The Australian federal government wants to look tough on terrorism. This has been fuelled by around 100 or so Australians who've travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with the self-declared caliphate, ISIS (Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) ... or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) ... or Daesh ... or the 'death cult' ... depending on who you speak to.
The latest brain-wave by the LNP-led government is to revoke the citizenship of Aussies who fight with ISIL or other terrorist organisations. Presumably this doesn't extend to Australians lending physical, material, financial or moral support to Israel's illegal actions and war-crimes in Palestine. But hey, I'm happy to be corrected.
After initially proposing to cancel citizenship of any Aussie who allegedly embarked on a mission to fight with ISIL, it was pointed out that it is a breach of international law to leave a person stateless. So the bill was amended to only apply to persons with dual citizenship. Apparently, it's ok to make them someone else's problem. The LNP is doing that anyway with their 'stop the boats' mantra that has stopped most boats coming to Australia but hasn't stopped the flow of refugees throughout the world. It's just made them someone else's problem. Good one, 'Straya!
So let's make alleged terrorists someone else's problem too. What could possibly go wrong?
Let's turn to contemporary literature ... or Hollywood - whatever takes your fancy ... and a book series (or movies series, if you're more of a visual person) called Divergent, written by Veronica Roth. In the series, Roth has created a futuristic world in which people are divided into five factions. However, there are those who just don't fit in and are rejected by the factions. These people become the Factionless. Spoiler alert: not surprisingly, the Factionless rise up and destroy the establishment. One of the reasons for their success is that the factions have under-estimated the power of them; ignoring them because they (apparently) don't have the technology, governance, infrastructure that makes the civilisation that the factions know and love. Ok, it's fiction, but seriously? Allowing a terrorist to return to a terrorist state is going to feed the problem, not solve it.
There are some in the LNP who feel that the bill doesn't go far enough. They want to strip these alleged terrorists of citizenship even if that will leave them stateless. However, the bill at this stage is designed to ensure that people still have a country to call home, but what happens if the other country they're a citizen of also strips their citizenship. They will be stateless. So we could end up with an army of Stateless roaming around the globe causing havoc.
Even if they're not stateless, the LNP is happy for them to not be prosecuted for these alleged crimes, but instead to become someone else's problem and congregate with other like-minded souls, unleashing terror anywhere but here.
Wouldn't it be much better to deal with any alleged terrorist by unleashing The Law on them. Isn't it better to know where your terrorist is sleeping at night than sticking your head in the sand thinking that you're safe because they were last seen galloping across the sands of Syria, AK-47 in one hand and a falafel in the other.
To think that stripping people of citizenship will somehow keep Australia safe, kind of ignores a few things. One of those is technology. See, exiling people to a deserted island in the Pacific or the Meditarranean (Patmos I'm looking at you), may have worked 1000 years ago, but today we have the interwebs.
The interwebs, or internet (whatever you takes your fancy), gives people - even alleged terrorists - access to social media. Hell, it gives them access to all sorts of media. They can use this media to recruit people by appealing to their sense of justice, sense of adventure, religion, any number of things that motivate people. ISIS is known to promise young men and women the opportunity to marry and have a phat time before going onto commit horrendous crimes in the name of the self-declared Caliphate.
So ... yeah ... what could go wrong by exiling impressionable people to a brutal, debaucherous organisation. Apart from swelling the ranks of said organisation, making things worse for the innocent victims in Syria and Iraq, the exiled disappear from the radar and potentially become an even bigger problem.
The proposed legislation, if passed, will give the Minister for Immigration the power to revoke citizenship based on suspicion of participation in terrorism. Under the proposed legislation, a person can lose citizenship simply for being an alleged terrorist. The Minister will have wide, sweeping powers that can destroy a person's life based on an unfounded, unproven allegation. What if the allegation is false? What if it was made maliciously by someone else?
Where does 'innocent until proven guilty' factor into this? Unless a person has been charged, tried and convicted in a court of law, then they are subject to the right of law which is that they have a right to defend themselves against the allegations in front of a jury of their peers.
Remember the Magna Carta? It was signed 800 years ago this month and set the tone for legal and civil rights, by removing the absolute power of the monarch and providing, among other things, the right to trial by jury. But it's not like the government cares for the rule of law.
The federal LNP has form for blaming victims and covering up torture and abuse (check the situation with asylum seekers, particularly in the gulags such as Nauru and Manus Island). It's against the law to blow the whistle on treatment of asylum seekers and the LNP has unleashed an unprecedented attack on the Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, accusing her of partisanship in an effort to distract from the very real abuse that she has uncovered in detention centres and for which the government of the day (whether Labor or Liberal) is responsible.
