Australian-born extremists may lose their citizenship

PM Morrison to seek changes in Citizenship Act in wake of terrorist-inspired strikes, plots

SYDNEY • Australia unveiled a radical plan yesterday to strip convicted terrorists of their citizenship even if they are native-born Australians.

Acting after a series of extremist-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 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 Citizenship Act allows the authorities to revoke citizenship from people jailed for six years or more for terrorist activities, but only if they are dual nationals.

Mr Morrison said the law should be broadened so that anyone convicted of a terrorist offence 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.

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

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

The move came two days after Melbourne police arrested three Australian-born men of Turkish descent for allegedly plotting a mass shooting in the city.

Less than two weeks earlier, a 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 extremist propaganda from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

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 had their citizenship revoked under existing law, mainly for activities overseas.

"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," Mr Dutton said.

Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton also said they would renew a push for controversial legislation that would let the authorities break into encrypted messaging apps that police say are widely used by extremists and other criminals. The law would force app developers and telecom firms to give police the ability to decrypt messages.

Mr Morrison heads a minority coalition government that must call an election before May but is trailing well behind the main opposition Labor Party in opinion polls. As campaigning builds, Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton have led a tough law-and-order push around terrorism and immigration.

The proposed citizenship crackdown is bound to worsen ties with parts of Australia's large Muslim community. Several Islamic leaders boycotted a proposed meeting with Mr Morrison this week after he said the community had to do more to police extremists in their ranks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2018, with the headline 'Australian-born extremists may lose their citizenship'. Print Edition | Subscribe