Stripping of citizenship on the nose

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The proposed changes to Australia’s citizenship policy are in the wrong and could seriously become an embarrassment for the government should they be passed into law in their current form.

The government has proposed stripping foreign fighters of their dual citizenship and to be in line with some of our allies in countries such as the US, UK, France, Canada and New Zealand. According to information to date, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection will hold the power to strip them of their nationality. However, for those Australians who do not have dual passports and only hold Australian citizenship, there is a consultation process happening to see if they can be stripped of their Australian citizenship, effectively rendering them stateless.

According to current law, which came into place in 1949, it is possible to strip a dual citizen of Australian citizenship when the dual citizen serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia.

The main issue is that of sole power lying with the Minister in the dual citizenship debate. Constitutional experts have warned that, if challenged, the minister’s decision may not stand as the Australian Constitution does not allow this power to rest with the Minister; rather, the rule of law will need to be applied. According to Australian law, a judge is the only person who can hold judicial power. An individual vested with this power can set very dangerous precedents. While this may open further discussion about divulging national security issues in an open court room or delay in process, it does ensure the process is fairly and correctly carried out.

Stripping a foreign fighter who does not have dual citizenship will render the person stateless, which will be in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, part of which states that “everyone has a right to nationality”. This will be a challenge which Australia will need to face. We have a collective responsibility for all in our society, both good and bad; we just cannot wash our hands off the bad ones.

In the UK, since denationalisation was ramped up after the 2005 London bombing, 27 people have lost their citizenship. Some of these were overseas and so could not return to the UK to challenge this decision. While in the UK the decision lies with the government, in Canada revocation of citizenship lies with a High Court judge and has to follow a judicial process. The United States constitution strongly protects US citizenship and if any change is to be made, in all probability it will have to go through a judicial process also. New Zealand has no laws in place to strip its citizens of their nationality – dual or otherwise – but some passport restrictions do apply.

India does not allow dual citizenship, and to date has not moved to strip its citizens of their Indian citizenship should they be involved in foreign fighting. While there is intense pressure from Non-Resident Indians to open the book on dual citizenship, neither the BJP or Congress parties in power have conceded to this, other than allowing more flexibility with the ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ option. As terrorism continues to be an ongoing international challenge, one doubts that the Indian government will now concede to the dual citizenship demands.

For those of us in Australia, we need to ensure there is ongoing preservation of our key values in Australia – a robust legal system, equality of all individuals, and our collective responsibility as a society.