Senate debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023


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

12:17 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023 is a significant improvement on the previous version of these laws, which did not respect the separation of powers and the role of the courts in meting out punishment. I believe it is important to protect Australians from terrorist acts by those who have been so radicalised that they seek to harm Australians. Those who have rejected Australian values to such a degree that they have been engaged in terrorist acts absolutely should not retain the privilege of Australian citizenship.

However, I have some serious concerns about this bill. It has been rushed through, and it has not been subject to the ordinary Senate committee scrutiny. That is troubling and pretty scary for such laws, which have serious implications for the safety of Australians and huge implications for individuals. These laws don't only have implications for the safety of Australians; they have implications for Australians overseas, for Australia's important international relationships and for our allies.

Australia has a great program for deradicalisation. It's a commendable, collaborative effort between Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The countering violent extremism program has been extremely successful. It has reduced the risk of the radicalisation of Australians and works well for individuals' deradicalisation where that is necessary. What has become clear, though, is that this program works by intervening early, supporting at-risk youth and building resilience to all forms of violent extremism in partnership with communities. It is communities who are best placed to identify those at risk of radicalisation—whether politically, religiously or racially motivated—and they need the support of government to do this.

The most important part of ensuring that individuals and communities are not radicalised is Australia's social cohesion, which has rightly been in the spotlight of what we're seeing in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Rhetoric that pits Australians against each other can only be of harm and increase the risk of terrorism and radicalisation. All of us in this place should be mindful of that at all times, not just when discussing a bill such as this one but in our role as leaders. We need to put a stop to this constant race and the use of othering of people in our communities.

I will be circulating a number of amendments that address concerns I have. Firstly, I know that this bill applies to persons aged 14 years and older. I simply cannot fathom that a young person of that age could commit or plan an act so horrendous that they would be deserving of the repudiation of their citizenship. I would suggest that if this has happened it is a failure that results from our lack of intervention, and as a society, we should take responsibility for that. Why would such young people feel so alienated, so alone and so angry and separate from the rest of our society that they would be so radicalised that they would plan a terrorist act? If that has happened, it is a failure of our mental health systems, our early intervention programs, our child protection systems and our support for new and emerging communities. Surely a child does not come up with these ideas in a vacuum. It is the responsibility of the adults around them to protect them from indoctrination. It is not that child who deserves to be punished. They certainly deserve access to our deradicalisation programs. They deserve a chance to be rehabilitated. To address this, I will move an amendment to raise the age in this bill, and I note this amendment was moved in the lower house by the crossbench, by Independents.

I also do not believe that if a person has citizenship because they were born in Australia their citizenship should be subject to cancellation. If you were born here and have lived here long enough to become a citizen, you are Australian—you are part of us—and it is up to Australia and the various systems that we have in place to deradicalise you, not to jettison you off to another country where you may or may not continue to cause harm, be it to Australians overseas or to the people of other nations.

It's up to us to punish people for these offences, to supervise them and to rehabilitate and deradicalise them to protect communities across the country and to strengthen our social cohesion. We would not expect another country to deport back to us people who have been radicalised there. How can we expect to disregard our responsibilities in this way and ship off problems to other countries? If we put ourselves in other countries' shoes, I would argue, we would not look favourably on this sort of legislation.

Finally, this bill raises concerns, when you look at the recent cases of Daniel Love and Brendan Thoms, that Australia has been holding a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in immigration detention. Because of a trick of circumstances, this group of people did not hold Australian citizenship and had their visas cancelled under section 501 of the Migration Act. How on earth can a country like Australia treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this continent's First Peoples, as aliens in their own nation? Along with many, I am deeply troubled that this can happen. In absolute terms: this bill must never, ever apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and I will be circulating an amendment to this effect.

We've seen this again highlighted with the terror attacks on 7 October. Terrorism is a truly awful act, and everyone in our communities has a right to feel safe. This is something that we value as a society. Elected representatives at all levels work towards ensuring that the people that they represent feel safe. Governments rightly have a right and a responsibility to prioritise this issue and to take all steps necessary to ensure that Australia is a safe place for all of us to live. But we need a comprehensive approach to countering radicalisation; one that is risk based. Any blanket approach that is punitive towards low-risk individuals risks further alienation of the very people that are susceptible to radicalisation. We must work with communities to identify those at risk, to intervene early and to ensure that we are prioritising programs that support social cohesion, integration and community safety.

Terrorism is unacceptable, and I will always support measures that keep Australians safe. But I would urge all in this place to take very seriously our obligation to respect the human rights of people and to take an approach that is going to enhance social cohesion; that is aimed at early intervention; and that doesn't go down the road that we have seen some politicians heading down, where we are willing to 'other' people in our communities and to 'other' people for political advantage. That is not the way to continue to build on this great multicultural society that we all live in.

12:27 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the main point here is that the government is finding that governing is very difficult. When you are the dog that has caught the car, it is a big problem for the country. When you win an election with very few policies and you have people in positions that are not capable of administering departments and responding to events in a timely fashion, it is a very obvious problem now that the country has. The consequence of these actions, or these failures to act in a timely manner, is that Australians have been unnecessarily exposed to violent criminals in our own society.

