JOURNALIST: It’ll see dual nationals automatically lose their Australian citizenship if they are deemed to have engaged in terrorism-related conduct. The changes to the Citizenship Act will target terror suspects, both here and overseas and could be made retrospective.
The latest crackdown comes as the mother-in-law of the terrorist, Khaled Sharrouf pleads with the Government to allow his widow and five children to return home.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is in our Parliament House studio and he’s speaking to political editor Alison Carabine
JOURNALIST: Minister, thanks for coming in.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Alison.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Government wants to banish terrorists from Australian shores, that’s a laudable goal, but won’t it be much easier said than done?
PETER DUTTON: Well I think what people have seen in the last 24 hours or so is the true face of evil in relation to Sharrouf and Elomar.
There are many people, about 120 on advice, that are fighting in the Middle East at the moment who’ve gone over from Australia and we’re very worried about those people coming back.
So the Government, in this Bill, seeks to provide support to our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help keep the Australian people safe. We believe that we’ve struck the right balance and we can do our best, and we’re doing our best, in this legislation to try and stop people from coming back here to kill innocent Australians.
JOURNALIST: Well, the legislation involves changes to the Australian Citizenship Act. What standard of proof would be required before a person could lose their citizenship? Not everyone is as high profile as Khaled Sharrouf, for example.
PETER DUTTON: The way in which we’ve constructed this legislation a couple of things happen; if there’s a conviction of a terrorist offence in Australia then there is, by that conduct, a renunciation of the Australian citizenship by that person.
The second element is in relation to fighting in or serving with a prescribed organisation, such as ISIL. If they’re conducting themselves in such a way that they come within the definition, so that is to be involved in terrorist related activities then by their conduct they renounce their own citizenship.
The renunciation otherwise occurs where somebody has committed a terrorist act, whether they’ve been involved in financing and training etcetera and it is that conduct which results in the renunciation of their citizenship.
The role of the Minister then is to issue a notice to that person, saying that the Minister has become aware of that conduct and the subsequent renunciation by that person, of their Australian citizenship.
The person then has the ability to go, in the first instance it would seem, to the High Court, but likely referred to the Federal Court and the Federal Court would hear that person lead evidence to contest identity or where they had been for example, but that is then an issue for the court.
JOURNALIST: So, that legal redress for a person who loses citizenship; how meaningful would it be, would it just go to, the process involved or would it look at the merits of the case?
PETER DUTTON: It’ll look at the facts, so it will look at identity, for arguments sake, if that’s what the person is contesting, if they’re saying it was my brother not me, if they were saying I wasn’t in Ramadi I was here at that time.
But the conduct is what’s examined and it’s the conduct of the person that results in the renunciation.
There is a Ministerial discretion within the Bill, in terms of exempting somebody from one of the provisions, that may be for national security reasons and that’s the way in which we’ve constructed this piece of legislation.
JOURNALIST: Now, with regards to the renunciation following a conviction, won’t there always be the perennial problem of another country not being willing to take back a dual national?
Doesn’t that mean a person in that category could face indefinite detention in Australia, which would breach international law? How are you going to overcome that?
PETER DUTTON: Whether or not somebody is accepted back into another country is an issue for that country. Now there may be constitutional or legal rights for that person in terms of their citizenship to return to that country so it depends on the inpidual circumstance.
In the UK, since 2006, they have taken citizenship away from 28 people including one Australian, as I’m advised; and New Zealand has a very strong power, as does Canada in relation to taking citizenship away from people who are terrorists so this problem already exists and we would work with partners and with other countries to look at options in relation to inpiduals.
JOURNALIST: And terrorism is, of course, a global problem, but for arguments sake, would Australia ever be willing to take back a dual national terrorist from another country. Well, you’re expecting them to take ours, would we take them?
PETER DUTTON: Well, it would depend on the circumstances and there are obviously constitutional and legal rights.
As I say, we also are a very serious as a Government about, as a nation about meeting our international obligations in relation to not rendering people stateless and we don’t render people stateless under this model.
We’re saying for people who are terrorists, who are involved in terrorist activity, if they’re dual nationals then they come within the scope of this particular Bill and I believe that’s very important, because if we want to keep people safe we need to recognise in our country we’ve had two terrorist attacks since September of last years - we’ve had six attacks thwarted and we’ve got 400 high priority investigations underway by ASIO at the moment, so this is a very serious issue that we face.
JOURNALIST: Of course it is and with regards to keeping the community safe the Government has got a difficult decision to make with regards to the wife and children of Khaled Sharrouf.
His mother-in-law Karen Nettleton is pleading today for the family to be allowed home to Australia. She says the children have become collateral damage. Why should these kids be punished, Minister, for the sins of their father?