Former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison canceled the visa of a convicted paedophile who'd served a two year prison sentence that was suspended after six months. The 60 year old man was not an Australian citizen even though he'd lived in Australia for 48 years at the time of the offences being committed. He's parents had moved to Australia from England when he was only six years old. He held a visa that let him live here indefinitely. A psychologist had assessed him as showing remorse and posing a low risk.
Scott Morrison claims that he considered the substantial hardship and fragmentation that revoking the visa would have on the man's family, the difficulty he would have as a 60 year old settling into a country he hadn't lived in since six years old, as well as the positive contributions he'd made 'to the community through lengthy period of employment, sporting and community activities'. So Morrison revoked the visa in October 2014 and the man was held in Villawood Detention Centre.
A federal court judge ordered the man's release in June 2015, accepting his appeal that he'd been denied natural justice. The Commonwealth was ordered to pay the man's legal fees.
Most telling though was the judge stated the Immigration Minister had taken 'a sledgehammer to crack a nut'. He went on to state that 'His exercise of the discretion conferred on him, was, in the circumstances, in excess of what, on any view, was necessary for the purpose it served'.
Now the government wants the discretion to arbitrarily revoke citizenship without trial. While Immigration Minister Dutton claims that this will be reserved for exceptional circumstances, one has to wonder at how exceptional was it for the visa to be revoked of a man who had served his sentence and was deemed a low risk of offending.
While Dutton claims that citizenship would only be revoked in the most exceptional cases, governments do have a habit of politicising issues for their own benefit. Fabricated situations that come to mind are the Tampa affair, Children Overboard, the demonisation of asylum seekers and stereotyping of Muslims.
Over the last 12 months or so, we've seen massive numbers of police involved in raids on 'suspected' terrorists. In some cases up to 700 police swooping on these alleged terrorists, yet with only one or two people charged with minor crimes. The raids were a show of political strength. The outcome was immaterial. Use of revocation on 'suspected' terrorists, without due process, will be used similarly as a show of strength. What happens to the person exiled will be immaterial to the government.
So what should we do with the alleged terrorists returning to Australia? How about ... and this is a novel idea ... we charge them with offences under the various pieces of legislation that prohibit the wanton killing of innocent people or supporting acts of terror or the expansion of terrorist organisations. I'm pretty sure we have a bucketload of Acts that can be invoked. Particularly considering how excited the LNP got after 9/11 and passed all sorts of things. This means then, that the ALLEGED terrorists are subject to the rule of law and due process. It may not be surprising to learn that terrorist masterminds often use people through manipulation, coercion, threats or even unwittingly. It is imperative that before punishing someone for terrorism or any other offence, their culpability be confirmed.
Unfortunately, the LNP's suggestion is that the Immigration Minister will be judge, jury and executioner. The Minister will be the one responsible for overseeing the case and making the call on whether to revoke citizenship. They are justifying this by having judicial review, yet it is only the process under review, not the decision. The Minister is being given absolute power over a person's life when this should be a matter for the courts.
Australia's government is comprised of three branches, the Executive, Legislature and Judicial. The Legislature (House of Representatives and Senate) make the law. The Judicial, or Courts, interpret and apply the law. The Westminster system on which Australia's government is based requires a separation of these powers. The bill under discussion hasn't been seen yet, but at the moment the government has stated its intention to give judicial power to the Minister, a member of the Legislature. This would be a clear breach of the separation of power. To make it worse, the decision is being made without following due process of establishing the guilt of the accused or of giving the accused the ability to defend themselves against the charges.
The law is there to be enforced against crime. What is the point of having laws if we're just going to ignore the rule of law and exile those who've become a political play-thing for the LNP's popularity machine.
This proposed legislation is a further step along the road to a fascist state. The LNP started the population turning on itself (rather than turning on the government) by demonising asylum seekers, the world's most vulnerable. They used them as scape-goats and through convoluted logic turned the victims of terrorism into potential perpetrators of terrorism in order to feed government-created fear in the community. And this was for one reason: votes.
A fearful population is willing to give up rights and rule of law to protect themselves. Give them a scape-goat to blame and they will crucify them.
Citizens have rights. Citizens who commit crimes, no matter how heinous, have rights to a fair trial.
Worried about radicalisation? Exiling an innocent person is a great way to radicalise them. And if the accused is involved in terrorism, then exiling rather than jailing them will only feed a State of terrorists and radicals.
Note: updated 18 June 2015