Senate debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023


Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023; Second Reading

10:18 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in the Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Australian Citizenship Act 2007 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.

The idea that an individual, through their own conduct, can sever their connection to the Australian body politic has been enshrined in the Australia's citizenship laws for over 70 years, since the commencement of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948. Since then, the Australian Citizenship Act has provided for Australian citizenship to be ceased as a consequence of particular conduct considered to be so egregious that it is a fundamental repudiation of a citizen's responsibilities to the State.

In 2015, terrorism was specified as a basis for citizenship cessation for the first time through the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Act 2015. The Citizenship Act was subsequently amended through the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Act 2020, moving from the 'operation of law' model established in 2015, to establish a new framework with discretionary powers of the Minister to cease a dual citizen's Australian citizenship for engaging in specified terrorism-related conduct or on being convicted and sentenced for terrorism and other specified serious offences.

In June 2022, the High Court ruled invalid part of the terrorism-related citizenship cessation regime. The Court ruled in Alexander that s 36B of the Citizenship Act was not valid as it 'reposed in the Minister the exclusively judicial function of punishing criminal guilt'.

In November this year, the High Court examined the provisions in s 36D in the case of Benbrika. The Court ruled that s 36D was also invalid.

The High Court's decisions in these cases provide an opportunity to refine the citizenship cessation regime. In a contemporary setting, it is appropriate that consideration be given to the types of serious criminal offences which amount to repudiation of allegiance to Australia.

As such, today the Government introduces the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. The Billwould repeal the invalid provisions and establish a citizenship cessation regime that appropriately addresses the outcomes of the High Court's decisions in Alexander and Benbrika.

The Bill provides an appropriate mechanism to deal with dual Australian citizens who have committed crimes that are so serious and significant that they demonstrates the repudiation of their allegiance to Australia. The Bill promotes the value and integrity of Australian citizenship and the ongoing commitment to Australia and its shared values, while also contributing to the protection of the Australian community.

Under the Bill, the power to make a citizenship cessation order is vested in the courts and is an appropriate exercise of judicial, rather than Executive power.

Having regard to the High Court's decisions in Alexander and Benbrika, the Bill provides that where a person has been convicted of a specified offence or offences and the court has decided to sentence the person to a term or terms of imprisonment for those serious offences totalling at least 3 years, the court may order as part of the sentence that the person ceases to be an Australian citizen. The offences include:

                To make a citizenship cessation order, the court must be satisfied the person is aged 14 years or older and is an Australian citizen, and that the conduct to which the conviction or convictions relate is so serious and significant that it demonstrates that they have repudiated their allegiance to Australia. The Bill outlines a range of factors that the court must have regard to in deciding whether to make the order. While the court must have regard to these factors, they are not mandated prerequisites to the making of a citizenship cessation order, and not all factors need to be present in each circumstance for an order to be made by the court.

                Cessation of an individual's Australian citizenship is a serious step reserved for a narrow cohort of individuals. As such, the Bill includes appropriate safeguards.

                The court can only make a citizenship cessation order if the Minister for Home Affairs makes an application for the order. The application may be made before or after the person is convicted of one or more serious offences but must be made before the person is sentenced.

                The Minister must give the person written notice of the application as soon as practicable after the application is made.

                The court must not make the order if the court is satisfied that the person would, if the order is made, become a person who is not a national or citizen of any country.

                The Bill also includes provisions ensuring that the citizenship status of a person is clear where a decision of a court has overturned or quashed the order.

                The Government understands the complexities of this significant legislation and is committed to a robust and workable regime. Laws that fail in the courts do not make the country safer or Australian values more protected. In that vein, the Bill also includes provisions for both independent and parliamentary committee review of the provisions within an appropriate time.

                Citizenship is available to those who make Australia their home and who are prepared to commit to our nation and to our common future.

                Citizenship represents a full and formal membership of the Australian community. It involves reciprocal rights and obligations. It is something to be treasured and not taken lightly.

                This is why the Government is committed to a citizenship cessation regime—to uphold the integrity of Australian citizenship and to provide an appropriate response to criminal conduct which constitutes repudiation of a person's allegiance to our great nation.

                I commend this bill to the Chamber.

                I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

                Leave granted.

                Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

                PATERSON () (): I rise to make a contribution on behalf of the coalition in relation to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. This is an important bill. This is a necessary bill. It is a bill which, in principle, the coalition of course supports because it seeks to maintain a power that the coalition first introduced in office which enables the citizenship of a convicted terrorist to be removed.

                However, we want to make sure we get this bill right and we want to make sure this bill achieves its objectives. We are willing to work with the government in a cooperative way to ensure that's the case, and to ensure the timely passage of this bill.

