Q&A debate: The real scandal is Abbott’s citizenship laws

Tony Abbott has dragged out his unhinged attack on the ABC’s Q&A. He is aiming to bolster the case for the government’s attack on citizenship rights and push Islamophobia—and it all comes with the added benefit of maligning a traditional enemy, the ABC.

Zaky Mallah’s appearance wasn’t the real scandal of that now infamous Q&A episode. It was the comments directed at him from Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Steve Ciobo.

Ciobo lashed out at Mallah, saying he’d be, “pleased to be part of a government that would say you’re out of the country”. He wrongly declared Mallah was found not guilty of terrorism charges on a technicality, despite admitting he didn’t know the details of his case!

As Curtin University academic Ann Azza Aly asked in the Sydney Morning Herald afterwards, “Who the hell is he [Ciobo] to say Zaky Mallah should be out of the country?”

Mallah simply dared to make the correct point that government policies that attack and demonise Muslims could encourage young people considering fighting for the Islamic State.

Ciobo’s comments and the subsequent hysteria indicate the government aims to proceed with continually ramping up those attacks.

Abbott issued multiple, progressively madder, tirades, first asking the ABC “whose side are you on?”, then declaring the episode a “betrayal of our country”, urging that “heads should roll” and labelling Q&A a “lefty lynch mob”.

The front bench is boycotting Q&A, and now Abbott is demanding that the ABC Board commit to moving the program from their Television department into News and Current Affairs, the latest in a long history of Coalition attempts to politically control the ABC.

The idea that Q&A (or the ABC) is “biased” to the left is nonsense. The show allows some political debate, but within the strict limits of all capitalist media. Only the week before Mallah’s appearance, Fred Nile was given a panel seat to spout his homophobic views in the name of a debate on marriage equality.

There are now not one but two inquiries into the program—one led by the ABC and chaired by journalist Ray Martin, and another by the government. Government ministers have even attempted to discredit the ABC inquiry after Martin said some of the “rants and raves” following Mallah’s appearance had been “crazy”.

For their part, the Labor opposition have gone along with it, with Bill Shorten saying the ABC “did make a big mistake…in allowing that person to be in the audience”.

But it’s Shorten’s going along with Abbott’s Islamophobia, and cravenly supporting Abbott’s new citizenship laws, that is the real mistake.

Citizenship offensive

The government finally introduced a bill in late June. Allegedly, the Immigration Minister will not have carte blanche to strip dual nationals of citizenship, as many feared. Yet ultimate power still rests will his department and ASIO spooks.

Under the legislation, those considered guilty of a wide range of activities—based not on trial and conviction, but secret advice from security agencies—will “automatically” have their citizenship cancelled by the Minister.

Activities prompting citizenship cancellation include things such as engaging in a terrorist act and fighting with a foreign military, as well as potentially very broad categories of providing support, training, financing or recruiting for terrorists, and “urging violence” or “advocating terrorism”. That could mean those merely suspected by ASIO of supporting political groups the government considers terrorists—like Palestinian organisation Hamas or the Kurdish PKK—could become victims of the law.

Another nasty inclusion is a host of non-terrorism related offences such as treason and destroying or damaging Commonwealth property. That could mean citizenship cancellation and deportation for crimes such as graffiting a government building! Children of those whose citizenship is revoked may have theirs revoked, too.

And the government wants to go even further. One review will now consider whether laws could be retrospective, while another considers Abbott’s favoured option (dropped after Cabinet disquiet) of extending the legislation to those who are sole nationals.

Australian Bar Association President Fiona McLeod expressed the concern about the laws amongst the legal profession, saying, “We know that intelligence about weapons of mass destruction led us to war in Iraq. We know that courts are suspicious of intelligence because … often it’s obtained under duress or coerced or obtained from a source motivated by who-knows-what. But we’re trusting the ability of a public servant to assess the credibility of that information without even a full intelligence assessment.”

Neither ASIO nor the government have ever let facts get in the way of a good terror scare.

By Amy Thomas


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