Image for NATION: Mr Abetz ... and the anomaly of citizenship ...

First published July 31

Explosive revelations rock our sleepy island-continent this week as a plot to bring down a plane with an “improvised explosive device” is thwarted in Sydney in yet another timely Coalition terror alert while Labor dares suggest that a bigger threat is the inequality which is tearing our nation apart, just as the time bomb of section 44 (i) of our constitution wreaks havoc in North Queensland.

Happily, North Korea obliges with another diverting missile show. Our media replays its spooky tape of goose-stepping men in uniform with recklessly big hats and bad haircuts. A war with North Korea would last for ever judging by the way you see the same missiles fired endlessly. For a moment we forget our local woes and hiss the international villain.

Back to earth and some shocking news. Casa Canavani, home of the Federal Minster for Adani, Flat-earther Matt Canavan is in tatters. Many other MPs are at risk of a 44(i) gone rogue. Twenty MPs - at least risk being found ineligible.

Barnaby Joyce whose father was a New Zealander is hoist with the 44 (i) petard. Joyce maintains he’s not a Kiwi because he was born in Australia and he never applied for NZ citizenship.

Yet the 1948 British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act (Section 7), which was in place in New Zealand when baby Barnaby was born, clearly states:

“Subject to the provisions of this section, a person born after the commencement of this Act shall by descent be a New Zealand citizen by descent if his father was a New Zealand citizen at the time of his birth”

Barnaby need not resign but he should, in good faith, declare his situation and add his case to the High Court, for consideration, too. The same goes for Eric Abetz.

Eric Abetz has yet to document his timely renunciation

Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz has yet to document his timely renunciation of German citizenship. Indeed, his case is an anomaly of interest to the High Court, surely, given reports that he was ineligible to enter parliament when he did, initially filling a casual vacancy.

Legal action over Eric’s ineligibility was eventually withdrawn but only because the time to lodge objections to his initial appointment and his first election “win” had expired.

Abetz has yet to keep his promise to provide a copy of a letter he says he wrote to the German Embassy in 1993 renouncing his citizenship. Instead, Tassie Liberals attack Labor’s Justine Keay.

As befits our tribal politics, a witch hunt is unleashed. Tasmanian Labor MP for Braddon, Keay, said by ABC to be “dodging queries” has explained via social media that she formally renounced her UK citizenship before nominating as a Federal candidate and that she has provided proof to the ALP.

Section 44 (i) is, however, set to unseat recently-renounced dual citizen, PHON’s Malcolm Roberts, all seventy-seven votes of him. His bijou senate spot will now go to Pauline Hanson’s sister, Judy Smith, who is itching to hop aboard the clan’s Jabiru, despite its problematic provenance.

MPs scramble to check their mothers’ passports, recipe books and other signs of dormant dual nationality. A mercurial Malcolm Roberts embraces an impossible number of positions in quick succession. No change there.

He clearly was once a Pom, as well as a Planet Zorgian and he has a go at renouncing his UK nationality on The Today Show and by email - as if being a PHON member isn’t worldly renunciation enough. His showmanship will be missed.

“I am choosing to consider I never was British”

“I am choosing to consider I never was British”, says the nation’s top empiricist, in a backhand swipe, perhaps, at Australians who identify as Indigenous, perhaps confusing empiricism with solipsism. That settles the matter.

Some cry foul. Others say the unwritten rules and conventions the Constitution relies upon are not worth the paper they are written on. Yet our Constitution is a tribute to our federating fathers’ quest to create the best business environment they could for themselves. It bans anyone who:

“Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power.”

Always keen to strike a pose on the world stage, meanwhile, Australia is keen to join its secret arms trade partner, Saudi Arabia on the UN Human Rights Council, when the UNHCR accuses Immigration Minister Dutton and his team of deception in its US refugee swap double-deal.

Cross-examined by hostile Coalition Inquisitor, ABC’s Leigh Sales, Volker Turk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, responds that Dutton gave an undertaking that 36 refugees from Manus Island could join close family in Australia. He explains the nature of the assurance.

