by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government moved in parliament today to prevent Australians with dual citizenship returning to this country if they join foreign terrorist forces overseas.
They would, effectively, be stripped of their Australian citizenship.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had described this – in a television interview earlier in the day – as a “modern form of banishment.”
He also said shortly before his controversial bill was tabled in Parliament, that the government is still discussing what should be done, in cases in which the person involved holds only Australian citizenship.
Mr Abbott originally wanted to give his immigration minister power to revoke citizenship without conviction, in such cases.
However that plan was revised amid concerns it might breach the constitution.
Under the government’s revised bill, Australians will automatically renounce their citizenship if they train, recruit or finance terrorists inside or outside Australia.
It will be examined by the Parliament’s security and intelligence committee.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott told Liberal party delegates today that his government is “repaying the faith” that voters placed in it at the last Federal election.
Addressing the New South Wales Liberal Party’s State Council in Sydney, the Prime Minister said: “I can tell you that we are repaying the faith that you placed in us – that the Australian people placed in us – in September of 2013. ”
He named – and praised – several members of his ministry, then said:-
“We went to that election with a very clear message.
“We said we’d scrap the carbon tax, we’d stop the boats, we’d build the roads of the 21st century and we’d get the budget back under control.
“And that is exactly what we have done and what we are doing.
“The carbon tax has gone – and every Australian household is better off to the tune of $550 a year.
“The mining tax has gone – and Australia is once more a safe place to invest.
“No less than $1 trillion – $1 trillion, $1,000 billion – worth of new projects have been given environmental approval since the election by this Government and there could be no more clearer demonstration of the fact that this country is well and truly open for business than that.
“The boats have stopped.
“We all know what was happening under our predecessors.
“Under the Rudd-Gillard government, more than 50,000 illegal arrivals by sea, almost 1,000 boats.
“Shamefully, more than 1,000 deaths at sea.
“And yes, over $11 billion worth of border protection budget blow-outs.
“Well, I can say that under this Government, as far as we know, there have been no deaths at sea and for almost 12 months.
“There have been no boats whatsoever.
“We will keep this country safe.
“And keeping our country safe starts with keeping our borders secure.
“And that is exactly what this Government has done.
“That is exactly what this Government will always do,” Mr Abbott said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is still rejecting calls for clarification of reports that it bribed the crew of an asylum seeker boat, to turn back towards Indonesia.
The Opposition pursued the issue throughout question time – and beyond – when parliament resumed today, with the Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles, describing the reports as “simply outrageous.”
But the response of Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, was blunt.
He noted that Labor had called for a clear statement on the issue and said:” Here is a clear statement.
“We stopped the boats.”
In a radio interview last week, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, refused to either confirm or deny reports that an Australian official had given the captain and crew of the asylum seeker boat wads of cash.
But he also said the government would stop the boats “by hook or by crook.”
Mr Dutton told parliament that it was a matter of record that 1, 200 people had drowned at sea, while Labor was in office.
And 4,200 children had arrived in Australia and were taken into detention, while Labor’s Chris Bowen was Immigration Minister.
Labor attempted to censure the government, over the issue, after question time.
But its censure motion was lost, 82-47, on a party line vote.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott refused – again – today to say whether Australian officials had paid people smugglers to turn their boat back towards Indonesia.
Addressing reporters, at a doorstop interview in Canberra, the Prime Minister said:” There’s really only one thing to say here and that is that we have stopped the boats.
“That’s good for Australia
“It’s good for Indonesia
“And it’s particularly good for all of those who want to see a better world.
“Because if the boats start again, the deaths start again.
“None of us should want to see deaths at sea and the only way to avoid that is to ensure that the boats stay stopped, “Mr Abbott said.
Indonesia has asked the Australian government if reports of such payments are true.
The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, is also demanding clarity on the issue.
He said:”It is now time for Mr Abbott to make it clear.
“Has taxpayers’ money, Australian taxpayers’ money, been paid by the Abbott Government to criminal people smugglers or not?
“Australians deserve that answer,” Mr Shorten said.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott hinted today that Australia might take a more active part in fighting Islamic terrorists in Iraq.
Addressing an anti-terrorism conference in Sydney today, the Prime Minister said:”We’ve sent a strong military force to the Middle East to hit Daesh from the air and to train and assist the Iraqi army to retake their own country.”
And he added:”We are talking with our friends and partners about how the air strikes might be more effective and how the Iraqi forces might be better helped.”
Mr Abbott also said:”American leadership is indispensable here as in all the world’s trouble spots.”
And he added:”At home, we are trying to ensure that Australians don’t leave this country to join the 15,000 foreign fighters already in Syria and Iraq.”
