After months of fear-mongering, partly aimed at wedging Labor on ‘national security’, the Liberal-National government has rushed out its so-called ‘Allegiance to Australia’ bill.
The bill is Abbott’s deepest attack yet on basic democratic rights. It would alienate dual nationals who ‘engage in various kinds of conduct inconsistent with allegiance to Australia’ of their citizenship. As well as being unnecessary – even counter-productive in stopping individual terrorism, because it would increase social alienation – such laws are ripe for political abuse.
The bill would give organisations like ASIO, ASIS, the public service and ministers wide powers to ‘automatically’ strip persons – and ‘a child of the person’ – of their Australian citizenship if they are merely suspected of ‘terrorist activity’ or have links to ‘proscribed’ organisations.
Even more concerning are a wide range of non-terrorist criminal code offences – such as damaging commonwealth property (including graffiti) – that could also trigger the powers. The law would provide grounds for the physical detainment or expulsion of people with little ability for review or appeal. In certain cases, they would effectively render stateless people whose second state, such as Iraq or Yemen, is collapsing.
Socialists oppose these laws and defend all basic democratic rights, including citizenship and associated economic and legal rights, judicial rights such as the ability to defend oneself, and so on.
By stripping away rights on the basis of alleged ‘suspicion’ of ‘terrorism’ – a broad and expanding legal category – and some criminal offences, these powers are ripe for misuse against all sorts of political opponents. The bill also lays the groundwork for the future extension of powers. Abbott has said he would like to strip any ‘suspected terrorist’ – not just dual citizens – of their citizenship.
The potential for abuse is clear. The responsible minister for example, Peter Dutton, had no scruples in leading a false and anti-democratic attack on the Human Rights Commission, which has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of the major parties on their refugee policies.
More tellingly, he – probably knowingly – falsely accused a Greens Senator of fabricating allegations of spying by Wilson Security during an official parliamentary visit to the Nauru concentration camp. ‘Operation Raven’ was confirmed by Dutton’s own Immigration Department shortly after.
These proposals ratchet up the Abbott government’s xenophobic and Islamophobic dog whistling: they are aimed squarely at migrants. The government has consciously pushed so-called ‘national security’ up the agenda following poor polling due to an unpopular stance on gay marriage, continued attacks on workers and speculation of an early election. Leaked briefing documents spell out a step-by-step a plan to wedge Labor as weak on terrorism (deliberately conflated with refugee policy).
For its part, Labor has offered no resistance, with strategists arguing they cannot win a fight on ‘national security’ issues. Opposition leader Bill Shorten thus quickly gave ‘in principle’ support to the proposals, despite not having seen or even being briefed on the specifics.
The bill has been criticised as ‘unconstitutional’, but neither the constitution nor the Labor Party can be relied upon to stop these laws, for which there are precedents overseas and in treason law. Instead a movement that rejects the anti-democratic and racist divide-and-rule tactics of the major parties must be built to defend peoples’ basic rights.
By W. van Leeuwen