“(Dutton) didn’t give us assurances because we didn’t present cases yet. But he did agree that we would be able to present such cases.”

Michelle Grattan suggests it would be too Machiavellian to suggest Dutton’s gang would give the impression of having cases looked at while they had no intention of reviewing them favourably.

In his best diplomatic manner, Turk condemns the damning shameful human rights big picture …

... people who are refugees are effectively punished

“… what we have seen is a deterrence policy. It’s a border protection policy with a slippery slope where, indeed, people who are refugees are effectively punished. Part of that punishment is also how they deal with people who have family links in Australia.”

As Gillian Triggs, Human Rights Commissioner, mercilessly pilloried and persecuted by Abbott, Brandis and News Corp, the Turnbull government, like its punch-drunk predecessor, says on retirement this week, Australia is ideologically opposed to human rights. Poor fellow my country.

Supremo Dutton, meanwhile, who will acquire even greater power when he heads up our super-ministry of Home Affairs, in reward for his loyal support of the PM, is unavailable for comment.

Equally under-examined is our Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop. Her pro-US line on China has triggered a ban on our chilled beef and sheep exports. Six processing plants have been stopped.

Processors claim the bans are in retaliation to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s recent comments over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.  Yet China may well accuse us of hypocrisy.

Australia is critical of China’s artificial islands and its bellicose posturing but we continue to bully our tiny northern neighbour Timor-Leste (East Timor) over rights to gas reserves in just the same way we accuse China of behaving in the South China Sea.

Strong-arming the weak and defenseless is Coalition policy, abroad as much as at home.

No drama. Help is on its way. Smooth-talking Trade Minister Steve Ciobo - not-an-Italian-citizen - says it is “a very significant situation” and the Government has “mobilised quickly” to engage Chinese authorities on the issue.

The Bishop doctrine of denial shows blithe over-confidence ...

Whew. That’s all sorted then. We can all go back to our happy families living in democratic, rules-based harmony under US power.  The Bishop doctrine of denial shows blithe over-confidence in an imaginary friend. US leadership in Asia under Trump will be unlike any other. Now that’s a real and present danger.

Luckily, by Saturday, the bomb plot which Abbott-appointee, AFP’s Andrew Colvin says is “Islamic inspired” is discovered just as a couple of TV crews happen to be right outside. The bust is nicely timed for Prime TV and helps deflect attention from a Prime Minister who is in hiding all week.

No-one dare ask Colvin where he’s up to with investigating Pauline’s Jabiru. Or with the NBN busts timed so well for last election. The polite fiction of AFP independence and competence continues. Expect more lecterns and updates. We are in an era of government by announceables.

It matters little now to citizens of our democracy that 24 hours pass and no charge is laid. Rule of law? Separation of powers? So easy to extend detention without any charge with our beaut new anti-terror laws to keep everybody safe.

A dual citizen witch-hunt or alien alert, if you prefer, and an anti-Muslim dog-whistle terror distraction divert few from this week’s main show. Spoiler alert. The plot continues as follows.

Turnbull goes missing in inaction. In a searing new episode of Upstream Downstream, our nation’s epic soap opera, Matt Canavan is outed as an alien and Barnaby Joyce’s front bar gaffe pulls the pin on a Nats Murray-Darling basin boondoggle, revealing the scheme to be a scam.

First to a bar in Shepparton, packed we are told with local farmers, agog to hear Barnaby, as ever. He speaks their language.

“We’ve taken water and put it back into Agriculture [ministry] so we can look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show, basically sending you out the back door.”

... traded in this stolen water, profiteering from its illegal sale

Barnaby means he’s helped wealthy cotton irrigators to help themselves to billions of litres of water, paid for by taxpayers to ensure the environmental health of the Murray Darling system. Some farmers may have traded in this stolen water, profiteering from its illegal sale.

The program exposes what appear to be seriously corrupt dealings between politicians, public servants and a few big irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin.

