No evidence of link between national security and citizenship

6th Sep 2017

There is no evidence that proposed changes to the process of gaining Australian citizenship would improve the country’s national security, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The Commonwealth is pushing for sweeping changes to be made to Australia’s citizenship laws, which would centralise power with the Immigration Minister, undermine the rule of law and possibly put Australia in breach of its international obligations. 

ALA spokesperson and barrister Dr Andrew Morrison SC said the Bill should not be passed. 

“The attempt by the majority report of the Senate committee to link grants of citizenship to ongoing national security concerns has no basis in evidence,” Dr Morrison said. 

“Security agencies including ASIO and the Australian Federal Police made no submission to support the contention that these citizenship reforms would enhance national security.” 

“While national security considerations are important, simply raising the issue without providing evidence to support the these claims appears to be fear mongering, seeking to fool Australians into accepting reduced rights for themselves as well as fellow and future citizens,” Dr Morrison said.

Dr Morrison said that, if passed, the changes to citizenship processes could in fact place Australia in breach of international obligations.

“The majority report claims to be responding to broad community concern in recommending that the Bill be passed,” Dr Morrison said.  “However, of the 13,000 submissions made to the inquiry, less than 0.001% of all submissions actually supported the proposed reforms, according to the dissenting report authored by Labor senators. That 0.001% included a submission by the government itself, through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.”

“The Bill could actually put Australia in breach of its international obligations, including by potentially leaving people stateless, by failing to ensure adequate protections for children and by having a discriminatory impact”.

Dr Morrison said that the proposals would also unreasonably centralise decision-making power and undermine the rule of law in Australia.

“The Commonwealth has not made the case that these citizenship reforms are necessary,” Dr Morrison said. “These changes will undermine the rule of law and the separation of powers, required by the Constitution. They will centralise even more power with one individual – Peter Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.” 

“As ALA noted in our submission to the inquiry, ‘Centralising power in this way also foments suspicion of, and facilitates, corruption that could persist unchecked and uncorrected’,” Dr Morrison said.

“The Bill would dramatically expand the availability of Ministerial discretion in citizenship decisions, and reduce the ability of applicants to review the use of that discretion where the Minister claims it has been used in the public interest. This would include allowing the Minister to revoke citizenship that had already been granted. This significant power would be effectively unreviewable.”

Dr Morrison said the Minister would also be empowered to overturn Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions under this Bill, if he felt it was in the public interest. 

“This deeply offends notions of justice,” Dr Morrison said. “The public interest test is so broad as to effectively permit the Minister to do what he or she pleases. The reason courts and tribunals exist is to ensure politics is kept out of decision-making which has the potential to change an individual’s life. There is nothing in the Bill that would ensure such revocations were not made for political reasons rather than because they were fair and right, or even based on simple mistakes.

“Contrary to the majority report’s findings, an obligation on the Minister to table adverse decisions in parliament is no substitute for a rigorous and independent review process,” Dr Morrison said.

The ALA appeared before the Senate Committee to provide evidence on 23 August. A transcript of that appearance is available here (from page 41). Our submission to the inquiry is available here.

Tags: Human rights Migration law Discrimination