Australian government to restore powers to strip citizenship from terrorism suspects

<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The Albanese government will restore powers to strip dual citizens who are suspected of committing terrorist offences of their Australian citizenship after Peter Dutton’s laws were struck down by the high court.

The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, has revealed the government will legislate to allow courts to strip terrorist suspects’ citizenship after the high court ruled it was unconstitutional to give the minister power to do so.

The bill, to be introduced this year, is likely to sail through parliament as the Coalition has already given in-principle support to closing a “loophole” created by the citizenship cancellation law being struck down.

In June the high court ruled in favour of Delil Alexander, a Turkish citizen whose Australian citizenship was cancelled in July 2021 due to an assessment he had joined Islamic State and engaged in foreign incursions and recruitment.

The decision resulted in the government restoring the citizenship of Alexander and one other person, but it is now believed up to 20 others could apply to have their citizenship restored as a result of the precedent.

Related: Court rules minister can’t strip dual nationals of Australian citizenship for suspected terrorism

That was a major blow to citizenship cancellation powers first passed by the Coalition in 2015, when then prime minister Tony Abbott and current Liberal leader, Peter Dutton, unsuccessfully argued even sole Australian nationals should be able to be targeted.

O’Neil said the laws which allowed ministerial discretion to cancel citizenship were “a monumental mistake by Mr Dutton”.

“He personally championed these laws and he is personally responsible for their failure – especially because he ignored all advice given to him during their passage through parliament.”

Labor members on the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security had warned in February 2019 the law was likely unconstitutional.

“Laws that fail in the courts do not make the country safer,” O’Neil said.

“If terrorists commit crimes against Australia, and we can take away their citizenship, we should. We will legislate to achieve that end, because that is the safest thing for our country. Our new laws will be tough, and they will work.”

The shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, told Sky News on Monday that citizenship cancellation laws had “kept Australians safe … We want this loophole fixed.”

Related: Woman stripped of Australian citizenship over alleged Isis role launches bid to overturn law

As a result of the Alexander decision, the Albanese government has concluded it must also not contest the case of Zehra Duman, who will now have her citizenship restored after launching a challenge in June 2020.

Duman allegedly left Australia in 2014 to marry a Melbourne Isis fighter, Mahmoud Abdullatif, which the home affairs department declared in July 2019 meant she was allegedly “in the service of a declared terrorist organisation”.

Duman, like Alexander, argued that automatic removal of citizenship is akin to parliament judging criminal guilt and imposing a punishment, in breach of the separation of powers.

Tehan said if the government is not going to “fight” the Duman case “they need to make sure that these laws that will fix this loophole come into place immediately so this issue can be addressed”.

The federal government also has powers to issue temporary exclusion orders to prevent its citizens returning to Australia, which O’Neil said in June allowed it to “manage the risk posed to Australians by individuals offshore”.

Guardian Australia contacted Dutton for comment.