Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hits back at Jacinda Ardern in terrorist citizenship row

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended cancelling the citizenship of a woman accused of terrorism, leaving New Zealand to pick up the pieces thanks to her dual citizenship. 

The woman, a 26-year-old identified as a terrorist belonging to Islamic State by the Turkish Ministry of National Defence, was caught trying to cross the border from Syria with her two children. 

Named by the initials S.A., she was identified as a Kiwi and was wanted through an Interpol blue notice - an international request for nations to share information regarding her identity, location, and activities in relation to a crime.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday she has spoken to Morrison about the woman before. Ardern revealed the woman once had dual New Zealand-Australian citizenship, until the latter was revoked. 

"The fair question to ask is whether she should return to New Zealand or Australia. We firmly believe the answer is Australia - and have repeatedly communicated that view to the Australian Government at the highest levels," Ardern said. 

"It is wrong that New Zealand should shoulder the responsibility for a situation involving a woman, who has not lived in New Zealand since she was six, has resided in Australia since that time, has her family in Australia and left for Syria from Australia on her Australian passport."

Morrison hit back at a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday afternoon, saying his job is to protect Australians from terrorists "enjoying privileges" of Australian citizenship. 

"My job is Australia's interests. That's my job. It's my job as the Australian Prime Minister to put Australia's national security interests first and I think all Australians would agree with that," he told reporters. 

Morrison referred to a 2015 law change in Australia where dual citizens aged 14 years and above can have their citizenship stripped if they engage in terrorism. 

"That happens automatically and that has been a known part of Australia's law for some time," Morrison said. "I understand that the New Zealand Government has some issues with that."

The 2015 law change meant that dual citizenship was revoked automatically. But an amendment introduced in 2018 meant it was up to a minister to make the decision. 

Morrison said he was scheduled to speak with Ardern later on Tuesday. 

"We speak quite frequently. This is an issue we've discussed before. I'll leave how we practically deal with those issues to our discussion later today and I'm sure the many others we'll have," he said. 

"There is still a lot unknown about this case and where it sits and where it may go to next and so I think that will also be a subject of our discussions. 

"But Australia's interest here is that we do not want to see terrorists who fought with terrorist organisations enjoying privileges of citizenship, which I think they forfeit the second they engage as an enemy of our country and I think Australians would agree with that."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Ardern said any "fair-minded person" would consider the woman an Australian.

She said the Government believes Australia has "abdicated its responsibilities" by cancelling the woman's citizenship, and has shared her view with Morrison. 

"Where dual citizenship is involved, our view has been that it's for New Zealand and Australia to resolve the most appropriate response and ensure that we do not strip citizenship and render someone stateless, especially when children are involved," Ardern said.

"We continue to urge Australia to cooperate in the management of these cases. The welfare of the children also needs to be at the forefront in this situation. These children were born in a conflict zone through no fault of their own."

Ardern said going to New Zealand, where they have no immediate family, would not be in the family's best interests and that Australia would be more suitable. 

"We know that young children thrive best when surrounded by people who love them. We will be raising these points with the Australian Government," she said. 

"We will be engaging with the Turkish authorities, and given there are children involved, their welfare will be top of mind in our response."

It's not the first time Ardern has lashed out at Australia for not taking responsibility. 

Standing alongside Morrison in Sydney early last year, Ardern urged Australia to "not deport your people and your problems", referring to a policy of deporting Kiwis back to New Zealand, even when they have no connection to the country. 

Morrison said he had no intention of changing the policy. He said it is "not directed to any one country or any one nationality whatsoever", and that Kiwis would not get any special treatment.