                To that end, after being briefed on this bill earlier this week by the government, the opposition leader, Mr Dutton, has written to the Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, setting out what we see as a series of necessary amendments to improve and strengthen this bill. If the government is able to agree to these amendments, which we have also circulated in the chamber and which should now be available to senators, that would make it very easy for us to support the swift passage of the bill. If necessary—if the government is not able to move them—Senator Cash will move those amendments for the opposition later when we get to the committee stage of this debate. She will set out in more detail the purpose of those amendments and will speak to those.

                In brief there are two main concerns that we have. One of them we do not seek to deal with by means of amendments today because it is not straightforward and needs to be considered. Without delaying passage of this bill, we are asking the government, after the bill is agreed to by the parliament, nonetheless to send it to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security so it can review this particular issue. The issue is that the bill as drafted and as proposed by the government does not adequately deal with the historical terrorism caseload that we have in this country, including our most notorious ever convicted terrorist, Abdul Benbrika. As drafted and if passed in this form, this bill would not allow the citizenship of a previously convicted terrorist offender who is in jail—and, in Benbrika's case, due to be released shortly—to have citizenship stripped from him, and that is because the bill has no retrospective elements. So someone like Benbrika—who was, rightly, convicted of, and jailed for, his crime and had his citizenship withdrawn but who was successful in the High Court in repudiating that withdrawal on the basis that it was done by a minister and not by a court—will be allowed, after his release from prison, to continue to be an Australian citizen unless he commits a fresh and new terrorism offence.

                We want to make sure that all legal options have been exhausted to test whether or not, in fact, those who have been convicted of historical terrorism offences can have their citizenship withdrawn in a proper, lawful and constitutional manner. We think an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is the appropriate and necessary way to investigate the issue. Of course, when these bills were first introduced in 2015 and amended in 2018, they were subject to extensive consideration and inquiry by the PJCIS, and we think there is nothing to prevent the PJCIS from again doing so, particularly because we are only proposing that the PJCIS do so after the bill passes. We do not intend that an inquiry delay or impede the passage of the bill but only consider the bill after it has passed and whether any amendments could be secured to the bill after it's legislated to make sure these historical terrorist offenders like Benbrika are captured.

                I will give a little bit of the history of this bill and explain why we are dealing it with today. On 8 June 2022, a majority of the High Court of Australia invalidated the ability of the Minister for Home Affairs under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to determine that a dual national who is engaged in terrorism related conduct is no longer an Australian citizen. As soon as that decision was handed down almost 18 months ago, it was clear that legislative reform was necessary. In fact, the government, through the Minister for Home Affairs, Ms O'Neil, in response to the decision in what is known as the Alexander case, initially promised to first legislate to fix this issue more than 12 months ago. On 24 October, Paul Karp in the Guardian reported the government's intention to introduce new legislation to restore these powers before Christmas last year. We are now dealing with this following a second case in the case of Mr Benbrika, who has also been successful, as Mr Alexander was, in having an element of this bill declared unconstitutional and therefore having his citizenship restored.

                So, while it has taken the government 18 months since the first High Court decision to bring on this bill, apparently it is now an urgent priority that the parliament must consider this week. As I've said, we don't intend to stand in the way of the passage of this bill. It's an important principle which we support. But we do not understand why this week it has become urgent and why it couldn't have been dealt with a year ago, as the minister first said it would be, or why it couldn't have been dealt with a month ago when the Benbrika decision was handed down by the High Court. As I said, we are concerned that it only deals with future terrorism cases and does not deal with historical cases like that of Benbrika. This is a man who plotted devastating attacks on Australians, including one targeting the AFL Grand Final at the MCG, and we do not think it is appropriate to fail to address that very serious case.

                The other thing our amendments seek to do is broaden the range of offences that could be an appropriate trigger for someone's citizenship to be cancelled. Senator Cash will move those amendments—and I see that they have now been circulated in the chamber. They expand the list of serious offences to include a range of other offences to be captured by this bill, including, for example: advocating terrorism and genocide; advocating violence against Australia's national interest; child sex offences; and other serious crimes. In the same way in which the government recognised that committing an act of terrorism, or planning to do so, violates the principle of citizenship, and in the same way that the government has, rightly, recognised—and, proposes to add to this bill—espionage and foreign interference as a betrayal of Australian citizenship, we think that these other serious crimes constitute that as well.

                We are concerned that it doesn't capture slavery; torture; use of a carriage service for child abuse material; use of a carriage service involving sexual activity or causing harm to a person under 16; urging violence; advocating terrorism; threats to security, including training with a foreign military; offences related to monitoring devices in the Criminal Code; harming Australians, including the murder of Australians overseas; and many other matters. We think the bill should be amended to capture those so that the government has the widest possible opportunity to cancel the citizenship of one of these people. For example: if, upon being released into the community, Mr Benbrika commits new offences that are not of a terrorist nature, then under the bill, as currently drafted, there would be no opportunity for the government to apply to the court to have his citizenship removed. We want to give the government the maximum opportunity to take away the citizenship of a person like that.