This was not a difficult thing to predict. In fact, six or so months ago the High Court had flagged that there were issues here in relation to these laws. The government should have been prepared to act quickly with a bill. We had the charade of a parliamentary sitting just two weeks ago where there was emergency legislation rushed in, which was amended the day after it was introduced, following the recommendations of the opposition. I welcome the fact that the government has been prepared to take advice from others, but you have to think that the best position here would be that the government could take advice from its own departments, direct them to be ready for events and then have the legislation ready to go in the instance where the court makes a decision that exposes people to danger. That's what this is really about: is the government competent and capable of protecting the Australian people in relation to these matters?

We are recommending improvements to this legislation because we want to make sure that it does the job and it protects the Australian people. The various distractions that have plagued the government may be an excuse to a certain extent, but, ultimately, as I said, these are not events that were difficult to predict. We have now seen 80 or 90 people who were temporarily released into the community a couple of weeks back who are now under some sort of supervision. It is extraordinary to think that in this day and age, with the resources available to the government, this could have happened. The government is hiring 10,000 new public servants here in Canberra. What are they all doing? The government wants to hire more politicians as well, we see. There's not a problem with resourcing here; there's a problem with leadership and competence in these roles.

These ministers don't have to generate bills here—they're not hugely complex bills. There are bills and then there are bills. We've seen in this parliament that there are vastly more complex concepts that have been attempted to be legislated across the economy and across our society. These bills, while they may be heavy in legalese, are not the hardest bills to have ready to roll if they are needed in a contingency.

The Australian people will always be wanting their governments to be successful, in that they are able to promote policies and ideas that are going to improve the nation, send it in the right direction and so on and so forth. In this case, people will be bewildered that this has been handled in such a sloppy way, not by one minister but by a handful of ministers here. That's why we have this institution of a parliament, because our role is to ensure that we hold the government to account and that we hold them to their commitments. That is an important part of our democracy, and in this case the coalition has played a constructive role in recommending improvements to these various pieces of legislation that should have been prepared some months ago.

If you go through these cases, which have been canvassed by my colleagues in detail, there are people here who have committed very serious crimes against Australian citizens. There is no excuse for any government to allow violent criminals to be exposed to Australian citizens, and there have been particularly harrowing stories about victims of some of these crimes who have particular concerns that the perpetrators have been released into the community without any supervision or any measures in place. This was a huge risk that the government created some weeks ago when they failed to respond to these events in a timely manner. I remember my good friend Senator Scarr canvassing some of these matters in his recent contributions relating to some constituents in Queensland.

Ultimately, we have put forward some recommendations here, some amendments, to the government. We hope the government will take these on board, as they did a couple of weeks ago. It's not ideal to see the opposition legislating. It's much better for everyone for the government to legislate. But we welcome the fact that the government has been prepared to look at these things with an open mind. But the political point remains that we want the government to do a better job because we want the Australian people to feel safe. We don't want people to feel they will be under threat from violent criminals who should be restrained and who should not be set onto our streets. That is a fundamental expectation that the Australian people have, that those people will not be exposed to the community and that they will be restrained in some form because they have committed and have been convicted of serious crime. The basic standard here is, if you've committed a crime, you should face serious consequences. If there is a legal quirk that occurs where serious criminals are released from custody or from other measures, they need to be dealt with as soon as possible, rather than it being dragged out for weeks and weeks without a proper resolution.

12:35 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise in relation to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. During his contribution just then, Senator Bragg referred to the fact that I have brought to the attention of this chamber many disturbing cases, including one in my home state of Queensland where the victim of rape was contacted by a member of the Queensland Police Service a number of Saturdays ago—approximately two weeks ago—to be told that her convicted rapist had been released into the community following the recent High Court decision. The relevant member of the Queensland Police Service who brought that to her attention was unable to tell this victim of a violent crime what protection measures were in place to deal with this issue.

That is one of the contexts in which we're having this debate at the moment in relation to this new piece of legislation, which has been brought forward, again at the last minute—notwithstanding the fact that the government had months to prepare with respect to this legislation and with respect to the issue. The High Court decision was brought down in June. What was the government doing? What was the government doing in July? What was the government doing in August? What were they doing in September? What were they doing in October? Why is it that this legislation is introduced at the last minute? It's such a significant piece of legislation, dealing with people's rights of citizenship, and it's introduced at the last minute, putting the Senate, again, in an invidious situation where we are seeking the best opportunity to discharge our obligations to apply scrutiny and to act as a check and balance, especially on the executive. Yet, this piece of legislation is brought in at the last minute. It's just unacceptable. This is no way to govern a country. The government is in total reactionary mode. They're reacting to the daily political agenda. It's not acceptable. You can't legislate with respect to serious matters like this on that sort of basis.

