As legislators, we should come to this decision with our eyes wide open. This bill, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Repudiation) Bill 2023, is allowing judges, not the executive, to repudiate citizenship in the event a dual citizen commits a serious offence. These offences most certainly are a terrible breach of trust—no doubt about that. This bill might protect the separation of powers, but we need to be absolutely clear about what we’re doing here. This is the very first time Australia has legislated to give judges the power to repudiate citizenship as a form of punishment. This is an exceptional step. It’s a truly historic step for how we as Australians view and treat citizenship. Citizenship is an important and positive tool to foster social cohesion. That’s how we’ve viewed citizenship in this country. It is something frequently celebrated in our country, fundamental to our multicultural fabric. By granting judges the power to repudiate citizenship as a punishment when a dual citizen commits a criminal offence, we are shifting away from citizenship as a nation-building exercise. We need to be clear about that. With this bill, citizenship is being used as a form of exclusion, not inclusion. We’re changing this fundamental compact; we absolutely are. This is a big change.
Further, it’s effectively creating two classes of citizenship in this country: one for sole citizens and one for dual citizens. I’ve got two dual citizens working in my team right now, tonight. We’ve just heard that there are millions of dual citizens around Australia who right now don’t know that we’re talking about this; they’ve got no idea. Only dual citizens are at risk of having their citizenship revoked if they commit one of these serious crimes—and I do not deny that these are serious crimes—and they will have a second-class form of citizenship if this bill proceeds.
Fundamentally, I truly haven’t seen the case put as to why this is so urgent that it needs to be done tonight. It may be in response to a recent High Court decision, but that in itself does not justify rushing it through parliament. Why does it have to be passed tonight? Why can’t it be referred to a committee? Why can’t we receive submissions from the general public, from legal experts and from security experts? Why can’t we do that? That’s what we do, generally, when we’re passing important legislation.
The matters addressed in this bill are serious, with serious repercussions for the people of Australia and for their understanding of who they are as Australians. Like many members of the crossbench, I’ve been madly trying to find some expertise to advise me about this. I’ve been ringing university experts, as others have, and today I spoke with Professor Kim Rubenstein, who’s a citizenship expert. She says that judges have recognised that the deprivation of citizenship or nationality can be a permanent rupture in the relationship between the individual and the state. Indeed, that is what the minister is intending to do: to permanently rupture that relationship. It involves the loss of fundamental rights of citizenship. I understand that, in addition to that, there are constitutional validity questions that still remain, and the member for Goldstein has pointed out one of them: proposed section 36C(5)(a). Professor Rubenstein, likewise, said this is potentially problematic.
So a decision on this legislation should not be taken lightly, and it should not be rushed. It shouldn’t be introduced and passed in a single sitting week. It’s just extraordinary, really, and it’s reflecting a deeply concerning pattern of behaviour by the government, particularly after it rushed through multiple bills in the last sitting week. It’s terrible governance to do this—the fact that we are now deliberating with an hour to make a decision on something as important as this. I’m calling on the government to stop this behaviour and ensure that we have adequate time to consider and debate such fundamentally important legislation to our nation, to our view of ourselves and to the fundamental meaning of citizenship as we as Australians have understood it.
I absolutely support the member for Goldstein’s amendment, and I also support the member for North Sydney’s amendment for the reasons given. We’re applying this to children as well as adults. This is a big change. We should not be rushing into this, coming into this House, making a quick decision and walking away from it; we simply shouldn’t be doing that.