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Second Reading: Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015
It is a lamentable duty in some respects to be speaking on this bill tonight—the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. The only reason we are discussing it is that we are dealing with some significant challenges and problems within Australia, and this government is determined to deal with those in the best interests of Australians without fear or favour.
A recent review of our counter-terrorism machinery found that the terrorist threat in Australia is rising—that might seem like a really obvious statement—but this review concluded that the number of Australians joining extremist groups overseas is increasing, the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists in our own country is increasing and therefore the number of potential terrorists is rising. We are advised that our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations and this has basically doubled since 2014. More worryingly and more depressingly in many respects, there are around 110 Australians currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq; and around 190 people in Australia are providing support to individuals and/or groups in those conflicts in Syria and Iraq through financing, recruitment or they are seeking to travel there themselves.
Clearly we have a significant challenge to undertake, and the role of this parliament is to deal with those challenges, to defend our values and to defend Australian freedoms irrespective of the consequences. I am extraordinarily happy that as a result of this bill Australian dual nationals who swear allegiance to another cause or country by fighting or engaging with or supporting terrorist activities offshore will no longer be able to call themselves Australians and will not be able to return to our country, should they be overseas. This is a no-brainer—an absolute no-brainer. If we are to look at ourselves with pride as a country and as a parliament, we must assert on behalf of the Australian people that we will not tolerate anybody fighting for, or having allegiance to, somebody or some cause or some country other than our own. This is really a modern concept of treason and treasonous behaviour must be treated in the strongest possible ways.
I am probably a contrarian in some respects; I would be more than comfortable stripping the citizenship from non-dual nationals who went to fight overseas and beheaded people and put women into sexual slavery and raped and pillaged and murdered. I would be very comfortable voting for a bill that stopped them from returning to Australia, but I appreciate and understand that as a government we must maintain strong and positive relationships with our neighbours, our trading partners and the whole international community. In a sense it is really unreasonable to off-load those people to other jurisdictions. Where we have a sole Australian citizen who is engaged in that behaviour, I accept that, unfortunately, we must take them back, but, quite frankly, when I speak to the average Deakin constituent they would be more than happy to tell that person, ‘Sorry, your conduct means that you are never welcome back to this country.’
Acknowledging the limitations of this bill for a range of very good and important reasons that we cannot render people stateless, I am extraordinarily proud that we have been able to steward this bill through a number of reviews in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that dual nationals will not return to this country. I say that as the son of Lebanese migrant to this country. We often talk about somebody who has a convert’s zeal, and I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with a father who had a zeal for Australian citizenship that you only get, I think, from people who have had a very hard journey to get here and they truly appreciate how lucky and fortunate we all are to call ourselves Australian citizens. I have seen firsthand in a migrant community the absolute way in which they treasure being an Australian and they defend Australian values. In my household you could never say anything bad about our country because my father would not have. That is my experience with the vast majority of immigrant communities in my electorate and throughout the country when ever I travel.
There is nothing incompatible with our values of being an open, welcoming, tolerant multicultural society—indeed, it strengthens it. If you want to be an Australian citizen and you are a dual national and you are lucky enough to have Australian citizenship, we have very high expectations of you. No doubt there are many responsibilities but there are also many rights that you get with being an Australian citizen; and they have to be there together—you cannot have one without the other.
I thank the responsible ministers involved with this legislation for doing a power of work. I want to commend the joint parliamentary committee which undertook the review into the machinery of these amendments and thank them for their work, because this is still a contested area. It is quite shocking to me that there are still people—many of whom occupy a place within the Greens political party—who think that, if you have gone to Iraq or Syria, if you have beheaded Christians or have raped or sexually enslaved minority groups, you should be welcomed back to this country. Those proponents say, ‘Well, we should bring them back and prosecute them here.’ Given our laws of evidence, it would be virtually impossible to ever convict a person who has conducted themselves in that way, so why would we bring them back to this country? This bill ensures that those people will never walk our streets; it ensures that those people will never have the opportunity to bring home the disgraceful skills and ideology that they would have honed in that foreign jurisdiction and to ply their evil trade here in Australia.
As the son of a migrant, somebody who has been embedded in migrant communities my whole life, I say that this bill promotes the values and the responsibilities that we expect of everybody who comes to this country. We will open our arms up to you, we will give you every opportunity in the world, but if you throw that back in our face and if you conduct yourself in a way that is so incompatible with calling yourself an Australian, we will strip you of your citizenship. Unfortunately, I bet at that point some of those people may start to realise just what they have left behind—although perhaps many of them are so twisted that that would not necessarily be the case. I commend each of the ministers for the work they have done and I again want to commend the parliamentary joint committee, and I absolutely commend this bill in the strongest possible terms.
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