All we're doing, by proceeding on this basis, is being put in a position where we may be making a rod for our own back in the future because of the ramshackle way in which the government is engaging in this legislative process. I'm the Deputy Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and the Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. I take those obligations extraordinarily seriously. As I'm sure is the case with all senators in this place, with respect to legislation, the bills that come before that committee, we take the time to get submissions from the relevant stakeholders, to listen to their views, listen to their perspectives, bring our own judgement to bear and try and be bipartisan and nonpolitical and nonpartisan wherever we can be to get the best results for the Australian people. But, when the legislative process is distorted in this sort of way, where the government has had months: July, August, September, October and nearly the whole of November to get its act together—and we're left in this position? I say to those opposite, especially those in the other place, that there was some extraordinarily out of order invective and rhetoric directed at the leader of my party, the opposition leader, in recent days. I can't imagine anyone in this chamber who would have used the terms and phrases that were used with respect to the opposition leader, who has a proud history as a law enforcement officer, as a policeman.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

He's not very good at locking people up!

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, Senator Ayres, your reputation hasn't been smeared in the national media over the last few days, so it's easy for you to crack jokes—not necessarily good jokes—but the fact of the matter is that it's pretty unseemly, Senator Ayres, when you get a senior minister of the government actually getting into the gutter, like we saw over the last week. I reiterate the calls of the opposition leader that the Prime Minister should step in—well, he shouldn't have to force the senior minister in the other place to actually give an apology to the opposition leader. He shouldn't have to do that. It's gutter politics and it's unacceptable. For those in the gallery, all it is is the government trying to deflect from its own mismanagement with respect to the immigration system and trying to put the spotlight on the opposition. That's all it is. It just shows how weak their management of this issue has been. It's extraordinary stuff.

I read the reasons that were handed down recently for the High Court's decision. There was absolute incoherence in terms of the federal government's approach. It was totally incoherent. Let me explain. In relation to the particular case of the convicted child rapist there was an agreement between the government and the rapist's counsel that the government had taken all the steps it could take by the end of March to deport this individual but there was no reasonable prospect that this individual could be deported. That was the agreement that was reached. Then, months later, Minister O'Neil was engaging on the run with various governments to try to deport this individual. If you were still making efforts to deport this individual, why, for goodness sake, would you come to an agreement with the applicant in March that there was no prospect of deporting the individual? It doesn't make sense.

Something actually happened in the background in that case. There are two ministers involved: Minister Giles and Minister O'Neil. Clearly something happened behind the scenes in relation to the ramshackle way in which the government managed that case. Clearly something happened. The committee I chair, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, earlier today was denied the opportunity to have an inquiry into that matter—to actually seek the truth and to find out what actually happened in that matter. We've been denied that opportunity because the Labor Party does not want the references committee that I chair to engage in that inquiry. Why? Why don't you want the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee to undertake the work that it's obliged to undertake by this Senate? Why? What are you hiding? What are you concerned about? Do you think the evidence that we identify and that's presented to the inquiry will put you in a bad light? I guess everything is relative, isn't it? You're in a pretty bad light in terms of the total mismanagement of this situation over the last six months.

The role of this chamber, the Senate, is to act as a check and balance and to scrutinise. This was clearly a matter of great concern to many Australians, including a resident of my home state of Queensland who was raped by one of these individuals who have been released into the community without any protection for her. She is concerned that her safety and the safety of her family is jeopardised by the release of this individual. Where was the concern for her? When the Senate wishes to scrutinise these matters the government shuts it down. They don't want it to be scrutinised at all.

Senator Brown, I'll take that interjection. What is disgraceful to the nth degree is the government that has lost its control of immigration. A convicted rapist has been released into the community and there were clearly no checks and balances in place to protect the victim in my home state of Queensland. That is what is a disgrace, Senator Brown.

The people in the Australian community don't much care what your interjections are, and they probably don't much care what my words are. But I'll tell you what they do care about; they care about their safety and security. No Australian should be put in a position where they get a phone call from a member of the Queensland Police service, as reported in the Guardian newspaper, who apologises—and apparently the member of the Queensland Police Service was absolutely distraught that he had to advise this victim of rape in my home state of Queensland that the perpetrator of the crime against her had been released into the community under this governments watch, with no appropriate checks and balances or controls placed upon her to protect the victim and her family. That is what is a disgrace, Senator Brown. Now we're seeing this legislation being introduced at the eleventh hour. The government had from June—I will go through it again—July, August, September and October, and now here we are at the end of November—30 November, the last day of November—and they are in a huge rush to introduce this legislation to try to fix the mess that they have presided over during the last five months. It's an absolute disgrace.

In the meantime, they're throwing as much mud as they can at some of my colleagues, including my good friend Senator Dean Smith—and those on the other side of the chamber know what I'm talking about in terms of my good friend Senator Dean Smith. They're throwing as much mud as they can against senators on this side of the chamber with respect to actions which they have taken in good faith. It's absolutely disgraceful. Senators in this place understand the quality of Senator Dean Smith's character, and what we saw during the course of this week was really plumbing the depths and the nether regions of what is acceptable in terms of political debate in this country. It was disgraceful what was said and how Senator Smith's bone fide, good-faith representations have been used in the context of this debate shamelessly. There wasn't even any remorse or hesitation—it's just absolutely shameless.

