First published as a guest post for Menzies’ House at http://www.menzieshouse.com.au/?p=6257
As the Australian Coptic Movement prepares to rally in Sydney this weekend after the Mediterranean ocean ran with the blood of 21 Coptic Christians, the stakes for action on terrorism couldn’t be higher.
Meanwhile, a week after the arrests of Fairfield residents Omar al-Katobi and Mohammad Kiad on the verge of another lone-wolf style terrorist attack, Leader of the Greens Christine Milne has branded Prime Minister Tony Abbott ‘desperate’ and ‘divisive’ for his claim that Australians have been ‘taken for mugs’ by terrorists.
Ms Milne has called for Prime Minister Abbott to turn from his clamping-down rhetoric of ending the ‘benefit of the doubt’ within the immigration and welfare system and urged him instead to support her recently introduced ‘Social Cohesion Bill’ to quell the threat of terrorism.
If passed, the Social Cohesion Bill to which Milne refers would establish a taxpayer-funded Centre for Social Cohesion, complete with Director, Deputy-Director and research staff, whose role it would be to “foster dialogue”, “distribute emerging knowledge” and “coordinate programs”.
The Bill pledges to bring together “government, law enforcement agencies, academics, researchers, and former extremists” in a national, centralised body to build “resilient communities”.
In a more cautious form of criticism, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has warned Prime Minister Tony Abbott that any politicisation of anti-terrorism measures will risk Labor’s bipartisan approach, while stopping short of ruling out Labor’s support for major reforms on metadata or the revocation of Australian citizenship.
Mr Shorten wrote to the Prime Minister in a letter of February 9 to express his “disappoint[ment] that recent media briefing has sought to politicise the development and considerations of anti-terrorism legislation.”
Milne has decided upon on a community-focused rhetoric which presupposes that it is members of the average Australian’s own tribe who fall prey to terrorism, just as some of our young people experiment with hard drugs or young men engage in ‘coward-punch’ style attacks when intoxicated.
Milne’s idea is that any aim to demonise the perpetrators of these social ills is ‘divisive’ and low, given that the perpetrators are from within the community. However, it is clear that for Australians, a narrative of incursion from outside our society, not radicalisation from within, resonates most strongly.
It is true that al-Katobi and Kaid were dubbed Australian citizens by governmental agencies, but Australians are increasingly loath to accept that documentation equates to belonging, in a clear diminution of the perceived value of citizenship.
Al-Katobi entered Australia as an Iraqi national under another person’s identity in 2008 and received both Newstart allowance and citizenship shortly after claiming political persecution. Kaid entered on a spousal visa and roundly dumped his bride shortly after receiving permanent residency.
In the light of this gleaming record, these men are viewed not as Australians who betrayed their true identity and turned on their fellow citizens, but as hostile outsiders who gamed the system of a country foreign to their own. This narrative means that Milne and her ilk will find that their rhetoric fails to connect with the concerns of everyday Australians on this issue.
Indeed, one of the most common social media comments to appear on news sites when it is reported that Australian citizens have fought for ISIS abroad is the refrain that these individuals ‘were never really Australian.’
It is noteworthy that readers of the left-leaning Sydney Morning Herald overwhelmingly voted in favour of Abbott’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals engaged in terrorism: 83% offered in-principle support, 10% opposed the idea of revoking citizenship, and 7% were not sure.
Clearly, Australians want to see government align the rubber-stamp threshold for Australian citizenship with our own threshold of a truly Australian identity within the mainstream community.
Politicians would do well to dispense with band-aid solutions to hostile elements within our society. Labor or Liberal, leaders must start speaking to the strong realisation that many individuals living in our midst – whether they have been here for six months or six years – show no signs of being Australian in the sincere and undivided manner which citizenship would require of them.
Regardless of the unpopularity of the Abbott Government or the temptation for a Shorten-led administration to differentiate itself from the Government on this issue, only a narrative of expelling seriously hostile outsiders from the official bounds of the Australian community will hold any water in the public square – no matter who holds the reins.