The current federal government has a raft of proposals to radically change the extent of government power over basic citizenship rights. This story is over six months old, but in its lazy, dishonest, way, the mainstream media are reporting each announcement and comment as though each outlet is breaking the story yesterday.
There is so much mis-information, deliberate obfuscation, outright lying, including to parliament, and other complete wastes of time and money and intellect that I have put together some of the more important arguments, facts, contexts and historical details that might be of use.
At present, Australian citizenship is Australian citizenship, whether conferred by the state or inherited by birth. These proposals will create different classes of Australian citizen, which some would argue is unAustralian in itself.
On closer inspection, however, the changes would entrench categories of citizenship along racial lines. This is in fact very Australian indeed, if we understand Australian in terms of the dominant culture since 1788.
Under the proposals, the top category in these classes of citizen would be Australians whose parents and grandparents were born in Australia or the United Kingdom. I am in this category, and I can categorically state that many in my demographic, privileged by the luck of birthright, are entertaining the idea of two-tiered citizenship.
The line goes like this: oh I can understand revoking the citizenship of terrorists.
This is not okay, for a raft of reasons, but most fundamentally because it breaches principles of equality. Two classes of citizenship, based on racial lines? Really? You are okay with that how? Because terrorism? What terrorism?
The ugly reality is that many of us whose citizenship is not at risk – of being suspended, cancelled or revoked in whole or in part by the state – are reasonably comfortable with others not feeling so secure – in the name of national security. This in turn tells us an even uglier fact: national security is not for all Australians. It is for those who are already the most secure.
According to a now infamous leak to Fairfax, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton argued for legal power to ‘strip’ citizenship rights of all Australians, irrespective of conferral or birth status. Weird as it sounds, this would in fact be more consistent with principles of equality. Attack all of us, or none of us. That’s the Australian way, isn’t it?
Others, including Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, and Malcolm Turnbull, raised the obvious point that the policy would breach international law (United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961). Their defence of *only* attacking certain migrants’ rights was perceived and reported as the more moderate view. It is not. It is an abomination. Either you are Australian, or you are not.
The next class is sole citizens whose parents were born overseas (again, ignore Britain). These people potentially hold dual citizenship – they have access, in theory, to citizenship elsewhere and thus would not necessarily be rendered stateless by us.
Scott Morrison made an alternate case, for suspending some residency rights of sole nationals. He likened this to ‘the right to vote if you are in prison or something like that’. In fact, only prisoners serving a sentence longer than three years are legally barred from voting, and only since 2006.
While Morrison implies that all prisoners are barred from voting, his claims are misleading at best. When former conservative Prime Minister John Howard drafted a statute to bar all prisoners from voting, it was struck down by the High Court of Australia.
In other words, what Morrison implies to be legal fact is, in legal fact, unconstitutional, as declared by our highest court. Prisoners retain the right to re-enrol on release, which is a different question from how many actually do.
It is clear that Morrison is a key player here. His parliamentary secretary, Senator Concetta Fiaverentti-Wells, has been appointed by the Prime Minister (alongside former Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock) to ‘lead the national conversation’ on citizenship (more on this development below).
Additionally, Morrison was the Minister for Immigration when the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 2014 foreshadowed most of these changes last year (Hansard 23 October p. 11744). There is an analysis of the second reading speech for that Bill, which the Senate referred to the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee on 30 October 2014, here.
The last category is actual (not just potential) dual citizens. For this group, regardless of where they or their parents or grandparents or spouses were born, the government is unequivocally seeking the power to suspend or revoke the Australian half of their dual citizenship.
The grounds for such revocation would be this: the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection forms a view that the Australian person is a terror suspect.
You may be old enough to remember when former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews (now defence minister. Defence!) formed a view, on character grounds, about Dr. Mohammed Haneef. Off to indefinite detention for Dr Haneef, supposedly to keep Australia safe. It cost us millions of dollars, in legal processes and ultimately in damages. Millions. For nothing but a shameful exercise in terror-mongering.