The position that we are in is one where the government has completely lost control of this policy area—one of the most important policy areas in terms of the government's obligations to keep the citizens of Australia safe and secure. The government has completely lost control of the legislative agenda. They were not prepared for the High Court decisions that were brought down. They were totally unprepared. Their response to those High Court decisions has been totally incoherent, and my constituent in Queensland has been faced with the awful situation where her convicted rapist was released into the community, and her expectation that he would be kept in detention indefinitely has not been met. She's stunned. That's the result. That's the human cost, the human face of the mismanagement of the government with respect to how it has managed these issues. It is absolutely unacceptable.

Senator Ayres will keep interjecting. The people of Australia don't much care for Senator Ayres's interjections. All they want is a responsible government that can manage immigration policy properly and achieve some sort of law and order, safety, and security for the Australian people. They don't care much for your interjections, Senator Ayres. They don't much care for your interjections. All they want is a competent government, and that should not be too much to ask.

12:49 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to make a contribution of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. In making my contribution, I want to start by reflecting on some of the very good comments that my colleague Senator Scarr just made. When this government were elected back in May 2022 they said they would be a government of scrutiny and accountability. Eighteen months later we are seeing that the government hasn't kept its word to the Australian people that that is how it would behave, that that is how it would act. Because here we are today, rushing legislation through this place and denying the ability to scrutinise it appropriately. That is why, in making my initial comments on this legislation, I move, on behalf of my colleague Senator Paterson, the second reading amendment circulated in the chamber on sheet 2285:

At the end of the motion, add "and, following passage of the bill, the following matter be referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for inquiry and report by 14 March 2024:

The operation, effectiveness and implications of the amendments made by the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023".

This amendment mirrors what was contained in general business notice motion No. 422, which didn't get voted on earlier today.

The Albanese government's multiple failures to keep Australian safe cannot go unchecked, and the coalition will do everything in our power to hold the government to account to fix the mess it has made. That is why we will be moving amendments to strengthen this bill, including by expanding serious offence provisions, which I'll go to later in my contribution. We will be moving those amendments in the committee stage. But the second reading amendment that I have just moved will also have the effect of referring this bill, following its passage, to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to ensure it is appropriately scrutinised.

Like I say, this is a government that 18 months ago said to the Australian people it would be a government of scrutiny. It has not delivered on that, and that is why it is up to us in the opposition to ensure the legislation is appropriately scrutinised, albeit likely after its passage through this place. We are seeking, with this second reading amendment, to refer the legislation to the PJCIS to undertake that scrutiny and that investigation.

To now turn to the substance of the bill that we're debating here today, I've already talked about the expectations that Australians had of this government specifically when it was elected back in May 2022. Another more general expectation that Australians have of any government is that they take the safety of our community and our country very seriously and that they take our national security very seriously. But, once again, in this place this week we have seen a government that is incredibly slow to act on pressing national security matters.

For context, on 8 June the majority of the High Court of Australia invalidated the ability of the Minister for Home Affairs, under the Australian Citizenship Act, to determine a dual national that is engaging in terrorism related conduct is no longer an Australian citizen. This decision had significant consequences for this government's ability to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are alleged to have taken part in terrorism and terrorist related activities but who haven't yet been convicted of an offence.

Months later, with the end of the parliamentary year almost upon us, following the High Court's decision on the NZYQ case, the government is bringing this piece of legislation before the chamber and rushing to push this piece of legislation through. I have asked the question, as many of my colleagues have already asked in their contributions to this debate: Why couldn't this have been dealt with already? Why has it taken so long for the government to respond to the High Court's decision and introduce this legislation? And why all of a sudden on the Thursday of the second last Senate sitting week of the year are you rushing this through?

The simple fact here is that both the Minister for Home Affairs and the minister for immigration have left much to be desired when it comes to immigration and citizenship matters and keeping our country safe. This government has become distracted, and, like I say, it is not putting important issues like immigration and citizenship matters, like national security, at the top of its priority list. I think it is fair enough that Australians are disappointed. Australians elect governments to do many things, and, like I said, one of those things is to keep us safe. Australians are disappointed that this Labor government is not taking that priority seriously. The NZYQ High Court decision that was handed down has seen 141 hardened criminals released into the community and, like I said, Australians are rightly angry that this government has allowed that to happen and they are questioning the government over the risk that this has posed to the public.

It is probably important here to talk about why in some circumstances we need to revoke citizenship. It is admittedly quite a serious thing to do. At the height of the Islamic State threat we saw a number of Australians departing our shores to go and fight on the ground with Islamic State terrorist groups or sign up to support them. As we saw the spread of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, many countries witnessed a disturbing trend of radicalised individuals heading overseas to fight for that terrorist organisation and, sadly, that included a number of Australians. We know what kind of heinous activities those who fought and supported ISIS took part in. They took part in persecuting ethnic and religious minorities—Christians and Shiites—and engaged in a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi population in Iraq and Syria. They published videos of beheadings online, they carried out terror attacks and they massacred men, women and children. These people don't share our values; these people don't share our beliefs.

