Is bipartisanship on national security cracking?
The Opposition has already signalled that it will capitulate to the government on its foreign fighters legislation, even though it has not accepted all the recommendations of the federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). It is becoming familiar, as the Opposition capitulated on the future drought fund yesterday, and on the income tax package earlier this month. Labor leader Anthony Albanese defended his approach this morning, and accused the government of acting like an “Opposition in exile”, which is a bit of a mindbender. But there is more than shallow politicking at stake here: the practice of bipartisanship on national security is cracking.
In a statement today, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally pointed out that since 2013 the government has accepted every single recommendation of the committee, and “should not jeopardise or politicise the important work of the PJCIS”. Andrew Hastie, chair of the committee, may yet have some explaining to do.
Senator Keneally’s statement says that of the 18 substantive recommendations made by the PJCIS, the government response rejects four, partially implements six and ignores one. Keneally adds that “further, there are now new provisions in the legislation which the PJCIS has never considered”. Like Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, who was interviewed on RN Breakfastthis morning, Keneally calls for the government to release the solicitor-general’s advice that shows the legislation is constitutional. But Keneally also makes clear that Labor supports the government’s intention: to allow the home affairs minister to issue temporary exclusion orders to stop foreign fighters returning home.
Andrew Hastie has not been afraid to assert his independence from the government as chair of the PJCIS: he went public to identify Chinese billionaire Chau Chak Wing as being the subject of a foreign bribery investigation by the FBI during the debate over Australia’s foreign interference laws, and was interviewed on the ABC’s recent Four Corners, for example, on Chinese influence in Australia. Now, on foreign fighters, he should stand up for the work of his committee, which is under increasing scrutiny and has just been tasked with reviewing the whole raft of national security laws impinging on press freedom and whistleblower protection in Australia.
As the Greens and others have long argued, the PJCIS is a closed shop – a two-party stitch-up with no crossbench representation – which has allowed Australia to slowly drift into becoming the police state we suddenly feel like we’re in today. The practice of bipartisanship on national security has been a stultifying influence on our political debate more generally, and if it is going to break down that may actually be a good thing. But if the government wants the PJCIS to work, surely it should not just pick and choose from the bipartisan recommendations the committee makes – and the chair should not sell short the work of the other members. There’s more at stake than the pros and cons of the foreign fighters legislation.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The Opposition has already signalled that it will capitulate to the government on its foreign fighters legislation, even though it has not accepted all the recommendations of the federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). It is becoming familiar, as the Opposition capitulated on the future drought fund yesterday, and on the income tax package earlier this month. Labor leader Anthony Albanese defended his approach this morning, and accused the government of acting like an “Opposition in exile”, which is a bit of a mindbender. But there is more than shallow...