Think how many public housing units those millions of dollars could have built, or how many respite care hours it could have provided.
So despite the nature of rights being necessarily universal – in moral and democratic principle, and as codified into international law under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – our government wants us to choose between these options:
– expand executive power to suspend, cancel or revoke basic rights over all Australian citizens, in breach of inter alia doctrine of separation of powers, presumption of innocence, and international law; or
– expand executive power over some Australians but not others, effectively creating a two-tiered citizenship regime where more recent migrants have fewer rights, in breach inter alia of the Rule of Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Asserting breaches of such fundamental principles is a serious matter, so it is worth setting out some brief definitions.
Executive power: the exercise of power, in this case over the most fundamental of rights, by the minister, at his discretion, based on a view he has formed.
Doctrine of separation of powers: The power-sharing arrangement by which democracies establish ‘checks and balances’ to limit the power of the legislature (both houses of the Parliament), the executive (Ministers in cabinet and the staff of their departments, such as immigration officials) and the judiciary (the High Court can strike down unconstitutional laws, that is, law that is enacted without the constitutional authority to do so).
Presumption of innocence: Every person accused by the state of breaching our criminal law is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, as decided by a judge, or by a jury of their peers, in a properly constituted court of law.
Rule of Law: Everyone is equal before the law and no person is above the law.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All humans are born equal in rights and dignity… (Article 1).
What is the national conversation about? National security, citizenship and reporting
These changes are sought, as erosion of democratic rights always are, on national security grounds. The threat is variously labelled ISIS or ‘the so-called Islamic State’ (most mainstream media), ISIL (President Obama and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop prefer this term) Da’esh (Bishop again and occasionally Prime Minister Tony Abbott) or the death cult, the apocalyptic death cult, the millennial death cult (Prime Minister Abbott again).
As is the way with a deeply fragmented media, the government positions are presented in an ahistoric and decontextualized way. For example, look at who is saying no, stop. None of this should be entertained. It is an abomination. Wherever that discourse appears, the speaker is attacked by government.
The media then foregrounds government’s aggressive, irrational response to a calm and balanced observation from a highly-qualified and dignified professional; and this is called “balance”. Knowing this, the government repeats the strategy.
In fact, government is not interested in a national conversation at all. If it was, the contribution of as esteemed a person as Gillian Triggs, in her capacity as president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, would be welcomed rather than vilified.
As mentioned, the second option is canvassed as somehow more palatable. This narrative implies that the government should not attack all Australians’ citizenship rights but some – well, maybe. So the media and the polity lean towards an option that disregards equality as a fundamental value.
It is not surprising that this option is gaining the most traction. Entrenched inequality on the basis of migration status is as old as white Australia itself; and has become particularly poisonous under the current government.
Another narrative is that our citizenship rights have been set in stone since the dawn of the nation-state. This is not true. It took almost 50 years after federation before the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) was passed (more on its history and context below). Malcolm Turnbull referred to the 1948 Act, putting the conservative position that ‘an old law is a good law’. His claim ignores that the previous conservative government of John Howard, in which he was a minister, amended the Act in 2007.
Another media standard is to assume that ‘balance’ is achieved by presenting the three options outlined above and the question as to whether or not the other major party will agree to, or oppose, the policy. This is not true either. We do not necessarily need to know the Labor party position to conclude that these proposals should not, and should never have been, on the table at all. The relevant information is available in the discussion paper, the citizenship amendment bill, the media releases and press conferences and reports and rhetoric.
In discussing citizenship on social media, the ‘what will Labor do?’ question looms large. Labor will not be wedged on national security, is what Labor will do. I can not add further analysis here – to my raw disgust for this position. I understand it, I do not have to like it. But Labor are not in power; and when they are, terror-mongering is less rampant. The Liberal-National Coalition are in power, and the Liberal-National Coalition government are the problem.
It is the government that has the power to pass these proposals into law. It is what the government is saying that matters most. Thus we can not dismiss these ideas out of hand, and academia – and the citizen scholar, as we visualise something broader and more universal than the citizen journalist – must step up.