The coalition government, when in power, recognised the significant threat that these people posed and worked to pass laws to allow the government to strip terrorists of their Australian citizenship if hey held citizenship of another country. This included those engaged in terrorism related conduct, those who fight for a declared terrorist organisation outside Australia or those who were sentenced to at least three years for specified terrorism offences. Twenty-two individuals have lost their Australian citizenship through terrorism related actions. Like I said, these people are the worst of the worst. They are dangerous terrorists and they do not in any way reflect our Australian values, so, rightly, they should no longer have the privilege of being Australian citizens, because what kind of a monster do you have to be to think that you have the right to inflict death and destruction on innocent people?

Indeed, the coalition has a very strong track record when it comes to combating the threat posed by terrorism to keep Australians safe. We released a counter-terrorism strategy, which provided a comprehensive plan to counter violent extremism, equip our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and ensured our laws and arrangements were fit for purpose—the purpose of keeping Australians safe. We delivered record funding to combat the terror threat, including an extra $1.3 billion for ASIO and for boosting the AFP's annual budget to more than $1.7 billion. We also strengthened laws to ensure our highest risk terrorists would remain behind bars and that terrorists would serve their full sentences. These are things that I am incredibly proud of, as I was a member of the previous government when we were introducing many of these initiatives, and I know my colleagues are incredibly proud of them. I also genuinely believe that Australians were proud of these changes as well because, at that time, they did have a government that took national security seriously. They did have a government that was keeping Australians safe.

The coalition considers there are clear gaps in the bill we are debating here today. As I foreshadowed, we will be making amendments to this legislation when it goes into committee. We believe one of these gaps is in the current definition of 'serious offence' under the bill and we believe that the following should be captured: offences against subdivision C of division 80 of the Criminal Code, including urging the overthrow of the government by force or violence, urging violence against groups and urging or advocating for terrorism offences which operate within circumstances when the person intends for the violence or terrorism to actually occur; offences against division 83 of the Criminal Code, including military style training with a foreign government; offences against division 270 of the Criminal Code—slavery and slavery like offences; offences against division 272 of the Criminal Code—child sex offences; offences against division 274—torture; offences against part 9.4 of the Criminal Code—dealing with dangerous weapons. These are all offences that we believe should be captured within the definition of 'serious offence' in the this bill and currently they are not. They are pretty significant gaps: we're talking about some very serious crimes here. But without that broader definition of serious offence as currently exists in this bill as put before us by this government, if you're a person who goes overseas with the intention of carrying out an attack to murder other Australians then that's not enough to cancel your citizenship. Or if you're a person who engages in the torture of others or who goes overseas specifically to commit some of the worst crimes imaginable—to rape an innocent child—then, again, those things are not enough to allow the minister to go to the court and say, 'We don't think this person should continue to enjoy the privilege of being an Australian.' The same goes for people who travel overseas to train with a foreign military or militia, or who engage in arms-trafficking across borders or who call for violence to be committed against Australians. These are all some of the clearest possible repudiations of a person's allegiance to this country. Under Labor's bill as it is currently, with these very clear gaps in the definition of serious offence, they'll be able to keep their citizenship—if they commit any of these crimes, they'll be able to keep their citizenship.

I think it's important to ask why this is the case: why has the government left this massive gap in the legislation that we're debating here today? The reality is that it's because they've rushed this bill. They've rushed this bill into this place; having had months to deal with the issue, all of a sudden they're rushing this through, like I said, on the Thursday of the second-last Senate sitting week of the year. They're not taking national security seriously and they're not taking seriously the duty that they owe to Australians to keep us safe. In previous contributions, my colleagues, including the shadow minister for home affairs, Senator Patterson, and the Shadow Attorney-General, Senator Cash, have outlined our proposed amendments to the bill. Indeed, I've listed off some of the offences that we think need to be included in the definition of serious offence. We want to improve this legislation to ensure that it can capture those individuals engaging in the most heinous actions and repudiate their citizenship. The amendments that we moved on the behalf of the opposition will ensure that this legislation will apply to those individuals who engage in child sex offences, torture, slavery and other truly horrendous activities.

As I said at the outset, I think that after 18 months of this government Australians are fast realising that they aren't taking seriously the issues that matter to them. We talk a lot in this place about the cost of living and about the economy. But we also talk a lot in this place about national security and keeping Australians safe, and this government is not doing that. They're creating policy on the run and rushing legislation through because they're not across the brief. And when that brief is national security, I think that's an absolute shame on the government. They are clearly not taking the issue seriously enough.

1:03 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. I think that most senators will have gone to a citizenship ceremony. That's one of the more rewarding events that a member of parliament can attend. There's always a lot of joy, of course—they're almost as joyful as wedding days, really. People are very excited about becoming Australians, and it gives you a fair amount of pride yourself to see so many people happy about joining our country and joining our nation. It gives hope that we're actually a pretty good country, after all is said and done. This is demonstrated by the fact that a lot of people want to become Australians and they're proud to do so. Despite the rhetoric we often have to engage in in this place, and, at times, the criticism of what's going, when all things are considered and we're benchmarked against almost any other country in the world, this is a great place to live, to be born in and to have the fortune, potentially, to become a citizen of if you've moved here.

