The dual citizenship controversy – the Trumpland effect on Australian politics

Over the last few months, the Australian political class has been consumed by an unprecedented crisis that reveals much about the character of our political life. This controversy involves those parliamentarians who hold, or are entitled to hold, dual citizenship. Those persons who hold Australian citizenship and can have, or do have, citizenship of another country, have been subjected to an extraordinary campaign of media questioning and scrutiny – bordering on McCarthyite hysteria.

Over the months of June and July, two serving Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, were informed that they were no longer eligible to continue their parliamentary terms. They resigned their positions soon after. What was the reason for this? Both were entitled to hold, or did hold, dual citizenship. Ludlam, born in New Zealand, has lived and worked in Australia since infancy. Waters, born in Canada to Australian parents, has also resided in Australia since she was an infant. She has never lived or worked in North America.

These resignations occurred within the context of an already bitterly divided and unstable Australian Senate. The Turnbull government called a double dissolution election in July 2016, proposing the rationale that the previous Senate was too divided and unstable, making it impossible to govern effectively. Whether that was the case or not remains debatable. Be that as it may, Turnbull displayed his particular genius – for taking a messy, unworkable situation, and making an even greater catastrophe out of it.

The July 2016 reduced the Turnbull government to a razor-thin majority of one seat – and produced an upper house composed of a collection of right-wing populists, anti-immigrant politicians, Christian fanatics and independents. Since then, the Australian federal government has been wracked by crisis and infighting, with various political groupings vying for influence as Turnbull scrambles to implement his government’s programme. It is in this context that the media campaign, primarily lead by the Murdoch flagship The Australian newspaper, against dual citizenship has taken place.

This furore over dual citizenship, emerging out of unclear circumstances, has now engulfed politicians from the major political parties as well. While the Greens Senators were the first victims, currently politicians of all persuasions are hurriedly scrambling to ‘prove’ that their ‘Australianness’ is unsullied by any association or connection with a foreign power. Even the serial pest, climate-change denier and all-round buffoon Malcolm Roberts is being grilled about his connection – to Britain. The One Nation senator is guilty of many things – he is an ignoramus, an embarrassingly ill-informed conspiracist and anti-immigration racist. There are many reasons to oppose him. Is he a servant of a foreign power? No, he is not.

It is interesting to note that with the case of Ludlam and Waters, the countries that relate to this dual citizenship controversy are New Zealand and Canada. The allegation, underlying much of this manufactured furore, that dual citizens pose a dangerously disloyal, potentially treasonous element in the body politic is preposterous in the extreme. It is worthwhile to note some relevant background here.

Australia is one of the countries that actively participates in the Five Eyes agreement. This is a multilateral intelligence-sharing arrangement where the involved parties cooperate in intelligence-gathering, military and espionage matters. The countries involved in this arrangement are the United States, Britain, Australia and – New Zealand and Canada. The latter countries share aspects of common law, colonial-settler history, and political loyalty at least since the end of World War Two. However, we are lead to believe that any Australian who holds citizenship with these countries is a potential traitor.

Perhaps we should be worried about foreign espionage in Australia, but we are examining the wrong people. There are spies in Australia – working for the United States. The latter country has a long history of recruiting, among others, persons inside the labour movement, to provide information and intelligence. For instance, none other than former Foreign Minister, Sydney-born Bob Carr, was marked as a Washington asset inside the NSW labour movement. For over 40 years, Carr provided information the internal politics of labour organisations, and he has dutifully served as a ‘moderate’ – that is to say, pro-American – influence inside the Labour Party.

The disqualification of the Greens Senators – and the current threat looming over other politicians – is the result of Section 44 of the Australian constitution. This section – an archaic clause in an equally archaic document – states that “Any person who is under acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or citizen entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.” This section is part of a document that was drafted by people who defined the newly emerging Australian nation as an outpost of British colonial rule – the First nations of Australia were excluded as a matter of course.

The 1901 constitution, composed by the founding fathers of white Australia, was never intended as a document to include non-British nationalities – far from it. This constitution was created precisely to preserve the British character of the new nation, and it reflects the ideology of the newly-rising Australian capitalist class of the time – as an outpost of the British race, opposed to any intrusion by any non-white influence, in particular Asian migration. It is no accident that the authors of the constitution saw themselves as British subjects first. One of the authors of the constitution, and first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, made his views very clear about maintaining the purity of the white race in frequent debates in the Australian parliament.

