Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023

29 November 2023



I rise to speak to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023. I have to say I am appalled by what I have heard from the government and from the coalition in this place. What does it mean to you to be Australian citizens, because you are trampling it today? Let's be really clear about what's happened. We are having a knee-jerk reaction, a fear campaign, to try and get some hysteria going. It's a fear campaign that is creating a knee-jerk reaction which we from the crossbench are trying to manage in the sense of putting some reasonableness back into this and making sure the more horrendous parts of this legislation are deleted. But the government, to its shame, is trampling procedure in this place to not even allow proper third reading and consideration-in-detail amendments. After having spent four years in this place and having heard the government when in opposition bemoan the coalition's regular practice of trampling procedure, it's quite impressive to see it do it in turn.

Let's be really clear about what this legislation does. I will be voting against this. It is putting measures in place to remove the citizenship of persons, even persons that were born in Australia, and it engages with the very intrinsic legal principles on which our democracy was founded. Taking away citizenship cannot, and should not, be done lightly. Dual citizens should not find themselves with conditional citizenship, especially if they were born in Australia and, in particular, if they are still children. It may be that this bill is needed for some purpose as a practical solution following the decision handed down by the High Court, but we simply have not had the opportunity to find that out. This bill must be referred to the Parliament Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for proper scrutiny.

But let's be really clear. We now have clear issues of integrity on what Australian citizenship means and its importance as a tool to strengthen democracy by fostering social cohesion. What we now have is a situation where the government is prepared, without proper process, to strip people of citizenship. This law will give effect to a ministerial application to remove citizenship once an individual is convicted of a serious terrorism related offence or other crimes. This is not about the substance of those crimes. They are heinous; there is no doubt about it. But we are lawful liberal democracy society. We have a penal system. We have laws. We have courts that apply procedures. We have sentencing. That should not be usurped with this other process of stripping citizenship.

What's really important as well is allowing citizenship to only be removed where an individual has been convicted of one or more serious offences and where a person's conduct is so serious that it demonstrates a person has repudiated their allegiance to Australia. With respect, a person born in Australia does not pass a character test to become an Australian citizen. They are an Australian citizen. So exactly what are they repudiating in terms of that allegiance?

What is even more shameful is this will bill apply, if the government does not accept these amendments, to 14-year-olds. As the member for North Sydney has said, we do not consider 14-year-olds to be legally capable to drink alcohol, to vote, to drive or to have sex, but we are going to consider them responsible to lose citizenship of probably the only country they really know, that they may have been born in. They may have that dual citizenship only as a result of their parents. Keep in mind, Minister, the rest of the government and everyone in this place that the vast majority of Australians—I believe the statistic is more than half of the Australian population—have dual citizenship. Where are we going to draw the line? If someone of Italian heritage or some other heritage decides to commit a crime that the government of the day decides is so heinous they should no longer be Australians, will they also lose their citizenship status? It is incredible to see the length to which this government is prepared to go because of the dog-whistling that is coming from the opposition. It is shameful, and any lawyer in this place should be horrified to be prepared to vote on this legislation. It is incredible that the minister has come into this place with this piece of legislation that tramples what it means to be an Australian.