PETER DUTTON: Well, this is not a conversation to conduct over the airwaves. I’ve advised that this family should make contact with the Australian Federal Police and that’s where the discussion should take place.
JOURNALIST: But the Prime Minister has said that the citizenship laws will be applied to children with the full rigor of the law to keep the community safe and he was referring to the Sharrouf children.
Are these children really a danger to the Australian community?
PETER DUTTON: We’ve heard in the last 24 hours through the media that there is some intent by the mother to bring these children back, bearing in mind, as I understand it from media reports, the 14-year-old daughter of this couple was somehow sold or traded into some relationship which is abhorrent in itself. The image of the two young boys holding up heads is just abhorrent and all Australians would find that completely unacceptable.
Now, the actions of the father and it seems of the mother, obviously need to be questioned.
Now, in relation to the mother; if the mother wishes to come back and she’s breached Australian law she will face the Australian law like anybody else would and should.
JOURNALIST: And what about her children?
PETER DUTTON: Well, this is an issue for the family to discuss with the Australian Federal Police. Obviously there is, in terms of the Criminal Code here, there are age requirements. If children are under the age of 10 there is a different approach obviously, in terms of their criminal responsibility, but these are all issues to be discussed. I don’t have the full facts.
JOURNALIST: But it sounds like you’re open to allowing the children back in to Australia?
PETER DUTTON: I don’t have the full facts in relation to the case. The point that I would make is that if people have breached the Australian law they will face the full force of the Australian law, but if parents are taking their children in to these conflict zones they have destroyed the lives of their own children and I can understand that the grandparents would be devastated.
But I also feel for the Australian families who are worried about bringing these children back into the Australian community.
There are significant issues on a number of levels to face here and the family needs to engage with the federal police. If people have broken Australian law they will face the law and if they’re convicted they’ll go to jail.
JOURNALIST: Minister, if I could take you to the Government’s criticism of the ABC, in particular Q&A.
The Prime Minister has again posed the question ‘Who’s side is the ABC on? The ABC is again taking every side except Australia’s.’
Now I don’t really mean for you to try and second-guess the Prime Minister, but if you could have a stab at what he might have meant by that; surely he’s not suggesting that the ABC is siding with terrorists?
PETER DUTTON: Well it seems to some rear guard action frankly by the ABC in support of their brothers and sisters at Q&A.
I can understand that, that’s natural, but as I understand it Mr Jones himself has apologised for the actions.
JOURNALIST: Well the why does the Prime Minister have to say that the ABC is again taking every side except Australia’s if Tony Jones has apologised for what happened on Q&A?
PETER DUTTON: I think there are serious questions about why, at public expense, the national broadcaster would allow this particular person, of such poor character, a national platform on live television.
Journalists interview people of bad character all the time that they prerecord and they have a sensible approach in terms of what goes to air.
To give this person the platform that they did to expose the people in the audience and the people on the panel to the risk that that would be posed by this person, I think is a significant breach of their obligations and I think that is not in our national interest and I think that’s why the Board has recommended this independent review.
I think that is a very important step and acknowledgement that there are significant problems here.
So we can go to language and play this, this dance, if you like, but there are fundamental problems at Q&A, there are fundamental problems with the way in which producers have approached this issue; that is what needs to be concentrated on and that’s the question that they need to answer and presumably they’ll have to answer through the independent review.
JOURNALIST: It may have been an own goal by Q&A but hasn’t it just given the Government another excuse to give the ABC a good kicking?
PETER DUTTON: The Government hasn’t created this issue; Q&A, the ABC has created this issue and instead of trying to somehow run this rear guard action - this protection racket for Q&A and Tony Jones - the ABC needs to be responsible, own up to their own actions.
JOURNALIST: I think it’s already done that …
PETER DUTTON: And, well, as I say, in every ABC interview I’ve done since then there seems to be this rear guard action.
JOURNALIST: Well maybe that’s because the way in which the Government has reacted to what happened on Monday night.
PETER DUTTON: As opposed to people acknowledging …
JOURNALIST: It’s been quite over the top.
PETER DUTTON: As opposed to acknowledging that Q&A, Mr Jones himself has acknowledged that there was a problem.
I haven’t heard any ABC journalist say that Mr Jones has apologised, that there is a problem, that the Q&A producers do have a case to answer. Instead there’s this protection racket that’s being run and I don’t think that bodes well because if people are not going to accept the apology of Mr Jones, if it was made simply to get them through the first news cycle then I think there are fundamental problems that need to be answered.
Q&A is a good format, but it has lost the plot in recent months. The audience is stacked, the panel is stacked; I think Mr Jones and the producers recognise that now, let’s hope some good comes from it.
JOURNALIST: Minister, thank you for your time.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks, Alison.