Here's exactly how Australia will strip people of their citizenship if they join terrorist groups

Tony Abbott. Getty / File

Tony Abbott has just outlined the precise mechanism through which people who join terrorist armies will be stripped of their Australian citizenship.

The Citizenship Act, which already strips dual nationals of their citizenship if they fight for a foreign army, will be updated to “reflect modern conditions”, the prime minister said today.

The two ways in which citizenship will be revoked are:

  • “Renunciation by conduct”, where someone’s actions in joining a terrorist army, and
  • “Revocation by conviction”, in which “there will be an assumption that your citizenship is forfeit” if someone is convicted of terrorist activity.

“As Australians we will never ever sacrifice our freedoms, but we will defend them,” Abbott said.

The conditions for having citizenship stripping through “renunciation by conduct” will be set out in the legislation to be introduced in parliament tomorrow, but Abbott said that “in broad terms” it meant “serious involvement with a terrorist group”.

Abbott said either circumstances could apply to people both inside and outside Australia, but that the “renunciation by conduct” would mainly apply to people outside of Australia.

“This is about targeting terrorists. It’s not about having a go at dual citizens,” he said.

“If based on appropriate advice, the minister becomes aware of a forfeiture under the act, the minister will inform, as best he or she can, the individual in question citizenship is forfeit under the relevant section of the act.”

As drafted the legislation is prospective but given there are a number of dual citizens currently serving jail time after terrorist convictions, the goverment will ask the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to consider whether there should be retrospective operation of the new law, should it past the parliament.

Those individuals known to be fighting with terrorist organisations overseas who are not dual citizens will be scrutinised by the national citizenship consultation, led by Phillip Ruddock and senator Fierravanti-Wells, established late last month.

“In the months to come the government will have further legislation in this area,” Abbott said.

The prime minister said the legislation will provide the government with additional measurements to stop hardened terrorists from returning to Australia.

“Our attention always is as far as we humanly can, is to stop people from becoming terrorists and to stop them from coming back,” Abott said.

“What we are effectively doing is updating section 35 of the citizenship act to reflect modern conditions.”

Immigration minister Peter Dutton said the privilege of Australian citizenship is to be taken very seriously.

Attorney General George Brandis said the legislation has been the subject of a “thorough process of consideration”.

When asked whether the children of Australians stripped of their citizenship would also be forced to relinquish their citizenship, the prime minister said they will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

A previous proposal to alter citizenship laws in May split the National Security Committee and as a result were toned down to a discussion paper.

Attorney General George Brandis ruled out the idea of stripping citizenship from Australians without another passport.

“We are not going to [be] rendering anyone stateless, nobody has proposed that, everything we do will be compliant with the rule of law,” he said.

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