At those ceremonies, an oath is taken. Many of us, as senators, would be officially involved in the taking of that oath by new Australians. The oath that is read by a new citizen of Australia says:

I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,

whose democratic beliefs I share,

whose rights and liberties I respect,

and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

That is an oath—an oath which is sworn, sometimes on a Bible or a religious text and sometimes on a Constitution of Australia. But it is a serious matter to swear that oath, and, as a serious matter, there should be consequences when such a serious oath is seriously breached.

The bill we have before us today deals with individuals, Australians, who have breached their oath as a citizen of this country—in particular, as to upholding the laws of this country and as to respecting the rights and liberties of others in this country. In some cases, they've breached their oath as to our shared belief in democracy. So I welcome the government's bill, which provides scope to establish consequences for any serious breach of this oath. This has become a major issue in the past few decades, where we have seen, unfortunately, a very minor number of individuals in this country seeking to not respect the rights and liberties of others, in a serious and coordinated way.

Obviously, this is not about each crime which might be committed by Australians; it arises only in those circumstances where people seek, fundamentally and indiscriminately, to kill or maim other Australians, and/or to engage in conduct that would seek to destroy the country we have and which others enjoy. If you do engage in that conduct—if you seek to undermine our country and our country's values; if you seek to spread fear and terror among otherwise peacefully-living Australians—then there should be consequences for that. In some circumstances, where such individuals have dual citizenship, we have the right and ability, in my view, to take away the citizenship of Australia that they have been granted, because they have failed, in a substantial way, to live up to the oath that they swore.

The former government in 2015 introduced such a process, to deal particularly with individuals engaging in terrorist conduct. That law was used in some circumstances—including in regard to an individual called Benbrika, who was planning terrible terrorist attacks, including at the AFL Grand Final. Clearly, there were some reasonable grounds for Mr Benbrika's citizenship of Australia to be revoked. He had dual citizenship with Algeria I believe. Now that has been challenged, as is Mr Benbrika's right. And the High Court has ruled that—for some technical reasons as to what should be justiciable and what should be decided by a minister—those laws that were introduced don't give the minister the full power to do what had been done, at least in that case.

It is not unusual for the High Court to have a different view from this place. We have that separation. Indeed, one of those democratic values we share is the separation of powers between the institutions. We do have a disagreement here, so there'll have to be a different approach taken by the parliament to deliver the same consequences. The same desire is shared, I believe, between the Liberal and National parties and the government of the Labor Party, to ensure that people do live up to their oaths as Australian citizens.

So, as I said, I welcome the government bringing this bill forward—albeit it has taken a little time since the decision. I do have some questions, though, and I believe the shadow minister is in discussions with the government about some gaps that we see in this legislation. I don't quite understand why the legislation can't be made retrospective. My understanding is that it's looking only at future cases that might arise. Just in the past couple of weeks we've passed legislation relating not just to asylum seekers but also to people here without citizenship, who don't have a legal reason to be here, who we are seeking to deport.

In terms of this issue, we've had a High Court decision that has called into question our ability to keep such people detained. The government has rushed through legislation to deal with the fallout from this. They've been caught a little bit flat-footed, and it's been a bit embarrassing, but we're getting there with this legislation. That legislation is retrospective. It's being applied to those people who have previously illegally arrived in Australia or illegally overstayed visas and who we are seeking to deport for various reasons. They're applying that legislation retrospectively. So I'm not sure that there's really a matter of principle involved here because the government is applying their new laws here in response to the so-called NZYQ case, but it's refusing to apply the laws we now have before us retrospectively in regard to terrorists.

I think the Australian community have been shocked at the government's complete lack of preparedness for hundreds of violent criminals or suspected violent criminals to be released onto our streets. As a result of the NZYQ High Court case, paedophiles and suspected murderers have been released onto our streets, unfortunately in an ad hoc manner. The government is right to seek to correct that and to at least put some obligations or restrictions on those individuals that are released or, now that we've seen the judgement, to look at re-incarcerating these people. That seems to be an option we'll see in new legislation. They're right to do that. That's all retrospective. So, if it's right to retrospectively act against suspected murderers and paedophiles, why isn't it right to act retrospectively against terrorists? That would seem to be at least as serious a crime, if not more serious, in terms of its impact on our underlying unity, peace and tranquillity as a nation. That doesn't make any sense to me. It doesn't make any sense at all that we can't also apply these laws to the likes of Mr Benbrika, who has clearly proven himself to be someone who does not live up to the oath of being an Australian citizen.