                Currently, as drafted, the bill says that if you're an Australian citizen but also hold another citizenship, and you go overseas and murder another Australian citizen, that is not sufficient ground to cancel your citizenship. If you're a person who engages in torture or who goes overseas to rape children, that is not enough to allow the minister to apply to a court and say, 'We don't think this person should be an Australian citizen; their citizenship should be cancelled, where they have another citizenship available to them.' Under this bill, if you're a person who goes to train with a foreign military, or who engages in arms-trafficking across borders or who urges violence against Australians—some of the clearest possible repudiations of your allegiance to Australia—you will be able to keep your Australian citizenship. This could be remedied by the amendments that we will move today. It need not be remedied by our amendments if the government agrees to our amendments, and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister are in discussions today about whether that can be facilitated.

                We're keen to make sure that we can leave the parliament this week with the strongest possible citizenship-stripping bill passed and with no gaps in the bill. Unfortunately, we have learned in the last couple of weeks that when it comes to urgent national security bills introduced by this government some gaps have arisen. Gaps arose in the original migration amendment bill to impose binding conditions on those people released by the High Court into the community on bridging visas. We learned that, initially, the visa conditions were not binding at all; the only punishment for violating those visa conditions was to be detained pending deportation, and it wasn't lawful to do that in the view of the High Court. Then we learned that the government was introducing some conditions, but many omissions and weaknesses were identified in that bill, including no restrictions on whether someone should go near a school or a childcare centre if they were a convicted child sex offender, and no restrictions on contacting the family of a victim if they were a murderer. We proposed six amendments to that bill and the government subsequently agreed to them, even after they told the media and the parliament that their original bill was as strong as possible.

                Again, this week the parliament is considering an urgent patch-up job to that legislation, because even that legislation had omissions and flaws in it. That includes the fact that the government forgot, while including these as breaches of visa condition, to also make it a criminal offence to engage in these behaviours, therefore tying the hands of the Australian Federal Police in enforcing these and making sure that people who breach their visa conditions can actually be locked away. Our experience with this government, when it comes to urgent national security legislation, is that if they're not scrutinised and amendments aren't proposed then the best possible bill cannot pass this place. It falls to the opposition to help them to do that.

                As I said in my opening remarks, we intend to facilitate the passage of this bill this week—but only if the government agrees to strengthen the bill. We do not want to see a weak or inadequate bill pass the parliament. We want to see these issues which we have identified and written to the Prime Minister about addressed by way of amendments. We're hopeful that Prime Minister can be sensible and pragmatic, and recognise that this bill could be improved. We would welcome his support to do that.

                As I've also said, we must carefully examine the question of whether the historical terrorism caseload in this country, including that of Abdul Benbrika, can be captured by this law. We appreciate that there are some complexities involved in doing that, and that's why we are not proposing that amendments seek to deal with that issue today. What we are proposing is that after the bill is passed it then be sent to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review to examine that question. We do not think it is acceptable that somebody like Benbrika, who plotted to blow up the MCG on Grand Final Day, should be allowed to be freed in the community with his Australian citizenship restored and no restrictions placed upon him. We must have the opportunity to apply to a court to grant the government's request for his citizenship to be removed. I don't think any Australian would think that Mr Benbrika, who is a dual citizen of Algeria and Australia, has upheld the obligations he entered into, when he obtained his Australian citizenship, to abide by our laws and support our values. He has very clearly defied those, and if no legal sanction can be applied to him by way of removing his citizenship then this is a deficient law and it must be fixed.

                We are proposing to work in a constructive and bipartisan way with the government to achieve that. We are not willing to allow a rushed bill to be passed that doesn't deal with these very serious inadequacies that we have identified. My colleague Senator Cash will outline in more detail the amendments that she is prepared to move if the government is not prepared to agree to them.

                10:31 am

                Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

                The Greens will not be supporting this legislation. The bill before us today, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023, amends the Australian Citizenship Act to introduce a new mechanism for the cessation of a dual-national's Australian citizenship. It repeals the previous mechanisms which were held to be invalid by the High Court. It also makes consequential amendments to related legislation.

                In the cases of both Alexander and Benbrika, the High Court found two things: first, that the loss of one's citizenship is at least as serious as detention; and, second, that the discretionary powers for ministers to strip migrants of their citizenship were designed to punish persons for their crimes. Under the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution, the imposition of punishment for criminal behaviour is a responsibility of the judiciary. I note that is a ruling in a very similar space to the other ruling of the High Court which has consumed a lot of the parliament's attention over the last few weeks. I also note that in a healthy democracy that kind of separation of powers, where the power to impose punishments for criminal behaviour rests with an independent judiciary, is a keystone of the concept of the separation of powers.

