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Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship

Contrary to any popular perceptions of Australia’s legal system, a dislike of rights reigns with pious conviction on both sides of the political aisle. Rights are the stuff of nonsense and nuisance, revocable for those deemed undesirable. The Australian constitution, a heavily dull document, remains silent on many important liberties; the common law is relied upon to fill in gaps (think of that conjuration known as the implied constitutional right to freedom of communication on political subjects). Parliament, mystically wise, is meant to be the grand guardian.

In terms of citizenship, Australia’s parliament has been rather cavalier on the idea of citizenship, exploiting the absence of any specific reference to the term in the arid document that grants it legislative powers. In 2015, national security considerations became the basis for legislation stripping individuals of citizenship in certain instances where terrorism was an issue. While citizenship can be lost in certain instances common to other countries, the arbitrary revocation of citizenship via executive fiat is possible under the Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth).

The relevant minister, goes the wording of s. 35A, “may determine in writing that a person ceases to be an Australian citizen” in various instances involving convictions for certain offences, including terrorism. But convictions might not be necessary; the minister might deem it against the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen. This is all made ever vaguer on the issue of what constitutes recruitment and the status of foreign fighters. We remain at the mercy of “security” considerations.

Parliament did stop short of rendering citizens stateless, making the provisions apply to dual nationals. But it yielded two outcomes: that the relevant minister would be effectively governed by the consideration that the Australian citizen might have citizenship of another country, however tenuous that link would be, and that any powers to deprive that person of Australian citizenship could be exercised to limited review.

This curiously venal formulation was always problematic; for one, such laws are not, specifically, “with respect to aliens” or with respect to immigration, terminology that is to be found in the constitution.

Khaled Sharrouf became the debutant to lose his Australian citizenship under the amendments, his reputation marked by a spectacularly gruesome display of images sporting his son holding a severed head.

Five Islamic State supporters can now deem themselves former Australian citizens. Details are scant. All it took was a decision by the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton. There was no presiding judge, nor scrutinising judicial proceeding to oversee the merits of the decision. There was no context supplied as to what support was given to Islamic State. “We have taken a decision that these people have been involved in serious terrorist-related activity.” No guidelines were disclosed supporting the decision, no taxing criteria by which we could even say that these supporters should be deprived of their bit of paperwork.

Dutton admits that there was something akin to a process, but openly admits conflict zones present different challengers to the investigator. “Obviously when you are talking about a war zone, it is a very different circumstance than a crime zone in Australia in terms of gathering evidence.”

Not that this evidentiary hurdle troubles him. Intelligence assessments and briefings do not necessarily stand the test of a withering legal examination, but for Dutton they constitute the legal basis for alleviating individuals of their citizenship.

The issues of belonging and involvement in civic life are troubling propositions. Stripping citizenship is an announcement that the time for belonging is over. But it is also an assertion that there is no redemption and challenge. Like the despot’s favour, Dutton can designate individual terrorists with capricious ease, a situation that does not broker appeal except in exceptional cases. That very repellent, illiberal fact runs against the concept of holding an overly zealous executive to account.

All that matters for Dutton is the public safety rationale, a concept of such fuzziness it is susceptible to convenient abuse. “The determination of the Government is to try and keep Australia as safe as possible and we do that by keeping these people far from our shores so if we can deal with foreign fighters away from our shores we do that.”

Such occasions should strike fear into the citizenry of any self-respecting state. Dutton has assumed the position of assessor, deliberator, and executor, his crude paternalism a conspicuous threat to civil liberties. Policing roles have been fused with the judicial, the very definition of an unchecked tyrant. Whatever the nature of those who deemed it necessary to join a cause or find solace in the organisational bosom of an officially designated terrorist group (and the options are many) the ease by which they lost their status is more than troubling. The Magna Carta, it would seem, is a dead letter, a fact that should be a cause for lengthy mourning.


