Turnbull Concedes Challenge Over Citizenship Laws May Succeed

11/11/2015 3:14 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax/Alex Ellinghausen

CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expects proposed changes to anti-terror citizenship laws will be challenged in the High Court and concedes such a move may succeed, saying "advice isn't always borne out."

The proposed changes, which would allow dual nationals to be stripped of their Australian citizenship – including retroactively - if they are convicted of acts of terrorism, are due to be presented soon to Parliament.

What’s regarded as the 4th tranche of national security legislation was originally proposed under the leadership of Tony Abbott. Turnbull, then Communications Minister, thought it a step too far and he was reportedly one of six Ministers who argued concerns in a fractious Abbott Cabinet.

Turnbull, in June, was concerned about a possible erosion in the rule of law and perhaps contravening the separation of powers in the constitution.

malcolm turnbull

The Turnbull Government has since accepted almost 30 recommendations from Parliament's cross party Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

The Bill no longer renders people stateless and the Immigration Minister would not be given the power to strip dual nationals of citizenship, rather the Minister would have oversight.

It also now excludes people who are still in Australia and are yet to be convicted.

The Prime Minister is standing by the laws.

"We've had good legal advice," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

“The government's advice is that the laws if challenged in the High Court, they would be upheld. But of course, advice isn't always borne out.

“It’s gone through a proper process now, and we are confident that it would survive a High Court challenge, but only time will tell."

The Turnbull Government has not publicly released the Solicitor-General's advice behind the changes, despite requests from the Opposition, which wants time to consider the legislation.

The Immigration and Justice Ministers are also expecting a High Court challenge.

"I think there's no question that lawyers will want to sponsor some of these cases to the High Court," Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.

"The Government is confident of the position that we've put forward.”

It is understood the citizenship bill will be debated in the next parliamentary sitting week.

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