Mr Abbott was speaking after US President Obama, announced that he would send up to 450 more military advisers to Iraq, to help local forces.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia is “dancing with the devil” in its intelligence sharing deal with Iran, according to a former intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie.
Mr Wilkie, now an independent Tasmanian MP. told the ABC that Iran is the last nation Australia should be swapping sensitive information with.
He said the deal, reached by Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop: “…might be good political theatre for the Government, but it’s complete and utter madness from a security point of view.”
Mr Wilkie said the Iranian government uses torture to extract sensitive information.
Ms Bishop, who has just visited Tehran, announced Iran had agreed to trade information on Australian citizens fighting in Iraq, as part of efforts to counter the Islamic State militia.
“They are in Iraq in places that we are not, they also have a very sophisticated intelligence network so there’s a lot of information that they’ve been gathering,” she added.
But Mr Wilkie was not convinced.
“The announcement by the Foreign Minister that Australia is entering into a security arrangement with the regime in Tehran really should send shudders down the spine of every Australian,” he said.
He said Australia risked being used as a pawn and the information could not be trusted.
“When you start dancing with the devil in a place like Tehran, then we run the risk of becoming almost as bad as those who we dance with,” Mr Wilkie said.
“They are also experts at disinformation.
“…we’ve seen this time and time again.
“…the regime in Iran will tell people whatever they want us to believe.”
Mr Wilkie said he was the only serving member of Parliament who had worked in Australia’s intelligence services and therefore had a unique insight.
“I saw first-hand some of the, and excuse the expression, the crap that was coming out of Iran, which was worse than useless because it was downright misleading,” he said.
He said Australia should not accept intelligence that comes from torture.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was seeking further details about the deal and would take a steady and considered approach.
“I’m not naive,” Mr Shorten said.
“Iran’s a very sophisticated country with a different view of the world to Australia and so we need to keep our eyes open whenever we deal with them.”
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced today that Lieutenant General Angus Campbell will be the new Chief of Army from May 16.
He also announced that Air Vice Marshal Gavin Davies will become Chief of the Air Force from July 4 after he is promoted to Air Marshal.
by Alan Thornhill
Will she stop there?
After a day of humiliation – and a sensational eye-roll – that went viral – Julie Bishop emerged victorious.
Her day had started badly, with being humiliated on air, when it became clear that Ms Bishop knew nothing of a plan to make further “small cuts” in foreign aid.
Even though she is, arguably, Tony Abbott’s most successful minister.
That was reported in Mr Abbott’s favourite newspaper, The Australian.
So it wasn’t too hard to make a connection.
That dark thought was confirmed in parliament, later, as the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, was bloviating, about the virtues of the Expenditure Review Committee launched, many years ago, by Malcolm Fraser.
Julie’s eyes rolled and her head sunk into her hands.
It was clearly all too much, for a foreign minister just back from cyclone-devastated Vanuatu, where she had learnt, all too clearly, just how important foreign aid can be, in Australia’s neighbourhood.
There could be no doubt about Ms Bishop’s dismay.
Especially as there had already been an $11 billion cut in Australia’s foreign aid, the biggest single cut in the Abbott government’s first budget, last May.
Ms Bishop’s very public breakdown, in parliament, came at a critical time.
This week’s sittings will be the last, before parliament rises, ahead of its budget sittings in May this year.
More particularly, Ms Bishop’s clear expression of disbelief came on the eve of a, perhaps critical, Liberal party meeting.
The Abbott camp panicked.
Senior ministers were quickly sent around to assure Ms Bishop that – despite that story in The Australian – there would – indeed – be no further cuts to foreign aid, in this year’s budget.
Bishop takes Treasurer, to extend the chess image.
But, to repeat the question, will she stop there?
Readers will recall that the first challenge to Mr Abbott’s leadership was led by another West Australian Liberal, Dennis Jensen.
And Mr Jensen must have been encouraged by the unexpectedly high 31-69 support he got for a spill.
Tony Abbott, himself was chastened.
However, despite his promise to do better, he continues to embarrass the Liberal party, most recently with an inappropriate jibe, based on a reference to the Nazi regime.
But will his opponents, within the Liberal party, seek another spill, today?
Politically, the dangers are obvious.
Just ask the Labor party.
However, Mr Abbott’s opponents also see risk in leaving him where he is.
And today’s party meeting will be the last chance they will get, to remove the Abbott-Hockey team, before the imminent budget.
Things have changed since the last – unsuccessful – move against Mr Abbott, earlier this year.
He had no clear rival, back then.
As one critic put it, only “an empty chair” was against him.
But, by late yesterday, the victorious Julie Bishop was looking quite prime ministerial.
And Malcolm Turnbull was invisible.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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