Something as fundamental as violating basic citizenship rights can not be properly debated, and should not be presented to the people, without context and history.
Is Australian citizenship an old law and a good law?
The Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Commonwealth) was passed by the government of Labor hero Ben Chifley and came into force on 26 January 1949. Until then, all Australians were British subjects.
Like colonisation (terra nullius), and the Constitution itself (s. 51 xxvi, the ‘race power’), these historic events were deeply pre-occupied with race. The assertion of white superiority and thus a fixed racist mindset were key drivers in the formation of the Australian nation state, as evidenced by the debate at the time and the race power, above.
Section 51 defines the federation itself. It lists which powers were transferred from the former colonies to the Commonwealth, and thus which powers were retained by the new states.
A central concern of the establishment of Australian citizenship in 1948 was the influx of post-war migrants, and particularly southern and eastern European migrants. We were not so concerned, and never have been, by British migrants. In fact, Britain was only declared a foreign power at law by the High Court in Sue vs Hill  HCA 30.
Ironically enough, given that no-one seems privy to the date on which Tony Abbott renounced his British citizenship, this was the case that challenged the constitutionality of dual citizens sitting as elected members of the Commonwealth parliament.
This may seem like a snide aside, but there are serious underlying points. Firstly, Malcolm Turnbull’s assertion that the current arrangements are old and good is demonstrably false. In fact, the arrangements favour Britain and British migrants (unequal = not good, under the principles set out above); and are in living memory for anyone born before 1985 or thereabouts (1999 ≠ 1948; sixteen years ≠ old).
Secondly, Abbott’s allegiance to Britain is abundantly evident. His aggressive and divisive campaign during our Republic referendum; and his reference to pre-1788 Australia as ‘nothing but bush’ are but two examples.
This is not to say that Abbott can not also show allegiance to Australia. But in the current context, he has proffered ‘Britain does it’ as a substantive argument for the ‘strip citizenship’ provisions he wants to introduce here.
This is not relevant. Britain is a former colonial power – of Australia but more importantly in the Middle East. Britain has many more migrants from the Middle East than we do.
Further, Britain is next door to France, which also experiences periodic outbreaks of Islamophobia and subsequent unrest, principally among its Algerian-French population, also a legacy of colonialism. Britain is in the same hemisphere as, and not buffeted by the largest ocean on earth from, Iraq and Syria.
In summary, our geopolitical realities are enormously different to Britain and always have been, yet Abbott does not see it that way because he is British-born and in many ways remains British at heart.
The developments of 1999 aside, the 1948 Act, like all statutes, is not set in stone either. Late in 2007, as he faced electoral defeat for the first time in twenty years, the Citizenship Act was amended by the conservative Coalition of John Howard.
Political and social commentators have long noted racist dimensions to Howard’s leadership: his 1988 comments about Asian immigration; his refusal to denounce the racism of Pauline Hanson even as she was disendorsed by his own party; the infamous ‘Tampa election’ of 2001, where the Coalition unashamedly conflated asylum seekers with terrorism (which no-one has been willing or able to disaggregate since); the Northern Territory Emergency Intervention, which included sending the army into remote Aboriginal communities.
Each of these highly influential and harmful machinations was designed to attain or retain power – which is no different to any other politician. As a class, politicians are people who, by definition, seek power.
These sections have attempted to fill in some of the missing history and context that the mainstream media has neither the space nor the inclination to communicate to the populace. What follows is a more detailed examination of the flagged changes through the specific lens of the structural racism of the Australian polity.
Is Australia racist?
The university where I work is home to the most racially and culturally diverse student body in Australia, and to the largest Muslim-Australian student body, and the biggest Arab-Australian student body too. I have written thousands of words on the demographic realities of my students, their rights and interests and freedoms and courage and incredible achievements.
The main point here is that Muslim- and other Arab-Australian young people (young men, to be specific, but the side effects already have triggered attacks on Muslim women) are by far the most likely to be affected by these sorts of changes to the citizenship laws.
