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Concerns citizenship stripping law not effective

The power to strip a dual citizen's Australian nationality has come under fire for going too far and not being particularly effective.

Concerns have been raised that stripping a convicted terrorist's citizenship doesn't make the nation any safer. 

The Australian government can apply to a court to strip a dual national convicted of some serious offences of their citizenship under laws that passed parliament in December. 

However, the Australian Human Rights Commission has questioned their effectiveness and raised issues with how broad they are.

Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher says stripping citizenship is for extreme cases.

The loss of a person's citizenship was extremely serious and should only be used in extreme circumstances, President Rosalind Croucher said. 

The three-year prison sentence threshold needed to be raised to six and concurrent sentences shouldn't count twice, she said. 

Only offences with a maximum of 10-year prison sentence and above should be covered, she added.

"We're concerned it serves a more symbolic function," Professor Croucher told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Children under the age of 18 shouldn't be covered by the laws, even if it was for a terrorism offence, Prof Croucher said.

"A regime of exile for children is just not the way to go," she said.

"The focus for children in such situations should be for rehabilitation and not retribution."

The court also needed to ensure a person was not left stateless, including in a de facto sense if they couldn't access the second country, the hearing heard. 

This includes if the other country doesn't accept their deportation or they couldn't exercise their second citizenship, such as a Chinese Uyghur.

"There are people with just no connection to places they are citizens of and some of these countries are very oppressive," the Law Council's Stephen Keim SC said, pointing to nations who give citizenship several generations down.

Stripping a person's citizenship while they are being sentenced was "antithetical to our criminal justice system", his colleague Richard Wilson SC said. 

The justice system was based on not only punishment but rehabilitation for the betterment of the individual and community, he said. 

"Many people who have expressed and even acted upon the most repugnant belief had been rehabilitated during the course of their sentence," he said.

It could also create two tiers of citizens, Mr Wilson argued, saying the laws were less likely to cover the emerging threat of white supremacism and neo-Nazism extremists who are more likely to be Australian-born.

"These provisions disproportionately apply to non-Anglo religious and political extremists," he said.

The Law Council agreed children should be carved out, the threshold should be increased to a six-year sentence and concurrent sentences shouldn't be counted twice.

Both organisations chastised the parliament for rushing through the laws without oversight and conducting an inquiry into such serious changes after the fact.

It's important Australian laws were robust enough to adequately deal with "more serious and sophisticated" security threats, the Home Affairs Department said. 

More than 160 people have been charged as a result of 87 counter terrorism operations in Australia since September 2014, the federal police said in a submission dated February 14.

The inquiry is set to report in mid-March.


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