The Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV) is a secular association whose members foster an ethical, rational and responsible approach to life. HSV supports human rights, democratic processes, and a just and inclusive governance. It seeks to alleviate suffering, to promote well-being and the social circumstances in which all persons can attain their full potential. It engages in charitable, educational activities.

The Committee has authorized the Secretary to present the following responses to questions relating to proposed amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

 

  1. In what circumstances should a holder of Australian citizenship be regarded as having forfeited citizenship?

We regard citizenship as a civil right, not a privilege or licence. It is not to be breached without due judicial process, unless it is renounced voluntarily and explicitly.

Accordingly citizenship cannot be forfeited by default, tho it may be revoked on extremely serious criminal grounds by judicial process.

We observe that the government can enhance the perceived value of citizenship by encouraging the teaching of civics and citizenship, as set out in the national curriculum.

 

  1. Should the powers of revocation apply to citizens when the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is able to become a national of another country or territory under their laws and where it would not leave that person stateless?

No, that is too loose. The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act 2014 requires reasonable grounds for the minister to believe that the person already is a citizen of another country. Otherwise revocation would force the person to be stateless or to take out a new citizenship under duress. The minister’s reasonable grounds must be contestable in the judiciary.

We favour the Canadian approach, where the minister can revoke citizenship only on the basis of a prior conviction by a court, while charges of armed conflict with Canadian forces must be heard and decided by the Federal Court. We are concerned about concentrating executive power in one person (the government minister) without judicial oversight.

We note that United States citizens are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from having their citizenship revoked by the government against their will.

We are concerned about unintended breaches of our international obligation not to render a person stateless. We caution that statelessness is a perilous position: the persecutions of Gypsies, Kurds, Rohingyas, Palestinians and Jews (before Israel was established) were possible because they were stateless people.

 

  1. Should certain privileges of citizenship – such as the right to vote in elections and receive consular assistance – be able to be suspended for Australian citizens engaged in terrorism? If so, which privileges would be reasonable to suspend and under what circumstances? 

Fear and terror being subjective states, they are insufficient to define offences, and allegations of terror have to be settled in the courts.

We accept the need to prevent deliberate acts of sabotage or terrorism in Australia.

If a terrorist act by someone in Australia is duly proved, the punishment should be proportionate to the damage done. It would be fair to suspend the perpetrator’s passport until the consequent custodial sentence is concluded, in order that justice may be served.

In a foreign country where government is weak there is likely to be terrorism from a variety of actors, affecting every section of the populace. If Australia goes beyond offering humanitarian aid, peace-keeping assistance and military training, and offers Australian combat forces to the government, there needs to be a clearly defined enemy. It would not be possible reliably to assign every act of terrorism to the enemy, and Australia would be foolish to assume the role of administering justice. It is therefore unreasonable to declare war on acts of terrorism outside Australia.

The Australian government’s legislative appeal to terrorism seems unnecessary anyway. People who render assistance to a proclaimed enemy of a proclaimed ally commit treachery under the Crimes Act 1914 (§24aa), and those who render material assistance to any organization in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force commit treason under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (§80.1aa). Both offences are punishable by life imprisonment and need no special terrorism law. If an Australian even enters an area declared under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (§119.2), they can be charged and sentenced to ten years gaol. Prosecution for these offences could proceed in Australia using evidence via video link. We observe that, if citizens fighting overseas had their passport or citizenship revoked, it would confirm the danger to Australian or allied forces there and not remove it.

We note our responsibilities under Resolution 2178 (2014) of the United Nations, not only to prevent our nationals from traveling abroad bent on terrorism, but also to implement appropriate prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies for returning foreign terrorist fighters.

 

Stephen Stuart, secretary

27 June 2015

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