Dual nationals who help terrorists could automatically lose their Australian citizenship even if they have never stepped foot out of the country under new laws introduced to parliament on Wednesday.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton introduced legislation to amend the Citizenship Act as fears grow about the number of Australians fighting with militant groups and concern about the threat at home from radicalised individuals.
It specifies three mechanisms and a series of grounds which could lead to an Australian, even if born in the country, being stripped of their citizenship.
They include a person convicted of a terrorist act by an Australian court and anyone found to be engaged in terrorist activity.
It also extends an existing provision covering fighting for the armed forces of a country at war with Australia to also cover fighting for a terrorist organisation.
There are currently 20 such groups on Canberra’s list of terrorist organisations.
“This bill emphasises the central importance of allegiances to Australia into the concept of citizenship,” Dutton said in introducing the legislation.
“Citizenship is to be treasured. It’s a common bond that unites us all, whether we were born here or chose to make Australia our home.
“The world has changed so our laws should change accordingly,” he added.
Dutton said citizenship could be lost for not only engaging in terrorist acts but providing or receiving training linked to terrorism, as well as recruiting or financing for militant groups.
But he stressed that no one would lose citizenship unless they were also a national of another country as this would render them stateless and be in violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
“Automatic loss of citizenship will be triggered whether the conduct takes place inside or outside Australia,” he added. “The loss of citizenship will be immediate, upon the person engaging in the relevant conduct.”
It was initially planned that Dutton himself would have the power to take away citizenship, without trial or conviction, but this has been dumped after advice that it would be unconstitutional.
He will now only inform people of their fate after advice from security agencies, with anyone targeted having an automatic right of review to the Federal and High courts.
The laws will be examined by a parliamentary committee on intelligence and security with the Labor opposition generally supportive of the changes.
The committee will also look into whether the legislation, if passed, could be retrospectively applied to take into account dual nationals currently in jail on terrorism convictions.
About half of the 120 Australians that the government believes are fighting with militant groups in the Middle East are dual nationals, Canberra has said.