OPINION WE CAN’T LET
Giving the Immigration Minister the discretion to strip citizenship would be a deeply retrograde move, writes Paul Syvret
WHEN BARNABY Joyce is a voice of reason amid the madness, it should be a pretty clear signal that Australian politics is entering bat country.
Joyce was one of half a dozen members of Federal Cabinet who confronted Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week over plans to grant extraordinary powers to strip people of their citizenship if they are suspected of being involved in terror-related activity.
This was not about cancelling the Australian citizenship of someone with dual citizenship. Cabinet had reportedly already agreed to measures that will result in that happening – meaning, for example, that a dual-national who leaves Australia to wage jihad for ISIS may have his or her Australian citizenship cancelled.
Fair enough, if you want to go and swim in that deadly loon pond, you should rightly not be welcome back here.
The proposal to give Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the discretionary power to strip someone of their Australian citizenship, even if that is all they held – in effect rendering them stateless – is another matter altogether.
According to widely reported details of the most leaked Cabinet meeting for many years, Dutton argued that this would only apply to someone if they were a terrorist.
As other ministers present countered, though, it would be more accurate to say someone who Dutton “thought” was a terrorist.
In effect, the planned changes would give this former Queensland copper the power to unilaterally declare someone a non-citizen.
Given the Abbott Government’s penchant for secrecy, it is likely that we would never hear details of who has been dispossessed at a stroke of the Dutton pen or why. “Operational matters”, if you like.
According to one reported version of events, Joyce argued such decisions should surely be a matter for the courts, contending that if you don’t have enough evidence to charge them in a court, then you can’t justify stripping them of their citizenship in the first place.
Dutton reportedly replied something along the lines of: That’s the point, Barnaby. You don’t need too much evidence. It’s an administrative decision.
In effect you are elevating one man to the status of judge, jury and executioner of identity.
To argue that a judicial review process is available after the event ignores the fact that this sort of arbitrary authority has been exercised with less-than-optimal or equitable results in the past.
Exhibit A here would be the disgraceful handling of the Mohamed Haneef affair, in which the Indian doctor was detained (in solitary confinement) without charge and his visa cancelled on suspicion of terrorist activities.
He was subsequently cleared, his visa returned, and a considerable compensation payment was awarded.
Quite simply, we already have unprecedented new powers to combat terrorism that include everything from the ability to confiscate passports, collect untold reams of metadata and proscribe organisations.
Add this to the vastly expanded resources given to agencies such as ASIO and the AFP, and you are looking at quite an arsenal.
That this proposal apparently lobbed before most ministers without a discussion paper would appear to underscore a scant disregard for process.
Two concerns come to mind here.
Firstly, we do actually have
WE ALREADY HAVE UNPRECEDENTED NEW POWERS TO COMBAT TERRORISM
THAT INCLUDE EVERYTHING FROM THE ABILITY TO
CONFISCATE PASSPORTS, COLLECT UNTOLD REAMS OF METADATA AND