We know this, because the justification for the amendments to citizenship law is the threat of Islamic State. Firstly, Islamic State-controlled territory is in an Arab region; and secondly, the organisation is, by definition and self-identification, an Islamic organisation. It is Sunni Islam, but this distinction is rarely made by Australian government MPs.
This becomes relevant when we look at the inquiry into the actions of Man Haron Monis, who was of Iranian origin, which is a Shi’ite state and sworn enemy of ISIS. In fact, it is regularly reported that only the Shi-ite militias are having any ‘success’ against Islamic State (where success is killing, destroying property, and taking back territory) – and this is not unrelated to extensive co-religionist networks that intersect Islamic State and the Iraqi army.
That is the same Iraqi Army that we are expending blood and treasure to ‘train’, while publicly refusing to engage with Iran. The Foreign Minister has in fact engaged in some limited communication with Tehran. Yet the dominant narrative remains: no talking to Iran for all the same reasons we are told to be scared of Islamic State.
These reasons are, in their crudest terms, Islam and terrorism.
In Western Sydney, these distinctions do matter. We have already seen that white racists are more likely to attack Muslim women than any other group. And we can strongly predict, based on the political rhetoric and known policy developments and their impacts, that the proposed new citizenship law will disproportionately impact young Muslim and other Arab (and other brown) people.
It is not as though law enforcement authorities, or anyone really, can accurately distinguish on sight a young Colombian-Australian man who was born here, say, from a Lebanese Australian whose parents arrived in the 1980s, or an Afghani-Australian whose family has been here since the nineteenth century camel trains. I know I can not, despite living and working in the most diverse Australian population centre for the past twelve years.
One reason for mentioning our university and its demographic profile is its founding character as a vehicle for social justice and equality; another is to say, clearly and at times angrily: I talk to young people whose parents were born in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon every day; young people who identify as Assyrian and Muslim and Christian and refugees and migrants. Many raise the impacts of radicalisation rhetoric in conversation. The government talk is harmful. Its policies are problems, not solutions.
To return to the most recent developments: It was 26 May 2015. The Prime Minister called a joint press conference flanked by three colleagues. Senator Concetta Fiaverentti-Wells and former Minister for Immigration (and multicultural affairs, as it used to be called) Phillip Ruddock had been appointed to ‘lead a national conversation’ on citizenship, announced the Prime Minister.
The current Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, was there too. Note how the change to the name of the ministry crystallises the false asylum-seeker-terror nexus.
As argued above, the announcements risk creating two-tiered citizenship: the better, stronger more inalienable version for old Australia (no, not Indigenous Australians, just those whose parents were born here); and the more tenuous version for those Australians who were born overseas and their children.
What evidence is there for these concerns?
Firstly, it is not rocket science to surmise that those in the first category are more likely to be white: Australians of European and British heritage. Those in the second category are more likely to be Australians of African, Asian, Arab and South American heritage.
The racist dimensions of these changes are multiple and manifest. As such, the conversation we should actually be having is about the racist foundations of the Australian polity, and how this foundational law and culture manifests today.
It is manifest in the false nexus created, by government, between asylum seekers and terrorism. It is manifest in the risk, created by government, of legally entrenching even further inequalities between white Australians and everybody else – except, in this particular instance, of Aboriginal Australians.
While the current public debate is centred, by government, on the false migrant-terror nexus, it should be noted that the basic rights of Aboriginal people – as Australian citizens, as First Peoples, and as human beings – are routinely violated by the state on the basis of their Aboriginality. The forced removal of traditional owners from their lands in Western Australia violates the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But this is not a binding document (and it would not matter to this government if it were); and state-sanctioned racism is authorised by the Australian Constitution (the ‘race power’ s. 51xxvi) and upheld by the High Court of Australia.
These points should be noted for two reasons. Firstly, the violation of Aboriginal rights by governments are routinely ignored, or understated, or whitesplained. In addition, the most damaging commonality, from the foundation of the nation-state as a liberal democracy, to the establishment of Australian citizenship and the proposed amendments, is racist oppression as practiced by the dominant hegemony.
