Stripping citizenship from Australian dual-citizens who have travelled overseas to join terrorist groups doesn't remove the threat of terror in Australia, and would increase other pressures on intelligence agencies, the nation's top spy agency says.
Laws allowing for Australians with another citizenship to have their Australian citizenship removed automatically when they are involved with specific acts of terrorism were passed in 2015, but the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has told a powerful review of the laws that changes should be considered.
So far 12 people have lost their citizenship under the laws, the government revealed in February.
The provision "does not necessarily eliminate the threat posed by those who are subject to citizenship cessation," ASIO's submission said, pointing out that in an online world a person could still be a threat to Australia even if they couldn't return to the nation's shores.
Australians returning from the conflicts involving the Islamic State group had "the potential to exacerbate the Australian threat environment for many years to come".
Stripping the citizenship of someone deemed a threat "may also have unintended or unforeseen adverse security outcomes," ASIO said, "potentially including reducing one manifestation of the terrorist threat while exacerbating another".
Monitoring "offshore ASIO investigative targets" poses extra challenges, the agency said, noting that while there were security concerns both with keeping those involved in the Syria and Iraq conflicts away from Australia, as well as with allowing them to return "any management plan requires that Australia retains maximum visibility of, and control over, the cohort".
Under current laws, anyone who travels to the area and takes part in specific terror-related activities has their citizenship automatically stripped if they hold another citizenship, but ASIO wants the government to have discretion to consider whether stripping citizenship would be the best option.
"There may be occasions where the better security outcome would be that citizenship is retained, despite a person meeting the legislative criteria for citizenship cessation - for example, where the Australian Federal Police has criminal charges that could be pursued if the person were to remain an Australian citizen."
People in leadership positions or training and support roles as well as those who had actually engaged in combat posed the greatest threat, especially with their greater influence and ability to recruit others in Australia.
According to ASIO, about 230 Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq since 2012 to fight with or support groups in the conflict there. Conceding it was never likely to know the exact number and identities of all Australians in the area, the agency is aware of 80 Australians, or former Australians, still in Syria and Iraq, and said "an unidentified number of minors - the children of those Australians - are likely to be in the region".
Of the 80 men and women, not all are active, ASIO said, with some in refugee camps or detained. Those who had been there for years had developed a greater propensity and tolerance of violence, increased capabilities, "networks of concern" and established "Jihadist credentials".
The effect of the exposure to violence and extremist ideologies on children in the conflict zone "may serve as a direct conduit" for involvement with extremist groups, but the effects on each child would vary.
ASIO also estimated about 110 Australians or former Australians have died since traveling to Syria and Iraq.
The agency said it was aware of about 40 people who had returned to Australia after travelling to Syria and Iraq and joining the conflict, but the vast majority of those people returned before 2016.
"We consider that attempted travel by Australians to Syria or Iraq to engage in politically motivated violence has significantly reduced," the submission said.
"However, ASIO assesses individuals will continue to seek to travel to alternative conflict zones in support of extremist groups."