JOURNALIST: The Government's released details of its eagerly anticipated proposal to strip dual citizens of their Australian citizenship if they embrace terrorism.
The Prime Minister has faced heated internal debate over the plan, with some Ministers arguing that, in its original form, it was unconstitutional.
The new draft appears to resolve that conundrum by simply amending the existing Citizenship Act.
It already provides for the removal of dual citizenship when people fight in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia. The changes will modernise that to extend to terrorist groups.
Joining me now from Parliament House is the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton.
Minister, before we turn to the proposal, if I could just pick up on a couple of points raised in Dylan Welch's story that we just saw: the wife and children of Khaled Sharrouf have sole Australian citizenship.
They want to return to Australia. You would have just heard Charles Waterstreet there, the barrister, pleading for assistance to help that to happen. Is the Government going to oblige?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Leigh, the Australian laws are very, very clear in that: if people go to a proscribed area, if they're involved in a terrorist act or if they're involved in the support of terrorism - fundraising, training, et cetera - there are very clear laws. If people have breached those laws, they'll face the full force of the law.
I would encourage anybody in this situation to make contact immediately with the Australian Federal Police to engage in a discussion about what the next step might be. And that's an issue for the police to investigate these matters.
But the people that I mourn today are the people that have died at the hands of these terrorists; the young women who have been sold into sex trades, who have had their throats slashed by these evil terrorists. They're the people for whom I mourn today. I think all Australians really would feel in a very similar way.
I think as a country we need to recognise that this threat is faced by us here domestically as well as these people fighting overseas.
JOURNALIST: Would the return of Tara Nettleton - you know, presumably under arrest - be a fruitful source of intelligence for Australian authorities and help to perhaps stop some of the atrocities that you've just outlined there?
PETER DUTTON: Well, it's just not an issue that I want to publicly comment on, Leigh.
Obviously the agencies and the Australian Federal Police will engage with these people and have conversations with them.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us if they are actually engaged in conversation with her, currently, or her family?
PETER DUTTON: Well of course I can't. The only thing that I would say is, if there are family members who have information; if you want to save the lives of your loved ones who you believe might go off to fight in the Middle East, you need to make immediate contact with the agencies, starting with the Australian Federal Police.
I think that's the first step in relation to this matter.
JOURNALIST: One final question...
PETER DUTTON: Whether it's taken place is an issue for the family.
JOURNALIST: One final question on this, regarding the deaths of those two men. Did the Australian Government or any of its agencies provide any information to another country about the movements of those two men in recent months?
PETER DUTTON: Well, we just don't comment in relation to national security matters, Leigh. As you'd expect, I just don't have any comment in relation to it.
LEIGH SALES: Let's turn to the proposed changes to the Citizenship Bill announced today. Under this proposal, somebody can lose their Australian citizenship if they're convicted of terrorism, so that's pretty clear-cut. They can also lose it under the category of ‘renunciation by conduct.’ What type of conduct falls under that definition?
PETER DUTTON: So it's tightly defined and people will see that in the Bill tomorrow.
So it goes to a terrorist act, it goes to training, it goes to facilitation, it goes to providing fundraising. So there's a defined set of criteria, but they are terrorist related offenses.
So what the Government's trying to do here is to stop these people from coming back to our country. These sort of people that we've talked about tonight, earlier in your show: we don't want those people back onto the streets of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
We don't want these people coming back to kill innocent Australians, and the Government has been very deliberate in our attempts to beef up these laws. We've adhered to the rule of law and we've met our international obligations.
We will do whatever it takes to keep the Australian people safe and that's what we've provided for in this change to the Citizenship Act.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said today that, of the Australian nationals fighting overseas, about 50 per cent of them are dual nationals.
As you point out, you don't want these people to come back. But what are you going to do about the other 50 per cent though - the ones who have sole Australian citizenship?
PETER DUTTON: Well, the Government is looking very seriously through the discussion paper that's now being chaired by Phillip Ruddock and Senator Fierravanti Wells to look at what options there might be in relation to Australian citizens.
The Government's been very clear about the fact that we aren't going to render people stateless.
So the laws that we've announced, the changes that we've announced today, apply only to terrorists who are dual nationals.
