The Bill excludes Australians who would be left stateless and could not be deported if they committed similar offences, but Abbott has indicated he is working on this.

The Bill is not clear as to who determines when “conduct [is] incompatible with the shared values of the Australian community”. It could be the destruction of Commonwealth property by peace activists, a trade union picket line blocking supplies or strike action.

It does state that the minister must be informed. If ASIO provides the “information”, no strict requirements for a proper security assessment are required before revoking citizenship. Once aware of a situation, the minister must notify the person of their “renunciation” or loss of citizenship.

Dutton says that anyone losing their citizenship would have the right to common law and the Federal and High Courts. That is if they have not already been shipped out of Australia!

The Minster has the power to exempt a person from automatic loss of citizenship “where it is in the public interest to do so.” But the minister is not required to apply “the rules of natural justice, nor notify the person of the reasons for the decision.”

The loss of citizenship – conviction and punishment – is the result of an Act of Parliament, not a court. This raises important constitutional questions. The Bill applies to people who have dual citizenship or are eligible for citizenship of another country and hence would not be rendered stateless under the legislation. Once citizenship has been removed, it can never be reinstated.

Democratic rights jettisoned

The Bill is silent on what happens once citizenship is removed. Will those who are stripped of their citizenship be denied a visa and deported? Will they face long jail sentences where they have also been convicted in the courts for terrorism offences?

Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Steve Ciobo, a panel member on the ABC Q&A program on June 22, gave some insight into the government’s intentions and total disregard for the rule of law and democratic rights.

Zaky Mallah who had been charged of planning a terrorist attack and acquitted by the Supreme Court after two years in solitary confinement (under Howard’s 2003 terror legislation) asked: “What would have happened if my case had been decided by the minister and not the courts?”

Ciobo was quick to respond: “ … I would be pleased to be part of a government that would say that you’re out of the country as far as I am concerned.”

Panellist Dee Madigan intervened: “Don’t you think we have courts to decide these things? That’s why we have courts,” – but Ciobo was having none of that.

“I don’t apologise for this point of view,” Ciobo making sure the point was clear.

This is not the position of one individual. It is the aim of the terror laws; it is what “Team Australia” is about. If you are not on Team Australia’s side, if you do not fit the white, Anglo, Christian, puritanical mould then you are not wanted in Australia.

Commenting on Ciobo’s remarks, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: “I think Steve Ciobo knocked it out of the park and exposed left-wing bias at the ABC.

“He’s the hero of his colleagues.’’

Over the past 20 years successive governments have introduced a raft of “security” bills.** These bills have received little publicity. The Border Protection (see “Repressive Border Force Act – Govt gag for detention centre workers” article this issue) and Allegiance to Australia are just the latest in a long series of fascistic legislation attacking fundamental democratic rights. At present most of them lie in waiting but they are there to be used.

In almost all cases they have received bipartisan support from Labor and Coalition parties. These bills when taken in their totality amount to a massive assault on democratic rights. The Australian Greens and a few individual independents have consistently opposed them.

Tony Abbott provided an insight to the government’s view of “Australian values” at the end of the swearing in of the new Border Force’s Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg: “May God bless you, may God bless your work, may God bless the country you are helping to protect and prosper.”

The Bill has been sent to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It is due to report on August 21, 2015. One of the things that the Committee will be looking at is retrospectivity, such as whether to apply the new law to conduct that took place prior to the Bill’s enactment. There is still time to lobby Labor and Independent MPs and Senators. Labor at present is showing signs that it will support the bill.

* See list on Department of Foreign Affairs website.

** See Section 100.1 of the Criminal Code for definition of terrorist act and “Terrorism laws take away your rights”, Guardian, 09-03-2005.

Next article – Editorial – Defend the ABC!

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