The great national security swindle

May 29, 2015
Prime Minister Tony Abbott anounces proposed laws to strip citizenship from dual nationals who fight for or support groups such

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has turned playing the national security card into a cliche in his desperate attempt to reverse his unpopularity by promising to protect Australians' lives from a serious threat of terrorism.

On May 26, he again gave a press conference in front of half a dozen Australian flags, arguing that stopping Australians from being harmed by terrorists was his government's overriding priority and foreshadowing announcements in the coming parliamentary sitting week of a new round of legislation attacking fundamental civil liberties.

While previous “anti-terror” legislation has focused on inventing new crimes and gutting due process in investigation and trial, the new round of national security measures targets citizenship rights.

The new laws will give the government the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals. “The new powers will apply to dual citizens who fight with or support groups such as ISIL [the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria] as well as so-called ‘lone wolves’, whether in Australia or on foreign soil,” Abbott said.

The application of existing “anti-terror” laws suggests that voicing opinions on social media or in bugged private phone calls could be interpreted as being a “lone-wolf” supporter of “groups such as ISIL”.

The May 26 Sydney Morning Herald reported that at a May 25 cabinet meeting, several ministers — namely defence minister Kevin Andrews, foreign affairs minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, Attorney-General George Brandis, agriculture minister and deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, education minister Christopher Pyne and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull — had opposed a proposal by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, and supported by Abbott, that Australian citizens without dual nationality could also have their citizenship taken away.

The SMH said, “Ministers were angry that Mr Abbott and his office were apparently riding roughshod over the national security committee of the cabinet and the full cabinet.”

Historically, attempts by Australian governments to revoke citizenship rights have been used against dissenters, such as the cancellation of left-wing journalist Wilfred Burchett's passport for reporting “the other side” of the US-Australian wars against Korea and Vietnam.

The Abbott government, supported loudly by the Murdoch press and more quietly by the Labor “opposition”, argues that civil liberties need to be sacrificed to protect Australians' lives from the terrorists. This is a transparent lie.

The number of fatalities from terrorist attacks in Australia is tiny. Even taking into account Australians killed overseas, such as those killed in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, there are far greater threats to Australian lives.

Safe Work Australia reported: “As at 26 May 2015, 65 Australian workers have been killed while at work” this year, and 38 women have been killed in domestic violence attacks since the start of the year.

The same state and federal governments that find unlimited resources to fund draconian “anti-terror” policing and prosecutions are unable to fund accommodation for women fleeing partner and ex-partner violence. “In March, there were 33,933 people on the Victorian public housing waiting list, with 9556 eligible for 'early' urgent housing, which includes many who have suffered family violence,” the May 22 Age said.

The Abbott government has responded to this threat to Australians' lives by further cutting funding to women's services and housing.

The government's response to the threat to Australians' lives from workplace accidents has been to foreshadow a further round of criminalisation of trade unions, particularly construction workers' unions, for attempting to protect occupational health and safety.

The Abbott government's attempts to convince Australians that they are threatened by terrorists was helped by the opening of the inquest into the deaths of Man Haron Monis and two hostages when he hijacked a Sydney cafe in December.

However, so far the evidence presented to the inquest suggests that Monis was an attention-seeking psychopath with a shotgun rather than an ideologically motivated terrorist.

The government and media have used the fact that Monis was on parole when he hijacked the cafe to justify strengthening “anti-terror” laws. However, the crimes he was on parole for — being an accessory to the murder of his wife and more than 40 counts of sexual assault — are not “terrorist-related”.

The government's case has also been helped by reports that Tara Nettleton, the wife of an Australian fighting with ISIL in Syria, Khaled Sharrouf, was attempting to flee ISIL and her husband and wanted to return to Australia with their children. Abbott government ministers have repeatedly said that Nettleton, and possibly even the children, will face the full force of “anti-terror” laws if they return.

While there is no doubt that ISIL and other armed jihadi groups in Syria are terrorist groups, they are not a foreign threat to Australians. Sharrouf is an Australian-made terrorist threatening the lives of Syrians.

The repeated rounds of draconian Islamaphobic “anti-terror” legislation only increase the factors causing a small number of Australians to become so alienated from society that they join terrorist groups fighting overseas.

The role of Western fighters in ISIL has been exaggerated both by Western propaganda and ISIL itself. ISIL propaganda is characteristically ultra-violent and Sharrouf excelled in producing this propaganda. The recurring theme in photos and videos in which he featured is the severed heads of prisoners and his children brandishing guns. To suggest, as the government has, that the children are criminals rather than victims of extreme parental abuse is grotesque.

And while it is legitimate to investigate whether Nettleton committed acts of violence, there is no evidence that she did anything other than accompany her husband. The brutal misogynistic laws enforced by ISIL do not allow women to question their husbands, particularly those fighting with the group.

The government's threats of “severe punishment” to deter Nettleton and her children from returning to Australia are unlikely to work. If she remains in Syria, the punishment for defying ISIL and her husband will be more severe.

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