Tony Abbott’s assault on democratic rights

It has become a disturbing hallmark of the current government that the degree to which Prime Minister Tony Abbott adopts the style of a Nazi leader addressing the Nuremburg Rally is a reflection of the policies being foreshadowed. At Abbott's June 23 press conference, the flag count was up to 10. The parliamentary sitting week that followed was an assault on democratic rights.

The most prominent of the week's anti-democratic legislation was the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015, introduced by the government into parliament on June 24 with the opposition ALP pledging support.

Previous “anti-terror” laws introduced by both Liberal and Labor governments since 2001 have been justified as needed to protect lives in Australia that are under threat from terrorism.

As Abbott told parliament in September last year, “Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. After all, the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to walk the streets unharmed and to sleep safe in our beds at night.”

The servile media regularly reinforce this claim.

NO LIVES LOST TO TERRORISM

Yet not a single life has been lost in Australia due to terrorism so far this year. However, 47 lives have been lost in Australia due to intimate partner violence and 73 due to workplace accidents so far this year.

The death toll from terrorism in Australia this century is between zero and three (depending on how terrorism is defined), while the death tolls from intimate partner violence and workplace accidents this century are both in the thousands.

The government's response to these real threats has been to cut services that assist women to flee violent relationships and criminalise trade unions that attempt to enforce industrial safety standards. It has taken these decisions knowing this will increase the risk of people being killed.

Not included in the statistics for workplace deaths are the three passers-by killed in 2013 in Swanston Street, Melbourne, by a wall that collapsed on them due to cost-cutting by construction giant Grocon. The company was fined $250,000 for this. In contrast the CFMEU was fined $1.25 million in 2014 for attempting to enforce safety standards on Grocon and on June 22 forced to pay the company $3.55 million as compensation.

The June 25 Guardian reported that the Senate knocked back an attempt by the government to make divorce more expensive which, if passed, would have made it harder for women to leave abusive, and potentially life-threatening, relationships.

The media's response has been the vilification of feminists and trade unions while leaving the death toll from domestic violence and lack of workplace safety mostly unreported. Claims by politicians and the media to be concerned with protecting lives cannot be taken seriously.

ENFORCING ALLEGIENCE

While the same false claim of protecting lives is being used to justify the new law before parliament, its justification also goes into new, more ideological, territory. As the Bill's name suggests, it is to enforce allegiance to the nation-state.

Under the heading “Purpose of this Act”, the text of the Bill reads: “This Act is enacted because the Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, and that citizens may, through certain conduct incompatible with the shared values of the Australian community, demonstrate that they have severed that bond and repudiated their allegiance to Australia.”

While previous "anti-terror" laws have focused on defining new crimes, the latest focuses on stripping citizenship. While initially this will apply only to dual nationals, it has been foreshadowed that it could be extended to people who only have Australian citizenship.

When Abbott initially raised the proposal of stripping people of Australian citizenship, at a six-flag press conference on May 26, it was to be at the discretion of the immigration minister. However, this would have been unconstitutional.

BILL TO REVOKE CITIZENSHIP

Under the Bill before parliament, citizenship will be automatically revoked from people convicted of a number of crimes. This includes terrorism-relate offences, but also includes offences such as trespass on, or damage to, government property, potentially criminalising non-violent protest and graffiti.

Furthermore, the government has foreshadowed making the law retrospective, putting thousands of activists and others in danger.

“If you get angry in a Centrelink office and chuck a chair … on conviction your citizenship is gone,” lawyer Michael Bradley said on the ABC's The Drum website on June 25.

Under provisions against incitement, the law could see citizenship revoked from people for things they say or opinions expressed.

Moreover, the nebulously worded Bill also allows for citizenship to be revoked from a dual national who “acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia”.

Bradley explained: “The list of conduct is very long: engaging in terrorist acts, financing terrorism, recruiting or training for a terrorist organisation, blowing things up overseas, and those 'hostile activities' in foreign countries again. These are borrowed over from the Criminal Code, the critical distinction being that you don't have to have been convicted, or even accused, of committing an actual offence.”

While Australian "anti-terror" laws are ostensibly aimed at violent groups such as the self-styled Islamic State (IS) that, while not a threat to Australia, is responsible for countless atrocities in Syria and Iraq, the scope of the laws is far broader. A number of national liberation movements and leftist groups are listed as terrorist organisations under Australian law.

Among them is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Ironically this potentially criminalises supporters of the most effective opponent of the IS in the Middle East — the democratic, secular and feminist Kurdish-led resistance that is ideologically aligned with the PKK.

ZAKY MALLAH ON Q&A

The mainstream media coverage of the Bill has been almost entirely refracted through the prism of the manufactured scandal of former terrorism suspect Zaky Mallah being allowed to ask a question from the audience on the ABC's Q&A program on June 22.

Mallah was imprisoned in 2003, when he was 19, on dubious charges of plotting a suicide bombing of government offices in Sydney. He was held in maximum security for 2½ years before being acquitted of the charges.

However, to secure his release he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of threatening government officials, for which he was sentenced to the time he had already served on remand.

On Q&A, Mallah got into a heated exchange with Liberal MP Steve Ciobo, who told him that he should have his citizenship stripped, to which Mallah responded that such statements from government politicians were what caused some Australian Muslims to go overseas and become terrorists.

Largely absent from the political and media storm that followed was that Ciobo had made headlines in 2013 for advocating that then-PM Julia Gillard should have her throat slit.

GOVERNMENT ATTACKS ON ABC

Instead Abbott and other senior ministers accused the ABC of disloyalty to Australia. Throughout the week the government escalated its attacks on the ABC, aided by a hysterical campaign by the Murdoch tabloids with front pages illustrated with photoshopped images of terrorists brandishing flags with the ABC logo.

On June 25, Abbott announced an “urgent” enquiry into the ABC, accusing the broadcaster of “betrayal … of our country” and declaring, without irony, “Frankly, heads should roll over this.”

The ABC's response has been weak: apologising for its “error in judgement” in allowing Mallah to be part of the Q&A audience and muzzling the show's producers. However, on June 25, ABC managing director Mark Scott finally released a statement responding to the intensifying government and Murdoch media attacks.

“The ABC Act does not envisage the ABC as another branch of government public relations. Instead, it asks the ABC to provide an independent national broadcasting service. And the Board is asked to maintain that independence,” he said.

On June 26, the ABC offices in Ultimo, Sydney, were placed under lockdown following threats of violence by people incited by the charges of treason levelled against the broadcaster by the government and the Murdoch media.

“There have been a number of threatening phone calls. Security has been stepped up at major ABC offices across Australia,” a spokesperson for the ABC said.

Behind the national security hysteria are the machinations of a government desperate to remain in power but realising it has alienated much of the population through attacks on public services and living standards.

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