SYDNEY - The children of extremists fighting overseas may be stripped of their Australian citizenship under amendments introduced in Parliament yesterday.
Details of the so-called Allegiance to Australia Bill were unveiled as the mother-in-law of a man believed to have been killed in Iraq while fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pleaded for his wife and children to be allowed to return home.
Ms Karen Nettleton, mother of Khaled Sharrouf's wife Tara, said her daughter had made the "mistake of a lifetime".
"Today she is a parent alone in a foreign and vicious land looking after a widowed 14-year-old and four other young children," Ms Nettleton said in a statement released by her lawyer.
Sharrouf and his best friend Mohamed Elomar shot to infamy last year after the two men and Sharrouf's seven-year-old son were pictured holding the severed heads of Syrian soldiers. Reports said the duo were killed in a missile strike last week.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said no decision would be made on whether Sharrouf's family could return to Australia until his death was confirmed.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten expressed reservations about letting the children return.
"As a parent, I wouldn't feel comfortable with these children reinserting in a playground with my children or anyone else's children. But I reckon the sins of the father should not be... treated as the sins of the children," the Guardian quoted him as saying yesterday.
Under proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, there are three ways that dual nationals like Sharrouf and Elomar can automatically lose their citizenship.
These are by engaging in terrorist activity; going overseas to fight for foreign armies deemed enemies of Australia, or listed terrorist groups; and by being convicted of terrorism offences in an Australian court.
The government estimates that there are 120 Australians fighting with ISIS, about half of whom hold dual citizenship. Another 160 are supporting ISIS through financing and recruiting terrorism.
Civil libertarians have objected to the automatic stripping of nationality based on government definitions of what constitutes terrorism and terrorist activity.
The government said decisions would be open to a review by the courts, although this avenue of appeal is not stated explicitly in the Bill.
It also asked a parliamentary committee to examine whether the law should be retroactive and apply to dual nationals already in jail on terrorism offences.
Children of outcast dual nationals may also be banished unless their other parent is a "responsible" Australian citizen.
In December 2013, Ms Nettleton flew to Malaysia with her daughter and grandchildren to help them travel secretly to Syria to meet up with Sharrouf, according to Australian media reports.
Now, she said, her daughter and grandchildren, one of whom she says was forced into an arranged marriage with Elomar, were desperate to come home.
However, the tribute 14-year- old Zaynab posted online to her dead husband cast doubt on her desire to return to Australia.
Mr Abbott has said the children would be "dealt with in the same way that the family of criminals are normally dealt with".
Australia is on high alert for attacks by radicalised Muslims or by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, having raised its threat level to "high" and unleashed a series of high-profile raids in major cities.