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  1. New England Cocky

    “The relevant minister, goes the wording of s. 35A, “may determine in writing that a person ceases to be an Australian citizen” in various instances involving convictions for certain offences, including terrorism. But convictions might not be necessary; the minister might deem it against the public interest for the person to remain an Australian citizen. This is all made ever vaguer on the issue of what constitutes recruitment and the status of foreign fighters. We remain at the mercy of “security” considerations.”

    Perhaps the incoming ALP government could rule that Benito Dutto is a threat to the security of Australia and dem him a stateless person eligible for transport without trial to the Manus Island concentration camp.

  2. Rod Milliken

    Perfect. Dutton as an inmate at manus. Quite deserved.
    He who has acquired many million dollar properties on a simple cop/politician wage? Not credible without money coming from elsewhere.

  3. Diannaart

    Maybe some good arises from el Dutto’s interpretation of “border security” … patience dear reader, I have in mind a few people returned to New Zealand (for even minor infringements) as not so bad – I would rather be in NZ right now.

    OK, I agree in full with NEC, for everything else the Home Affairs fuhrer has far too much power and is a clear and present danger to civil liberty, democracy and diversity.

    To think only a couple of years ago I was frightened of the empty vessel, Tony Abbott.

  4. phil

    Australians, by and large despise politics to the point of regarding all politicians ‘absolute bastards’ – this stifles any reasoned discussion about the politics of the day. It saves thinking. If ordinary Australians put as much thought, debate and critique into their politics as they do into horse racing and football, then the politicians that disgrace their parliaments today might be less corrupt, less greedy, less venal.

  5. Kronomex

    “All that matters for Dutton is the public safety rationale…” I have to disagree, Dutton is all about keeping control of what can arguably be considered as the most powerful , and dangerous, department in the country. His inner fascist and thuggee has been released and he’s not about to let anyone take it all away. He’d throw Trembles to the wolves if it meant he could stay as our version of Himmler. Hell, I could even see him trying to find some way to trigger martial law if things didn’t go his way.

  6. Stephengb

    I recall saying in a comment on AIMN that this law effectively makes all those dual citizens and those citizens who could be deemed as not being stateless, are in fact Second class Citizens.

    I recall that my comment waa not treated with any seriousness at the time, this article vindicates my feelings at becoming a second class citizen since this law became enacted in 2007.

    S G B

  7. SteveFitz

    Well, the Hon Peter Dutton MP – What can I say other than DUTTON, Peter Craig made a $50,000 political donation to the Liberal Party in 2016 just prior to being appointed Minister for Home Affairs. Some might say that’s one way to stay off the back bench. Others would call it bribery within the ranks of the Liberal Party by a man of true integrity or, is he just rubbing it in the face of his fellow politicians?

    In the words of Kronomex – “Hell, I could even see him trying to find some way to trigger martial law if things didn’t go his way”. The mechanism is already in place. The Australian military has just been given call out powers to respond to riots. Another Liberal Party politician obsessed by money and power and clearly, not the best interest of those he represents.


  8. gerard oosterman

    Where does Dutton’s obsession with security; calling out the army, revocation of citizenship, his keenness to imprison refugees, just to name a few, come from?
    What drives this man to be so one sided?

    We are a borderless country unless we take the oceans to be foreign countries, yet Dutton’s Border Control now strikes fear in anyone arriving in Australia. Woe those that have steel capped RMW boots or even the hearing aids with batteries. I was almost hand-cuffed last time I went through Border Control at the airport.

    Are foreigners scrambling over our sand dunes to rape and pillage?Why is Dutton so driven to imprison people with such glee and joy? Psychologists are all one in agreement that people on the whole give back what was given to them as a child. What happened to Dutton as a little boy? Did he get the strap? Assaulting children by teachers, including religious Brothers was common when we arrived in 1956. Was Dutton bullied or was he groped during a rugby scrum.?
    Who knows?
    Something is lurking there.

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