Walter Hamilton. Why I am an Australian citizen

Current Affairs.

Amid all the howling about terror, treason and the ABC, Australians seemingly have lost the ability to stop, listen and think. Everyone is in such a hurry to outdo the next person in vilifying and repudiating the ‘other’, whether it is a Muslim Australian, a political opponent or a commercial rival. I can’t remember when the fabric of public debate has been so tattered by prejudice, ignorance and a determined refusal to listen to the other point of view.

I am not a regular watcher of ABC-TV’s Q&A; I don’t like the format, and I feel sometimes it has been part of the problem in the way issues are debated and analyzed in this country. So this is not a defence of a particular program or a particular voice on that program. What I want to say, however, is that if we prefer silence to allowing the expression of opinions that annoy or exasperate us therein lies a terrible danger. Only totalitarian states prefer the elevator music of perfect agreement.

Let me just say this about the individual concerned. Critics constantly remind us that he is a convicted criminal, as though any citizen who has been punished under the law is no longer entitled to a voice. This idea should be anathema in a democracy, and yet it plays straight into the government’s campaign to curtail the citizenship rights of a specific group of people through the use of powers that emanate from outside the judicial progress.

The ABC’s managing director Mark Scott made an important point this week when he emphasized the distinction between a public broadcaster and a state broadcaster. The ABC was part of Team Australia, he said––repudiating Tony Abbott’s slur––because it played the necessary role in a democracy of providing a forum for debate free of political interference.

As further evidence that people don’t listen, a member of the Greens then criticized Scott for allegedly sacrificing truth to patriotism. He had missed the point completely: the ABC should not, and does not, stand outside Australian society; its role is to strengthen the social fabric by giving expression to all its parts.

And then there’s the debate over how the families of dead ISIL fighters from Australia should be treated.

I was astonished to hear Labor’s Bill Shorten join the ugly chorus of ‘I wouldn’t let my kids near him’ in reference to the seven-year-old boy coaxed by his father into posing for a photograph with a severed head in Syria. The boy was seven, Bill. Talkback radio has been full of voices repeating the same mantra: shun him; we don’t want them back; let them fetch for themselves. Unclean, unclean!

Once upon a time Australia used to be referred to as a Christian country. Even today, beneath the intolerance for the Muslim veil and beard is an affirmation of ‘Christian’ superiority. What became of the central Christian principle of forgiveness? What became of the core Australian principle of fairness? Should we not be reaching out to those Australians, wherever they are, whose lives have been marred by the actions of others, fanatical fathers and possibly mothers?

Tony Abbott says they will be treated just the same as the families of other criminals. Of course, none of these ISIL fighters has been convicted of anything in a court of law––though perhaps that’s too nice a point during this time of bludgeoning debate. In any case, as I have already pointed out, being a convicted felon (and having served your time), according to some people, is now sufficient reason for the ABC to need to exclude your voice from the airwaves. Perhaps all ex-cons should be stripped of their citizenship? What are the limits of the politics of vilification?

Perhaps you heard in the news this week that the city of Kobane, near the Syrian border with Turkey, was cleared of ISIL by Kurdish militias after months of fighting. Western news media entering the city found a scene of total destruction: not a building intact, a vast grey pile of rubble. Within a day, ISIL elements were back in the city on a savage rampage against the civilian remnants.

In this sort of contest, there is no ‘to the victor, the spoils’; total warfare means total destruction. For liberal societies such as ours, the challenge we face is not to be the first to don fatigues and lay waste (rhetorically or otherwise) to any and every perceived opponent, before he ‘gets’ us. The challenge is to preserve the reasons for our opposing violence, intolerance and oppression, and live out those reasons every day in the way be conduct our civil society.

We must not tear down the institutions and the laws that protect us from within, as we attempt to mount a defence against perceived and real threats from without. Pause, listen and think.

Walter Hamilton reported for ABC for more than 30 years.

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2 Responses to Walter Hamilton. Why I am an Australian citizen

  1. John Tulloh says:

    The Howard cabinet, of which Abbott was a prominent member, set the example with its relentless support for the prosecution of David Hicks even though he had broken no Australian law.

  2. Philip Heiner says:

    Current debate on pending amendment to the Australian Citizenship Act appears to be a distraction from a more serous issue.

    Australian-born? No we’re not.
    Australian citizenship law is under review. Notably missing from public eyes is real debate on the limited power Parliament has to legislate. No one born in Australia can lawfully be Australian.
    “I think it would be a mistake to give to the Federal Parliament the power of determining the qualifications of citizenship under the Commonwealth.” “The Commonwealth has abundant power to legislate as regards those who come from outside, and it cannot legislate, even if you put such a power as this in, as regards those who are here already.”
    These words are Mr O’Connor’s in drafting the Constitution to limit parliamentary power on citizenship found in Official Record of the Debates of the Australasian Federal Convention, Third Session, Melbourne, 2 March 1898, vol. II, pp 1750, 1754. His view won outright. http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=third%20session%20Dataset%3Aconventions;rec=10;resCount=Default
    Back when the Constitution was drafted, the new Federal Parliament was sandwiched between the powers of the British Empire and the States of Australia being federated. Citizens were defined under State law and united as British subjects defined under UK Parliament. Without an imminent need for Australian citizenship, the Constitution granted no power to define it. Parliamentary power was limited to affairs on naturalization and aliens, and immigration and emigration: laws affecting those entering or leaving Australian shores. Parliament was and still is unable to make laws affecting the citizenship of “whose who are here already”; the natural-born Australian. In accordance, the Constitution established no jurisdiction on citizenship to any court in Australia. The Constitution has not been amended to alter the summary of Mr O’Connor.
    None the less Parliament of Australia enacted the Australian Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. Laws exceeding constitutional power include Section 10 defining citizenship acquired at birth: born in Australia or to an Australian parent, and Section 17 defining how natural-born citizenship is lost. The sections cannot be law unless the People of Australia grant Parliament the power to make them. No referendum has asked the question. Six months before the Australian law came into force the British law defining nationality in Australia ceased to operate. Since 1948 no valid law defines nationality at birth in Australia. A loop hole? An oversight? Not likely.
    Every Parliamentarian knows but all remain silent. Rather than work towards amending the Constitution to provide the necessary power on citizenship for Australian-born, Parliament distracts with debate on terrorism. But deferring the matter to a future government puts all Australian-born at ever greater risk with changing demographics and world politics. Australian citizenship at birth will eventually be declared invalid. The facts are plain. A referendum to amend the Constitution just gets worse in time. Who votes? The Constitution grants no right to vote and it is most likely the naturalized Australian with a valid citizenship determines the fate of the Australian-born without. Notably the most recently elected Prime Ministers are naturalized Australians.
    Until the Constitution is amended and legislation is made lawful, all babies born in Australia are equally not Australian. Outrageously a slick setup involving the Australian legislative, execution and judiciary branches of government operates to conceal the flaw in law for over 60 years. Australian-born would prefer the government acts to protect our rights into the future.

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