                In the cases of Alexander and Benbrika, the High Court essentially found that the minister had acted unconstitutionally by punishing the two relevant people on the basis of past criminal behaviour. The government is now coming in to legislate, in effect, to remove the power of the minister to strip citizenship from a dual national and provide that power, under certain circumstances, to the courts. It is worth noting here, though, that this bill also proposes to extend its citizenship-stripping provisions to minors—people as young as 14 years old—and also to provide further punishment in addition to a criminal sentence. What neither the government nor opposition have done is make a case for these powers or at least for what these powers would achieve by way of community protection. They have failed to clarify the amorphous content of 'allegiance to Australia'. They are not proposing to require judges to consider factors broader than a person's offending—for example, the length of time they've been in Australia, whether their family is here in Australia, and whether they have other connections to the community such as jobs, membership of community groups, business connections and so forth.

                On the notion of anyone, be they a minister or a court, having the power to strip someone of their citizenship, the Greens want to make this point very clearly. What this does—and we've seen other legislation before this parliament in the last few weeks that we have made the same criticism of—is create two different classes of people within our country who are treated differently under the law. In the case of this bill, if you are a sole Australian national, you will not be caught by the provisions of this bill, and rightly so. You shouldn't be able to render someone stateless by stripping their citizenship if they are just an Australian citizen—a sole citizen of Australia.

                But the other group of people that this bill creates is the class of people that are dual nationals in this country. If you're a dual national, you'll be treated differently under the law to someone who is just an Australian citizen. If you're a dual national and this bill does pass and become enduring law in Australia, which I suspect it will, and depending on what the High Court has to say about it, and I expect the court will be asked to think about this in due course—pending those two matters—it will create two different classes of people that are treated differently under the law. Again, it will do that because of the confected political panic caused by the opposition, magnified by the Murdoch press and acquiesced to by the Australian Labor Party.

                There is a pattern here. When you are engaged in a race to the bottom on human rights, refugee policy and immigration detention policy, we all know how that plays out. We've seen it repeatedly in this country. It plays out in refugee rights and human rights being trampled. You end up with people being exiled to places like Manus Island and Nauru and being deliberately dehumanised in detention prisons that are run with the explicit intent to make people's lives so bad and so difficult that they actually choose to go back to the persecutions they were fleeing from in their home country to start with. That's where you end up. Or you end up with a system of indefinite immigration detention in Australia, where people are just warehoused with no end date and kept indefinitely in appalling conditions. That's where we end up, folks, when we take strides down this path. And here we are again, taking strides down this path. We already did that in the last sitting week with Labor's anti-refugee legislation. We're going to do it again next week, as has been flagged, when Labor's bill to create a preventive detention regime for a very small group of people in this country comes before this parliament.

                We are engaged in a race to the bottom on human rights. One of the reasons we are engaged in a race to the bottom on human rights is that, alone of all the so-called liberal democracies in the world—alone all of those countries—Australia does not have a charter or a bill of rights. We don't have legislated protection of our rights in this country, and we don't have constitutionally embedded protection of our rights in this country. We are the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have one or the other of those things. That means that our rights get eroded away from under us because politics wins the day. The base politics of fear and division win the day. They win the day through that pattern that I spoke about before. This time it's Mr Dutton who is going out, confecting an emergency in the community and creating fear amongst Australians. The Murdoch press act as an amplifier and a megaphone for him, and the Labor Party cravenly capitulates. We saw it on the Tampa. We saw it on offshore detention. We have seen it time after time. We're going to see it on this bill, and we're going to see it on preventive detention next week.

                I might add that preventive detention—let's be very clear about what it is—is a future crimes scenario. The government is going to create a system where you can be detained—as in, have your liberty removed from you or severely curtailed—because of something you might do in the future.

                If you'd proposed this 20 years ago, if you'd told someone 20 years ago that this is where we'd be now, you'd have been laughed out of the building. The legislators of that day would quite rightly have said that's just anathema in a liberal democracy—that you can be imprisoned and have your liberty removed, one of the most fundamental human rights there is, because of something you might do in future. But here we find ourselves.

                The other thing that this legislation does, of course, is it provides a framework to export our problems to the rest of the world. Ultimately, this will make the world a more dangerous place. The risk here is that we will cancel the citizenship of a dual national who will then go back to the other country for which they hold citizenship and become more radicalised in that country than they would have if they had stayed here in Australia. So this is Australia seeking to export its troubles to the rest of the world and, in doing so, risking making the world a less safe place.

