Australia proposes stripping native-born extremists of citizenship

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government needed expanded powers to withdraw citizenship from anyone found guilty of terrorist activity.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government needed expanded powers to withdraw citizenship from anyone found guilty of terrorist activity.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia unveiled a radical plan on Thursday (Nov 22) to strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship even if they are native-born Australians.

Acting after a series of Islamist-inspired plots and attacks in the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government needed expanded powers to withdraw citizenship from anyone found guilty of terrorist activity.

"People who commit acts of terrorism have rejected absolutely everything that this country stands for," Mr Morrison told a hastily organised press conference.

"This is something that can't be tolerated, and for those who would engage in this sort of activity, and they have citizenship elsewhere, or we have reason to believe they do, they can go."

Australia's current Citizenship Act allows the authorities to revoke citizenship from people jailed for six years or more for terrorist activities, but only if they are already dual nationals.

Mr Morrison called these limits "unrealistic" and said the law should be broadened so that anyone convicted of a terrorist offence, even native-born Australians, could be expelled if they could "reasonably" be expected to gain citizenship in another country through their parents or grandparents.

The conservative government will submit legislation to amend the Citizenship Act to enshrine these new powers by the end of the year, he said.

The legislation will also seek the power to impose "temporary exclusion orders" on so-called "returned foreign fighters" - Australian citizens who travel to conflict zones to fight alongside extremist groups.

Modelled on a British law, the provision would allow Australia to bar the return of a citizen for up to two years, and to impose strict conditions on their activities once they come home.

Mr Morrison's action came two days after police in Melbourne arrested three Australian-born men of Turkish descent for allegedly plotting a mass shooting in the city.

Less than two weeks earlier, another man who was born in Somalia but came to Australia with his family as a child, went on a stabbing rampage in Melbourne, killing one man and wounding two others before being fatally shot by police.

The authorities said all four men were inspired by propaganda from the so-called Islamic State group, even though none had any direct links to an extremist organisation.

CONTROVERSIAL LEGISLATION

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there had been seven terror-related attacks in Australia, while the authorities had thwarted 15 other plots since 2014.

Nine convicted terrorists have already had their citizenship revoked under existing law, mainly for activities overseas, he added.

"We assess there are around 50 Australian dual citizens who may be eligible to lose citizenship under the current provisions, and even more with the changes we are announcing today," Mr Dutton said.

Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton also said they would renew a push for controversial legislation which would allow the authorities to break into encrypted messaging apps that police say are widely used by extremists and other criminals.

The law, which would force app developers and telecom companies to provide police with the ability to decrypt messages, has drawn strong criticism from civil liberties groups.

Mr Morrison heads a minority coalition government that must call a national election before May 2019 but is trailing well behind the main opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.

As campaigning builds towards the election, Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton have led a tough law-and-order push around terrorism and immigration.

Meanwhile, the government's proposed citizenship crackdown is certain to worsen tensions with parts of Australia's large Muslim community.

Several Islamic leaders already boycotted a proposed meeting with Mr Morrison this week after he said the community needed to do more to police extremists in their ranks.