Not only is the alleged rort a national scandal, Joyce’s behaviour is shocking. Rather than exercise his own responsibility as Minister for Water, he accuses ABC’s Four Corners of trying to “create a calamity” over its allegations of water theft.  In the interim, he seems to collude with irrigators. In any other government he’d be tendering his resignation.

Instead, Joyce goes missing until late in the week when the tape of his Wednesday address to farmers in Shepparton surfaces. The tape confirms his contempt for any environmental concern and implies he is in collusion with the water thieves. For any other minister it would be curtains. In any other government he’d be fired.

Agile Mal is on to it. After a long talk with his deputy, they decide that this is not a federal matter. How could the Federal Water Minister be responsible? NSW can sort itself out. After all Baird sorted out ICAC before he retired. Didn’t he?

By Sunday, Phil Coorey reports that the PM has ordered a national review of water compliance in the best Yes Minister tradition of diverting a crisis into a review rather than follow up what seem serious allegations of criminal misconduct made in the program. It beats real leadership.

The PM is silent, moreover, over Canavan. He must be gone for all money. Not a word about Matt, The Accidental Italian which wins performance of the week for its opening number alone - Mum’s the Word.

He’s turned into an Italian

Mum’s the Word is a show-stealing multicultural number with slick ensemble work. It features Signor Canavan, Adani’s champion and family. Matt tears his hair with passionate self-loathing. No. He struts and frets. No. He’s turned into an Italian. No. Tell me it’s not true. I tell you I signed nothing. No. I have never been to Italy. No. An alien?

Canavan mugs the camera. He’s beside himself with conflicted loyalties. Is it witchcraft? Too much grappa?

No, Matteo. Not stregoneria. Worse. Motherly love. In a captivatingly coy cameo debut, Matt’s Mama, Maria, La Contessa Canavan, faithful wife of convicted felon Bryan, confesses. She’s kept everything from her son. The papers. The passport. The whole Italian job. Her secret for ten years.

Wife of Bryan is top contender for the week’s best spin-off for its sensational revelations alone. In 2007 when Canavan Snr was sent to the Big House for seven years for fraud, a provident Maria was inspired to take out Italian citizenship for herself and her children. As you do.

A quick family chat in 2006 and the subject was never again mentioned by anybody. Nor were the Italian government voting papers which arrived on three occasions ever forwarded nor was Matt’s brand-new passport ever sent on to him.  The script is pure farce, pure Dario Fo.

Not a word, even, of praise for Maria’s miracle: making Matt an Italian without his having to sign anything or produce ID. Embassy staff and other dual nationals even claim the feat is impossible.

The Australian recruits our sympathy for battler Bryan. Had to sell a string of properties in 2006, we are told, after he and a colleague were investigated for embezzling $1.6 million from Nestle. Clearly a better class of felon.

Suspense sky-rockets thanks to our PM’s studied under-performance. In homage to Conan Doyle’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Malcolm Turnbull, lies doggo all week, despite a scandalous turn of events which could easily cause his government to lose its tiny majority.

Could it be that his recent OS trip and his bid to convert Menzies and the Liberal Party to lower case L over-taxed him. Or the government’s continued tanking in News Poll and Essential?

... his shit-eating grin and camera handshake with Tony Abbott would be taxing ...

Certainly his shit-eating grin and camera handshake with Tony Abbott would be taxing. The encounter was billed as a fight to the death, yet, on the day, Turnbull turned the other cheek. Tiring.

Worse, he supported the NSW Liberal Party Warringah motion plebiscite, which will enable Tony’s backers to stack branches with right-wingers; safeguarding Abbott’s own pre-selection.

Perhaps the PM’s just hiding the egg on his face. When Greens Senators, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum, woke up to discover they were still dual nationals, the PM was quick to sink the slipper.

“It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you have had two out of nine Greens senators didn’t realise they were citizens of another country. It shows incredible sloppiness on their part,” Turnbull sneered.

