In what appears to be an extraordinarily detailed leak from a Federal Cabinet meeting, Fairfax political editor Peter Hartcher reports on a ministerial backlash against the notion of removing Australian citizenship from those accused of terror-related offences. The proposal came from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and had the support of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison.
However, if the evidence of “people present in the room” is to be believed, Ministers Turnbull, Joyce, Pyne, Bishop and Brandis were all dismayed that Australia’s rule of law should be trumped by a single minister’s discretion. Education Minister, Christopher Pyne is reported to have said, “This is a matter for the judiciary to decide, not the minister”. And Attorney General George Brandis reminded all of his bailiwick, saying, “I am the Attorney-General. It is my job to stand for the rule of law”.
Ms Bishop’s objections were two-fold. Firstly, that the idea was unworkable (i.e. would another nation really grant citizenship when Australia had just revoked it?) and secondly that there was no discussion paper.
As a side note, it appears that despite the lack of ministerial briefing papers, the matter had already been shared with the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and headlines the next day said the proposal would be included in the bill that Cabinet had approved the night before.
Hartcher’s report was the subject of much discussion on Barrie Cassidy’s Insiders program, with the leak being described by commentator David Marr as the biggest bomb to come out of Cabinet in 30 years, or perhaps seven years, by a clearly exasperated Gerard Henderson.
Watch the Insiders commentary.
Peter Hartcher’s report confirms that policy on the run seems to have taken over in Canberra with Australian citizens’ rights under threat.
It is little wonder that this matter has been leaked. When experienced senior ministers are presented with a policy that threatens our rule of law – without a basic discussion paper – alarm bells should ring. When this suggested policy has already been shared with a News Ltd. tabloid newspaper in the somewhat arrogant belief that it will slide though, then proper Cabinet procedures have been ignored.
So what does an annoyed senior minister do? They go to News Ltd.’s opposition publisher Fairfax Media and share the full details of ministerial objections to a measure that would see the person being stripped of Australian citizenship on the whim of the Immigration Minister. It is instructive to note the quoted exchange between Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull on this matter:
(Turnbull) “A person’s citizenship is of enormous importance, intrinsic to themselves. Take me. The only people who’ve lived in Australia longer than my family are Aboriginal. I have no other identity. Are we seriously saying some minister could take my citizenship?”
(Dutton) “Only if you’re a terrorist.”
(Turnbull) “Only if you are someone the minister thinks is a terrorist”
Happily, it would appear that the proposal to strip Australians of their citizenship by Ministerial decree will not proceed. But what remains of concern is that the notion of breaking yet another of our international obligations (as signatory to the UN convention to prevent statelessness) seems to be of little importance to our Prime Minister. We already ignore conventions on the rights of refugees, so it seems that rights are a low priority for a government that continues to ignore the ‘rules’. So the fact that Cabinet confidentiality has been breached should come as little surprise.
What do you think? Is this a storm in a teacup? Or are fundamental rights under threat? Is it disloyal for a cabinet minister to leak to the media?