JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton is the Immigration Minister and he joins me in our Canberra studio. Peter Dutton, welcome to the program.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Michael.
JOURNALIST: By taking away the citizenship of some who are fighting with IS are we essentially ducking our global responsibilities and passing the buck?
PETER DUTTON: Clearly not because we've looked at the example of our Five Eyes partners, those that we cooperate with most closely, and most of these countries, including a lot of European countries, otherwise have acted in this space already.
We know in the United Kingdom since 2006 the laws have been operating successfully there and they've had 27 revocations, so it's been used sparingly. But nonetheless the powers have been longstanding.
And Australia in many ways is late to the table in regards to citizenship changes, revocations, suspensions and the rest.
JOURNALIST: Okay, but somebody who's fighting for IS against Iraq, who may happen to be an Iraqi, a joint Iraqi-Australian citizen, if we take away their Australian citizenship aren't we just giving Iraq another burden? Because, you know, clearly they're fighting against them as well.
PETER DUTTON: Well, the Government's been very clear about a couple of things: Firstly that we're not going to render somebody stateless. But if they are acting in the name of terrorism or a terrorist organisation, if they're involved in financing or an actual terrorist act, or an act preparatory to, we do say that that is a breach of your privilege to be an Australian citizen.
And whilst we say that we won't render that person stateless, we do intend to remove their Australian citizenship, which would mean that they would have to fall back to their original citizenship. And, as I say, that's how it operates in other parts of the world including our close allies.
JOURNALIST: But why would another country take them back?
PETER DUTTON: Well that's an issue for the other countries that operates now. And in the UK, it's happened on 27 occasions. It happened in the US. Canada has introduced recent laws.
And the point that we have to recognise here, Michael, is that this country faces an unprecedented threat when it comes to terrorism.
JOURNALIST: That's- I think that's understood by everybody, but if the boot was on the other foot, would we take them back? I mean if someone revoked dual citizenship of an Australian-British person for example, would we take them back?
PETER DUTTON: Yes, we would if they were an Australian citizen. And that's the constitutional obligation.
JOURNALIST: Even if they were committing acts of terror?
PETER DUTTON: Well, if they were committing acts of terror, they would face Australian law on their return. And that's a very important point; that this is not about a criminal sanction, it's about removal of a significant privilege.
And the other aspect to it is that we have judicial review in this regard so decisions made by the minister of the day are judicially reviewable.
That's the way in which it operates in the UK. It's been tested by the courts there. It's quite a mature model and we've relied heavily, frankly, on the UK example to come up with our version of how we think it can operate.
JOURNALIST: Okay, so just to be clear, we would revoke the citizenship of somebody who was a dual national who was fighting for IS, but if someone else revoked their citizenship we'd take them back.
PETER DUTTON: Well, we'd render ourselves - no, sorry - they would be rendered stateless in that situation, which we're not going to allow.
So this is the important point: On a case-by-case basis we would take the information in relation to that individual, their activities - whether or not they had committed some atrocious act, whether or not they were involved in the financing of terrorism or activities otherwise as we've defined, as we announced yesterday.
Now, if that person has dual citizenship they will fall back to that citizenship. But if they're to be rendered stateless, as I've said very clearly, we're in that situation not going to allow that to happen.
JOURNALIST: What's the guarantee that mistakes won't be made? I mean, clearly there are people over there doing humanitarian work who could easily be considered to be working, unfairly considered to be working for terrorists.
PETER DUTTON: Well, I don't know what basis you would make that statement on. I think the intelligence is very clear in relation to…
JOURNALIST: So no mistakes would be made?
PETER DUTTON: Well, mistakes are made in the courts today, Michael, and we've got a process here where we're saying there will be judicial review of decisions made by the minister of the day. I think that's very important as a safe-guard.
As I say, it's a mature model. It's operated with bipartisan support in the UK since 2006 and we've learnt the lessons from there.
And I think people can be rest assured that the motivation of the Government here is to use this power sparingly and to use it forcefully against those people who would seek to do Australian citizens harm.
JOURNALIST: Sure. What about the families of these fighters? News today, for instance, that the wife and children of Khaled Sharrouf want to return to Australia. Now it could certainly be argued that the kids at least are victims in this.
PETER DUTTON: Well, I think this is why it's important for there to be ministerial discretion as opposed to an operation of law, so that if there was a black letter provision which said that everybody coming back, including children, would face revocation of their citizenship then I think that would be something that people would want to debate.
And what we've said here, and as again it operates in the UK, there is the ability for ministers to assess individually the cases that come before them.
Now I'm not going to comment individually on this matter, but people face very serious consequences when they return to this country if they've broken Australian law.
And if they're in proscribed areas and they don't have a reason for being there, if they've been involved in supporting terrorists or involved in activities directly themselves, they will face the full force of the law when they return to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Okay, and the children?
PETER DUTTON: Well the children, as I say, it depends on the circumstance, the ages of the children. If they're infants, for example, then they would be in state care, as we've seen with some people who have decided to abandon their children and go off and fight in the name of ISIL.
So those arrangements would operate as they would with any family where parents have abandoned their children or not acting in the best interests of their children.
JOURNALIST: Now the further step of stripping someone who only has Australian citizenship, which we understand has been discussed in Cabinet, if you have grounds to believe they would be able to become a national of another country.
Now, why float that idea at all if you don't intend to follow through with it?
PETER DUTTON: Well, we've said that we're open to debate on the issue and we're open to including that extra limb within the legislation that we announced yesterday.
And this is a second limb as it operates in the UK. And effectively it works like this: That, again, with the important principle of not rendering somebody stateless, if somebody can avail themselves of citizenship of another country and the minister can satisfy him or herself that that person won't be rendered stateless by revocation of our citizenship, then that's the way in which it operates in the UK.
And we're saying, as part of Philip Ruddock's process here, that there should be discussion around that aspect, around that particular element. And we've expressed a view that we're open to its inclusion or not. We'll let the process run its course.
JOURNALIST: What was your answer to the question that was reportedly put by Julie Bishop in Cabinet that if Australia were to strip one of its people of citizenship, would another country likely approve an application for citizenship?
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, I'm not going to go into a Cabinet discussion…
JOURNALIST: Well, a broad question then. Let's take it out of Cabinet.
PETER DUTTON: I'm very happy to answer it. I saw that one report in relation to the Cabinet discussion, which frankly is a complete misrepresentation of the discussion that took place.
But the underlying principle here is that there is not to be a case where a person is rendered stateless. That is a very important principle. We haven't abandoned that. And it underscores all of what we have announced in relation to this space.
Now we will satisfy ourselves in individual cases about the facts, relying on all the evidence available to us. And then we'll make a judgement on that basis. And in the end, as I say, it's reviewable not only through the AAT but the Federal Court and the High Court.
JOURNALIST: These stories do keep coming out though. I mean I know you say this one wasn't correct, but this is certainly a Cabinet that seems to leak pretty badly, doesn't it?
PETER DUTTON: Well, Michael, all I can tell you is that the Government's with one purpose, and that is to make sure that we keep our people safe, to make sure that we recognise the threat of terrorism in this county.
ASIO and the other intelligence agencies have said publicly that over 400 high priority cases are under investigation at the moment. We have 100 Australians fighting in Syria, Iraq, in the Middle East elsewhere. And we have at least 150 people back here who are involved in financing or supporting people otherwise, who are involved in terrorist activities.
We need to stare down that threat and that's exactly what we'll do.
JOURNALIST: Okay, Peter Dutton, thank you very much for joining us.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Michael. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: That's the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton there.