In many cases, buying into a conspiracy theory may result in an instant loss of credibility. However as reality becomes increasingly more absurd and Government policy more outrageous, what may once have seemed ludicrous now verges on genuine possibility. Friday the 28 August 2015 will go down in history as the day the citizens of Melbourne stood up against a police state and fascism. It will also be remembered as one of the most appallingly planned and ridiculously thought-out operations by a Government agency ever. And it demonstrates just why the instant revocation of citizenship in the proposed Allegiance to Australia Act is so incredibly dangerous.
Just weeks ago, the notion of Abbott’s paramilitary Border Force, prowling the streets of Australian cities and towns, searching for ‘visa fraudsters’ would have been laughed off as lunacy. The very thought of immigration and customs officials leaving their posts on the actual border of the nation and mingling among Saturday shoppers in the CBD of Melbourne would have been written off as an April Fool’s Day joke.
But no. Friday’s events showed that national security is no laughing matter for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the now-missing-in-action Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. The suggestion of potential identity checks of thousands of Australians meandering through the CBD was not so much of a suggestion, as part of an actual, real, planned inter-agency ‘safety’ operation with Victoria Police.
Astoundingly, the Australian Border Force issued a statement inferring that officers would be checking the visa status of people who crossed their paths on an ordinary weekend in Melbourne. There was no high profile event to warrant the operation, no actual security risk or suspected imminent incident of a terrorist nature. No. It was part of a crackdown on antisocial behaviour and outstanding warrants and to promote a ‘secure and cohesive’ community.
While Friday’s events were analysed, examined and ridiculed endlessly from every angle in the hours following the debacle, the whole concept of on-the-street visa checks ties in quite cleanly with another of Abbott’s new national security policies.
Earlier this year Abbott introduced the Allegiance to Australia Bill, which sets up a number of circumstances under which dual citizens may lose their Australian citizenship. While in some cases an actual conviction for an offence is required, there are many other cases where a person automatically renounces their citizenship by action.
Section 33AA of the Bill provides that where a person ‘acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia’ the renunciation has immediate effect from the moment the person does that action. Naturally, once the Minister becomes aware of the act and renunciation of citizenship, the person may be detained and deported.
The actions considered to be inconsistent with Australian allegiance include such things as engaging in terrorist activities; providing or receiving training connected with preparation for, engagement in, or assistance in a terrorist act; and financing terrorism or a terrorist. According to the University of Sydney’s Dr Rayner Thwaites and Dr Anne Twomey, a highly respected legal expert, the broadly worded provisions potentially apply to many innocent dual citizens. It means a law-abiding science or chemistry teacher, gym instructor or a member of a shooting club could inadvertently revoke their Australian citizenship if the skills they imparted or shared later helped a person commit a terrorist act.
As if this isn’t concerning enough, organisations such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd have been labelled as terrorist organisations, as have other environmental groups. People protesting against mining are considered such a threat, ASIO has reportedly spied on them.
Of course, the Allegiance to Australia Bill has not yet become law, but section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 already allows the Minister to cancel the visa of any Australian resident who is not a citizen on a range of ‘character’ grounds. The ‘test’ does not require any actual criminal convictions or any proof of criminality; not that the Minister has to provide the evidence used for a decision anyway if he can cite ‘national security’. The Minister basically decides a person is not of the calibre expected of an Australian resident and abolishes their right to live in the country – no matter how many decades they may have called Australia home.
With 28% of Australians born overseas, and an estimated third of Australians thought to be dual citizens, there are potentially millions of Australians at risk of detainment and deportation. Approximately 600 visas have already reportedly been cancelled by the Minister on ‘character grounds’ in the past year alone.
Which raises the question – just which ‘visa fraudsters’ was Mr Don Smith and his Border Force officers intending to intercept?
Many commentators have pointed out the absurdity of notifying visa over-stayers of an operation cracking down on illegal immigrants. Clearly those without lawful authority to be in Australia would have stayed clear of the Melbourne CBD.
But now, consider the operation was jointly between Victoria Police and other agencies, including the Border Force. According to Victorian Police Minister, Wade Noonan MP, it was a standard police operation focusing on antisocial behaviour and to ensure the safety of the community. He accuses Border Force of ‘unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation’ of the joint venture.
This may be so, but it does raise serious questions about how such an operation, if it had continued, would have been carried out. How many people, lawfully in Australia, holding permanent resident visas, would have been potentially caught up in the fishing exercise? How many would find themselves suddenly detained on the murky grounds of failing to meet the ‘good character’ requirements of the Migration Act? There need be no criminal offence committed, conviction or even evidence provided. What constitutes ‘antisocial behaviour’, and would suspicion of such warrant the immediate detainment and deportation of a New Zealand national, for example?
And if Abbott has his way and the Allegiance to Australia Bill becomes law, how exactly does Dutton intend to ‘discover’ those automatically renouncing their citizenship? Will the sight of Border Force agents patrolling shopping centres and malls be a regular and common occurrence? Will the Border Force be sent out to catch dual citizen commuters automatically revoking their citizenship by dropping a gold coin donation in a Wilderness Society tin? Will Border Force agents be pouncing on dual citizens buying chemistry sets from the National Geographic shop?
The ramifications of Friday’s aborted operation are huge. Despite Victoria Police seeing sense and cancelling the ridiculous event, the fact it was planned in the first place is cause for alarm.
The concerns about Border Force and Operation Fortitude has gone beyond racial profiling. Are we in the midst of a national cleansing program?