Prime Minister Tony Abbott is calling for a national conversation about what it means to be an Australian citizen. In the latest discussion paper, Australian Citizenship: Your Right, Your Responsibility, ordinary citizens have until 30 June to provide suggestions on ways to develop greater appreciation of Australian citizenship and its privileges and obligations.
The discussion paper is timely as political debate rages over the revocation of Australian citizenship for radicalised dual nationals who fight in Syria and Iraq. The national debate will focus on encouraging new citizens to swear allegiance to Australia by understanding the citizenship pledge and Australia's national values.
In championing Australian values as the solution to Australia's national security problems, Abbott is drawing on an old favourite of John Howard's. The former prime minister had made Australian values his political mantra, and, in his final term in office in 2007, included them in the Australian citizenship test as a way of ensuring that migrants did not threaten the Australian way of life. Since being elected, Abbott has, rather unsuccessfully, tried to rebrand support for Australian values as a way of joining Team Australia.
Today, Abbott is not only returning to an explicit articulation of Australian values in his political speeches, but he is also borrowing from the former Howard government's idea of taking away Australian citizenship from those who do not abide by these values. Back in 2006 and soon after the Cronulla Riots, the former prime minister along with Treasurer Peter Costello and Education Minister Brendan Nelson told Muslim migrants to accept our Australian values or 'clear off''.
The move to revoke Australian citizenship never eventuated during Howard's time. Indeed, in 2002, it had been the Howard government who had legalised dual nationality in the first place. The result was that Australian values became ordinary and accepted and dual nationality became uncontested in everyday life.
Up until today. Now Australian values are back in the political limelight. And revocation of citizenship for radicalised dual nationals is seriously proposed.
These are different times that are witnessing a shift in how citizenship is being articulated. Where traditionally, citizenship and migration policies have gone hand in hand since the creation of the Citizenship Act, 1948 after the post World War II immigration program, now it is clear that citizenship is officially becoming tied to national security laws. More insidious, however, is the focus on the 'terrorist' rather than the migrant. And it is the Muslim migrant who is being singled out here.
What has changed since Howard's time is that an attack on home soil is now a reality. At the National Security Statement that followed last year's Martin Place siege, Abbott declared that his government's greatest responsibility was to 'keep Australians safe'. More recently, Abbott wrote in the Daily Telegraph that:
It is a grave concern that our nation is being challenged by people who reject our values and who are prepared to resort to violence against us …
We are developing new programs and working with communities to challenge terrorist propaganda and to provide an alternative narrative based on Australian values.
What we are witnessing is a reconfiguring of the Muslim migrant not only as someone who does not respect our values but now as someone who wants to destroy us. And it is the offspring of migrants who are the culprits.
Where once, hope was placed on this next generation to integrate, today, there is widespread belief that the second generation has turned bad. This is not merely a question of dual nationality signaling divided loyalties - many of the jihadists are not Syrian or Iraqi, or in the case of Jake Bilardi, not originally Muslim.
The irony here is that Abbott leads a government that espouses the virtues of neoliberalism, claiming less state intervention and more emphasis on individuals to regulate their conduct and yet, at the same time, is proposing such controversial and undemocratic changes to citizenship laws that will give the Immigration Minister unchecked powers.
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