Second Reading Debate - Allegiance to Australia
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (20:05): Border protection, national security and respect for the Australian way of life and our cultural values and beliefs are among the top issues of concern among Hinkler constituents. From the outset, I say that this government's tough immigration policies carefully balance the national interest with our humanitarian responsibilities. 'Stopping the boats' is not just a three-word slogan; it is backed by a policy of tough measures that have deterred people from risking their lives at sea. In the 12 months before the coalition introduced Operation Sovereign Borders, there were 401 illegal boat arrivals carrying some 26,542 people. This compares with only one illegal boat arrival in 2014.
Since coming to government two years ago, our policies have resulted in the closure of 13 immigration detention centres, saving the 2015-16 budget some $500 million. We have reduced the number of children in detention by 90 per cent. As a result of Operation Sovereign Borders, we have been able to increase the humanitarian program from the current level of 13,750 places per year to 18,750 places per year by 2018-19. It has also enabled us to take 12,000 additional Syrian refugees through proper channels, in addition to the 4,400 we settled last financial year.
I strongly support the measures contained in the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 which strip dual passport holders of their Australian citizenship if their actions do not demonstrate an allegiance to Australia. I emphasise that these laws only impact dual passport holders and do not render a person stateless. The bill applies regardless of how the person became an Australian citizen, including a person who became an Australian citizen upon birth. Similar laws have been enacted in the UK and Canada. Australian citizenship should be respected and not taken for granted. 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.
The new powers in this bill are a necessary and appropriate response to the evolution of the terrorist threat.
A review of Australia's counter-terrorism machinery found that the terrorist 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 unfortunately rising. Our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations. This number has more than doubled since early 2014. Since September last year, when the national terrorism public alert level was raised to high, 26 people have been charged as a result of 10 counter-terrorism operations. That is more than one-third of all terrorism related charges since 2001. Around 110 Australians are currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Since it came into force in 1949, the law has enforced the automatic loss of citizenship where a person serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. This bill expands section 35 to provide for automatic cessation of Australian citizenship if a person is also a citizen of another country and is overseas fighting for a declared terrorist organisation.
But what about dual passport holders who are living in Australia? About 190 people in Australia are currently known to be providing support to individuals and groups in the Syria-Iraq conflicts through financing and recruitment, or are seeking to travel. Proposed section 33AA provides that a dual passport holder renounces their Australian citizenship if they act inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia. Such conduct includes engaging in terrorist activities, including the use of explosive or lethal devices; providing or receiving training connected with a terrorist act; recruiting for a terrorist organisation; and financing terrorism.
Proposed section 35A gives the minister power to determine loss of a person's citizenship when they have been convicted and sentenced to at least six years imprisonment for a relevant offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years or more. Loss of citizenship is not automatic, and the minister must revoke a determination if the conviction is overturned. Dual passport holders who are stripped of their Australian citizenship have the right to judicial review. The minister must table a report in parliament every six months outlining the number of successful and unsuccessful notices given and a brief explanation of the basis for those notices being issued.
Also relevant to this debate here today is the current community discussion and media coverage surrounding the deportation or visa cancellation of foreign criminals. My office has been contacted in a relation to a number of foreign nationals caught up in the unrest on Christmas Island who had been living locally. Their visas have been cancelled after committing a violent or serious offence. It would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases, for privacy reasons. I simply make the point that it is not unreasonable to expect people who enjoy the benefits of living in this country to obey Australian law. The government makes no apologies for cancelling the visas of noncitizens who commit serious or violent criminal offences in our country.
In December last year the coalition made amendments to the Migration Amendment Act to ensure that noncitizens or foreign nationals who commit crimes, pose a risk to the Australian community, or are of integrity concern are able to have their visa refused or cancelled. Mandatory cancellation was also introduced for noncitizens in prison who do not pass the character test to ensure those who pose a risk to the safety of the Australian community remain in detention until that risk has been assessed and their immigration status has been determined. Why should Australians pay to keep noncitizens in prison? Why shouldn't they be returned to their country of citizenship?
In 2014, the United Kingdom passed legislation which expanded the government's power to revoke the citizenship of a naturalised person. Under the new laws, a person can be deprived of citizenship if the Home Secretary is satisfied that it would be conducive to the public good to deprive the person of their British citizenship status and to do so would not render them stateless; or if the person obtained their citizenship status through naturalisation, and it would be conducive to the public good to deprive them of their status because they have engaged in conduct 'seriously prejudicial' to the UK's vital interests and the Home Secretary has reasonable grounds to believe that they could acquire another nationality; or if the person acquired their citizenship status by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of any material fact.
Canada recently passed legislation expanding the basis on which citizenship may be revoked and the process by which this may happen. The new laws were passed by parliament in 2014 and came into effect on 28 May 2015. Under the new legislation, the citizenship and immigration minister may revoke the citizenship of a dual national who is convicted of terrorism, high treason or spying offences, depending on the sentence received.
In conclusion, the legislative changes we have made in Australia are not about race or religion. They are about protecting and upholding our country's beliefs and values from terrorists and serious criminals. The government's amendments to the bill are in response to the 27 recommendations made by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security on Friday, 4 September 2015.
Since 1945, 4.6 million people have become Australian citizens, including 136,000 in 2014-15. Most immigrants are extraordinary people who have helped make our great country what it is today: our history, our art, our cuisine and our social fabric. Over the past two years, my office has helped secure visas for literally dozens of people, including doctors, nurses, graphic designers, farmers and tradespeople. Many others we have helped are also making valuable contributions to our community through volunteer organisations, paying taxes and spending money in local businesses.
In my role as the federal member for Hinkler, I often have the pleasure of attending citizenship ceremonies in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. All of the people I have met to date are excited, optimistic, positive and proud to be making their pledge of allegiance to our nation, to Australia. Their oath goes like this:
From this time forward, under God, 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.
Our nation's greatest strength lies in our diversity and the Australian way of life. That strength and culture is provided by our people. Our people's safety and security will always be, first and foremost, our No. 1 priority. I commend the bill to the House.