The Abbott government’s plans to strip citizenship from dual nationals involved in terrorism could be unconstitutional, the Australian Greens say.
Greens senator Penny Wright says the proposed laws, which are expected to give Immigration Minister Peter Dutton discretion to revoke citizenship of Australians deemed to be working with terrorists, are a serious mistake.
“The decision to remove a person’s citizenship – the most fundamental right of our constitution – must be based on decisions made by a court of law,” Senator Wright said on Saturday.
Her comments follow ABC reports that Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC has declared the bill unconstitutional.
The government says the bill is being drafted and will be constitutionally sound.
Asked on Friday if he had sought advice about the constitutionality of the proposed laws, Attorney-General George Brandis said he consulted his second law officer “all the time” and never discussed their conversations.
Mr Dutton defended his potential power earlier this week, saying ministerial discretion was already allocated for suspending and cancelling passports.
He said he was open to sharing the power with other ministers.
The proposed laws, which could be introduced during the next fortnight, could also be based on an incorrect reading of expert advice from former independent security legislation monitor, Bret Walker SC, The Australian reports.
Mr Walker maintains he called for a system giving central importance to the courts, with ministerial power only enacted if a person is convicted of a terrorism offence, it is reported.
The reports follow a leak from cabinet, detailing a rift between ministers over a proposal to extend the new laws to sole nationals.
The Citizenship Act requires automatic revocation of citizenship if a person fights with an enemy nation at war with Australia, with scope for the court to review a decision.
The attorney-general’s department has been contacted for comment.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government was like a “pack of seagulls fighting over the last chip” on citizenship changes.
Labor has indicated in principle support for stripping citizenship from dual nations, but Mr Marles warned the government to “grow up and have an adult conversation” with his party to secure backing.
He demanded the government reveal the details of the legislation.
“We still haven’t seen a word,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
“It’s impossible to have that conversation now when we don’t know exactly what it is that’s being proposed by the government.”