There are other gaps in the legislation as well, in our view, which the shadow minister is taking forward. We welcome and support the laws applying to those planning, or engaging in, terrorist activity, but there seem to be other serious crimes that would also give rise to at least a question as to whether someone should retain citizenship. As I say, we're not seeking that the entire Criminal Code should fall into this category or that every crime would necessarily give rise to someone losing their citizenship. It should be reserved for serious crimes. There are a number of crimes already listed in the Criminal Code, including child sex crimes, slavery, military training with a foreign government, engaging in or planning the violent overthrow of a government, dealing with dangerous weapons and torture, that are very serious matters. It's not clear why crimes like this would not, similarly, give rise to someone being deported or having their citizenship revoked, if they are a dual national.

I note, in this regard, that we have had an outbreak of distasteful debate in Canberra. We've seen a desperate government that has been found to be weak and unprepared in the last few weeks lash out and begin accusing the Leader of the Opposition of protecting child sex offenders. That's what Minister Wells has been claiming, and another minister might have repeated that claim in the last 24 hours. It's absolutely ridiculous. It is condemnable behaviour and conduct from a desperate government. They have nothing to respond with, so they've gone to the gutter.

I'm not accusing the government of protecting child sex offenders, but, if they want to throw out those kinds of claims and accusations, maybe there should be a focus here on why the government doesn't think child sex offenders should have their citizenship revoked. If they're willing to make those accusations about the Leader of the Opposition, why are they leaving this gap in this piece of legislation that means that being a child sex offender won't be grounds to have citizenship revoked, even though terrorism will? The government is completely lost here on these matters. They have absolutely no control of what's going on, they have no control of their arguments or their debate, and they're losing their authority as a government right in front of our eyes. That is very, very sad for our country.

We have seen, over the past 18 months, the government simply not manage basic matters with regard to our borders and our migration intake. This government has botched the emergence of this country from the COVID pandemic. They came to government at the end of COVID, and it was basically all over by the time they got there; they were luck in that regard. All they had to do was make sure that we could recover as a nation, and that was always going to be a given. People were going to open up, travel again and get going. But the one thing the Australian government has a responsibility for, almost more than anything else, is to control our borders, control how many people come here each year and make sure that we can, as a nation, take a certain number of people, provide for them and make sure that Australians themselves aren't disadvantaged by migrants coming here and competing for scarce resources like land, housing and infrastructure.

This government has totally botched it. They've been letting a number of people the size of the population of the city of Canberra into this country every year. That's around 500,000 people a year coming in. It's completely out of control. They've not even tried to moderate the numbers to make sure that Australians themselves, who are here, are not disadvantaged. We have seen over the last 18 months a shocking increase in homelessness among Australians, even among Australians who have a job and, in other words, should have no reason not to be able to afford a home. But there just aren't homes available, because we're taking in a number of people the size of Canberra every year, and we're not building the number of houses we need to accommodate those people. I'm not blaming the number of houses on the government. There are a lot of regulations, red tape and local planning laws that the federal government does not have control of. They can't themselves immediately change the number of houses being built in this country every year. But they know that. They know those constraints exist, and they know and can see the forecast of how many houses will be built and what housing will be available for Australians in the year ahead. Despite having all that knowledge, they've done absolutely nothing to control our borders. They've just opened the floodgates and let everybody in.

Obviously, they're under pressure from big business. Big business want these people in because they want cheap labour. The universities want them in because they want more student fees. Good luck to them, but we need to make decisions on our migration intake based on what we can accommodate for Australians as a whole—not for the vested interests of big business and/or big universities. They are running the show right now. The government are not in control of it themselves. I hope that we can come together and pass legislation in this regard. As I say, there are still some issues in bills before the parliament that we are seeking to raise to, I think, improve the bills. I hope that, as occurred the other week, we will work together on these types of laws to make sure that we keep our country safe and keep Australians secure.

Regardless of that, the more important point here is that the government get its overall act together on migration. It came into government thinking that it didn't have to do the hard work to secure our borders. The government felt that these issues were largely resolved by the Abbott government, who did stop the boats, despite all the criticism. Imagine if that was still happening, and the boats were still arriving. We'd be in a big world of pain. But, thanks to Tony Abbott and his government, we stopped the boats. We did all that. But I don't think the government realise how hard and diligent a government has to be to make sure that our borders stay secure over time. They've been asleep at the wheel on a number of migration matters in the last few weeks. Let's hope they get their act together very soon, before Australians are harmed by the criminals that the Labor Party have released into our streets and by the lack of control they have over the numbers of migrants coming to this country.

1:18 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. I think, for a little bit of context on this bill and the reason it's in this place at this time, we need to look back over the events of the last few weeks and, in particular, the Labor government's disastrous handling of the NZYQ case. That case saw them in complete confusion, in denial, absolutely frozen and not knowing what to do, like a rabbit in the spotlight, for basically a week. We now know that it was actually longer than that. We now know that they had a very clear indication that they should have been ready for a negative decision in that case for months. But no—for whatever reason, whether ideology, inexperience or the fact that the adults are no longer in charge, the Labor government proved that it just wasn't ready for what came when the High Court handed down that decision.

