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Putting Citizenship On The Line In The War On Terror

The target should be problematic individuals, not whole ethnic groups.

09/06/2017 11:40 AM AEST | Updated 09/06/2017 11:40 AM AEST
Fairfax Media via Getty Images
This scene was the culmination of 13 years of criminal behaviour by Melbourne siege terrorist Yacqub Khayre. (Photo by Luis Ascui/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

While the Australian Prime Minister and the Victorian Premier battle it out over how the state's justice system failed to keep Yacqub Khayre, the Brighton siege gunman, off our streets, a much more important question isn't even being considered. This question doesn't have anything to do with overly simplistic, morally bankrupt and impractical measures such as internment or banning Muslim immigration. Rather, we ought to be considering whether our government should be removing citizenship from naturalised and dual citizens who, on the balance of probabilities, represent an unacceptable risk to the Australian community.

The Martin Place Siege Joint Commonwealth -- New South Wales Review hinted at such an approach when it recommended that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection "identify key policy and legislative changes necessary to support decision on whether to grant an initial visa, subsequent visas and citizenship". The recommendation appears to have been focused on denying high risk foreign nationals the opportunity to live in our communities. Unfortunately, the review paid scant attention to what Australia ought to do about those high risk foreign nationals who have already become Australian citizens.

Operationalizing the review's recommendation has been a long and arduous journey for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton. Despite various hurdles and challenges Dutton, has cancelled an increasing numbers of visas on the basis of an individual's suitability and character.

A broader remit for cancelling citizenship of naturalized Australians on the basis of the risk they pose to Australian communities is not about targeting any specific religious or ethnic group.

To date, more than a third of Dutton's visa decisions have been overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Australia's laws are underpinned by a principle that it's better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent party suffer. But this equation fails to deal with the nature of the ongoing threat to the community that many of these individuals pose.

Until his death, Khayre had presented an ongoing and continuous criminal risk to the Australian community. For thirteen years he had been committing serious criminal offences including burglary, assault, and resisting arrest. Seven years ago he traveled to Somalia to train with the notorious terrorist group al-Shabaab.

When migrants become Australian citizens, they make a pledge to uphold and obey our laws. For thirteen years, and despite numerous chances, Kkayre consistently failed to meet his obligations to this country. Shouldn't we have been able, under very specific conditions, to remove Khayre's citizenship?

In this age of spectacular violence, the nature of criminal law and the need to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, naturally restricts our government's capacity to disrupt and mitigate threats. Kharye being a case in point. With the luxury of hindsight it's not hard to see the community benefits that would have been realized had Dutton's predecessors been able to cancel Kharye's citizenship seven years ago while he was in Somalia.

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Putting emotion and rhetoric to one side, it's important to acknowledge that academics are yet to find clear causal links between migration and crime. However, it remains fact there are naturalized Australian citizens and visa holders who represent a serious criminal or terrorist threat to our communities.

A broader remit for cancelling citizenship of naturalized Australians on the basis of the risk they pose to Australian communities is not about targeting any specific religious or ethnic group. Nor is it necessarily a threat to multi-culturalism. It's concerned with holding people to account for their behavior and commitment to Australian law.

As a priority the Turnbull government should establish a new Parliamentary Inquiry into the revocation of naturalised citizenship. Within its terms of reference this inquiry should carefully consider the nature of Australia's threat environment and whether this provides sufficient justification for further changes to citizenship laws. The inquiry should also consider how such changes will impact on Australia's international obligations and the implications of making naturalized citizenship a little more fragile.

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