Citizenship is precious - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

Citizenship is precious

In this speech on the recent citizenship bill, Terri talked about the importance of citizenship to individuals and to the nation.


Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (16:48): As a multicultural country that sees diversity as one of our national strengths, Australia welcomes migrants. Those who become Australian citizens by choice rather than by birth honour our nation and are honoured by our nation with the conferral of citizenship. Citizenship is priceless and it should not be eroded arbitrarily. Governments should be very careful before diminishing people's rights in the name of security, and that includes people's rights not to be deprived of their citizenship, something that forms part of a person's identity.

As I said, Australia welcomes migrants. People who have come from across the seas have made a vast contribution to our society, to our economy and to our nation. Australia is a great example of a successful immigrant nation and a successful multicultural society. We are a diverse nation that has benefitted from successive waves of migrants, each adding something new. Since the end of the Second World War, new arrivals from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas have transformed Australia. In the space of not much time we have gone from being largely Anglo to multicultural and cosmopolitan place we are today. My own electorate on the south side of Brisbane would not be the same without the contribution of migrant communities such as the Greek community and the Vietnamese community, large groups of people who have come to Brisbane to make a home and to provide for their families.

Building a cohesive society takes acceptance. It takes communities where everyone feels welcome and that they belong. That is why I have been a strong supporter of Welcome to Australia events and other events aimed at bringing people together and emphasising the things that we share ahead of the things that divide us. And that is why I am a strong supporter of dual citizenship. It allows people to maintain their heritage and commitment to their homeland while making a new and equally strong commitment to Australia. Dual citizenship makes sense in a world of globalisation, instant communications and increased ability to travel. It is a concept we should retain. Citizenship itself as an institution is important to the nation and is also of fundamental importance to the individuals. Being an Australian matters to people. When I say that I am an Australian, that is a way of telling the world something about myself, but it also is a way of telling myself something about who I am. Citizenship is priceless and that is why it should not be taken away arbitrarily. That is also why the institution itself of citizenship should not be, as I said, eroded or undermined arbitrarily.

It is important that all Australians value their citizenship regardless of how they became a citizen, whether by birth in Australia, by migrating and choosing to become a citizen or by being born overseas to Australian parents. Our citizenship is a unique, formal identification that carries responsibilities and bestows rights and privileges. But Australian citizenship is more than those rights and those privileges and those responsibilities—as important as all of them are. We live in one of the most diverse societies in the world. Our Australian citizenship, together with the commitments that underpin it, is one of the things unites us all with a common identity and a desire to work toward a shared future. It symbolises our sense of belonging to this country. So taking away someone's citizenship is a grave matter.

Imagine if someone said to you or to me, 'You are no longer an Australian.' Imagine how you would feel, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough. It is something that should happen only if strict and well-defined criteria are met and only through the operation of fair laws, democratically made and subject to the supervision of the courts.

As law-makers we should bear in mind the significance of diminishing people's rights in the name of security. In debates such as these, it is important not to lose sight of just what it is our nation is trying to achieve and the reason that we are putting our own armed forces in harm's way. The reason we want to prevent our own citizens from entering war zones to fight with foreign armies is to preserve our security here in Australia. The purpose of doing that is to ensure that Australians, now and in the future, can live their lives in a free, fair and open democracy, enjoying political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. To unduly diminish those same rights in the name of preserving security would be wrong. The balance is not easy. I do not claim that it is. But democracies have faced this challenge in the past. It is not new; we continue to face it.

During the Second World War, Britain wrestled with similar questions. Lord Atkin gave a famous minority judgement in a case where similar issues were being considered. It is now widely thought to be the view that should have prevailed. He said:

In this country amidst the clash of arms the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace. It has always been one of the pillars of freedom, one of the principles of liberty for which on recent authority we are now fighting, that the judges are no respecters of persons and stand between the subject and any attempted encroachments on his liberty by the executive, alert to see that any coercive action is justified in law.

It was a different type of law from the one that we are considering now, but the principles that underpin balancing those rights with encroachments on liberty and that ensure the rule of law in the supervision of the courts remain very important. Balancing those things is a challenge right now for us—to protect Australians without unduly diminishing the rights that make this a free and fair and open place to live. That is why Labor sought to work with the government to improve this bill, which was, frankly, unpassable in its original form.

I commend the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for the work it did on recommending amendments to this legislation that turn it into a bill that seeks to better balance the considerations that I have mentioned. Those recommendations are reflected in the amendments to this bill. Labor will support the amendments and the amended bill.

Our approach to national security has always been to work with the government in the national interest. As the shadow minister, Richard Marles, noted in his contribution in the second reading debate on this legislation:

National security is not a matter which is owned by either party. …The vast majority of members of the Labor Party and conservative parties, evidently, have enormous concern for the security of our fellow Australian citizens.