Unfortunately, it's very revealing. One of the clear determinations that the Labor Party have lost control of the agenda in this case is the rhetoric they're now using, and particularly the rhetoric they're using against the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, a man whose track record and strength in this particular space is very well known to the Australian—

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And we see the glass jaw demonstrated again. We see the glass jaw on display yet again from those opposite. Complete glass jaws. They just can't deal with the fact that Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, has demonstrated that he actually is strong and decisive in this polity space.

The glass jaw is on display yet again. Let's go back to last week, and I will take the interjection, Senator Ayres, when the Minister for Home Affairs on 16 November said, 'The opposition never wrote laws as tough as this.' On the very same day they said those words, Peter Dutton, the Leader of the Opposition, presented them with six clearly very reasonable amendments to their legislation, which they accepted—in fact, they drafted them as government amendments. So 'they've never written laws as tough as this', but we can toughen them up from opposition because we've been the adults in the room. We've been the ones in charge when these difficult decisions, where you have the interaction of the High Court and the legislature, which we all understand is a relationship—in a nation like Australia, where we operate under the rule of law, it is a relationship and a power balance. There is a division of responsibilities. The High Court can make decisions in relation to legislation from this place, and rightly so. However, good governments, governments where the adults are in charge, prepare. They understand what the limitations of their responsibilities are, and they act within those limitations to ensure the safety of the Australian people. That is what Peter Dutton in government demonstrated he could do, and that is what Labor in government have demonstrated they are completely incapable of doing.

We have a government that says the opposition never wrote laws as tough as these, and then they immediately accept our amendments. And now we've got them bringing in this particular piece of legislation, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill, dealing with a High Court decision on—I'm trying to remember the date, Senator O'Sullivan. June 2022 rings a bell. That's a little while ago. In fact, it was when this Labor government came to power. When this Labor government came to power they had this particular issue to deal with. They criticise us, but they've been in government now for—well, for far too long. They've been in government for the entire period that this High Court ruling has been active, and now, in the shadow of the NZYQ case, in the shadow of the Labor government demonstrating an inability to deal with a serious national security public safety issue with any sort of alacrity, they—in wanting to talk tough and look tough, in wanting to live up to this rhetoric that the opposition never wrote laws as tough as this—rushed this particular bill into parliament.

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

That's right. History repeats.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The trouble with this is—Senator O'Sullivan, I will take the interjection again: history repeats. As Senator Paterson and Senator Cash have very clearly pointed out, this bill could bear with some improvement. This bill could use, again, the Labor Party taking the position of the opposition, like they did in the response to the NZYQ case. Mr Dutton presented them with six amendments to their unchangeably good bill that, surprisingly, they just rolled over and accepted, because clearly they agreed those amendments did actually improve their bill. If they didn't agree with them then they shouldn't have accepted them, so clearly they agreed those amendments improved their unimprovable bill.

Now we have a situation here where the Labor Party is basically saying that they have it all right, that they know how to do this when it is pretty demonstrable that in this area they don't get it right and they don't know how to deal with these complex legislative issues where we are dealing with the presence in Australia of people of a character that is unacceptable. Nobody on this side doubts that these are difficult areas to navigate. These are problematic legal decisions that have to be made and it is a complex area of law that has to be navigated correctly. But the fact is, when you do them, the first port of call in our own minds must always be the safety, security and cohesion of the Australian community. Where you have a situation like this, where you are putting legislation in front of parliament of the nature of this bill, and where you are dealing with, again, a High Court deciding a particular way, it is incumbent upon the government to actually do the best they can to put through the best legislation they can for the Australian people. Sadly, as has been demonstrated in the NZYQ case, as has been demonstrated with this particular bill, this Labor government has shown itself incapable of being able to do that.

My understanding is we will be moving significant amendments to this bill, as Senator Paterson and Senator Chandler have talked about. Those will make a real difference in strengthening the framework that is put through in this bill. Sadly, we have a government that has been mired in action, like a rabbit in the spotlight, unable to make a decision. When it decides it does have to act, it acts in a hasty ill-considered fashion that doesn't take into account all the possible decisiveness that could be put into the system. Again, contrast Prime Minister Albanese in this area—a Prime Minister who leaves Australia at a time when these important decisions were still before the parliament on the NZYQ case and at a time when very important issues of national security were being debated in this place, particularly in the other place, obviously, where the Prime Minister sits—with the decisiveness, the strength, the clarity of Peter Dutton as Leader of the Opposition. Remember, we were only given that NZYQ response legislation at 7.15 am and, within a very short period of time, the coalition team led by Peter Dutton presented the government with half a dozen amendments that strengthened their bill, that strengthened the apparently unchangeable toughest bill ever—a bill that didn't need amendment, that didn't need any further consideration.

Now we have a situation where we are back there again. I urge those opposite, those in government, to listen to those on the side who have a valuable contribution to make towards making this piece of legislation the best it can be. Sadly, the adults aren't in charge at the moment but listen to the adults in the room and please—

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

That's smug and entitled.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You've got a glass jaw over there, Senator Ayres. I'll take the interjection. We're in opposition. I've said that a couple of times, Senator Ayres. We're in opposition and you're in government, and you've proven that you're a government that's incapable of standing up for the people of Australia.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted.