A well-known Byron Bay activist could become a victim of the Abbott government’s controversial laws to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship.
Fairfax Media reported yesterday that protesters such as 72-year-old Byron shire local Gareth Smith, a campaigner for Palestinian and East Timor issues an dual British-Australian citizen, could have his citizenship revoked under the proposed new anti-terror laws.
Law experts have criticised the wide net of criminal convictions under the new laws that would spark the loss of citizenship, as not all the offences were necessarily related to terrorism or even serious offences.
Mr Smith, a regular letter writer to Echonetdaily who was convicted years ago for damaging Commonwealth property during a protest in Canberra, says the threat of deportation for an action he’d already paid due restitution seems ’quite Orwellian’.
The Fairfax report says that under the new laws introduced this week to Parliament, dual nationals will have their citizenship revoked if convicted of crimes not necessarily connected with terrorism, such as damage to Commonwealth property.
The report says ‘Gareth Smith, 72, is hardly the death cult killer the Abbott government has in mind when it vows to strip dual national terrorists of their Australian citizenship’.
Mr Smith was convicted in 2000 of damaging Commonwealth property after he spray-painted, ‘Shame Australia!! Shame!’ in hot pink across the front of Parliament House, Canberra, as part of an East Timor protest.
He paid his debt: a bill of $16,350 to the Commonwealth for the clean-up as well as an additional fine.
‘To be under the threat of deportation for an action for which due restitution has already been made seems quite Orwellian,’ he told Fairfax Media.
The Fairfax report said Mr Smith ‘could find himself in the crosshairs ‘of the new legislation, but Mr Smith said the prospect of having to fall back on his British citizenship had not ‘sunk in’ yet.
Under the legislation, dual nationals who are convicted of offences ranging from treachery, sabotage and mutiny down to much more minor ones such damaging or destroying Commonwealth property, would be automatically stripped of their citizenship.
The Citizenship Act amendments also mean a dual national who engages in terrorism-related activity automatically forfeits their Australian citizenship even without a conviction, though they can appeal that in court.
But it’s the proposed retrospectivity of the new law which has put Mr Smith’s residency in Australia in jeopardy. (The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is currently considering whether it should be made retrospective).
Labor, which supports the legislation in principle, said it would closely examine the types of offence convictions that could spark citizenship loss ‘to ensure it contains no unintended consequences’.