It is true that we have come a long way since then. However, the current dual citizenship outcry and the demand for ‘true blue’ politicians serves two purposes. Firstly, the conservative government is using undemocratic measures to oust its opponents in the federal parliament. Having lost his July 2016 gamble, Turnbull and his political allies are attempting to undermine whatever opposition exists in the senate to shore up his crisis-ridden, scandal-plagued and incompetent government.

Secondly and more importantly, we are witnessing the Trumpland effect on Australian politics. The anti-immigrant xenophobia is being ramped up by political parties that are posturing as opponents of the unequal status quo. In earlier articles, I described this effect as the Ukip-ization of Australian politics. That phrase was coined by sociologist and blogger from Britain, Richard Seymour. In Australia, we have focussed our anger and energies on migration, and turned it into a toxic issue. Turnbull has adopted one of the central planks of Trumpland – turning immigration into a security issue. Immigrants are no longer viewed as people making a life for themselves, but as potentially disloyal elements in the wider society.

That last point leads us to make a final observation. Turnbull is not the Trump of Australia, but he is following in the footsteps of Enoch Powell. Known for his stridently anti-immigrant views and a champion of Friedmanite free-market libertarian economics, Powell gave rise to Powellism – the view that immigration undermines a socially cohesive society. The modern proponents of Powellism are either unaware, or wilfully deny, that social cohesion is undermined by economic policies that promote inequality. It is this growing inequality – not mythical ‘swamping’ by migrants – which requires the immediate attention of all politicians, and the necessary measures to reverse this increasing gap. Reversing Powellism demands that we follow the lead of Jeremy Corbyn.

The 1989 US war against Panama set the template for future US invasions

In May this year, former Panamanian military strongman and long-term CIA asset, General Manuel Noriega, passed away after brain surgery. He was 83 years old. The death of General Noriega, the former ruler of Panama unseated by the 1989 US invasion, was announced by current Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela. The latter, referring to Noriega’s passing, made the pointed comment that Noriega’s death closes a particular chapter in Panama’s history.

In a way, President Varela is right – there are events that serve as bookends if you will, closing off a chapter of history. Noriega’s death received minimal attention in the corporate press, and the events leading up to the 1989 US invasion have faded from collective memory. However, this is an unfortunate situation, because the issues of the 1989 attack on Panama have contemporary relevance. The political and economic causes of the US intervention – named “Operation Just Cause” – require careful consideration in order to understand the pattern of US invasions over the last 28 years.

Writing in Jacobin magazine, Jonah Walters states that the 1989 American invasion of Panama set the template for imperialist wars; unilateral military intervention became an accepted measure not only on the conservative side of US politics, but also on the supposedly softer, liberal side. He writes that:

The invasion of Panama inaugurated a new period of American empire-building. The worst of the Cold War tension finally relieved, conservatives and liberals alike accepted unilateral military intervention as a core feature of American foreign policy, deploying specious appeals to humanitarianism to override historical claims to sovereignty.

As Walters elaborates, perhaps the current President of Panama can close the chapter on that particular turbulent episode in Panama’s history. However, the targets of US interventions and victims of the US military-industrial complex, must regard the 1989 invasion as the opening salvo in an ongoing story. It is interesting to note that the US incursion into Panama occurred just as the rival superpower, the Soviet Union, was withdrawing from its traditional ‘buffer zone’ of Eastern Europe. This change in international relations allowed US imperialism to go on an ideological and military offensive.


Let us be clear – there are no tears for the passing of the former general. Noriega began his career under the tutelage of the United States – or more correctly, the American military-intelligence apparatus. Informing on leftist students in the 1950s, Noriega went on to attend the US Army School of the Americas – the academy that has churned out murderous despots, criminal officers and uniformed thugs throughout Latin America.

Noriega’s rule in Panama was characterised by the repression and torture of dissidents. He closely aligned his administration with the objectives of US foreign policy in the Central American region. When, in 1979, the Nicaraguan Sandinista revolution toppled the hated rule of the pro-American dictator Somoza, Noriega did not hesitate to come to the aid of the Nicaraguan Contras, the collection of former Somoza regime rebels, killers, torturers and drug traffickers.

