News National PM tones down terror talk, ramps up Shorten attacks

PM tones down terror talk, ramps up Shorten attacks

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Hard-ball politics often degenerates into farce.

It is now clear Tony Abbott has spent the last three weeks crab walking away from stripping all terrorists of their citizenship while at the same time cranking up the rhetoric against Labor.

The prime ministerial hyperventilating reached fever pitch at the weekend when he threw our courts into the quisling mix. He claimed the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was feeble in explaining that one way to convict terrorists who fought overseas was “to bring them home” to face court.

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To an adoring partisan audience, Mr Abbott mocked: “Well, fair enough, but we all know the perils of that.”

No, judges can’t be trusted either. But the bluster isn’t quite matching the reality. After the considered advice from Malcolm Turnbull, concerned to save the government making a legal fool of itself, a tweaking of the Citizenship Act is now the go.

Section 35 will be amended so that a dual national who fights with a non-state actor, terrorist outfit against Australia, automatically loses their citizenship. The individual could then challenge this in the federal court. Here’s the rub, they would have to come back to Australia to do it.

They would not have an Australian passport. They could use the passport of their remaining nationality, but if their identity is known they wouldn’t get entry even if they made it to an Australian airport.

Then, of course, as one press gallery wit opined: “How many suicide bombers fret about losing their citizenship?”

Tony Abbott (L) and Bill Shorten: locked in a war of words over the war on terror.

So it looks like it’s all over bar the shouting. The government party room will sign off on it before it goes into parliament on Wednesday.

It seems Labor would have little problem with this scenario. Something Scott Morrison acknowledged on Monday when he said the opposition had come to its senses.

The truth is, it’s Mr Abbott who has had to get real. Such a remedy could, theoretically, still be challenged by a returning Jihadi. Highly unlikely. That section of the law has stood unused and untested for 57 years.

A resolution of the issue means Mr Abbott will now have to find another issue to wedge Bill Shorten and Labor.

He has a ready-made one in the unions Royal Commission. The Labor leader went on Insiders on Sunday and defended his record as a moderate union leader doing productive deals with companies.

Mr Shorten is well aware that no matter how many questions he answers his political opponents will insist there’s more to tell.

It’s all part of a desperate Tony Abbott lining up all his ducks so he can run to an election later in the year. September is being strongly speculated on the back bench.

The plan is that by then Mr Shorten will be a dead duck. Some enthusiastic Liberals think he is already.

They ignore the latest polls average which has Labor increasing its lead, 52.5 to 47.5 per cent.

Hostilities in parliament cease for the Winter break on Thursday, but the combatants will merely relocate. They won’t disappear from the nation’s TV screens.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

Read all of his columns here.

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