                I make the point here that it's not only Australians in Australia that this government and parliament have a responsibility for; we have a responsibility for Australians' safety wherever they are in the world. And what you are doing here is risking making the world a less safe place, which could impact on the safety of Australians who are not inside Australia. Again, these logical arguments, I am confident, will fail to carry the day because parliament is again legislating in a panic and legislating in a reactionary way.

                It is also worth making the point that last year Australia's terrorism threat level was lowered from 'probable' to 'possible'. So all this is being done in the context of, according to the official advice from the professionals we trust and empower to keep us safe, the terrorism threat level in Australia reducing. In fact, at the time the threat level was lowered, the head of ASIO, Mr Burgess, said:

                Their conclusion is relatively straightforward: while Australia remains a potential terrorist target, there are fewer violent extremists with the intention to conduct an attack onshore.

                So the terrorism threat level is lowering, and the government response is increasing because they don't want to get wedged by Mr Dutton as they have been wedged on immigration detention policy and refugee policy over the last few weeks.

                We won't be supporting this bill, because we don't believe these powers should be available to any public institution in this country, whether it be the minister or the courts, and also because this bill is being rammed through—at least, the government is attempting to ram it through—with indecent haste.

                I can't let the opportunity slip by without responding to Senator Paterson's comments on the need for proper scrutiny of legislation like this. I'll just refer Senator Paterson back to the previous sitting week, and I'll also cast forward and refer him to next week, where I have no doubt the Liberal Party will collude to jam through a preventive detention regime without any kind of decent scrutiny availability at all.

                Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

                Support our amendments to send it to a committee, Nick.

                Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

                I presume Senator Paterson will be okay with me taking that interjection. I do note that there is an amendment from Senator Paterson to refer this bill to a committee, albeit after the bill has passed. If there was a genuine desire to subject this bill to adequate scrutiny, they would refer the bill to a committee before it passes. I also pause to note that Senator Paterson is proposing to refer it to a committee that is a closed shop and doesn't have a representative of the Australian Greens or, indeed, the entire crossbench of both houses of this parliament. I know Senator Paterson has heard my arguments on this matter, probably on more than one occasion in the past, as has Senator Cash, so I won't reprise all of those arguments today but will simply say that I genuinely believe that that committee would benefit from input from the crossbench and from having a member of the crossbench. We will listen to the discussion that will transpire on that, so I won't declare a position on it during this speech. It's under active consideration, Senator Paterson; that's the most I can give you on that at the moment.

                In conclusion, what this country needs is a charter of rights, and it would be preferable to have it embedded into the Constitution. We all know the difficulty of making constitutional change without multiparty political support in this country, and I have no doubt that that multiparty support would not be forthcoming for a constitutionally embedded charter of rights. On that basis, the Greens would be happy, in the interim, with a legislated charter of rights. If we had such a thing, we would not see the ongoing erosion of human, civil and political rights in this country that we have seen over the recent years.

                10:46 am

                Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

                I, too, rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. As the shadow minister, Senator Paterson, has articulately stated, the coalition acknowledges: this is an incredibly important piece of legislation and one that, in the ordinary circumstances of events, should be carefully drafted to protect the Australian community. However, wow! What a roller-coaster ride in relation to national security—the protection of Australia and Australians—we have seen, courtesy of Mr Albanese and the Labor government, over the last three weeks.

                There's a reason we are talking about this bill today: because it is nothing more and nothing less than a cover for the government's failings in relation to the NZYQ case. I'll put it in plain English. It was a decision that applied to one person that was based on one person's facts; so the orders related to one person. The government, in its panic mode, released in excess of 140 hard-core criminals into our community, onto our streets—rapists, murderers, paedophiles and a contract killer—putting the rights of people who have no right to be here in Australia before the protection, the safety and the security of the Australian people. But then again, that is the Australian Labor Party under Mr Albanese.

                Now, as Senator Paterson has said, in the interests of improving this bill for all Australians, the coalition will be putting forward a number of what we say are small amendments but incredibly serious amendments which will actually strengthen the bill we have before us. I have circulated them.

                In the first instance, what is the biggest deficiency in this bill? Well, because the government has decided to rush the legislation through the House and we now have it in the Senate today, the most deficient part of this bill—for anybody who might be interested in terrorists—is that this bill does not deal with historical cases like Benbrika and others. So let's be very clear about what this bill does not do. The government likes to front the Australian people and say: 'This is a bill that—'. Well, let's be very clear what this bill does not do. It does not deal with historical cases like Mr Benbrika and will only deal with future terrorism cases. So Mr Benbrika—let's be under no illusion: he is Australia's most serious ever convicted terrorist—has had his citizenship restored; he will remain an Australian citizen. And that means a whole lot of options are taken off the table, like deportation. Just remember that Mr Benbrika is due to be released in a few weeks' time. He is Australia's most serious ever convicted terrorist. The bill we have before us, let's be very clear, does not deal with that.

