The Politics    Friday, November 13, 2015

Second-class citizens

By Michael Lucy

Second-class citizens
Citizenship-stripping legislation sets a dangerous precedent

Legislation that will allow the government to effectively cancel the citizenship of dual passport-holders who have committed certain terrorism-related offences has returned to Parliament. This is a considerably revised form of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 that Tony Abbott proposed in May. Some of the quirkier parts of the bill – such as including vandalism of Commonwealth property among the offences that could lead to revocation of citizenship – have been removed, though it will still apply retrospectively, and can apply to people who have not been convicted of any crime. Labor has indicated that it will support the legislation.

One important question still hasn’t really been answered: what’s the point? What does it achieve that existing legislation can’t? Will Australians fighting for Islamic State in Syria really be bothered by losing the right to the passports they have already burned? Are there people in Australia who haven’t been convicted of any offence that the government is planning to exile?

And if we do start banishing people, where will they go? Is this anything more than a way of washing our hands of Australians we don’t want to deal with any more? On this issue, as with refugees, the government is pretending that shipping a problem offshore is the same as solving it.

The law is also liable to set a bad precedent. A citizenship that can be cancelled is not really citizenship; it is a temporary privilege that can be demolished in a moment at the whim of a minister. No matter how great the crimes our citizens commit, they are still Australian.

As the Bill’s explanatory memorandum notes, “Australian citizenship gives full and formal membership of the Australian community and is a common bond … uniting all Australians”. At the same time, it says “The Bill only applies to persons who are a national or citizen of a country other than Australia, that is, dual citizens”. Both of these can’t be true at once. Either all of us get equal treatment in the law, or dual nationals become literal second-class citizens.

 

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Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.

@MmichaelLlucy

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