It is important to understand this dimension of the dominant Australian culture (as shown in the example of Lang Hancock, below) because it is currently being further promoted and legitimised by the current government, in violation of international law.
Decoding government messages
According to the DIBP media release these are the objectives of the national conversation we are going to have on citizenship this winter:
– consider whether the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are well understood and how we can better promote these, including among young Australians
– Seek the public’s views on further possible measures, including the suspension of certain privileges of citizenship for those involved in terrorism
The first point encodes its own answer thus: no, the rights and responsibilities are not well understood, otherwise there would be no need to ‘better promote these’. Australian citizenship rights and responsibilities are least understood by young people, which inevitably, inexorably, leads to meddling with the civics education curriculum.
For example, the Minister for Education has already flagged his desire to change the civics curriculum in favour of ‘Western civilisation’. The Attorney-General has released a few frightening thought bubbles on teaching school children to report those who are ‘different’. The aim of this aim is therefore abundantly clear.
The second point further encodes the pre-conceived conclusions that will be reached via this conversation we have not yet held. There is no particular reason Australians would suddenly start talking about citizenship rights as privileges; or about suspending the rights of citizens who were born overseas, or whose parents were born overseas.
White Australians tend to be racist, but we also tend to be largely disengaged from political process and the mechanics of government. Individual racism is ugly and disrespectful and harmful, but it is micro-aggression, on an individual scale.
Opening these topics for discussion is different: it is entirely government-led. Despite the dearth of quality political leadership, the government still leads on national debate. It is governments that violate human and civil rights through structural oppression of particular groups, as this government is seeking to do, on a mass scale.
On my reading, the ‘national conversation’ is designed for nothing more than reassuring those conservative voters who might feel uncomfortable about supporting a government intent on violating basic rights to non-white Australians.
The objectives ignore the vast amount of literature on citizenship, both Australian and international, including on teaching citizenship. It is ideologically driven: there is no evidence that teaching school children to report those who are ‘different’ is an effective national security measure.
There is voluminous counter-evidence: that such attitudes in fact centre and normalise social injustice and inequalities; and that these sorts of oppressions not only lead to higher rates of violence but are a recognised form of violence in themselves, known as structural violence.
Moreover, the ideas announced at the press conference, in the accompanying media release, in federal cabinet, and contained in the discussion paper have already been tabled in the federal parliament. Legislating to place the power to suspend, cancel or revoke citizenship rights at the discretion of the Minister are all there in the Hansard.
This preview is in the form of the above-mentioned Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 2014, drafted under the former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison. The bill and the second reading speech, delivered on 23 October 2014 by Paul Fletcher, the member for Bradfield on Sydney’s North Shore (Hansard p. 11744) foreshadows the same changes as the discussion paper, including the attack on the citizenship of minors if their parents’ Australian citizenship was conferred rather than a birthright – despite it being those minors’ birthright.
All government policies contain traces of the factional manoeuvres of the party in power, so I note, briefly, that one newly-appointed ‘leader’ of the national conversation on citizenship is Morrison’s current parliamentary secretary. The other, Ruddock, had been demoted from the position of Chief Whip after a party-room move against Abbott’s leadership. The appointment is thus easily readable as a signal of appeasement to Morrison as well as public rehabilitation of Ruddock after that petty humiliation by his leader.
It goes without saying that these are deeply serious powers. A Minister of the Crown, without the benefit of evidence tested before a court of law, will have legal power to traduce the citizenship rights of children who were born here, if their parents were born elsewhere.
The incredibly wide scope of this law means that assurances about judicial review are meaningless. Judicial review only determines whether the Minister has acted within the authorising law. If the authorising law gives the Minister such extensive power, judges (other than the full bench of the High Court if deciding on its constitutionality) will be compelled to find that he (sic), the Minister, acted within it.