                The bill also has a number of very clear gaps. When Senator Paterson and I were presented with the bill yesterday, at first blush and first glance we were able to identify very, very quickly what those gaps were. So the Leader of the Opposition, someone who, at all times, puts the safety and security of Australians first and foremost, has written to the Prime Minister today. He has said to the Prime Minister that they are simple amendments and that they will go some way to correcting the more obvious gaps in the bill. They are not a complete fix—as I said, the bill doesn't deal with Australia's most notorious convicted terrorist—but they will address some of the deficiencies in the legislation.

                Let's quickly put that into context. What this bill currently says is that under Mr Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of this country, if you are a person who goes overseas to murder other Australians then that is not enough to cancel your citizenship—a person who goes overseas to murder other Australians. Second is something that Labor's bill doesn't do: if you are a person who engages in torture or who goes overseas to rape children, again, Anthony Albanese, as Prime Minister of this country, says that is not enough to allow the minister to go to court and say: 'Actually, this person has raped a child overseas. We don't think they should be an Australian citizen.' No, under Mr Albanese, that's not in the bill.

                Under this bill, if you are a person who goes to train with a foreign military or engage with military arms-trafficking across borders, or who urges violence against some Australians, I would say, Senator Paterson would say and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Dutton, would certainly say, that these are some of the clearest possible repudiations of your allegiance to Australia. But guess what? It's all okay, because Anthony Albanese, as Prime Minister of this country, and the Australian Labor Party, have brought forward a bill that says it doesn't matter if you do any of this; you will still be able to keep your citizenship.

                One might say: 'Hey, hold on, they're pretty obvious omissions. Good grief! I hope the coalition puts forward amendments to address that.' I would've thought the Australia public would be listening to this and saying: 'I hope someone's putting forward amendments, because if the government's not, is there someone in this place who actually cares about the safety and security of Australians? Is someone prepared to say, "If you go overseas and you rape children, if you go overseas and you murder Australians, perhaps that is a renunciation and a repudiation of everything that we value dearly as Australians."' But not Mr Albanese, because the bill doesn't have that. Why? They were rushed; they put forward a draft version of this bill on Monday morning. My understanding is that they've gone through around 21 versions since, and they didn't put the finishing touches on this version until after 5 pm yesterday. So what they've come up with is undercooked, has gaps and does not keep Australians safe. But why? It's because the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and the Prime Minister have been caught flatfooted on this issue.

                Let's look at what they've had to do. 'Hey, look over here!'—they've used a great deflection tactic, 'Let's suggest that Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, intervened to grant NZYQ a visa.' I'd say to the Australian people, 'Don't always believe what comes out of the Prime Minister's mouth.' In fact, I'd say, 'Don't ever believe what comes out of the relevant ministers' mouths,' because, you see, Labor know that's not true. They know that if anyone bothers to scratch the surface, these are the facts: when the coalition came to government—just for those who've forgotten—we inherited from Labor 30,000 people who were put into the community on bridging visas. Why? Because our detention centres were full. Why? Because under the former Labor-Greens alliance in excess of 50,000 people arrived here by boat. So what did we do when we got in? We had a legacy case load and inherited 30,000 people who were put in the community on bridging visas.

                It didn't stop there. We had to clean up the mess. Why did we have to clean up the mess? Remember that Labor hate one of the pillars of Operation Sovereign Borders—temporary protection visas. When we came into office in 2013 we had to reintroduce temporary protection visas because Labor had abolished them. They say one thing about Peter Dutton, but let's look at the facts. In order to clean up this mess assessments needed to be done on individual claims for protection. Guess what? This is what the law said: you couldn't determine what to do with one of Labor's 30,000 until their status had been determined—in other words, were they found to be owed protection or not and could they be deported to their country of origin? This is what Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and we were dealing with.

                What then had to happen as an operation of the law if you wanted to go down a certain path? At staged periods in time the minister—legal quote—lifted the bar to allow a certain number of people to make this application to have their protection claims assessed. Shame on Mr Albanese, the Prime Minister of this country, for endorsing on behalf of his government what are effectively total, complete and utter lies—some might say 'lies' or 'mistruths'—to the Australian people in relation to Peter Dutton. This is not the issuing of a visa. If the Australian Labor Party think it is, that is even worse, because they don't know immigration law. Perhaps that's why Australia is currently in the mess that it is in. I defy Mr Albanese to stand before the Australian people and take them through the process that our former government had to go through because of what the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments did over a number of years. He knows that there's a big difference, but a little bit of political rhetoric is suiting them at this point in time.

