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Issue #1688      June 10, 2015

Editorial

Two-tier citizens

Amid the mouthing of meaningless utterances – “The words of citizenship must mean something” “… core values …” – Tony Abbott announced that there would be changes to the Citizenship Act to give the Immigration Minister the power to strip people of their Australian citizenship. Abbott said the move is “all about combating terrorism.”

As with all foot-in-the-door laws it will not only apply to people with dual citizenship who are accused of fighting with terrorist groups: the net will spread increasingly wider; the law would strip dual-citizens if they are “suspected” of sympathising with, supporting or participating in terrorism.

Citizenship would be removed based on suspicions – no charges; no trial. How “terrorist sympathiser” and “support for terrorism” are to be defined is not stated.

The fact that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had to come out and say the changes would not allow people to be made stateless, confirms the agenda.

Abbott cited as the reason for this attack on a fundamental human right that “There are a lot of Australians overseas right now – about 100 – fighting with terrorist groups …”. Australia officially now has 900 troops in the Middle East, including fighter and surveillance aircraft involved in bombing raids.

As Julie Szego, in a comment piece in The Age (June 4), puts it succinctly; when the Prime Minister calls for a “conversation about citizenship” and the government’s discussion paper asks whether the “responsibilities of citizenship are well enough known or understood”, and whether eligibility for citizenship should be tightened, it is clear who is being talked about. And that is migrants; those who attain citizenship through bureaucratic act, rather than accident of birth.

To be precise, notes Szego, Muslim migrants, because the citizenship discussion paper is explicitly pegged to security threats in “a world in which terrorists are reaching out to our community”.

The government’s plan to give discretion to the minister to strip away citizenship and for tighter (read exclusionist) tests for becoming a citizen is a move toward the introduction of two classes of citizens. The government is promoting the idea that citizenship is a privilege and not a right.

In that context, it is a small step to making suspected offences other than terrorism to become grounds for the same punishment.

Danger – fed compo system

Since an overhaul of workers’ compensation in NSW in 2012, over 5,000 injured workers have had their payments taken away. Changes to the way injured workers are paid led to the termination of income payments and around 20,000 workers with long term injuries have lost their entitlements to medical benefits.

At the moment there is a bill before federal parliament, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Bill, which is intended to put in place a national compensation scheme Comcare. At the moment the vast majority of Australian employers are regulated through state and territory schemes.

In terms of what is happening in NSW, for example, a national scheme would appear to be an advance.

Dr Joanna Howe, a senior lecturer of law at the University of Adelaide, and a former consultant to the International Labour Organisation, warns that the plan risks cost-shifting from employers to taxpayers, with costs arising from workplace injury falling on the social security, Medicare and NDIS systems.

Dr Howe’s report found that the national workers’ compensation proposals would result in a national scheme that provides the least entitlements, has the least effective regulator, and the lengthiest dispute resolution process of all the workers’ compensation jurisdictions in Australia.

The proposed bill could see nearly 2,000 major businesses move to Comcare’s self-insurance scheme, placing a much higher pressure on the national regulator, as well as putting the lives and well being of many more workers at higher risk.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, each year one in 20 workers experience and injury or illness in the workplace. Last year 184 lives were lost at work.

Next article – Lowest paid do it tough

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