Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed as “false reports” leaks that several senior ministers had strong objections to the proposed measures. Photo: Steven Siewert
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has taken the unusual step of speaking about a cabinet meeting after extraordinary leaks about the government’s approach to anti-terror legislation.
Mr Abbott said on Sunday that moves to strip the citizenship of Australians involved with terrorism had been “overwhelmingly endorsed” by the cabinet at a meeting last Monday.
Two days after Fairfax Media published a blow-by-blow account of the meeting, Mr Abbott dismissed as “false reports” leaks that several senior ministers had voiced strong opposition to measures being proposed.
The government is preparing legislation that would give the immigration minister the power to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship, without a court process, if they are involved in terrorism.
At least half a dozen ministers used last Monday’s cabinet meeting to voice objections to a second proposal favoured by Mr Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that could see sole nationals stripped of their citizenship as well.
That proposal has been included in a discussion paper on citizenship being led by Philip Ruddock.
“It’s a very clear position that the government has: we are proposing to strip citizenship from terrorists who have dual nationality,” Mr Abbott said on Sunday.
“I stress we want to strip citizenship from terrorists who have dual nationality; we’ve also released a discussion paper on citizenship more generally.”
“The proposition that was put was overwhelmingly endorsed by the cabinet and by the party room,” Mr Abbott said.
Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce, George Brandis, Christopher Pyne and Kevin Andrews are all believed to have spoken against the idea for sole nationals.
It was revealed several ministers were unaware of the proposal, had received no written briefing and the matter was not listed on the cabinet agenda.
Ms Bishop said on Saturday the discussion paper was the appropriate way to test the proposal.
Terrorism is ‘most significant threat’
Thirty-seven backbenchers have also signed a letter calling on the Prime Minister to stand by the tough plan.
Mr Abbott reiterated comments by Mr Dutton earlier on Sunday that he believed the majority of Australians wanted tougher action on terrorism.
Mr Dutton defended the proposal and sought to downplay tensions in cabinet over the issue.
“The government has taken a decision that the most significant threat facing our country now and into the foreseeable future is the threat of terrorism and I think Australians understand that,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.
He did not answer questions about whether he and Mr Abbott were forced to shift the proposal for sole nationals into the discussion paper because attempts to include it in the draft legislation were overruled by senior ministers.
“I’m not going into process,” he said.
“The position that came out of cabinet was a position the Prime Minister and I took to the cabinet and it was endorsed by the party room.”
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday there was “spectacular disagreement in what can only be described as a dysfunctional cabinet on this issue”.
He said he had “serious concerns” about the proposal but did not say whether or not Labor would oppose it.