When that first review is submitted, and the judge is so compelled, the government will trumpet the decision as somehow representing judicial approval of their disgusting law. It will represent nothing of the sort, but the government will exploit ignorance of the law nonetheless. Whether this is despite, or because of, the fact that this is a government of lawyers … Well. Most governments are.
There is much more evidence that the dominant racist Australian hegemony is being centred and privileged, and that this centring and privilege is being normalised, by the citizenship ‘conversation’.
While this post is already too long, I have deliberately put all this context and detail in one place. Its purpose is to serve as a reference point or handy link for anyone who is committed to refuting the dominant narratives.
So. There remains the matter of an absence of terror threats; and the content of the discussion paper, which sets the tone, and confirms for the text analyst that the migrant-terrorism nexus is being reinforced in the national consciousness by these government actions.
The paper begins by reproducing one of the most cherished tropes by which white Australia legitimises itself, while simultaneously rejecting and denying the structural racist oppression ingrained in, and practiced by, the Australian polity.
Citizenship is a cornerstone of Australia’s inclusive and pluralist democracy. Together we have built a modern nation on the idea that people can get ahead if they are prepared to ‘have a go’. Still, in a world in which terrorists are reaching out to our community, we cannot be complacent about our future as a strong, safe and cohesive society. It is time for a national conversation about the role of citizenship in shaping our future.
This may sounds reasonable to the naïve reader, to someone who accepts the invisibility of whiteness and other meta-narratives, but who can not see this accepting stance they hold in themselves. This someone has implicit faith in the sound motivations and good will of political leaders, and reads government-approved claims at face value.
Typically this person is a white middle class man with a wife and two children and a mortgage and some superannuation (but not enough). He belongs to a sporting or other community club, and sees nothing in the way he is treated by authority or how he is depicted in the media to trouble his relaxed view of himself as a good bloke.
He is cis-gendered, neuro-typical, hetero-normative everyman.
Citizenship is a cornerstone of Australia’s inclusive and pluralist democracy.
As mentioned, citizenship was no cornerstone in the creation of our nation. White Australia was considered enough of a priority to write racist clauses into the Constitution, but not citizenship. Half a century passed before this omission was addressed. Australian citizenship is more of an afterthought than a cornerstone.
Whether the country is inclusive or pluralist is also highly contestable. Take a look at any powerful entity, institution or corporation in Australia: its senior ranks are mono-cultural. This is not to ignore the many amazing achievements of First Peoples and non-white migrants and women. But nor does it change the facts.
Cabinet now has two women (up from one) and one brown person whose parents were born overseas. The political leadership, loudest and even most mundane media voices, heads of large companies like banks and miners, senior police officers and the judiciary, the religions and vice chancellors and sporting elite – all are dominated by white men. It is axiomatic that if we were in fact ‘inclusive’, these demographics would shift.
Together we have built a modern nation on the idea that people can get ahead if they are prepared to ‘have a go’.
This idea is heavily circulated and endorsed. But the facts do not support the claim. Over 90 per cent of Australian wealth is inherited. It is derived from rent-seeking and plunder. The embodiment of this is Gina Rhinehart. Not only is her wealth inherited, it is sourced directly to the mining leases over traditional Aboriginal lands, granted by government. Her benefactor father famously referred to ‘no-good half-castes’ and advocated sterilising Aboriginal people, a people whose land he destroyed for personal gain.
This is not wealth creation, any more than deploying armies of lawyers and tying up court resources to squabble with her children over money, as Gina does, is justice. It is not having a go; it is being born white into a family who have accrued monstrous benefits from the dispossession of First Peoples.
Still, in a world in which terrorists are reaching out to our community, we cannot be complacent about our future as a strong, safe and cohesive society. It is time for a national conversation about the role of citizenship in shaping our future.
Consider the sources of fear and insecurity in Australia today. What are they? Are people in fact complacent about those risks?
Terrorism is not the chief cause of fear and insecurity in Australia. Poverty, racism and other forms of structural oppression, domestic violence, suicide and despair, youth homelessness, any homelessness, unemployment and under-employment and job insecurity and housing insecurity: it is these, and not terrorism, that undermine what could, potentially, be a strong, safe and cohesive society but is not.
