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The Temporary Exclusion Bill and 'career bigot' Raheem Kassam

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'Career bigot' and former 'Breitbart' editor Raheem Kassam welcomed into Australia (Screenshot via YouTube)

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield considers the relevance of the Temporary Exclusion Bill in light of right-wing extremist Raheem Kassam's Australian visit.

THE Counter‑Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019 passed on 25 July gives authority to the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, to set Temporary Exclusion Orders on the return of persons believed to be supporting acts of terror or terrorist groups.

Dutton wants to apply this to some 80 people who went to fight in Iraq and Syria and still remain there. Out of 230 in all, 40 have already returned to Australia, facing prosecution — others are dead or moving on somewhere.

Government numbers in Parliament rolled over the top of several objections:

  • that Parliament or a committee should decide, not just Dutton himself;
  • whether complications should be settled over spouses of fighters, or children over 14 (younger ones being exempt); or
  • that more legal advice was needed before a final decision on the Bill — especially on the “right of return” of all Australians.

RIGHT OF RETURN OF AUSTRALIAN CITIZENS

The “right of return” is one of several implied rights not spelt out in the Constitution – but carrying weight in courts – which imply that no Australian can be denied entry into the country. Even the present Government has not dumped that principle outright. It argues it’s just “buying time” because the collapse of the Middle East “Islamic State” insurrection has put a rush of fighters on the loose.

The “right of return” was tested in 1970 by left-wing Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who’d been refused a passport since 1955 and was stranded after losing it while living overseas. He came back in a private jet chartered by supporters. That day, his airport news conference famously descended into chaos when a television cameraman and army veteran, started abusing him.

BURCHETT’S CHALLENGE AGAINST THE PASSPORT BAN

The Burchett story as told in an autobiography, At the Barricades, began with an adventurous move to China in the 1930s. The impact on the young man seeing child labour and general degradation created his personal political outlook. He reported from the Communist side during the Cold War, which gave him key access to leaders including Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh and helped with his journalistic habit of being in the right place at the right time.

His story is a diarisation of standard journalistic practice and best-practice — his professional preoccupation and fixedness on a story coming first, private convictions underneath, obvious but not that much discussed.

Burchett practised as a journalist in the Western liberal tradition, though much less biased than many in that camp today — he was not a propagandist:

  • For first-hand experience covering the war in the Pacific, he went on a U.S. dive-bomber mission.
  • He skipped the set-piece media event of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, leaving it to the news agencies, to follow up some disturbing stories from Hiroshima after the nuclear attack. Taking the train there he saw the impacts of radiation sickness and his front-page headline in the London Express, 'Atomic Plague', scooped out the reports from the surrender ceremony.
  • Stationed in Moscow, he began writing low key features on the Soviet space program, to suddenly find himself riding the tiger when the first satellite, Sputnik, was launched. The world’s media needed rush updates from the “specialist” and “expert”. 
  • During the Vietnam War, he accompanied Viet Cong on a harrowing tour of tunnels they’d built underneath the massive Ben Hoa United States air base -- a strong and true story picked up everywhere.
  • He could be overtly partisan, for example castigating the Hungarian uprising in 1956 as the creature of right-wing figures involved in leading it; or his initial support of the “Maoist” Khmer Rouge in Cambodia — later rescinded.

Burchett's reputation came most under attack over his coverage of the Korean War armistice talks, literally from the North Korean and Chinese side, when he visited Australian prisoners of war. He said he was offering to take messages and give some support, but several objected violently that he’d come up with views they saw as offensive and taunting.

Especially because of that, the Coalition Government under Robert Menzies withheld the passport. It was similar to the present-day with the bans being imposed on unpopular Islamist radicals — a handy card to play with a conservative electorate. Menzies was involved in “red scare” elections in 1955 and 1958, and in the anti-communist climate of the Cold War, keeping out a “red” and a “traitor” was useful.

The question was, as an Australian was he not entitled to a passport and to go and come? This right of Australians is plainly fundamental. So the ban on the jihadists – bad as many may be – has to be watched, in case it might come to arbitrary bans on the rest of us, some day.

OPEN ENTRY — AUSSIES ONLY

Beyond doubt, non-Australian citizens are in a different category, depending on permission from the Australian state with no other right of entry. It remains worth a fight over specific cases.

There is the matter of compassion, as in the case of the detainees on Manus Island and Nauru, certified by doctors that they need special treatment in Australia. Some might be wanting to "game" the system, as the Government says, though the numbers brought in to date have not been running out of control, as the Government forecast. Legislation being pushed to repeal the medical evacuation program shows how political spite and, once again, electoral appeal to a conservative constituency, can determine what goes.

RAHEEM KASSAM MADE WELCOME

Raheem Kassam is the current case. From England, he is a former editor of the radical right-wing Breitbart publication in America. His case for entry into Australia is being pushed by a Presidential son, Donald Trump Jr. Scheduled to speak at a conservative conclave in Melbourne, his entry visa has been widely opposed. In Parliament, the Opposition Immigration spokesperson, Labor’s Kristina Keneally, called him a “career bigot” with an “extensive history of vilifying people on the grounds of their race, religion, sexuality and gender. “

GREEK DEMOCRATS KNOCKED BACK

One not so able to avail himself of access to Australia was Nicholas Nicolaidis, banned from Australia in 1970 — the same year as Burchett was testing his right of return. He was Secretary-General of the CU grouping, Social Democrats and moderate conservatives, who’d been in government in Greece when the Colonels staged their 1967 coupHe had plenty of Australian supporters, especially in the Greek community. The reason for this knock-back was mysterious; maybe the Australian Government was lining up with the Americans, accused of playing a devious Cold War game at that time.

Working for student press, I had my chance to ask the Immigration Minister, Billy Snedden, at a public meeting, why we would not be hearing what Dr Nicolaidis had to say. He came up with an old trick: “There are very good reasons, as you well know”. Still don’t.

The two cases of foreigners, one let in, one banned by Liberal governments, only have in common that they wanted visas. The first applied, successfully, as a practitioner of imputed hate speech, at a right-wing forum; the other, refused, wanted to make the case for democratic government against a reactionary dictatorship.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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