CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia revealed plans on Thursday to increase government powers to strip citizenship from extremists and to control the movements of Australian fighters who return home from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined the contentious bills, some of which he wants passed in the final two-week parliamentary session of the year that begins on Monday. He also wants passed in the same session draft cybersecurity laws that would force global technology companies such as Facebook and Google to help police unscramble encrypted messages sent by criminals.
Rights advocates have raised privacy concerns about the cybersecurity bill which is currently being scrutinized by a parliamentary committee.
“People who commit acts of terrorism have rejected absolutely everything that this country stands for,” Morrison told reporters.
The extremist threat to Australia was highlighted two weeks ago when a Somali-born Australian, whom police say was inspired by the Islamic State group, fatally stabbed one man and injured two others before police shot the assailant dead on a downtown Melbourne street.
This week, three Australian men of Turkish descent were charged with planning an Islamic State group-inspired mass-casualty attack in Melbourne which would likely have happened over the busy Christmas period. Police said the plot had been thwarted with the arrests.
Nine convicted extremists and Australians suspected to fighting with extremists overseas have had their Australian citizenships revoked since the government changed citizenship laws in 2015. The changes only apply to dual nationals so that losing Australian citizenship does not render a suspect stateless.
The proposed changes would further loosen the rules concerning the circumstances in which citizenship can be revoked. The amendments would do away with a requirement that a dual national convicted of a terrorism offense would need to be sentenced to at least six years in prison. The conviction itself would be enough to lose Australian citizenship.
The threshold for the government determining that an Australian was a dual national or entitled to citizenship of another country would also be lowered.
Morrison said there would be “no need to go around looking for paperwork” to prove a second nationality.
Australia also plans to introduce a version of Britain’s Temporary Exclusion Orders that were introduced in 2015 and can prevent British fighters from returning home from war zones for up to two years.
Under the Australian regime, Australian fighters who return home would have to comply with conditions such as reporting to police, curfews and restrictions on what technologies they can use.
Morrison accepted that the Temporary Exclusion Orders legislation might not be passed into law until next year.
Morrison’s new drive against extremists has angered some Muslim community leaders.
He accused senior Muslim leaders on Wednesday of “continuing down a path of denial” after they refused an invitation to a meeting scheduled for Thursday to discuss the extremist threat.
Some Australian Muslims were critical when Morrison said after the Somali-born Australian’s rampage that “radical, violent, extremist Islam” posed the greatest threat to Australia’s national security.
They felt the wider Muslim community had been blamed when Morrison said Islamic leaders “must be proactive, they must be alert and they must call this out.”