Australasian Spartacist No. 233
Canberra's Chauvinist Citizenship Circus
MPs Hoist With Own Petard
DECEMBER 12—Over the past five months a veritable conga line of federal MPs have been forced to resign because they were deemed to possess, or be entitled to possess, citizenship of another country as well as Australia, thereby breaching the Constitution as regards holding parliamentary office. One Washington Post correspondent dubbed it “Australia’s own ‘birther controversy’,” referring to the insistence by right-wing nut-jobs that former U.S. president Barack Obama was really foreign-born. In many respects, this is more absurd. Most MPs have been booted out because of a parent’s birthplace, while others are under a cloud because of where a grandparent was born! So far this nationalist purge has claimed nine scalps, and briefly cost the ruling Liberal/National Coalition government its slim majority. Underlining the farcical nature of this “democratic process,” one of those selected to replace the terminated politicians received only 19 votes in the last election!
One can’t but derive a certain amount of bitter amusement from the spectacle of politicians of varying affiliations being caught in the pincers of an increasingly nasty chauvinist environment which many of these same MPs have promoted and overseen. It is also not a bad thing that the ensuing instability of parliament has temporarily hindered the capitalist rulers’ anti-working-class agenda.
At the same time, as was made clear in the High Court ruling that disqualified five MPs from office, the citizenship imbroglio signals that the ruling class will allow no exception in their demand for unqualified allegiance to Australian imperialism. The incessant flag-waving and bugle-blowing—conducted mostly in the name of a supposed “war on terror”—is the means by which the capitalist rulers seek to line up the population behind their imperialist wars abroad and justify their evisceration of democratic and working-class rights at home.
Marxists oppose this reactionary parliamentary purge. As unsavoury as these politicians are, dual citizenship is no sin in the eyes of the working class. We oppose any laws discriminating against people on the basis of their birthplace or ancestry. We stand for full citizenship rights for all who have made it to this country. This includes guest workers, overseas students and desperately oppressed asylum seekers (see article above).
For much of this year, the government has been trying to push through changes to make it harder for immigrant working people and their families to gain citizenship. A June bill, struck down in October, included changes that required applicants to have near university-level English and to demonstrate they are “behaving in a manner consistent with Australian values.” As the history of this country proves, these “values” uphold a culture of racist, sexist white pigs. For its part, the Labor Party opposed the bill not least because it put up barriers to people being able to pledge allegiance to Australia. Indeed, a future Labor government would require every schoolkid to learn and regularly recite the citizenship pledge.
There already exists a permanent subclass of well over two million Australians who do not have citizenship. They cannot vote, cannot freely go in and out of the country, and can be deported. The whole citizenship frenzy deepens a climate of fear and racism where those without citizenship can be targeted as suspected fifth columnists and potential threats to the Australian state. In 2016-17, over 4,000 immigrants were refused citizenship, including for alleged involvement in “extremist” organisations. In December 2015, the government arrogated to itself the power to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals who it deems to have “terrorist” links.
Anti-China Scare Campaign
Now, in the context of U.S.-led sabre-rattling against China and North Korea, the media has been ratcheting up a hysterical, racist and anti-Communist campaign against “undue” Chinese influence in Australia. Using this as a lever, the government seeks to ram through draconian new laws that expand the definition of treason and espionage, and create new offences against “unlawful foreign interference.” They would ban donations to political groups (including unions) from “foreign entities” and non-citizens, as well as establish a “foreign agents” registry, with jail terms for those who fail to register. Promoting its cause, the government revved up the witchhunt against right-wing ALP senator Sam Dastyari, long vilified as a treasonous stooge of China. Dastyari, who today announced he would resign, is especially reviled for telling Chinese journalists in 2016 that vis-à-vis the disputed South China Sea, “The Chinese integrity of its borders is a matter for China.”
China has hit back at the Turnbull government and Australian media for its “racial paranoia.” A Chinese embassy statement attacked reports of Chinese meddling as fabrications “filled with cold war mentality” and reflecting “typical anti-China hysteria.” Indeed, the ruling class seeks to recreate the political climate of Cold War McCarthyism, making any questioning of the U.S.-Australia alliance and the drive to war verboten. As for foreign meddling in Australian political affairs, you can’t go past the CIA’s role in the 1975 ousting of the Whitlam Labor government. Whitlam particularly drew the ire of the CIA when he started making noises about the U.S. bases in Australia. This included the highly secret Pine Gap base in central Australia, then key to Washington’s counterrevolutionary designs against the Soviet Union and now with its sights on China. (See “The CIA, the Queen’s Agent and the Man Who Got in the Way,” ASp No. 225, Autumn 2015.) We demand: U.S. bases out now! Down with Australian imperialism! Down with the anti-China witchhunt! Defend the North Korean and Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers states from imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution!
The Ties That Bind
The “all-Australian” deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, is now back in parliament, having renounced his New Zealand citizenship and re-contested his seat. However plenty more politicians face disqualification as Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition cynically compete to knock off one another's MPs. But it was the Greens that gave this issue legs. Eager to prove its devotion to Australian capitalism, the party fully supported the resignation in July of two of its senators when they realised they held dual citizenship. As the “crisis” unfolded, the Greens then threatened to call on the Governor-General to dissolve parliament! The dual citizenship prohibition for parliamentarians has gained bemused interest internationally. As ABC News noted, “dual citizens are currently welcome—with a few caveats and clauses—in the parliaments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany and New Zealand, among others.” The ban is all the more notable in a country where 49 percent of the population were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.
