22 July 2016
by Paul Farrell
Government officials of secretive Citizenship Loss Board named
Tony Abbott, the former prime minister, rushed through citizenship laws which were touted as an urgent response to threat of terrorism.
Board which has de facto power to strip dual nationals of citizenship includes senior departmental secretaries and Asio and Asis officers
The identity of officials on one of the most powerful government boards in Australia – which has the effective power to strip Australians of citizenship – has been revealed for the first time.
A freedom of information request for minutes of the Citizenship Loss Board’s first meeting in February shows the panel is made up of senior departmental secretaries from across government. The secretariat of the committee is Hamish Hansford, an assistant secretary of the immigration department. He previously served as the national manager of the intelligence branch of the Australian Crime Commission.
The department of the prime minister’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Greg Moriarty, is also on the board, as are Gary Quinlan, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Katherine Jones, from the Attorney-General’s Department, and Christopher Dawson from the Australian Crime Commission.
The immigration department has by far has the largest number of representatives with five officers: Rachel Noble, Michael Manthorpe, Maria Fernandez, Michael Outram and Pip De Veau.
The Australian federal police and defence department’s members are unknown. Both declined to participate in the February meeting for undisclosed reasons.
The Australian Security Intelligence Service (Asis) and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) each have a member. Neither officer is named, listed only as a “representative”.
The Citizenship Loss Board has the de facto power to strip dual nationals of their citizenship under the federal government’s legislation introduced last year.
Although the law was touted as an anti-terrorism tool, it left open the possibility that people who damaged commonwealth property or even national security whistleblowers could have their citizenship revoked. Legal experts have argued it could create a tier of second-class citizenship.
Although the Citizenship Loss Board appears to be the effective arbiter of this exceptional power, there is no reference to it in the legislation. None of its members are parliamentarians or members of the judiciary. It operates in a legal vacuum. Its recommendations go to the immigration minister with no clear legal mandate.
In theory the board does not have the express power to revoke citizenship. The laws were built to withstand judicial scrutiny, describing the key mechanism to remove citizenship as one of “revocation by conduct” – the argument is that if the law is “self-executing” this could head off judicial review.
The board’s official role is to consider cases where an individual’s behaviour meets the criteria to have citizenship revoked under the law.
This mechanism has been described by University of New South Wales dean of law George Williams as a “legal fiction”. He has previously outlined concerns about the board and the basis for its power.
He said that although it was welcome that the membership of the board had been disclosed, the role of the board continued to raise concerns.
“This body may not in law be the decision maker but in practice its influence is likely to be decisive,” he said. “It really undermines any conception that this law is self-executing.”
The board seems confident of its legal position. The meeting’s minutes noted it received “advice on potential legal exposure”. It said there “was none as each member is participating in the board in their professional capacity and that the board is an interdepartmental committee providing advice, not a decision-making body”.
Williams said that position was far from settled, and it was likely the high court would have to rule on it.
The citizenship laws were rushed through by the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, and touted as an urgent response to the threat of terrorism.
But it appears the board’s movements have been slow. It meets only at the discretion of the secretariat. The next meeting after February was set to discuss individual cases but the immigration department has not responded to questions about how many meetings have occurred since February, or how many cases had been considered.