A society is not strong and safe and cohesive (or democratic, or liberal, or equal, or just) if it is only some of these things to some people. Universality is, by definition, an essential element of these values and social goods. Where structural oppression continues to deny basic rights to Indigenous Australia and people with disabilities and more recent migrants and women and children and the LGBTIQ community, there is no justice.
Yet the government narrative would have the Australian public believe that we are under attack. This is also common strategy. There is precious little evidence of a terror threat to anyone in Australia. The few details and incidents we are told about are announced by government members flanked by security personnel (the head of ASIO, the Australian Federal Police) and filtered by mainstream media.
The only actual ‘terror-related’ attack (other than by white people against women who wear the hijab on public transport, which is terror-rhetoric related) is that of Man Haron Monis, a torture survivor and known criminal with a mental illness who was on bail for accessory to murder and over 40 sexual assault offences.
Monis had written to the Attorney General seeking advice as to the legality of contacting senior ISIS religious leader caliph Ibrahim. The letter became the subject of parliamentary questions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs had to “correct the record” as to whether the letter had been submitted on request to the state-federal inquiry into the siege.
In the meantime, the government had used the non-mention of the letter by the state-federal inquiry – the letter that AGs had not, in fact, supplied – to imply that it was unimportant. Just like misleading parliament – unimportant to this government.
So. Monis was known to authorities state and federal. He killed one person, café manager Tori Johnson (the NSW police force killed twice as many: Monis and barrister Katrina Dawson). This is the only recognised ISIS-related act of violence on Australian soil. The only actual documented connection to ISIS was a letter to the AG (the flag he unfurled was not in fact an ISIS flag), who merely referred it on to ASIO, who did nothing.
There is nothing but speculation by politicians and commentators to suggest that this was a terror attack, which is to say there is nothing at all, at least until the inquest reports its findings.
The rest of the public chatter is equally evidence-free. There are high profile ‘anti-terror’ raids which are spoken of by the Prime Minister as though every person arrested has been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This is untrue. That is, there have not yet been any convictions of an accused who pleaded not guilty from recent raids. Yet the Prime Minister talks endlessly of ‘terrorists’ immediately after every raid. He cites the fact of the raids themselves as though a police raid is itself evidence of a terror threat. Under the legal principle of presumption of innocence, the raids are not evidence of anything.
Then there is the police killing of a teenager who allegedly lunged at them with a knife. These claims will never be tested because police are never charged with murder when they kill citizens, and there is no-one else to put on trial. That killing was the subject of appallingly sensationalist and error-ridden reporting, enough to undermine any trust in the media, certainly for the (living) boy whose picture was erroneously splashed across the front pages of the Fairfax press calling him a jihadi.
Finally, there are the oft-cited claims that Australians are fighting for ISIS. The numbers are usually placed at around 100 fighters and approximately 30-35 killed. For this, in a population of over 23 million, the Parliament, with bipartisan support, enacted the Foreign Fighters Act 2014 (Cth) and the National Security (Data Retention) Act 2014 (Cth).
It stands to reason that if foreign fighters are the problem, and these statutes were the solution, then the problem is now solved, and there is no cause to threaten basic citizenship rights of Australians born to foreign-born parents. Yet it would appear that the government either does not have faith in its enacted solutions; or it is concerned with something other than counter-terror measures.
If there is something other than attacks on fundamental rights disguised as counter-terror measures the Australian polity should be having a conversation about, it is this:
Racist oppression is a cornerstone of Australia’s dominant hegemony. White Australians have plundered these Aboriginal lands for immense profit, on the idea that only white people can and should get ahead while lying about the source of their wealth. Still, in a world in which governments are impoverishing and oppressing many in the community, we cannot be complacent about our desired future for a strong, safe and cohesive society. It is time for a national conversation about the increasingly dangerous attacks by government that violate the most fundamental of political, civil and human rights if we want to shape a shared future based on equality and justice.