Actually, the Constitution, adopted in 1901 at the time of Federation, contains no reference to Australian citizenship. The sole civic status noted is that of “British subject,” a consequence of Australia’s origin as penal/settler colonies of the British Empire. Keen to prove to the Motherland that their ex-convict colony was more British than the British, the nation's founding fathers choked on the republican connotations of the word “citizen.” (Couldn’t have the spectre of the French Revolution disturbing the English aristocracy’s tea parties!) Of a piece with this, the arcane Australian Constitution does not pretend to guarantee individual rights (even for white men). “British subject” remained the only formal civic status in Australia until the proclamation of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 establishing Australian citizenship.
When Japan’s army took Singapore during the Second World War, the shocked Australian bourgeoisie realised they could no longer rely on the Motherland to defend their White European outpost in Asia. As the sun began to set on Britain’s massive colonial empire at the end of World War II, the ruling class was keen to ensure there would be no visitations from any of the millions of Asian and dark-skinned peoples in the rapidly decolonising world. The 1948 Act establishing Australian citizenship sought to instil nationalist sentiment and make clear who was not permitted to be Australian. It was the brainchild of racist ALP immigration minister Arthur Calwell. Under the slogan of “populate or perish,” Calwell initiated a post-war “Whites Only” migration policy. When not enough “Aryans” could be persuaded to migrate, others from northern and later southern Europe and the Balkans were deemed “white enough” to qualify. At the same time, Calwell doggedly pursued the deportation of Chinese and other Asians, many of whom had made Australia “home.”
With the fall of Singapore, Australia transferred allegiance to its new U.S. big brother, now the indispensable lifeline for the defence of fortress White Australia. However, unable to sever “the ties that bind,” it remained a deeply loyal member of the British Commonwealth. During the 1960s, the census continued to require Australian citizens to declare their nationality as British. Anyone who went to school during this time cannot forget the words to God Save the Queen.
Today, the representative of the British monarch, the governor-general, remains commander-in-chief of the armed forces and official head of state. Lest anyone thinks that the latter position is decorative, it was Governor-General Sir John Kerr who officially dismissed the Whitlam government in 1975. Of course, Kerr took his cue more from Langley, Virginia than from Buckingham Palace. The British monarchy is a deeply ideological assertion of social privilege and rigid social hierarchy, a rallying point for reaction. The ties that still bind Australia to the English monarchy are an affront to the working class and to elementary democratic principles. We say: Down with the monarchy! Abolish the post of governor-general! And while at it, get rid of that other undemocratic vestige of the Westminster system, the Senate. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!
White Australia to Its Bones
The Constitution that politicians today are lining up to swear undying allegiance to is the birth certificate for a nation state founded on genocidal wars and total dispossession of the original inhabitants, along with exclusion and expulsion of other “non-whites.” One of the first laws passed by the Australian parliament was the White Australia policy. Even while the 1948 Act established some sort of Australian citizenship, the country’s original inhabitants were still long denied the rights of citizens. In many cases treated as wards of the state, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ families were broken up and the most intimate personal decisions (including who they could marry and where they could live) rested in the hands of government “protectors.”
The celebrated 1967 referendum removed the two negative and only references to Aborigines in the Constitution. Supported by a massive “Yes” vote, the referendum amended the Constitution to allow the long-overdue counting of Aboriginal people in the Commonwealth census and remove the exclusion of Aboriginal people from its “Race Powers” clause. The latter change gave the federal government power to make laws in relation to Aborigines and was widely seen as a way to undercut harsh, discriminatory state laws. In reality, however, by amending this clause of the Constitution, the referendum reaffirmed the power of the federal government to make special laws based on race. Such laws in the past had been used to expel dark-skinned people from the country. Fifty years on from the landmark referendum, life remains brutal and grim for the majority of Indigenous people. (See “NT Intervention: Ten Years of Heightened Racist State Terror,” ASp No. 232, Spring 2017.)
The overtly racist clauses of the Constitution have been a source of mild international embarrassment for recent Australian rulers. Thus, in 2012, the Gillard Labor government set in train a campaign for “Constitutional Recognition” of Indigenous people. This was to build support for a referendum to expunge the racist clauses and simultaneously give paper recognition to the existence of the original inhabitants. This campaign culminated in a July report by a Referendum Council hand-picked by Prime Minister Turnbull and Opposition leader, Bill Shorten. After understandable anger from many Aboriginal people at having to seek “recognition” from their racist oppressors, the Council recommended the creation of a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous body to advise parliament on Aboriginal matters.
Even this tokenism was too much for Turnbull’s government. They unceremoniously killed the proposal, its Council and the whole five-year multi-million dollar exercise. One could rarely find clearer confirmation that today’s capitalist rulers and their parliamentary representatives march in the footsteps of the colonial conquerors who carved White Australia out of the living body of Aboriginal peoples. To hell with the bosses’ parliamentary circus! For a government of workers councils, forged in revolutionary struggle by the multiracial proletariat. The Spartacist League fights for proletarian rule, where all working men and women will be accepted regardless of race, creed or colour, as part of a socialist brotherhood of Asia on the road to a world communist society.