Abbott has escalated his campaign to sow fear of terror with his extreme plan to strip the citizenship of “terrorists”.
It is the latest episode in the government’s attempts to revive their fortunes by spreading the idea that Muslims are a threat.
The government is planning legislation to give Immigration Minister Peter Dutton sole discretion to strip the citizenship of dual nationals—and not just for those actually convicted of terrorism, but anyone suspected of supporting or sympathising with it by Australia’s spy agencies.
Many, including even Liberal handmaiden Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, are concerned it will give the government the right to declare someone guilty without trial. The laws could be unconstitutional, and vulnerable to a High Court challenge.
If Abbott and Dutton had got their way, the laws would also have applied to those with sole citizenship. This carries the danger of making people stateless, although Dutton says it would only apply to people eligible for citizenship in another country. Leaks revealed that this was rejected by the Cabinet. Yet the proposal remains in the government’s citizenship discussion paper.
Dutton is already talking up a crackdown, saying the government and ASIO are combing through “about 400 cases” for possible deportation or detention. Proposed court oversight is deliberately toothless, without even the power to discuss the substance of the case.
Secret, arbitrary decisions based on “intelligence” by ASIO are already being used to indefinitely detain refugees who they suspect are a “security risk”. ASIO’s decisions are unchallengeable; although after the government appointed a judge to review the cases, ASIO quickly “reassessed”, resulting in the release of over 20 people. The most recent refugee released had been detained for six years without charge or trial.
The government already has far-reaching anti-terror laws, including the right to cancel passports. After arresting more than a dozen people during a violent anti-terror raid in Sydney in February, only one person was actually charged with terrorism offences—and his lawyers contend this is on the basis of a single mistranslated phone call.
The government wants such far-reaching powers precisely because the threat of homegrown terror is so manufactured. While scores of people have been killed in road accidents and incidents of domestic violence this year, not a single person has been killed or attacked by an Islamic extremist.
The laws will give even more confidence to the government and security agencies to harass and vilify Muslims.
Slamming the laws, Silma Ihram of the Muslim Women’s Association said such policies have “ramped up the sense of fear and isolation in the community.”
And as she pointed out, Labor has been “led by the nose”. To their shame, they have given in principle support to the legislation without even seeing it. They are now raising questions about court oversight. The opposition will need to come from elsewhere.
By Amy Thomas