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Whistleblowing and other new crimes

  • 26 June 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been known to extol 'Western civilisation' and the democratic traditions that underpin Australia. Without question, things like the Westminster system and the rule of law are venerable British colonial legacies.

They form the architecture of a functional society, along with separation of powers, due process and transparency. We need only consider the alternatives to sense the disorder held in check. Yet these principles have become brittle under the Abbott government in its first term.

Over the past fortnight, magnified in part by the anniversary of the Magna Carta, there has been a focus on proposed or enacted diminutions. Ministerial revocation of citizenship even when it could render an Australian stateless is still on the table. Government MPs Philip Ruddock and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells are undertaking 'consultations' on sole citizens, with the Prime Minister saying on Tuesday, ' I expect that in the months to come the government will have further legislation in this area'.

Meanwhile, ministerial discretion is being reframed in terms of automatic 'revocation by conduct', wherein the minister is said to merely 'notify' rather than adjudicate the status of an Australian without a court conviction. The bill introduced this week includes ministerial powers to retrospectively deport someone already in jail for a terrorism conviction.

Both sides of federal government assume that the public shares their priorities around immigration and national security with the same intensity, which may well be true. But it would be an awful indictment on Australians if they take such priorities to supersede the very things that insulate them from arbitrary state decisions and political fetishes.  

For instance, citizenship or nationality is a fundamental human right because certain freedoms and rights spring from it: freedom of movement and association, the right to vote and own property, and freedom from discrimination. There is an entire international legal framework against arbitrary deprivation of nationality, which recognises that a stateless person is vulnerable to human rights violations.  

Ministerial discretion over citizenship therefore can't be a replacement for court processes and penalties which already deal with those instances in which a citizen has broken the law or whom authorities deem to be dangerous. It is executive overreach, jeopardises due process and not how democracies work.  

Such distortions have already found expression in law. From July 1st workers involved in immigration detention, including doctors and teachers, are subject to two years imprisonment for speaking publicly about what they witness. In