AS Tony Abbott’s conservative colleagues today demand harsher anti-terrorism laws, their Republican cousins in the US Congress are allowing tough provisions to disappear.
At around 2pm today Canberra time it was midnight in Washington, when contested measures in the post-9/11 Patriot Act were allowed to expire after a tactical battle in the US Senate.
An important casualty was the National Security Agency’s collection of information from personal communications — similar to the gathering of metadata by Australian authorities — which was dumped after nine years in operation.
Congress is expected to quickly approve new bills reviving lost powers, and the NSA will use other laws to continue its activities.
But the move against the Patriot Act was a victory for conservatives deeply suspicious of “big government” surveillance and was led by presidential hopeful Rand Paul.
“This in important debate,” said Rand Paul. “This is a debate over the Bill of Rights, over the Fourth Amendment (preventing unreasonable searches and seizures) … It is a debate over your right to be left alone.”
The contrast couldn’t be more stark in Canberra, where politicians are pushing to toughen national security laws. Prime Minister Abbott was sent a letter from some 40 of his most conservative back bench MPs demanding the Government have the power to take citizenship from Australian-born nationals.
Cabinet has agreed to legislation which would remove the Australian citizenship of dual nationals who fought for proscribed groups, were terrorists or supported terrorist groups.
The MPs want the Prime Minister to go further.
The petition delivered today reads: “We believe that there is a significant risk that limiting the revocation powers to those who currently hold dual citizenship will fail to capture many already serving sentences in Australia.
“It will allow others to renounce another citizenship and remain an Australian citizen.”
The Prime Minister welcomed the contribution.
“What it says to me is that out there in the community there is an absolutely concentration on keeping our community safe,” Mr Abbott told reporters today.
“What it says to me is conscientious local members are listening to their people and they are doing their best to bring what they think is the right message back here to the Parliament. “
Mr Abbott said that was his objective, too.
“I want to do everything we humanly can to keep our people safe. Absolutely,” he said.
“We have to be respectful of the rule of law, that’s at the heart of our civilisation. And that’s why the changes which we are proposing to strip citizenship from terrorists who are dual nationals will be subject to judicial review and they won’t be done to render anyone stateless.”
Mr Abbott dismissed reports a group of senior ministers ganged up on him in cabinet last Monday and toned down his proposals on citizenship.
“The proposal that went to the cabinet was endorsed by the cabinet,” he said.