The ABC and Fairfax Media tend to criticise both the Coalition and Labor from the Left. Liberal Party types who bag the likes of Tony Abbott or his predecessor John Howard from a left-liberal perspective are particularly welcome at both organisations.
This helps explain why former Howard government minister Amanda Vanstone has a Fairfax Media column and presents the (low-rating) Counterpoint program on the ABC. Her presence in print and on air can be used to demonstrate a “balance” in Fairfax Media and the ABC respectively when none, in fact, exists.
In The Age on Monday, Vanstone wrote a piece on the national security debate titled “Lazy, sneaky or both: what were you thinking, Prime Minister?”
Presenting herself as a self-declared member of the Liberal Party “team”, Vanstone wrote about her “profound disappointment, bordering on despair” when she learnt that some Abbott government ministers were considering taking away “citizenship in the blink of an eye; no appeal, no judicial process, just a ministerial decision”.
There was more. Vanstone declared that it was “simply astounding” that the Prime Minister had put himself “at the helm of a ship that throws the Westminster system of cabinet government out of the window”. Expressing her “dismay”, she went on to assert that Abbott “believes in democracy but only if he can have his way”.
It read like a leftist rant in The Saturday Paper, perhaps even the Green Left Weekly. The article did not improve when, towards the end, Vanstone claimed: “Cutting down our democratic protections to get at the enemy is profoundly dumb — we end up doing the enemy’s work for them, and from within!”
Here’s a news flash (without an exclamation mark). The so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL or Daesh, is intent on establishing a caliphate run by Sunni Islamists throughout the world. Contrary to Vanstone’s opinion, there is no evidence that the leaders of Daesh have a cunning plan to reduce the democratic protections that prevail within democracies. Rather, they want to destroy democracies and autocracies alike and establish a theocracy.
There is a genuine debate in Australia and elsewhere as how to handle the Islamic State threat, at home and abroad. This extends all the way to the Abbott cabinet as was evident in leaks about the discussion among senior members of the Abbott government (the Prime Minister himself, Julie Bishop, Kevin Andrews, George Brandis, Peter Dutton, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Malcolm Turnbull) about the implications of terrorism on Australia’s citizenship laws.
As the Australian government’s discussion paper “Australian Citizenship — your right, your responsibility” makes clear, the Abbott government “intends to modernise the Australian Citizenship Act to enable the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to take action in the national interest to revoke the Australian citizenship of dual citizens who engage in terrorism that betrays their allegiance to Australia”.
There appears to be a broad consensus among Coalition and Labor parliamentarians in support of the proposal that Australian dual citizens who fight with IS should have their citizenship revoked. This would extend the 1948 legislation which entails that dual citizens who fight with a country at war with Australia will lose their Australian citizenship.
The dispute on citizenship turns on the issue of whether the Minister for Immigration should be able, in the words of the discussion paper, “to revoke Australian citizenship where there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is able to become a national of another country under their laws and would not be made stateless”.
This is a dramatic proposal and it is appropriate that it be the subject of a wide ranging debate, to be led by former attorney-general and former immigration minister Philip Ruddock. It’s not surprising the cabinet is divided. Within the Liberal Party this proposal is opposed by some small “l” liberals like Malcolm Turnbull along with some big “c” conservatives like Cory Bernardi. Labor’s position is uncertain.
According to Vanstone, Abbott’s support for the proposition that Australia should be able to revoke citizenship where a person is able to become a national of another country is both profoundly dumb and anti-democratic.
Yet if Vanstone is correct about Abbott, then her analysis should also apply to Britain’s prime minister David Cameron. Cameron comes from the small “l” liberal wing of the Conservative Party. In other words, on many issues Cameron and Vanstone would hold similar views.
The fact is that the Cameron government has already enacted much tougher rules on citizenship than those which have been proposed in Australia. In Britain, the Home Secretary can deprive British citizens of their citizenship even if they are rendered stateless.
In other words, the British legislation covers both dual nationals and those who may be able to become a national of another country.
On Vanstone’s analysis, Cameron should be regarded as both anti-democratic and profoundly dumb. Yet he led the Tories to a big victory in the British general election last month. The combined vote of the Conservatives and the right-of-centre United Kingdom Independence Party indicated substantial support in Britain for a hard line on national security, including citizenship rights.
There is reason to believe that a similar attitude is present in Australia. According to the Essential Poll, 81 per cent of Australians approve of the proposal that dual national citizens who engage in terrorism should be deprived of their citizenship.
Moreover, 73 per cent support such an act if a person is eligible to become a citizen of another country. Vanstone’s line is similar to that of the late Malcolm Fraser who, in the latter years of his life as a critic of Abbott and Howard, used to proclaim the focus on civil liberties by Liberal Party founder Robert Menzies (1894-1978).
Yet Menzies banned the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in the early years of World War II and attempted to do so again in the early 1950s. The first time around, the CPA supported the Nazi-Soviet Pact. On the second occasion, Australia was at war with the communist regime in North Korea.
There comes a time when democratic rights have to yield to national security considerations.
Vanstone understood this during her time as a Howard government minister. Agecolumnists and ABC broadcasters do not have such serious responsibilities.