JOURNALIST: Minister thanks for your time there is a lot to talk about. First of all this news yesterday Sharrouf and Elomar are reported to be killed. Are they dead?
PETER DUTTON: Well the latest advice I had Kieran was that there was some high level certainty in relation to Elomar, but there was less certainty around Sharrouf.
I don’t have any further update from that, but the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister may have had some further advice this morning, but I don’t have that update.
JOURNALIST: Your responsibility I guess comes into the wife and children of Sharrouf in particular. Her mother is understandably distraught and wants them back. Is there anything the Government can do? Obviously it’s a tough place to access.
PETER DUTTON: My advice to the family is to engage with the proper legal authorities and not to conduct this discussion through the media. I think that the Australian Federal Police is the natural touch point for the family. I think they need to engage with the AFP and talk about what options there might be,
So, there are certainly legal issues for the family it would seem and the Australian laws are very specific about people going to proscribed areas, about people who are supporting terrorists.
These terrorists, these evil terrorists, are not martyrs.
I would just like to say to young people in particular this morning that there are two consequences – one is that you will die in action in the Middle East or you will return to face lengthy jail terms in Australia.
I think we should shed a tear for the women who have died at the hands, Muslim women, who have died at the hands of these terrorists and there like minded travellers. These people have been sold into the sex trade, people who have had their throats slashed by these sorts of terrorists – these are the people that we should mourn.
In terms of the family, the children in the family have been exposed to terrible, terrible things and they should speak to the AFP.
JOURNALIST: Indeed and you would feel a fair bit of sympathy for those children surely.
PETER DUTTON: Well for any children and I can understand concerns within the Australian community if they were to come back to Australia interacting with other children as well.
So there are many levels at which this is a complicated mess all at the doing of the hands of the father and it seems the mother.
That is now an issue for them to discuss with the AFP.
JOURNALIST: Let’s look at the citizenship law changes. It’s going to be done not on the discretion now.
Do you accept that the Government has now had to come back from its initial proposal now, given that the Prime Minister and yourself said it was going to be a Ministerial decision?
PETER DUTTON: No this is a strengthening. I have seen some commentary to that effect, but this is s strengthening of the position that we first put because this is a self-executing act if you like.
So, if people have conducted themselves in such a way that they are engaged in terrorist acts or financing or training for example, by their very conduct there is an automatic renunciation of their citizenship. That’s the default position.
If they serve or fight in the name of a prescribed terrorist organisation, by their very conduct they have renunciated their citizenship.
JOURNALIST: Who provides that advice? Who decided that?
PETER DUTTON: Well as is the case now, obviously, there are a number of agencies within Government that collect that intelligence from our partners and from our own sources.
That information is brought together and informs the Minister of the day who then issues a notice to say that they have become aware of that conduct which has resulted in renunciation and from there the person can accept that or challenge it in the courts.
JOURNALIST: So it’s ASIS and the intelligence agencies – AFP and others?
PETER DUTTON: Absolutely and it will be across Attorney Generals,’ across Defence, across my own Department and across the Australian Federal Police.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t it be better though to have the Minister to make the decision as you proposed originally? At least in the sense that the Minister is accountable as opposed to some intelligence agent.
PETER DUTTON: Well there are two aspects here. The person themself now makes the decision – this is the big change and it’s a significant and important improvement. The person themselves by their own conduct renounce’s their own citizenship and that is a situation that people need to understand.
It’s a legal concept that I don’t think some of the journalists have quite got their head around.
The issuing of the notice only comes when the Minister becomes aware of the conduct. The actual renunciation takes place at the time of the conduct.
So, it is an improvement.
There is the ability for the Minister on national security reasons to exempt the person from this particular section. I think that is a significant step in the process as well because there may be National Security reasons as to why you would not want to strip the citizenship of someone.
JOURNALIST: But there is still no guarantee that it will stack up in the High Court though is there because this section, this Act, has been in place since 1948 and this section has never been tested.
PETER DUTTON: Well the original section 35 which came into being in 1948-49 in the aftermath of the Second World War. It stated that somebody that went to fight with a country who was at war with Australia have essentially by their own act renunciated their own citizenship. Now, that of course hasn’t been tested.
There have been 16 people under the Act who have lost their citizenship because of fraud…
JOURNALIST: …so there is still some doubt isn’t there?
PETER DUTTON: Well there is always constitutional risk in anything that we do, but we have accepted the legal advice and we have taken on board the advice of some very wise and learned council.
I think that the Bill that we have constructed mitigates the risk as good as any Government could.
JOURNALIST: Why not just get a court to sign off on it in the end if you have that advice from the intelligence agencies rather than the Minister? Why not get the court to tick off on the outcome? That way you would avoid any separation of powers issues.
PETER DUTTON: The difficulty really is in relation to the foreign conduct.
So, if somebody is fighting in Syria for example or in Ramadi. If they are there and there is conclusive evidence available through intelligence sources to show that person performing an act of terrorism – we may rely on that, but it’s not going to be admissible.
In fact the Commonwealth wouldn’t seek to admit it into criminal proceeding here because it might expose sources there.
JOURNALIST: Sure. I don’t mean a criminal proceeding I mean a judge sign off on a procedural matter where you have the agencies say ‘ok so under section 35 that person should be stripped of their citizenship.’ You have a judge sign off on it as opposed to a Minister.
PETER DUTTON: Well there is a role for the executive and there is a role for the judiciary. We have been very respectful of the constitutional requirements for chapter three and the other provisions.
Now we have been able to work up a Bill which allows the person to seek redress through the court system and seek an injunction. They can contest the facts.
So there is an important judicial role in this process and we respect that, but in the end Governments have decisions to make and people have decisions to make.
In this case if people make a decision through their own conduct to renunciate their own citizenship and that really is an issue for them.
JOURNALIST: Finally I know you have other commitments, but how important has the contribution of other Ministers like Malcolm Turnbull been in putting this together?
PETER DUTTON: I have made this point on a number occasions. I think the reporting of this, one report on this which other commentators feed off, was misleading.
I think there was a discussion in Cabinet which has ultimately resulted in a better outcome.
The fact that we have been able to arrive at a point where people by their own conduct renounce their own citizenship is really an issue for them. Young people in particular need to heed that warning.
JOURNALIST: The Q&A program earlier in the week – is the The Q&A program earlier in the week – is the The Q&A program earlier in the week – is the The Q&A program earlier in the week – is the The Q&A program earlier in the week – is the individual that was on the program potentially opening them self up for prosecution given some of the comments made?
PETER DUTTON: Well that is an issue for the police to investigate if that’s been the case.
My comment has been that I think the Q&A program has been successful in the past, but I think it’s been hijacked in recent months. I think that the ABC has a lot to answer for and that’s no doubt the reason Mr Jones apologised yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Minister, thanks for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Kieran.