“Regardless of how we gain it, Australian citizenship is an extraordinary privilege that should be matched by an abiding commitment to our country,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot wrote in an article for The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday.
It is the latest remarks by a minister down under on an issue which has reportedly split the Cabinet. (See here.)
The Australian Government is proposing changes to the law to allow it powers to revoke or suspend the Australian citizenship of those who participate in terrorism activities.
For example, the “new powers will enable the government to revoke the Australian citizenship of people who fight with or support groups such as ISIL or Daesh, as well as so-called ‘‘lone wolfs’’.
“Close to 260 more Australians] are either fighting in the Middle East or supporting the conflict in Syria or Iraq from Australia,” Mr Abbot said. “A significant number of them have dual citizenship, too.”
Mr Abbot had also said he was considering “suspending some of the privileges of citizenship” such as “restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments” – for individuals involved in terrorism who held only Australian citizenship.
The current immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has also said that the government is considering stripping second-generation Australians involved in terrorism of their citizenship.
“It is a grave concern that our nation is being challenged by people who reject our values and who are prepared to resort to violence against us,” Mr Abbot wrote in the Australian paper on Wednesday.
He said that “citizens who become involved in terrorism have rejected Australia’s values and our commitment to a free and harmonious society.”
“It is reasonable to consider measures against those who betray the allegiance inherent in citizenship of our nation,” the prime minister said.
But there are safeguards, the government said.
“What we have said here and again it operates in the UK, there is the ability for ministers to assess individually the cases that come before them,” Mr Dutton said earlier.
While Mr Abbot said the new powers will also be subject to judicial reviews, and that “the new law will not leave anyone stateless”, he did not elaborate how his government would prevent this.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention of the Reduction of Statelessness, which obliges a nation not to strip a citizen of his citizenship if this would render the citizen stateless.
The Australian Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said while he agrees with the stripping of dual citizenship in principle, he wants to see the details in the legislation before giving his full support, or not.
“I don’t believe that if you’re a dual citizen and you’re fighting for a terrorist organisation you should automatically assume that you can have the rights of Australian citizenship,” he told the media. “But let’s work through the detail.”
In his article, Mr Abbot called on all Australians to have a national conversation about what it means to be an Australian and "what we should all be doing to make the rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship better understood and appreciated."
“Are the responsibilities of Australian citizenship well enough known and understood?” he asked. “Do we sufficiently promote the value of citizenship, particularly among young people? What more should we do with citizens who act against the best interests of our country?”
Mr Abbot gave assurance that Australia’s migration programmes will continue but “our welcome cannot be a one-way street.”
“The citizenship pledge read by all new citizens has to mean something,” he said.
From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.
Read Mr Abbot’s full article here: “Terrorism has no home in Australia”.