Gareth Smith, 72, is hardly the death cult killer the Abbott government has in mind when it vows to strip dual national terrorists of their Australian citizenship.But on a literal reading of the government’s citizenship legislation, introduced yesterday to Parliament, Mr Smith, who proudly acknowledges he’s a “serial protester”, could find himself in the crosshairs.
“It hasn’t really had a chance to sink in, to be frank,” he said from his home in Byron Bay after Fairfax Media asked him about the prospect of having to fall back on his British citizenship.
Mr Smith was convicted in 2000 of damaging Commonwealth property after he spray-painted, “Shame Australia!! Shame!” in hot pink across the front of Parliament House, Canberra, as part of a protest about East Timor.
Under the legislation, dual nationals who are convicted of certain offences would be automatically stripped of their citizenship. Those offences range from treachery, sabotage and mutiny all the way down to damaging or destroying Commonwealth property.
It also includes a broad range of speech-related offences such as urging violence or advocating terrorism.
The long-awaited amendments to the Citizenship Act also mean a dual national who engages in terrorism-related activity automatically forfeits their Australian citizenship even without a conviction, though they can appeal the revocation in court.
Terrorist acts include using explosives or lethal devices overseas and providing or receiving training for terrorist acts, as well as directing, financing or recruiting for terrorism.
Another category in the new bill is an extension of the existing law, section 35, that already strips dual nationals of their citizenship if they fight with a foreign military with whom Australia is at war.
The government has referred the legislation to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to consider whether it should be made retrospective – which is where Mr Smith’s residency of Byron Bay could start to look precarious.
Labor on Wednesday stated it would support the legislation in principle, though Immigration spokesman Richard Marles vowed “that shouldn’t be taken as a blank cheque”.
Mr Marles said the types of offence convictions that could spark citizenship loss was “precisely the kinds of matters Labor will seek to examine … to ensure it contains no unintended consequences”.
The parliamentary committee is expected to scrutinise whether offences should be removed or new ones added.
The Immigration Minister will retain the power to overturn the renunciation or revocation of citizenship if it’s in the public interest, meaning the minister will still have considerable powers of discretion.
Children of terrorists stripped of their citizenship could also have their citizenship taken away provided it does not make them stateless, and if they do not have another responsible Australian parent.
University of New South Wales law professor George Williams said the wide range of criminal convictions that would spark the loss of citizenship was the “most concerning” aspect of the bill because not all the offences necessarily relate to terrorism and “may or may not be serious” offences.
Mr Smith paid his debt – a bill of $16,350 to the Commonwealth for the clean-up as well as an additional fine.
“To be under the threat of deportation for an action for which due restitution has already been made seems quite Orwellian,” he said