I agree with what the shadow minister said. Some have argued that Labor should simply oppose legislation that this Conservative government brings to this place, but that would be irresponsible and we will not be irresponsible. The more responsible course is to work with the government to improve the bill, not just leave it to the Tories to try their luck with the crossbenches.

Our citizenship laws already allow for a person's citizenship to be revoked if they fight as a member of another country's armed forces. It is not unreasonable that, given the current environment, where we face hostilities by non-state actors, the law be updated to include fighting with non-state actors. The provisions in this bill applying to those convicted of a terrorism related offence will now be amended such that the list of offences to which the section relates is reduced. For example, an offence relating to the destruction of Commonwealth property which was in the original bill is no longer included in the list.

The provisions in the bill relating to conduct inconsistent with allegiance to Australia have also been amended such that they now apply only to dual citizens who engage in this conduct offshore, or who have engaged in this conduct onshore and have subsequently left Australia. I am told that this means that the legislation will now have potential application to only dozens of people rather than to the millions of Australians who are dual citizens or who may have access to dual citizenship, as would have been the case prior to the amendments.

The bill also will now outline a set of criteria for the minister to consider before declaring an organisation a terrorist organisation for the purposes of the act. The declaration of organisations as terrorist will be a disallowable instrument, meaning the parliament will have greater oversight in respect of that process. The minister will now be required to provide or make reasonable attempts to provide the dual citizen with notice of the revocation unless the notification would compromise ongoing operations or national security. The decision not to provide notice must be reviewed every six months thereafter. Importantly, under this revised bill, revocation of a person's citizenship will not affect the citizenship of other family members, including children.

Dual citizens who were convicted of a serious terrorist offence within the last 10 years and who were sentenced by a judge to a minimum of 10 years in prison for that offence may have their citizenship revoked under the new laws. As a result of amendments recommended by the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, revocation of citizenship in these limited circumstances will be subject to the minister's discretion, having regard to a number of criteria, including current security threats. The government will be required to publicly report every six months on the number of times the changes have been applied and to provide a brief statement on the reasons for which they were applied. Most importantly, a person affected by any of these changes will have the right to seek from the courts a review in respect of the loss or revocation of their citizenship, and that will be under the jurisdiction of the Federal Court.

These amendments are critical to legislation such as this if we are to preserve our open society and strong democracy. As I said, the bill in its original form was, frankly, unpassable. It took the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security in making around 30 recommendations for the amendment of this bill to put it into a form that could be considered. Narrowing the focus of the bill, limiting ministerial discretion, allowing judicial scrutiny for those affected: all of those things make this a better bill but also, importantly, balance the need to be vigilant about our national security with the imperative to ensure that our rights as Australians, our rights as people who live in a free, fair and open democracy, are not unduly diminished—and of course the imperative to maintain the rule of law and to continue to ensure that we live in a society that respects the rule of law.

As I said at the outset, Australia welcomes migrants. Migrants have made a significant, even massive, contribution to our economy, to our society and to our nation. Dual citizenship is one of the arrows in our quiver when it comes to building cohesion because you can maintain that connection to your homeland while making an equal commitment to your new country, Australia. It really does matter; being an Australian really does matter. It is part of our identity. It is part of your identity and part of mine. You cannot put a price on the value of citizenship; it is invaluable. Because it is so valuable, we should not take it away arbitrarily. We should be careful that our laws are limited in scope and apply only in the most egregious circumstances when we are talking about depriving people of their citizenship. Deciding to become a citizen is a big deal and that decision is something that, as a concept, as an institution, we should continue to respect.

So governments should be very careful before diminishing people's civil, political and other rights in the name of security. We as a parliament should be very careful to ensure that the laws that we scrutinise and pass balance those rights, those obligations, those concerns and those imperatives. If we do not do that, we are not just failing the people affected by the bill at hand, we are failing the tradition of Western democracies, where parliaments have been at pains to ensure that the laws we make and the decisions we make, whether in times of conflict or in times of peace, continue to maintain the values that we share. You might ask: if we are not fighting for those values, if we are not fighting for freedom, for fairness, for an open democracy and for the rule of law, what are we fighting for? To undermine those important parts of what it means to be Australian in the name of protecting Australians is something that should be done in a very limited, narrow, sensible and cautious way. It is for that reason that it is important that the government of the day and the alternative government of the day, the opposition, have worked together on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to seek to make appropriate recommendations to improve this bill. But it is also important that, as the people who seek to make the rules for this nation, we continue to work together on matters of national security in the national interest.

Thank you for the opportunity to address this bill. I am pleased to support the bill as amended.

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