                We had to lift the bar for a number of large cohorts. Let us be very clear here. The minister did not deal with individual cases at this point in the process. Again Mr Albanese knows this, Ms O'Neil knows this and Mr Giles knows this, but the truth is not convenient to the political rhetoric to hide the complete, total and utter botching the Australian Labor Party and the Albanese Labor government have done in relation to the NZYQ case.

                Again let us be very clear. Because of 50,000 people coming here illegally by boat—and I don't have time to talk about the 1,200 who died at sea under Labor—without lifting the bar to enable people's claims to be assessed the government could not determine what to do with them. That is a fact. One of the potential options was deportation—in other words, if they could be returned to their country of origin.

                Let's be very clear. Mr Albanese as Prime Minister of this country knows it is false to suggest that Mr Dutton intervened to grant NZYQ a visa. They are the facts under immigration law. They are the facts of the mess that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments left us. Over 50,000 illegal arrivals came to this country under their watch. The Prime Minister, Minister O'Neil and Minister Giles should be ashamed of themselves for deliberately misleading the Australian public. If they are not deliberately misleading, it is even worse, quite frankly, because Minister Giles and Minister O'Neil then should not be in their portfolios. It is as simple as that.

                This is just as embarrassing. It is an embarrassing attempt to distract from the complete incompetence of the government when it comes to the handling of detainees being released into the community. This is a very clear fact, even though the Labor Party don't like to deal in facts; they like to deal in rhetoric. Again, it's, 'Look here at these mistruths, and maybe you won't look over here at their complete, total and utter botching of the NZYQ case.' Let us be clear: NZYQ would not be in Australia were it not for Labor's failed border protection policies that allowed 50,000 arrivals on more than 800 boats. Mr Albanese, the next time Minister O'Neil or Minister Giles stand up to accuse Mr Dutton and suggest that he intervened to grant NZYQ a visa, act like a Prime Minister. Act like a leader. Stand up and accept responsibility for the 50,000 illegal immigrants that came to this country under your former government and for the mess that we had to clean up and the process that we had to utilise because of immigration law.

                11:01 am

                Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

                I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. As my colleagues Senators Cash and Paterson have said, this is a very important piece of legislation. Of course, any legislation that deals with the security of our nation is of the utmost importance. So I rise here in this place with great respect for the importance of getting this right. As Senator Paterson very eloquently pointed out in his contribution, this bill is important, but it does need some serious improvements. As Senator Cash was saying, those improvements are relatively modest in terms of the scale of the amendment, but they will have a profound impact once the legislation is implemented. It's important that the government gets this right. We as the opposition stand ready to work very constructively with the government today to ensure that this bill is able to pass expeditiously and that it's able to be done. But it can only be done if it's appropriately amended. If those amendments are able to be supported in this place, we'll be able to deal with it before the weekend and ensure that Australians are safe and that these measures are put in place.

                What are we dealing with? On 8 June 2022, the majority of the High Court of Australia invalidated the ability of the Minister for Home Affairs under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to determine that a dual national who was engaged in terrorism-related conduct is no longer an Australian citizen. This decision has had significant implications for the government's ability to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are alleged to have engaged in terrorism-related conduct but who have not actually been convicted of an offence.

                The curious thing to ask here, as we're looking at this, is: why has it taken the government so long? This is a serious situation that's been known to the government since 8 June—not this year and not five months ago but nearly 18 months ago. This was known to the government 17 months ago. So it is absolutely shameful that this government is not treating the security of Australians with the urgency and importance that it requires.

                When it comes to this matter, this government is showing a pattern of behaviour that is of deep concern to me. I wonder why that is. Why is the government so slow to act? Then, when they do, why don't they fully step up to the plate and provide the total protections that are necessary to ensure the security and safety of Australians? I can only surmise, but my guess is that they are deeply divided. That is obvious. I think that all Australians can see that this government is deeply divided when it comes to needing to be tough and be strong.

                The ministers like to betray a tough image when fronting up to a press conference or in question time or when delivering speeches in this place or the other, but when it comes to the substance of what they are delivering, they are found wanting. Minister Watt answered some questions on this and related matters yesterday—I think he used the words 'we are tough'. I couldn't help but chuckle. It's not a laughing matter, of course, but I couldn't help but see the ridiculousness of what he was saying, because his words—

                That's right, Senator Brockman; I take that interjection. If you have to say it, then it can't be true. That's exactly right.

                This government are not serious. They are demonstrating that with the legislation they have brought here. We had legislation brought into this place a week and a half or two weeks ago in relation to the indefinite detention of people who had been released. At the beginning of that week they said there was no legislative fix for it. By the end of the week they had some legislation that was half-baked, to their credit. But they shouldn't have been there. They shouldn't have had to rely on that. They worked with us. We put forward through Senator Paterson and Senator Cash some serious amendments, proper amendments, led by Opposition Leader Dutton that dealt with the seriousness of the case. The government took them on board.