Any further changes would not put us outside of our obligations. We don't want to render people stateless, but we do believe that Australian citizenship is a very, very serious obligation in terms of the responsibilities that people have.
It confers a great advantage on people and if people are going to swear an allegiance to our country and then go beyond that to - and in opposition to the words that they've just spoken at their citizenship ceremony...
JOURNALIST: …no, no, but I'm talking about people born in Australia?
PETER DUTTON: ...attempt to attack Australians, there's a consequence to pay for that.
JOURNALIST: But I'm talking about people born in Australia; that they're just sole Australian citizens?
PETER DUTTON: Well, as I say, we can't render those people stateless.
There may be other consequences in relation to their actions that we can impose and we're investigating that through the Ruddock/Fierravanti-Wells process right now.
JOURNALIST: OK. Just to return back to the conduct question: who would make the determination that a certain level of conduct meets the level required for citizenship to be removed?
PETER DUTTON: Well, effectively the person themselve does that.
If there is conduct that's undertaken by a person. If they are involved, for example, in terrorist activities...
JOURNALIST: … no, but there's an administrative process where somebody would have to look at what they've done and notify them or make a ruling that the citizenship is revoked?
PETER DUTTON: Well, just to finish that point: so it's a self-executing act. So if the person has conducted themselves in a way, in a certain way, they have, by effect of that conduct, renunciated their citizenship. Now, if there is an administrative process...
JOURNALIST: But if a tree falls in the forest... OK. Sorry, go on.
PETER DUTTON: There is an administrative process that sits beneath that, if you like.
There will be within my Department, within the Attorney General's Department, within Defence, within Foreign Affairs, a high-level committee informed by the lawyers about the intelligence gatherings, for example, or the law enforcement gatherings of all of that information. That will inform the process.
But the decision by the Minister of the day is that, once the Minister becomes aware of that conduct that has resulted in the self-execution of the provision, if that takes place the Minister then issues a notice to that person, advising that they've become aware of the conduct of that individual. And then the process continues from there.
Now, there is a legal capacity for people to contest the facts within what might be firstly a High Court process, referred to the Federal Court. That is an issue for people. But in the end we don't want these people coming back to our country.
JOURNALIST: Just to pick up on that point: if somebody did appeal it and a judge ruled in their favour and the Government thought their citizenship should have been revoked because they were a danger, then what would happen?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there is within the Act the ability for the minister to apply common sense, if you like. So if there is a question around identity, if there is a question around whether or not the person was actually in that location, the person can lead that evidence. Now...
JOURNALIST: No, no, but if a judge rules in favour of their appeal: then what happens?
PETER DUTTON: Well, the individual can seek an injunction. The individual can seek a remedy from the court and the court can impose what outcomes it wants. And so there is a judicial process, as we always said there would be in this particular operation of the law. But it's very clear to say that we have mitigated any constitutional risk.
But in the end, Leigh, we don't want these people coming back to our country.
JOURNALIST: OK. Just one final question before we run out of time. The Prime Minister - on a different subject - the Prime Minister told the Liberal party room today that he considers the ABC's Q&A program a ‘leftie lynch mob.’ Will Liberal MPs continue to appear on the program, or is a boycott warranted?
PETER DUTTON: Well, that's an issue for them.
JOURNALIST: Would you?
PETER DUTTON: From my perspective, I enjoyed going on Q&A at one point, but frankly, I think, in the last few months they've lost the plot.
To give a platform to this individual last night, I think, is quite disgraceful. It's the reason that the ABC board has initiated this inquiry. It's the reason that Q&A have apologised for their actions.
And I think in terms of the safety of the audience, to have this individual amongst them, let alone for the panellists, is an issue that the ABC needs to consider.
JOURNALIST: Will you go on the program in the future: yes or no?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I'll consider it at the time. I want to see some significant changes made to Q&A because I don't think it reflects the population's expectation from the public broadcaster.
It is a good format, but frankly, it's been hijacked in terms of the audience.
I think the producers and the host have a lot of questions to answer and I think that's what the ABC board has pointed to today.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton, thank you very much for your time tonight.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Leigh. Thank you.