Noriega was one of many players embedded in the clandestine network that helped to carry out the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra affair – the political scandal that involved the secret funnelling of American arms to Iran, and the use of the proceeds to surreptitiously fund the Contras. General Noriega’s abuses of human rights did not trouble his American patrons. Noriega’s Panama was a necessary and valuable conduit for American money, armaments and military personnel.

Noriega’s value as an unswervingly loyal American asset began to change in the late 1980s – he became the man who knew too much. He asserted that the Panama Canal zone, an important arterial waterway in Central America, should revert to the control of the Panamanian authorities. The dutiful servant began to make demands of his own – and this political disloyalty had to be punished. Increasingly bombastic, Noriega’s paymasters decided to take action against their wayward asset.

The invasion and subsequent war were reasonably short – and the Bush Senior administration had domestic political considerations on their mind when conducting this war. In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States now had a chance to vanquish the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’– namely, the reluctance of the financial-military oligarchy to launch wars overseas. This military intervention was meant to demonstrate an unmistakable change in America’s view of the world – that it was no longer constrained by anti-war opinion at home.

The 1989 invasion was intended to reverse the series of military defeats and debacles that the US military had suffered in the 1970s and 1980s, namely in Vietnam, but also the defeats of US-backed regimes in Central America, and the withdrawal of US Marines from Lebanon. The assault on Panama set the template for subsequent US invasions around the world. The attack on Panama was promoted by the United States as a reluctantly undertaken but necessary military action to stop a regime engaged in narco-trafficking and criminal activities.

The Panama attack was the earliest contemporary example of a ‘television war’; the main American media outlets basically served as adjuncts of the US military and administration. Churning out images and pretexts uncritical of the invasion, it was an exercise in corporate propaganda – and we will come back to that later in this article. The corporate media invited its audience to marvel at the new range of high-tech weaponry deployed by the US military.

One American general quipped that his soldiers were mesmerised by firepower – all these computer-software guided missiles and stealth fighters were required to minimise the chances of civilian casualties. The 1989 Panama invasion was almost the first real-life computer-game war, with the audience bedazzled with the supposedly sophisticated weaponry mimicking the fictitious counterparts in computer games of the time.

Greg Grandin explained in his article about the Panama invasion that high-tech weapons or not, Panamanian casualties amounted to between 300-500 combatants. For the United States, 20 soldiers died. Until today, the civilian death toll is unconfirmed, because the US military did not bother to count the civilian casualties.

What is known is that the US air force indiscriminately bombed the Panamanian barrio of El Chorrillo, a predominately poor area. The University of Panama, using their seismographic equipment, monitored 442 explosions in the first 12 hours of the invasion. Fires engulfed the barrio, and countless civilians were burned. Bulldozers were deployed after the invasion to bury the corpses in mass graves.


The defeat of Noriega was a foregone conclusion; with his defeat, a more compliant Panamanian financial kleptocracy has been installed – compliant with the aims of the United States that is. If Operation Just Cause was undertaken to stop a regime from carrying out criminal activities, then that invasion must be judged to be a failure. The recent revelations of the Panama Papers reveal the extensive and clandestine network of financial crimes and corporate conspiracies that have found a safe haven – a tax haven – in Panama after the overthrow of Noriega. Panama was, and is, a suitable location for money laundering – one of the principal practices of capitalist neoliberalism.

Earlier in the article, we used the word propaganda to describe the ideological leadup to the Panama invasion. This word has ugly connotations – something that happens exclusively in Communist countries, or in totalitarian dictatorships where the state controls the media outlets and the flow of information. This definition is too narrow in scope and simplistic.

Propaganda is deployed very effectively in capitalist societies – only it is not called by that name. Public relations, advertising and perception management are the tools of the corporate propagandist, the financial speculator and militarist war-maker. This propaganda is subsidised by the private sector, and engulfs public space with images and messages designed to disguise the financial motives of the sponsor.

John Pilger has written that much of what masquerades as journalism today can be accurately described as propaganda; the so-called ‘information age’ has truly become warfare by media. The US invasion of Panama, cloaked by noble intentions, was an exercise in super-charged militarism. We must dig deep into contemporary history to uncover the deceptions deployed by the US for that war, and subsequent invasions. We require, to use John Pilger’s words, not a journalism that serves as a mouthpiece for the rich and powerful, but an insurrection – an uprising of subjugated knowledge.