Australia to toughen citizenship laws to combat terrorism

Prime minister plans to appoint a counter-terrorism coordinator and urges Muslim leaders to proclaim Islam as a religion of peace ‘more often, and mean it’

Australian PM Tony Abbott has announced a push to toughen citizenship laws and tackle those inciting hatred in an attempt to target domestic extremists.

He said citizenship for dual nationals involved in terrorism could be suspended or even revoked. People born in Australia could also lose some privileges if they broke anti-terror laws, he added.

Dozens of Australian nationals are thought to be fighting for Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria. Experts are worried about the effect of returnees – and on those who support them – on domestic security.

“It has long been the case that people who fight against Australia forfeit their citizenship,” Mr Abbott said in a speech at the federal police headquarters in the capital, Canberra. “So Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against our country. And should be treated accordingly,” he said.

Tony Abbott has called on immigrants to Australia to “be as tolerant of others as we are of them” as he outlined a series of planned counter-terrorism measures including the power to revoke citizenship in the case of dual nationals.

In a national security speech on Monday, the PM also called on Muslim leaders to proclaim Islam as a religion of peace “more often, and mean it”.

Abbott confirmed the government would appoint a new national counter-terrorism co-ordinator and was looking at changes to immigration laws and new options to deal with Australian citizens who were involved in terrorism.

Amendments to the Citizenship Act would allow the government to revoke or suspend the Australian citizenship of dual nationals, he said.

And for individuals involved in terrorism who held only Australian citizenship, Abbott said he was considering “suspending some of the privileges of citizenship” such as “restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments”.

The prime minister chose to deliver his long-awaited national security address at an event at the Australian federal police (AFP) headquarters in Canberra, rather than to parliament.

Standing in front of six Australian flags, Abbott said the case of Man Haron Monis – the gunman involved in the fatal Martin Place siege in Sydney in December – showed how the country had been too willing to give “those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt”.

“There is always a trade-off between the rights of an individual and the safety of the community,” he said. “We will never sacrifice our freedoms in order to defend them but we will not let our enemies exploit our decency either.

“If immigration and border protection faces a choice to let in or keep out people with security questions over them – we should choose to keep them out.

“If there is a choice between latitude for suspects or more powers to police and security agencies – more often, we should choose to support our agencies. And if we can stop hate preachers from grooming gullible young people for terrorism, we should.”

Mr Abbott’s announcement came a day after a report into December’s Sydney cafe siege was released.

Two hostages were killed when self-styled cleric Man Haron Monis seized control of the Lindt café.

No direct links have been found between the gunman, who was killed when police stormed the cafe, and IS.

Abbott said the government would clamp down on organisations that incited religious or racial hatred, adding that “no one should make excuses for Islamist fanatics in the Middle East or their imitators here in Australia”.

He specifically mentioned the group Hizb ut-Tahrir as an example of an organisation that was “blatantly spreading discord and division”, but it was unclear what concrete action the government would take except “enforcing our strengthened terrorism advocacy laws”.

The idea of stripping dual citizens of their Australian citizenship was first flagged publicly by the then-immigration minister, Scott Morrison, in January 2014. But the attorney general, George Brandis, declined to confirm that proposal.

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