The Australian federal government would love nothing more than to make the coming national election a debate about what it means to be Australian.
It's their favourite non-issue of the moment, and although government minister can usually bag a few minutes of media air time whenever they start spouting off about they categorise as non-Australian behaviour or beliefs, the majority of Australians are more interested in issues the government would rather not have at the forefront of the national agenda - climate change, dwindling water supplies, shocking levels of personal debt, ending the Iraq War, the five year long imprisonment, without charge, of Australian citizen David Hicks in a US isolation centre.
Because they've lost control over setting the subjects of national debate, political figures like the Australian treasurer, Peter Costello, are becoming increasingly sad, divisive and bitter.
Costello has other reasons to be so very sad and so very bitter. Prime minister John Howard had promised Costello, repeatedly, through the early 2000s, that he would hand over the leadership of the coalition government to Costello, but Howard kept changing his mind, deciding to stay on.
The longer Costello feels he has been cheated out of his dream of being gifted the prime ministership of Australia, without having to face an election, the more extreme his rhetoric has become. He can't slam the dishonesty and questionable loyalties of the prime minister, so he continually goes after easy targets : idiotic religious leaders, flag burners, anti-globalisation protestors.
Costello has become the chief bulldog in the fictional, reactionary debate about what it means to be an Australian, and who should, and not be, be allowed to keep their Australian citizenship if they were determined to be, by an undeclared body, acting against the interests of the nation.
I say fictional and reactionary because this debate is one all but created by the government to tamp down the political dreams of Australian Muslims, and to drive wedges into Australia's mostly harmonious and accepting multicultural society.
Now Costello's mind is whirling with plans to deport Australian citizens, even those born here, who he thinks don't past the patriotic muster call.
When he talks about the loyalty of those Asutralians who hold dual citizenships, he doesn't even bother trying to make it sound like he's talking about the hundreds of thousands of Australians who still hold onto their US, Israeli and British passports. For Costello, it's all about those who remain citizens of countries like Egypt and Lebanon.
He is, however, far too cowardly to just come out and say his chief target is Australian Muslims.
"If somebody is an Australian citizen and also, let's say, an Egyptian citizen and that person doesn't support what this country stands for... I think we'd be within our rights to say to that person, well, Australia's not for you..."But Costello doesn't want to just "say to that person", he wants them gone, and it bothers him greatly that he can't just write up a list of all those he thinks should be deported for being "divisive" and and un-Australian and hand it over to the Immigration Department for fast action.
Costello isn't just talking about dual-citizenship Australians, either. Even those born here, he believes, should be thrown out of the country for not being patriotic enough. He wants to kick them out, but is clearly saddened by the fact that he can't. Well, not yet anyway.
"You get into a difficult situation if they're not dual citizens, because at that point, if you take away Australian citizenship they're not a citizen of anywhere, they've got nowhere to go."Don't let that stop you, Peter. I'm sure Indonesia would donate one of its unoccupied islands for all those Australians you think should be deported, but can't be because they're not dual citizens and don't have another homeland to be sent back to.
Costello likes to harp on about Australians who still hold citizenship in countries like Egypt and Lebanon. But he never mentions the fact that the vast majority of Australia's dual citizens hold secondary citizenship in the US, the UK or Israel.
He doesn't like flag burners, either. In fact, they make him "sick to my stomach." But again, he doesn't want to make the act of burning the Australian flag illegal because he's afraid that those convicted would become "martyrs".
Costello clearly doesn't view the flag-burning non-issue through the prism of freedom of speech, or one of the rights inherent in a free society, no matter how distasteful the burning of the national flag may be.
To him, it's all about loyalty to Australia. Which is in itself a hypocritical argument to make, as long as Australia remains part of the British Commonwealth, and has the Union Jack eating up one quarter of our flag.
How you can be 100% loyal and patriotic to a country that still has a foreign queen as the official head of state?
You'll know Costello is being serious about his calls for dual citizens to show their loyalty to this nation when he starts calling for those Australians who still hold British, American and Israeli passports, along with those holding Lebanese and Egyptian passports, to give them up and drop their dual citizenship.
Until he makes this call, Costello is being a divisive and hysterical hypocrite.
But then, that is the kind of behaviour that gets him the most media attention.