Over the last few months, the Australian political class has been consumed by an unprecedented crisis that reveals much about the character of our political life. This controversy involves those parliamentarians who hold, or are entitled to hold, dual citizenship. Those persons who hold Australian citizenship and can have, or do have, citizenship of another country, have been subjected to an extraordinary campaign of media questioning and scrutiny – bordering on McCarthyite hysteria.
Over the months of June and July, two serving Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, were informed that they were no longer eligible to continue their parliamentary terms. They resigned their positions soon after. What was the reason for this? Both were entitled to hold, or did hold, dual citizenship. Ludlam, born in New Zealand, has lived and worked in Australia since infancy. Waters, born in Canada to Australian parents, has also resided in Australia since she was an infant. She has never lived or worked in North America.
These resignations occurred within the context of an already bitterly divided and unstable Australian Senate. The Turnbull government called a double dissolution election in July 2016, proposing the rationale that the previous Senate was too divided and unstable, making it impossible to govern effectively. Whether that was the case or not remains debatable. Be that as it may, Turnbull displayed his particular genius – for taking a messy, unworkable situation, and making an even greater catastrophe out of it.
The July 2016 reduced the Turnbull government to a razor-thin majority of one seat – and produced an upper house composed of a collection of right-wing populists, anti-immigrant politicians, Christian fanatics and independents. Since then, the Australian federal government has been wracked by crisis and infighting, with various political groupings vying for influence as Turnbull scrambles to implement his government’s programme. It is in this context that the media campaign, primarily lead by the Murdoch flagship The Australian newspaper, against dual citizenship has taken place.
This furore over dual citizenship, emerging out of unclear circumstances, has now engulfed politicians from the major political parties as well. While the Greens Senators were the first victims, currently politicians of all persuasions are hurriedly scrambling to ‘prove’ that their ‘Australianness’ is unsullied by any association or connection with a foreign power. Even the serial pest, climate-change denier and all-round buffoon Malcolm Roberts is being grilled about his connection – to Britain. The One Nation senator is guilty of many things – he is an ignoramus, an embarrassingly ill-informed conspiracist and anti-immigration racist. There are many reasons to oppose him. Is he a servant of a foreign power? No, he is not.
It is interesting to note that with the case of Ludlam and Waters, the countries that relate to this dual citizenship controversy are New Zealand and Canada. The allegation, underlying much of this manufactured furore, that dual citizens pose a dangerously disloyal, potentially treasonous element in the body politic is preposterous in the extreme. It is worthwhile to note some relevant background here.
Australia is one of the countries that actively participates in the Five Eyes agreement. This is a multilateral intelligence-sharing arrangement where the involved parties cooperate in intelligence-gathering, military and espionage matters. The countries involved in this arrangement are the United States, Britain, Australia and – New Zealand and Canada. The latter countries share aspects of common law, colonial-settler history, and political loyalty at least since the end of World War Two. However, we are lead to believe that any Australian who holds citizenship with these countries is a potential traitor.
Perhaps we should be worried about foreign espionage in Australia, but we are examining the wrong people. There are spies in Australia – working for the United States. The latter country has a long history of recruiting, among others, persons inside the labour movement, to provide information and intelligence. For instance, none other than former Foreign Minister, Sydney-born Bob Carr, was marked as a Washington asset inside the NSW labour movement. For over 40 years, Carr provided information the internal politics of labour organisations, and he has dutifully served as a ‘moderate’ – that is to say, pro-American – influence inside the Labour Party.
The disqualification of the Greens Senators – and the current threat looming over other politicians – is the result of Section 44 of the Australian constitution. This section – an archaic clause in an equally archaic document – states that “Any person who is under acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or citizen entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.” This section is part of a document that was drafted by people who defined the newly emerging Australian nation as an outpost of British colonial rule – the First nations of Australia were excluded as a matter of course.
The 1901 constitution, composed by the founding fathers of white Australia, was never intended as a document to include non-British nationalities – far from it. This constitution was created precisely to preserve the British character of the new nation, and it reflects the ideology of the newly-rising Australian capitalist class of the time – as an outpost of the British race, opposed to any intrusion by any non-white influence, in particular Asian migration. It is no accident that the authors of the constitution saw themselves as British subjects first. One of the authors of the constitution, and first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, made his views very clear about maintaining the purity of the white race in frequent debates in the Australian parliament.
It is true that we have come a long way since then. However, the current dual citizenship outcry and the demand for ‘true blue’ politicians serves two purposes. Firstly, the conservative government is using undemocratic measures to oust its opponents in the federal parliament. Having lost his July 2016 gamble, Turnbull and his political allies are attempting to undermine whatever opposition exists in the senate to shore up his crisis-ridden, scandal-plagued and incompetent government.
Secondly and more importantly, we are witnessing the Trumpland effect on Australian politics. The anti-immigrant xenophobia is being ramped up by political parties that are posturing as opponents of the unequal status quo. In earlier articles, I described this effect as the Ukip-ization of Australian politics. That phrase was coined by sociologist and blogger from Britain, Richard Seymour. In Australia, we have focussed our anger and energies on migration, and turned it into a toxic issue. Turnbull has adopted one of the central planks of Trumpland – turning immigration into a security issue. Immigrants are no longer viewed as people making a life for themselves, but as potentially disloyal elements in the wider society.
That last point leads us to make a final observation. Turnbull is not the Trump of Australia, but he is following in the footsteps of Enoch Powell. Known for his stridently anti-immigrant views and a champion of Friedmanite free-market libertarian economics, Powell gave rise to Powellism – the view that immigration undermines a socially cohesive society. The modern proponents of Powellism are either unaware, or wilfully deny, that social cohesion is undermined by economic policies that promote inequality. It is this growing inequality – not mythical ‘swamping’ by migrants – which requires the immediate attention of all politicians, and the necessary measures to reverse this increasing gap. Reversing Powellism demands that we follow the lead of Jeremy Corbyn.