                Who is leading here? It certainly not Mr Albanese. He is lost at sea when it comes to this. Why is that? He has been a bit distracted lately. He has been distracted, whether it was by the Voice or his numerous significant overseas trips. He is not focused on the real, serious issues, domestic issues such as the cost of living and other matters that are of real concern to Australians. But there is no more important matter than matters of national security. So here we are.

                We have a few more days of parliament left before we all go back to our homes and spend some precious time with our families over Christmas and connecting with our communities. We've spent a lot of time here in Canberra over the last few months. It will be great to get back to Western Australia, where I am from, and get out and about and meet with people in the community.

                We don't have much time left before we all venture off and do that, and with the parliamentary year about to conclude, the government decided all of a sudden, following the High Court's decision on the NZYQ case, that it would rush this legislation into the parliament—through the House and then here today. It wants us to push this bill through without the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee. I think the amendment Senator Paterson has foreshadowed is a very important one. Even though we are hoping we can get this bill passed with the amendment today, it will still be subject to a retrospective inquiry, somewhat unusually, given it will pass. A serious inquiry will be needed to make sure about any further amendments that are required in order to strengthen and cover off anything that might have been missed. Of course, when you rush stuff through, there's a good chance that things will be missed.

                As the opposition, we have put forward some things that the government have missed, things that they should be addressing and that could be included now. But other matters, should there be any, could be exposed through an inquiry. Sensible amendments could be brought forward, and I am sure the opposition would continue to work very constructively with the government on these matters, as it has done, to ensure that those matters could be dealt with.

                The home affairs minister and the immigration minister have been caught seriously flat-footed in relation to immigration and citizenship matters. Labor is asleep at the wheel when it comes to immigration and national security. The Prime Minister, as I've said, has been distracted. We've got to get serious. You've got a chance over the Christmas break to re-evaluate how you're leading this country. The Prime Minister might get a chance to put his feet up somewhere, and I hope that, when he does—and I certainly wish him and all those he is close to a very Merry Christmas—he gets the chance to seriously rethink how he is leading this country. There are some serious deficiencies in the way he is leading, and he needs to get serious about managing the important issues in this country.

                The government was asleep at the wheel when it came to dealing with organised crime through the visa system. It sat on the Nixon report for six months instead of taking action to address abuse of the visa system. While the government was doing nothing about the Nixon review, 11,023 additional asylum seekers lodged their claims in Australia. The total number of asylum seekers in Australia grew to more than 105,000, and more than 320,000 additional international students arrived. This government was asleep at the wheel when the High Court decision in the NZYQ case was handed down. That has seen 141 hardened criminals released into the community.

                In that matter, the government had time. The Chief Justice gave an indication that there was a chance that these people would be released, yet the government did nothing. Even if there had been only a one per cent chance that the High Court would make the decision that they ultimately made, the government should have been 100 per cent ready to deal with it. That's the role of government. It is the role of a responsible government to be ready even for things that you think might not happen. Contingencies are necessary because the safety of Australians matters more than anything else. If it means that you as a government need to spend some extra hours working and putting the Public Service to the task of drafting the legislation, then that's what you do. That's what you've been elected by the Australian people to come here and do.

                Seriously this government is just not focused on what matters to Australians. In the space of two weeks, the government said that it wasn't possible to legislate a response to the decision, but then it was possible to legislate. Then the government introduced a second bill because the first one was so poorly written. This stuff matters. You can't just come in here, hold a press conference or stand up at question time and answer one of our questions and say, 'We're a tough government.' When you bring in this legislation which is poorly and hastily drafted and which is rushed through the parliament, you can't be taken seriously by the Australian people because your actions are demonstrating that you're not actually taking it seriously. The government has been asleep at the wheel on so many issues, and I am concerned about the message that it is sending to criminals, particularly those criminals who might want to prey upon the vulnerabilities of refugees and asylum seekers and try to persuade them to get on boats to get to Australia because of the loopholes that you're leaving open through the immigration system, and through the corrections and detention system. You're leaving these gaps open.

                This bill is important, as I stated. We as an opposition seek to work constructively with the government. We hope that we can get through amendments that are going to strengthen this bill. If more is required through the inquiry process going forward, I'm confident—particularly as that will be in the hands of Senator Paterson and Senator Cash—that we will work constructively with the government to ensure that the bill is further strengthened. Today is an opportunity. Let's get it done. I encourage the government to work with us. I encourage Mr Albanese to take his job seriously. Work with the opposition. We want to do that so that we can get this bill strengthened and passed today.

                Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

                Thank you, Senator O'Sullivan. You'll be in continuation. It being 11.15, are there any notices?