Thursday, 12 November 2015
Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015; Second Reading
As a member of parliament's Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, it gives me great pleasure to speak in support of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. It is a particularly welcome opportunity, because migration and citizenship are at the heart of my personal story.
In early 1965 my parents and I migrated from the former Yugoslavia. Like most migrant families, we had our highs and lows, but it is undeniable that everything I have achieved as a member of this great country started since arriving in Australia and from receiving the great gift of citizenship. That is why in my first speech in this parliament, on 13 November 2013, I said that nurturing a stronger sense of community and citizenship was at the forefront of my priorities as a politician. So I share the disappointment of most Australians when some amongst us betray that gift in the worst possible way, by engaging in terrorism-related conduct.
This bill addresses that conduct. It allows us to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who by their demonstrated and unlawful conduct breach their allegiance to Australia, its laws, its democratic beliefs and its collective values. Foremost amongst our values are Australians' collective notions of decency, tolerance and 'a fair go'. You do not often hear Australians speak openly about values. Rather, they lend their tacit support to them by living them practically—and they reasonably expect others to do the same. And, just as importantly, they know innately that such values lie at the very heart of what makes this nation what it is, and why it works so well.
The new powers in this bill are a necessary and appropriate response to resurgent terrorism. By enacting this bill, we make a significant contribution to the security of all law-abiding citizens.
Four key threads are at the heart of this bill and its provisions, and they are, first, that Australian citizenship is a gift; second, that citizenship is part of a societal compact; third, that this bill represents best consultative policy; and, fourth, that this bill aligns with global, regional and domestic security imperatives. I will address each of these briefly.
There is no doubt that Australian citizenship is a gift. A simple audit of the problems that beset many other parts of the world provides eloquent testament to citizenship as a gift—what Abraham Lincoln might have described as 'a self-evident truth'. The ingredients comprising this gift can also be partly quantified. One way of doing so might be to ask those in the gallery or those listening to this broadcast to consider the five 'crown jewels' of citizenship.
The first is a truly free and functioning democracy which, while invariably strongly and passionately contested, is contested with ideas and words and not with guns and bombs. Indeed, the only odd angry shots you hear fired in the exercise of our democracy are verbal in nature—mostly fired on this hill, in state parliaments and in council chambers around the country.
Secondly, Australia possesses immense wealth born of diverse natural resources—mineral, agricultural and environmental. Australia has been blessed in numerous mining booms; equally it possesses extraordinary reserves of energy.
Third, Australia enjoys a functioning system of taxation and applies the proceeds for the wider collective good. Moreover, the vast majority of Australians understand the necessity of paying their fair share of tax as the price of a civilized and functioning community and country.
Fourth, Australia enjoys government-provided systems of health and education, without which national wellbeing would wither.
Fifth, Australia has a generous welfare safety net for both the unemployed and the elderly.
Out of this strategic audit, a key point flows. Each of the individual and collective entitlements that I have just mentioned comes automatically with being an Australian citizen, regardless of how that status is attained. In much of the rest of the world, such rights and automatic entitlements are either non-existent, illusory or out of reach. And the sum of such entitlements is opportunity. Australian citizens are blessed with opportunity like nowhere else in the world. The fact that I was born into village life in Yugoslavia and now stand in this parliament representing the people of Bass bears testimony to the value of this gift. And, when you add your own personal motivation, focus, loyalty and effort, anything is possible.
But those like me who are blessed with the opportunity to live, work and raise a family in this great country must acknowledge the reciprocal and individual obligations that accompany this gift, the most important of which is to live a life that is at the very least lawful and is ideally one of constructive contribution to our society. Doing so demonstrates a tangible allegiance to our nation and that for which it stands. This is collective opportunity, built on the recognition of individual responsibility.
The dual ideas of mutual obligation and a common, reciprocal bond are at the core of this bill and are reinforced by it. That is why this bill states:
… the Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, and that citizens may, through certain conduct incompatible with the shared values of the Australian community, demonstrate that they have severed that bond and repudiated their allegiance to Australia.
Together, the rights and obligations of citizenship comprise a moral and ethical compact of sorts between Australia and her citizens, including dual citizens. This bill now seeks to support the ethical and moral dimensions of this compact with a legal framework and formal administrative policy. It focuses on eight threats in particular:
(a) engaging in international terrorist activities using explosive or lethal devices;
(b) engaging in a terrorist act;
(c) providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in, or assistance in a terrorist act;
(d) directing the activities of a terrorist organisation;
(e) recruiting for a terrorist organisation;
(f) financing terrorism;
(g) financing a terrorist;
(h) engaging in foreign incursions and recruitment.
