Quite understandably after the events which opened the twenty-first century, governments around the world are very afraid of the nature of terrorism. It can't be predicted and the outcomes can be terrible. Having said that, merely uttering the word "terrorism" has now become the perfect cover for getting away with anything. It is a klaxon which drowns out all meaningful discussion.
In the name of terrorism, Australia entered into a war which was declared illegal by the UN in 2003 and now as a result of that same cause, the current government is having discussions which would strip people of their citizenship if they are engaging in terrorism.
Terrorism is one of those slippery things at law which isn't incredibly well defined and such, is a perfect excuse to railroad through all sorts of laws, in the name of looking tough.
Six members of the Abbott cabinet have risen up against an extraordinary proposal to give a minister the power to strip an Australian of their sole citizenship.
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 Age, 26th May 2015
The one sane voice speaking into the cacophony of confusion is Julie Bishop. I think that Ms Bishop has been an excellent Foreign Minister because she has consistently showed a great deal of tact in often difficult circumstances (especially in dealing with our chaotic neighbour to the north, Indonesia). I think that the objections which she has raised, are quite important.
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.
- The Age, 26th May 2015
Australian Citizenship is subject to and regulated by the Australian Citizenship Act 2007. It currently does specify the conditions under which Australian Citizenship may be revoked. In relation to terrorism, that might have interesting ramifications.
As I understand it, as a result of section 12 of the Act, a person currently cannot normally have their citizenship revoked under any circumstance if they happen to be an Australian citizen by birth.
Section 35 of the Act, lays out some pretty severe circumstances as to how it might happen though.
Service in armed forces of enemy country
(1) A person ceases to be an Australian citizen if the person:
(a) is a national or citizen of a foreign country; and
(b) serves in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia.
(2) The person ceases to be an Australian citizen at the time the person commences to so serve.
Note: A child of the person may also cease to be an Australian citizen: see section 36.
- Australian Citizenship Act 2007
Nothing in there mentions terrorism.
I suppose that this might be a knee jerk in relation to Australian nationals travelling to places like Syria and Iraq but even then, the estimated numbers of those people only range from about 20 to 200.
You can see the government's problem with the law as it currently stands though. A group like ISIS isn't actually "a country at war with Australia" because it's not a country. It is impossible to say that an Australian national who fights with ISIS is serving in the "armed forces of enemy country" because again, it's not a country. Australia could declare ISIS to be a foreign country but that might imply a degree of legitimacy to ISIS and Australia does not want to do that either.
There's also the pesky problem of human rights issues; especially with regards to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Australia helped to craft in 1948:
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
To be honest, we've done an excellent job at trashing article 14 which relates people seeking asylum from persecution but to remove an Australian national's citizenship on the grounds that they were are terrorist, is to render them stateless. It also opens the quite frankly ridiculous possibility that someone who has gone overseas, might be classified as a terrorist, have their Australian citizenship revoked and at a later point in time, try to apply for asylum from persecution in Australia.
The government at this stage is suggesting that it only intends to strip dual-nationality terrorists of their Australian citizenship. Assuming that is the case, then what happens if the nation of their original citizenship also decides to revoke that citizenship? That person would become stateless.
Under international obligations though, Australia might be forced to take back someone who has had their dual-citizenship revoked from another country, even if they had been engaging in terrorism.
In can understand the government's dilemma and I admit that I have no idea how to solve the problem of terrorism but I do know that creating a mechanism by which people can be rendered stateless is a poor method of solving the problem.
This seems to me to be a case of politician's logic. We must do something; this is something; therefore, we must do this. It's even worse when terrorism isn't even properly defined at law.