National security? How about some national maturity first

While watching the final episode of the ABC documentary, The Killing Season, amid the delusional and revisionist retellings of history by ALP insiders, the one part that stuck out was the scene of Tony Abbott standing in front of the “Ju-liar – Bob Brown’s Bitch” sign.

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He had appeared on the stage after Angry Anderson had warmed up the crowd with jokes about how the sign ought to have been “politically correct” should have read “Bob Brown’s female dog”.

Australian politics reached a dark and stupid place that day and Tony Abbott not only rejoiced in it, he has done his level best to keep it in that space.

The most obvious sign of how he has kept it there is his ever more over-the-top rhetoric on national security – all done in the desire to wedge the ALP while also pretending to value “bi-partisanship” on the issue. 

Last week, when the ALP timidly provided some opposition to the government’s proposed laws to strip dual citizens of their citizenship, Tony Abbott suggested in parliament this was the ALP saying to terrorists, “‘Please come back. We want you back. We will roll out the red carpet. We will roll out the welcome mat. Just come back.’”

It was a comment of such breathtaking idiocy that the speaker of it should scarce be trusted to hold sharp objects let alone hold the position of Prime Minister.

In 2007, when John Howard was struggling to deal with the rise of Kevin Rudd, he also turned to national security to try to lift his standing, and portray the ALP as soft. He suggested in an interview on Channel 9 that “If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats”.

It was a line so bereft of sense that it signalled to voters and even those in his own party that his time was up.

Yet fast forward eight years and we have a Prime Minister suggesting the opposition is the friend of terrorists and not only is he happy to repeat the line, he suffers very little criticism for it.

We are at the point now where Tony Abbott, or one of his ministers, could pretty much say anything on national security no matter how outrageous, and there would not even be the hint of a line having been crossed.

Australian politics has become an idiots’ paradise.

And there was a lot of idiocy around the appearance this Monday on Q&A of Zaky Mallah.

Mallah, who pleaded guilty of threatening to kill an ASIO officer and was acquitted of terrorism charges, asked the panel what would have happened if his case had been decided by the Minister and not the courts.

Regardless of whether you think Mallah a pathetic loser – and certainly given his awful tweets in which he suggested Newscorp columnists “Rita Panihi and Miranda Divine [sic] Both need to be gangbanged on the Sunrise desk” you’d have strong justification to believe him to be such – his question that night was a good one.

It went to the separation of powers – and the belief as Dee Madigan, who was a panellist on the show, noted that having the courts merely reviewing a Minister’s decision was effectively forcing people to prove their innocence.

On the panel was the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Steve Ciobo and he suggested that he would “be pleased to be part of a government that would say [to Mallah] that you’re out of the country as far as I’m concerned.”

Ciobo suggested that Mallah was “acquitted on a technicality” because “at that point in time, the laws weren’t retrospective”. 

“Acquitted on a technicality” is one of the dumbest phrases anyone can utter. All law is technical. It’s why people go to university to study it. People don’t get found guilty on the vibe of the law.

A minister of this government should be very aware of the importance of the technicalities of the law because it had to rush through changes this week to make its off-shore processing actually legal.

Also, one should always get a bit worried when a member of government starts bemoaning the fact that a law was not retrospective – especially given, as was the case with Ciobo, he was wrong about Mallah’s legal situation.

Ciobo actually received a lot of applause for his response, and then Mallah suggested that,  “The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL because of Ministers like him.”

Again, we have a statement hardly dripping with intelligent nuance – but it was no less stupid than Abbott’s about the ALP rolling out the red carpet to terrorists. And it was scarcely some kind of call to arms that has been suggested since.

Personally, I think putting Mallah on the program was incorrect purely because of his tweets about Devine and Panihi. I’m all for different people being allow to have a say, but the bloke had already demonstrated on the public forum of Twitter that what he has to say – and it’s not worth bothering with.

Mallah’s appearance also just set off a round of stupidity that implied the ABC was in some way on the side of terrorists (or at least against the government) and that Mallah in some way spoke for young Muslim men.

There are a hell of a lot better examples of intelligent young Muslim men in Australia that the ABC could have turned to ask the same question to the panel.

But now we’re in the sphere of you either disagreeing with Mallah or you being against the government. To the point where Tony Abbott suggested the ABC replaying the episode was a compounding of “that betrayal, if you like, of our country, about giving a platform to this convicted terrorist.”

Rubbish.

You can think both Mallah and the government’s national security laws are wrong (and let’s just ignore that Mallah was not actually convicted of terrorism).

But it’s unlikely you’ll see the ALP seek to show itself opposed to the government about such attacks on the ABC or any national security issue.

The reports are that the ALP will pass the changes to the ludicrously titled “Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015” even though it would open the possibility of dual citizens losing their citizenship for merely destroying or damaging commonwealth property or even being a whistleblower.

Given the rush for the ALP to duck for cover whenever Tony Abbott accuses them of being weak on national security, it would not be surprising if the ALP on the joint committee on intelligence and security sides with the government in recommending the new laws be retrospective.

Perish the thought the ALP would present an alternative, principled position – not enabling an era where the Prime Minister can suggest doing so means they are welcoming of terrorists.

Maybe those in the ALP, however, might pause to contemplate that the political debate is now at the point where even basically going along with the government sees it being attacked by the government as traitors.

Perhaps it might be time to show the public whether it stands for more than just avoiding being wedged by the Liberal Party.

Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.