Six members of the Abbott cabinet have risen up against a proposal that a minister could strip an Australian of citizenship, even if he or she has no other citizenship.
[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]”Isn’t that what we have courts for?“[/cryout-pullquote]
The idea, proposed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton with the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, divided a meeting of the cabinet on Monday night.
The hour-long debate was described by participants as tense and sometimes heated.
The cabinet members who spoke against the proposal were Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, Foreign Affairs Minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, Attorney-General George Brandis, Agriculture Minister and deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, according to people present in the room.
The same plan had divided the cabinet’s national security committee.
The idea is that even an Australian-born citizen, without any other citizenship, could be stripped of Australian citizenship at the discretion of the immigration minister alone, without a suspect being charged or facing a court.
Under the proposal, the only protection against an Australian being rendered stateless is that they must also be eligible to apply for citizenship of another country, even if they do not actually hold that second citizenship.
Ms Bishop posed to the cabinet meeting this question: if Australia were to strip one of its people of citizenship on suspicion of terrorism, would another country be likely to approve that person’s application to become a citizen?
The core objection was that an Australian effectively can be rendered stateless, losing fundamental rights and in violation of international law, without due process.
A related proposal – that dual citizens could be stripped of Australian citizenship on suspicion of terrorism – has been accepted.
According to participants, Senator Brandis, in opposing the plan, told the cabinet meeting: “I am the Attorney-General. It is my job to stand for the rule of law.”
Mr Joyce put to the meeting: “Isn’t that what we have courts for?”, according to people present.
Mr Andrews is said to have pointed out to the meeting that, if concern about the proposal was so widespread, community concern was likely to be even greater.
Because the idea had divided cabinet’s national security committee, it was not presented to Monday night’s cabinet meeting as proposed law but as part of a “discussion paper”.
The six-page discussion paper was distributed during the meeting, angering some that it had not been circulated in advance, as matters for cabinet are supposed to be.
Mr Turnbull asked Mr Abbott in the meeting whether The Daily Telegraph had been briefed on the idea for Tuesday morning’s newspaper, according to people present.
Briefing the newspaper, a favoured channel for leaking the Prime Minister’s moves in advance, would have effectively pre-empted the cabinet, which met from 7pm.
Mr Abbott replied that the newspaper had not been briefed. Page five of The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday morning carried a report that said in part: “Prime Minister Tony Abbott will announce today, after cabinet last night approved the policy, that a bill will be introduced before the end of June that would strip dual national terrorist sympathisers of their Australian citizenship.
“Included in the bill will be controversial measures based on the UK model to also strip nationality from Australians who hold sole Australian citizenship but only if they have legal access to citizenship of another country – getting around international law preventing countries from making people stateless.”
Ministers were angry that Mr Abbott and his office were apparently riding roughshod over the national security committee of the cabinet and the full cabinet.
On Tuesday morning, Senator Brandis ruled out stripping terrorist sympathisers of their citizenship if it would leave them stateless, but left open the possibility of other serious penalties.
“We are not going to be rendering anyone stateless, nobody has proposed that, everything we do will be compliant with the rule of law … but we are going to be tough,” he said.