Irrespective of the geographic locality of any of these offences—whether they are in or outside Australia being immaterial—the loss of Australian citizenship for a dual national so convicted is automatic and irrevocable. It is worth noting that law has provided for the automatic loss of citizenship for someone who has served in the armed forces of a country at war with Australia since 1949. This updated legislation sends a deliberately strong signal to those dual nationals amongst us who seek to harm Australia and her interests. Because such loss is irrevocable, it is intended to make potential transgressors think carefully about the life-changing consequences both to them directly and to the families and friends they would leave behind and potentially never see again.
Therefore, by intention and design this policy is clear, firm and targeted. It is undoubtable that this bill also represents best consultative policy, because it has been through months of making and remaking, including via the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, of which I am a member. I would like to praise the consultative, thoughtful consideration of this bill by the PJCIS, and I congratulate my friend the member for Wannon for his leadership as chair of our committee. I also thank the member for Holt and the other members opposite who are on that committee for their bipartisan support of our recommendations. I was pleased to see the Attorney-General and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection confirm yesterday that the government would be implementing all 27 recommendations of our committee. As a consequence, what people have in this bill is wholly fitting for our nation's security requirements.
If the contents of this bill are seen as unique and perhaps still offensive to some, it is most likely because the circumstances that led to the need for it are themselves unique and offend our collective values. Indeed, until the relatively recent past, Australia stood alone amongst the inhabited continents of the world in never having suffered from a persistent internal national security threat. The same boast could not be made for Africa, Europe, Asia and both Americas. Yet again, this is a reason for every Australian to celebrate and embrace the rights of citizenship that have been gifted to them. It is worth reinforcing that, with its focus on protecting the law-abiding and innocent, this bill is prudent and pragmatic in nature specifically targeting resurgent terrorism, which threatens Australia and the world.
The Review of Australia's Counter-Terrorism Machinery found that the terrorist threat in Australia is rising; the number of Australians joining extremist groups overseas is increasing; the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists is increasing; and, the number of potential terrorists is rising.
Consider that our security agencies are currently managing over 400 high-priority counter-terrorism investigations. This represents a doubling since early 2014. Since September last year, when the national terrorism public alert level was raised to high, 26 people have been charged as a result of 10 counter-terrorism operations. That is more than one-third of all terrorism related charges since 2001.
Around 110 Australians are currently fighting or are engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. And almost 200 people in Australia are enabling terrorism in the Syria-Iraq conflict through financing and recruitment or are seeking to travel there. Supporting and engaging in terrorist activities against Australia's interests is a clear breach of a person's commitment and allegiance to our country—a bond that should unite all citizens. So the new powers in this bill are a necessary, measured and appropriate response.
It is also worth noting that in previous generations Australia's geography afforded it a fortress-like protection from many remote international crises. As such, Australians often had the luxury of choosing whether or not to become involved, as opposed to circumstances beyond their control which compelled them to do so. In 2015, 'fortress Australia' is an increasingly redundant idea. Yes, we can and must devote ongoing effort, determination and professionalism to the protection of our nation's physical borders, but this physical imperative must also be complemented by other supporting steps like those enshrined in this bill.
One of the enduring paradoxes of the modern age is that, while individuals have never been more interconnected, there are some amongst us—indeed, in every nation—who have also never been more isolated from the mainstream. This paradox is unfolding everywhere and at multiple levels—within nations, within communities and even within families.
It is nearly impossible to quantify the number of families in Western nations who have been beset by surprise and grief at the departure of misled young people departing without notice to join terrorist groups, attracted through a combination of naivety, active and sinister misrepresentation, and cultural isolation. This dilemma continues with too many young people still potentially susceptible to the false allure of conversion to extremism in all its perversions.
In closing, let me to reiterate to the House that this bill is in keeping with collective and consultative policy-making at its very best. This is on four counts: it is policy that is practical; carefully targeted; arrived at only after extensive debate, public hearings and committee consideration; and which has, at its very core, the protection of law-abiding Australians. This includes our dual national communities, who are so widely admired for their diverse contributions to Australian national life and wellbeing and for their figurative enrichment of our unfolding national story. Through the collective and cooperative efforts of such communities, Australia has been made a significantly better country and one which will continue to make its place at the forefront of modern democratic nations poised to meet the evolving and emerging challenges of the 21st century.
It gives me very great pleasure to commend this bill and the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to the House.