Schadenfreude aside, the PM could acknowledge that Waters and Ludlum couldn’t resign from Parliament quickly enough. Yet, now that Canavan’s in trouble, it’s the law that’s at fault.

Of course, Matt may be above the law - the Coalition default option for cabinet ministers. He’s certainly acting that way. With unseemly haste, the government rushes to protect its own.

Signor Canavan proclaims he has “legal advice” that he is not in breach of Section 44 (i) of the constitution. He’s appealing to the High Court. The matter will be referred 6 August. It’s a useful gag and a standard tactic by government MPs in trouble to avoid any further scrutiny. Fat chance.

... Brandis has a brilliant mind until it is made up

Legal advice? The law holds that ignorance is no excuse. What Canavan means is that he’s been persuaded not to resign by legal genius AG George Brandis. George just loves Matt’s defence of “My Mum did it”. Incisive. Like Malcolm Turnbull, Brandis has a brilliant mind until it is made up.

Matt is a man of the people, at least in North Queensland and our coal-fired national press.

Naturally, he is also a News Corp star for his advocacy of mining, his climate-denial, his right-to-lifing, his support of protests outside abortion clinics and his war against green vigilantes. Environmental groups must be prevented from any advocacy. They sabotage coal mines.

In brief, Matt is framed as an archetypal innocent trapped by events beyond his control. He is quick to protest his ignorance. The Sergeant Schulz defence goes over well in The Australian and with Andrew Probyn.

I know nothing. Mama is to blame he says. You have to understand. He has never been into an Italian embassy or even eaten pizza. Bravo, Matteo! Rave reviews follow.

Godfather to his children, his former employer, (Matt was his Chief of Staff) and an old family friend, an impartial Barnaby Joyce attests to Matt’s “incredible” character. Not the wisest choice of epithet in the circumstances, he realises, binding it with a running superlative or two - “exemplary character; exemplary person.” Barnaby nuance. Media pundits agree he’s a good minister.

Of course there’s no show without Punch. Think-tanking, our Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison tops last week’s top trick, Tudge’s Fudge, a redefining of poverty out of existence whilst continuing a war on the poor.

... shouting everyone down and calling Bill Shorten a liar ...

This week ScoMo banishes inequality simply by shouting everyone down and calling Bill Shorten a liar. It’s a fantastic trick. Such a boon to the mindlessly tribal approach the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition has brought to politics.

And it’s personal. All week, a servile ABC repeats Morrison’s nonsense that inequality is a contested area and simply one of Evil Bill Shorten’s Mediscare fakes. Perhaps the Coalition’s sole achievement has been to turn the name Bill Shorten into a pejorative term - at least to their own tribes.

Nerding up with graphs, ScoMo puts the Gini Co-efficient back in the bottle in a Duttonesque demonstration that whatever evidence you may think you have, he alone knows the truth.  Besides, he leers, social inequality is something Bill Shorten invented in a naff attempt to cash in on trendy-lefties Jeremy Corbyn and Sanders’ popularity.

The week ends with a government in crisis over water, our most precious resource. No inquiry or review will siphon off the public anger and sense of betrayal. Turnbull’s side-step will only lower his negative leadership ratings.

The Murray-Darling Basin scandal helps confirm that this government has not the slightest commitment to environmentalism. Sadly it fits into a long established pattern of environmental neglect from the Great Barrier Reef to land-clearing. Its evasive, cynical response, alone, to say nothing of its failure to exercise due diligence, however is yet another compelling indication that it is unfit to govern.

Ironically, the Murray-Darling water rort is also a grotesque illustration of some of the flaws of trickle-down economics, if any more evidence were needed, while the witch hunt for aliens in parliament; those MPs who have not yet renounced their dual citizenship is fed by an ugly, irrational, intolerance abroad in the land.

For this a government which substitutes the threat of terror to compensate for real leadership has only itself to blame. For Malcolm Turnbull, moreover, the water scandal and his weak response this week is a reminder that the Faustian pact with the Nationals which helped him to become leader is rapidly working to depose him.

*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.

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