Government deputy whip Andrew Nikolic has defended plans to make citizenship laws tougher, saying that Australia should consider the needs of victims ahead of the rights of terrorists.
Nikolic is one of 37 backbenchers calling on the cabinet to strengthen plans to strip citizens accused of terrorism of their Australian nationality.
Members of the cabinet have expressed concern about a proposal to strip sole citizens of their Australian nationality if they are eligible for citizenship in another country, but the backbench letter urges the prime minister Tony Abbott to consider the proposal.
The deputy whip told ABC radio on Monday morning that the proposal has the backing of the community.
“I think it’s about time we err on the side of victims, and I know that there are others who are engaged at the moment in a discussion on the rights of terrorists,” Nikolic said. “I think Australia’s view is that we should be erring on the side of the victims here.”
Abbott said he has yet to see the letter, but that the proposal is part of a discussion paper on citizenship that the government has released.
“What it says to me is that out there in the community, there is an absolute concentration on keeping our community safe. What it says to me is that conscientious local members are listening to their people and they are doing their best to bring what they think is the right message back here to the parliament,” Abbott told reporters on Monday.
“I would welcome any opportunity to look at any option that prevents those people coming back to Australia,” social services minister Scott Morrison, who initiated discussion on the topic when he had the immigration portfolio, said.
“I think we’ve got to use every measure at our disposal. That is why I support the prime minister and the immigration minister so strongly.”
The sticking point in the proposal is the power given to the immigration minister to revoke citizenship without needing to secure a conviction, which some cabinet members say will amount to circumventing the rule of law.
The minister would have the same power under legislation to revoke citizenship from dual nationals, which has the backing of the party room.
Liberal backbencher Dan Tehan, who heads up the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, said he was confident there were enough safeguards in place to make sure that the power was not abused.
“If you have a minister that’s not [judicious], then ultimately the Australian people will hold them to account, and that is something that governments take incredibly seriously,” he told Sky News.
The Coalition has increased pressure on Labor to show public support for plans to strip dual nationals of their citizenship.
“It’s about time that Labor decided whether they’re going to take a bipartisan approach to national security, or whether they’re going to squib it,” Nikolic said.
The legislation will be introduced before parliament rises for the winter break.
“This legislation will be going into the parliament. I think the public are overwhelmingly in favour of it. And I want to know where Labor stands. Are they prepared to make a stand for our country?” Abbott asked.
The deputy foreign minister Tanya Plibersek refused to be drawn before seeing the legislation.
“I don’t think you can say if we oppose or support legislation as a notion,” she told ABC radio.
She said that the current laws allow for the stripping of citizenship for dual nationals who fight with enemy nations, and that “there is room for a similar approach when you’re talking about non-state actors”.
“As for speculating any further than that I’m not prepared to do that till we see legislation. We don’t know who will be making the determination, we don’t know the circumstances in which it would be determined. We don’t know what appeal mechanisms there might be. And it’s foolhardy to speculate about whether you could support legislation without ever seeing it,” she said.
The shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus on Sunday expressed concern over the granting of powers to revoke citizenship to the immigration minister.