Scapegoating minorities may reap a bitter harvest

The non-toned down version of our opinion piece

As Lawyers, Mothers, and Australian Muslims, we are deeply committed to the rule of law, civil liberties and social cohesion. We rather hesitantly attended a Federal Government “consultation” on Tuesday regarding the Australian Citizenship and the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia Bill) 2015. This is despite our “engagement fatigue” in a context where many members of the Australian Muslim community are urging a total withdrawal from further engagement with the Abbott Government.

We were disappointed but not entirely surprised that key Muslim organisations and youth organisations seemed to be excluded from these face-to-face “consultations”. In fact, we only happened to have been invited on recommendation from a colleague in Melbourne. When we queried this – we were told that face-to-face consultations were “not a primary method of consultation” and that apparently, the mind numbing Citizenship paper was emailed to various organisations. That has been the extent of the rather shambolic “consultation” process regarding citizenship.

The fact that the Abbott Government’s extent of engagement with the Australian Muslim Community is largely confined to pressing send on an email, at a time where mistrust between the Australian Muslim community and the government is at an all time high, is incredulous to say the very least.

These semi-secret consultations, where the majority of attendees are cherry picked, are a reflection of the systemic disingenuous “consultations” held with the Australian Muslim community.

For the record, we do not believe that any amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act are necessary, proportionate or productive. Existing legislative provisions already equip the Government with rather robust ways in which to tackle the terrorism threat. In fact, we are very concerned that the amendments will result in “ex-citizens” becoming stateless, permit the indefinite detention within Australia of affected persons, breach our international legal obligations, contribute to global insecurity and allow a Minister to effectively play judge and jury.

The Bill, as well as the consultations regarding citizenship and the rhetoric used to frame them is nothing less of socially corrosive. The majority of the other participants present at Tuesday’s consultations broadly echoed these same sentiments.

If we continue to allow our political leadership to politicise national security, Australia risks reinforcing terrorist propaganda. The same propaganda that Australian Muslims are being asked to develop counter narratives to.

There is no evidence that this Bill will act as a sufficient deterrent – in fact it may risk making martyrs of those caught up by its tentacles who may parade it as a ‘badge of honour’. Daesh and their ilk will use it as propaganda to aid in their recruitment drive.

The Australian Muslim community, whom by default have become Australia’s most frequently used scapegoat of the last decade, have had to stomach some incredibly divisive rhetoric from the Prime Minister. Whilst Abbott’s gaffes often land him in hot water, his complete disdain and seemingly deliberate, irresponsible commentary surrounding Australian Muslims is not only deeply damaging but, in our view, contributes directly, a deep sense of alienation in many parts of the Muslim community.

Consider Abbott’s mischievous attempt to connect the abandoning of the s18C Racial Discrimination Act changes to the Muslim community (despite the fact that the provisions do not actually cover us), his “Team Australia” rhetoric (as specifically referenced in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s report title Gen Y Jihadists: Preventing Radicalisation in Australia); his indirectly labeling Australian Muslims as “migrants”, (nearly 40 per cent of Australian Muslims were born here), and perhaps the most offensive of all, his remarks around ‘western leaders describing Islam as a ‘religion of peace,’ and that he’d “wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”

Well, we wish that Tony Abbott and his colleagues would admit “more often” that they are consciously peddling xenophobic views that demonise Australian Muslims because it pays political dividends, “and mean it”.

That’s not a simply a tongue in cheek remark, in 2011, the Immigration spokesman for the Opposition at the time, Scott Morrison allegedly urged his colleagues to capitalise on the electorate’s concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate – a grudging admission that demonising Muslims will help them in the polls.

It goes without saying that we are as just as concerned about Australia’s national security and wish for nothing more but to raise our children in a safe and harmonious Australia.

It’s exhausting however, waking up and day after day, to a relentless (and often disproportionate) focus on terrorism and its implied or specified links to Islam and Australia’s almost 500,000 Muslims. Consider momentarily the impacts this reality has for young Australian Muslim children in particular, who are forced to grow up in an environment in which Islamophobia, which feeds radicalization has become mainstream.

Meanwhile three-quarters of Australians believe domestic violence is as much or more of a threat than terrorism, according to recent polling but our Prime Minister is too busy telling Australians that “ISIS are coming to get us” to notice. Even Malcolm Turnbull seems to be of the view that we risk overstating the terror threat.

During the consultation, government officials stated that “citizenship is a very different thing to what it was in 1948”. This is simply, untrue. Citizenship remains a right (with responsibility). Not a privilege. A right. To have our political leadership assert a contrary position is undemocratic and sets a foundation for an assumption of “unequal citizenship”. These nuances are repackaged by designated terrorist organisations for use in their propaganda.

We will not be the rubber stamps, the token consensus, or grateful for a seat at the table or a photo opportunity. We will not keep banging our heads silently against the brick wall in frustration. We cannot afford polite pussyfooting, as our country’s character, our international reputation, our security and frankly, lives are on the line. We suspect that the Australian Government is aware of that and that is the reason why attendees to consultations are cherry picked.

As we left the consultation, we were informed that a report will be prepared and furnished to Minister Peter Dutton and the Prime Minister’s Office. The main Government officials heading up the consultation were unsure as whether the submissions or the Report for that matter would ever be made public.

Scapegoating minority groups and engaging in chest beating about national security has never failed to serve as an effective political ‘distraction’. In fact, it’s worked wonders for previous governments who have faced an uphill battle in the polls. The Tampa/Children Overboard scandal helped effectively hand John Howard his 2001 election victory. Tony Abbott is, in our view, actively manufacturing his Tampa moment.

Mariam Veiszadeh and Lydia Shelly are both Lawyers and Community Advocates.

Published version: