Image: Thanks to The Australian and Bill Leak cartoons
Right around Australia, civil society groups have started rallying in plain distrust, dissent and disagreement with the proposed terrorism legislation. A recent press release from WA's Social Justice Network states:
"More than 500 people packed into a forum at the University of Western Australia on Friday 4th November 2005 to express their fears and anger at the government and its proposed anti terrorism legislation. The distrust of government both federal and state was palpable. Emotions ran high at the failure of the Labor opposition to oppose this appalling threatening legislation, with disbelief expressed that this could be happening in this country of ours."
"There were calls for Federal Labor to oppose the Bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The WA State Labor government should not cooperate on the implementation of such "draconian legislation."
The Perth forum was addressed by Carmen Lawrence, Federal Labor Member for Fremantle, Rachel Siewert, Greens WA Senator, and Mark Cox, a human rights lawyer. Below is the address to the forum by Senator Rachel Siewert, Greens Senator for Western Australia.
17 November 2005: The Law Council opposes the Terror Bill - The Law Council of Australia urges the government to abandon proposals to introduce preventative detention orders and control orders. Persons not charged with or found guilty of a criminal offence should not be subjected by the State to imprisonment without trial...
17 November 2005: Will you Cross The Floor, Senator? - an unexpected window of opportunity has appeared, small, but significant. While Parliament was planning to rush these laws through, delays caused by the Industrial Regulations Bills postposed the debate and the voting for the Terror laws in the lower house.
12 November 2005: Of Treason and Sedition - Stop acting like an artist, and especially, stop critiquing Australian society if that includes the Howard government. You may be accused of treason or sedition. Some people already are, in underhand communication coming from the Prime Minister's office.
10 November 2005: Decent Liberals and their terror fears - two of the most interesting speeches in Parliament this week, and they're both from the government bench -from two Liberal party members, Petro Georgiou MP, and Steven Ciobo MP.
9 November 2005: The terror laws: What you can do - This page is a web-page copy of the Anti-terrorism Legislation Action Kit distributed throughout the networks shortly after the Perth Forum. The Kit is also downloadable from this page as a PDF File.
4 Nov 2005 Perth Forum: Rosemary Longhurst: Is Australia afraid? - We are concerned that this package of legislation conveys to the world that Australia is afraid - indicating to the terrorists that they are achieving their aim of generating terror and forcing governments into ever more punitive stances.
4 Nov 2005 Perth Forum: Mark Cox LLB: Terrifying Democracy - Judges, lawyers, academics, civil and professional organisations, respected individuals, and wide sections of the Australian community, justifiably believe that the Bill and related Federal "anti-terrorist" legislation enacted since 2002 seriously undermine...
4 Nov 2005 Perth Forum: Michael Sinclair-Jones: Risking a Totalitarian State - My union believes the penalty aims to silence journalists, intimidate them into submission, and will allow miscarriages of justice to go unquestioned and - inevitably - unnoticed.
1 November 2005: When the Terrorist Strikes - Resources for Anti-Terror Bill dissenters - You may need to consider how you will have to publicly declare your hand of overt dissent ... if these laws stand as they are at the moment you may need to consider whether in your life a case exists for undermining these laws.
Address to the Perth public forum "Laws of Terror"
A Public Forum to Discuss Federal And State Anti-Terror Legislation
University of Western Australia, 5.45pm, 4 November 2005
Senator Rachel Siewert
Greens Senator for Western Australia
4th Nov 05
Speech for the Anti-Terror Forum, Perth, Friday 4 th November - University of WA (Please note - this document is an edited version of speech notes and may not exactly match the speech as delivered).
We are currently living through a time like no other in Australian history - as highlighted by events this week in Parliament.
Within the space of a few short months we are now experiencing a fundamental erosion of our democracy and the Australian way of life.
The scope of this change is so large it is almost difficult to comprehend, and it is occurring across a front so wide that effective opposition seems to be stymied.
We are all witnessing massive changes to our Industrial relations system, which force wages down, strip away the safety net and bring an end to collective bargaining, organisation and the right to strike.
The result of these changes will be the creation of a working poor - enshrined in law.
We are seeing insidious changes to our welfare system that strip away benefits and supports to thrust unemployed people, single mothers and those on disability and mature age pensions into poverty.
The result of these changes will be increasing poverty for an entrenched underclass.
And we are seeing the introduction of truly draconian legislation that grants sweeping arbitrary powers to our police and secret services - all under the rhetoric of 'the war on terror.'
We are being told -
"...if you don't support this you are un-Australian."
We are being told -
"...if you don't support this you are supporting terrorism."
Well - we Australians have come together today - united by our disbelief, despair and disgust at what is being done to our human rights.
At what is being done to our democracy and our public institutions. At what is being done to our way of life.
This anti-terror legislation alone, taken in isolation, is not the kind of thing we would expect of a nation with a proud democratic history. This is the kind of legislation we would expect in a country in a state of emergency.
This is the kind of legislation we would expect from a tin-pot dictator of a third-world police state.
And it is not just the Australian Greens who are saying this - these comments are coming from people such as the president of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia.
They are expressed in the legal opinions of professors and doctors in Law at leading universities, of expert constitutional lawyers and barristers and QCs. They have even been expressed by ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
These changes violate our fundamental human rights, they violate our obligations under international law as signatories to the International Criminal Court, and they undermine our democracy.
But we're not a third-world police state run by a tin-pot dictator yet, are we?
Well, with the changes to industrial relations and welfare it would appear that we're moving towards the creation of a third-world underclass of working poor...
And with our position on Kyoto, our blind support for the invasion of Iraq and the stunning choice of Alexander Downer as Foreign Minister we are increasingly becoming isolated in the international community.
And with control of both houses of Parliament and the disdain Howard has shown for democratic process within the Senate - ramming through bills and guillotining and gagging debate - he might be accused of acting dictatorially...
But until he starts pinning a few medals onto his tracksuit in the morning I'm not sure he officially qualifies as tin-pot dictator...
The important point is this - under international law, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Australia is only entitled to over-ride and infringe upon what are considered as universal basic civil and political rights after it has declared a state of emergency.
There is no state of emergency and the government has no intention of announcing one - although perhaps I shouldn't be too hasty in saying that!
There has not been an act of terrorism or any significant substantiated terrorist threat to Australia on Australian soil.
Our government has run a vigorous campaign to foster a climate of fear - to justify laws that will undermine fundamental legal provisions that ensure freedom from arbitrary detention, that ensure freedom of association, expression and movement.
All of this in a country that has not experienced a significant terrorist incident for many years.
Furthermore these proposed new laws are not even necessary - Australian police and security services already have substantial powers to deal with terrorist threats.
In Australia any of us can already be detained merely because the authorities believe we might know something relating to terrorism or threatening the national interest - something that we don't even have to know that we know.
They do not have to believe that we are guilty of a crime or are planning a crime.
And once we are detained we have no right to tell our family or our boss, or even to contact a lawyer.
If we don't answer questions to ASIO's satisfaction we can already be sent to jail for five years - and not allowed to tell anyone why.
If after being detained for questioning you spoke to your friends or family or anyone at all about your experiences you could go to jail for five years.
If a journalist heard you'd been detained and tried to report it they too could go to jail for five years.
Furthermore, the onus of proof is reversed - it is up to you to prove that you don't know what you don't know - but ASIO are under no obligation to tell you what it is they think you know - so you have no way of knowing what it is you need to prove you don't know.
Is that Catch-22 or what?
These existing laws make us the only democratic country where it is legal to detain citizens whom the authorities do not suspect have actually done anything wrong or even intend to do anything wrong.
The proposed changes are not necessary to deal with any real or imagined terrorist threat.
The government and Labor seem to have both assumed that we cannot fight terrorism and adhere to the basic principles of justice and democracy.
Both major parties are competing to be the 'toughest on terror' and selling away our fundamental rights in a cynical political exercise.
The government and Labor are both happy to assume that certain people do not deserve justice or human rights, and that they do not deserve the protection of the law.
It is not enough to support justice only for those who agree with us.
As soon as we do this, as soon as we undermine fundamental human rights by dehumanising a group of people - no matter how much we may disagree with their ideas - we are putting all of the things we hold as morally and ethically important at risk.
This is the first step on a very slippery slope.
We are betraying our own principles, and we are further creating and encouraging the very conditions that breed terrorism.
As Thomas Paine said "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his own enemy from oppression, for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
The combination of these sweeping and arbitrary powers, and the lack of checks and balances, of legal scrutiny and judicial review are ripe for abuse.
They have such wide application that they will inevitably snare innocents in their nets.
Perhaps even our friends, our colleagues, our children...
It is important to remember that where arbitrary powers exist they will inevitably be abused.
Let's look at what's happened already. Let us reflect upon the Tampa, the Children Overboard affair, the Pacific solution, the treatment of asylum seekers, the abandonment of David Hicks, and the experiences of Vivian Solon and Cornelia Rau.
Can we trust our government? Can we trust ASIO or the Federal Police to be immune from the political interference and the pervading culture we have witnessed in DIMIA, which has this culture of abuse?
Is it safe to allow them to make individual decisions to administer control orders and preventative detention which are based on vague concepts such as 'suspicion' without reference to a court?
How are they to use these sweeping powers to enforce the concept of 'sedition' - which could see all of us here tonight sent off to jail for up to seven years for possibly "urging disaffection against the government?"
Remember that these new laws do not require evidence of guilt - decisions about how to weld these arbitrary powers are to be made on the basis of a potential risks considered 'on the balance of probabilities'.
This flies in the face of proper criminal law.
The manner in which our intelligence services are already willing to use these powers inappropriately to suppress political dissent was recently illustrated by the detention and deportation of Scott Parkin - an American peace activist and nonviolence trainer.
No reason was given for Scott's detention and solitary confinement - we can only conclude that it was his involvement in recent anti-Forbes demonstrations and NVDA training that led to his adverse ASIO assessment and his expensive return to the states (Scott now faces a bill for $13,000).
I ask you - how ridiculous are the proposed sedition laws?
Sedition and other such archaic security offences are widely regarded as discredited and irrelevant to modern democracies - where freedom of speech is encouraged as an integral part of the political process.
It would be better if they were dropped entirely from Australian criminal law (as recommended by the Commonwealth Criminal Law revision Committee in 1991).
These provisions modernise the archaic sedition laws - giving them a new legitimacy and encouraging their use.
The new offences do not require any intent to cause violence - the bill provides for a person to 'recklessly' encourage others to commit violence without any specific intent to do so.
It is sufficient that a person urges another to engage in conduct that is intended 'to assist, by any means whatsoever' a country at war or engaged in armed hostilities with Australia. This even applies in the situation where Australia has illegally entered into hostilities, as was the case in the Iraq war.
Those of you who are fans (like me) of the ABCs Media Watch are probably aware that the legal advice they sought on the impact of these laws on journalists.
They found that comments made by John Pilger on Lateline could be construed as sedition.
They suggested that any journalist wanting to publish material would have to decide whether it might be read by a person who could be urged to act upon it by engaging in violent activity - despite its being published in good faith and without intent.
They raised the prospect that a journalist conducting a live interview in which a guest of the program expressed the opinion that the defeat of US troops in Iraq by 'terrorist' acts might prove a good thing - could be charged with sedition as could the program's producers if they directly or indirectly invited these comments or might reasonably expect them to happen.
I guess in this Brave New World it is simply much safer not to ask questions, not to report on the war, or the causes and the impacts of terrorism.
No genuine commentator, religious or community leader wishing to participate in a legitimate debate on the topic of 'terrorism' can be certain that their activities will fall outside the ambit of the offences in this Bill.
However, having this debate is exactly what we need to be doing.
We urgently need public debate about how we can address the causes of terrorism.
We need informed critique of our foreign policy and our support and involvement in military intervention overseas to ensure that we are not perpetuating a cycle of violence.
As Greens we are committed to positive social change that addresses the causes of disadvantage and inequality.
We are committed to tackling the root causes of terrorism and we are committed to defending our democracy.
We need to be able to openly discuss issues to avoid and resolve conflicts. It is by exposing abhorrent and hateful views to the air of public debate that we allow misconceived extremist ideas to be engaged and corrected.
Unless we can hear and enter into open dialog with the views of our political adversaries we cannot hope to be able to convince them there is another way.
And we lose the opportunity to be alerted to the blind spots and the failings of our own attitudes, actions and beliefs that might unwittingly be causing disadvantage or distress elsewhere.
By creating an offence like sedition we drive these views underground and aggravate the grievances that underlie them.
Suppressing public incitement only serves to strengthen the impact and power of private incitement - which can become all the more damaging in an atmosphere of secrecy supported by intense psychological pressure.
Free speech is the foundation of community and democracy - without which open political process becomes impossible.
We need to learn the lessons of Northern Ireland - in that only in openly addressing the real causes of conflict can we move towards peace.
We should be addressing the real sources of anger among young men in Indonesia if we want to reduce or resolve the threat of terror in our region.
I believe that in this current climate it has become even more important that Australia should have a Bill of Rights.
In the absence of a Bill of Rights our Constitution only protects political communications - and not what most of us think of as free speech.
This means that Australian courts will find it very difficult to apply these sedition and incitement laws without infringing on our fundamental human rights.
Now I've made it very clear that I am totally opposed to these laws and that I will do my best to oppose them in the community and in the Senate.
However, in closing I'd just like you to consider (by way of a silver lining to this very black cloud of legislation) how these laws might be applied to dealing with two of the biggest contributing factors to the threat of terrorism to Australia and incitement to violence against ADF personnel in Iraq.
Second in line would have to be the Board and Executive of AWB for their involvement in directly financing Saddam Hussein to the tune of 223 million dollars through the food for oil kickbacks scandal.
But surely at the front of the line would have to be the main instigator of violence against ADF troops.
Undeniably the main factor inciting violence against our defence personnel is their part in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, a role that has been very publicly urged by our Prime Minister.
Both the former head of ASIO and the former Chief of Defence Force Staff have suggested publicly that our participation in Iraq has increased the likelihood of terrorist attack within Australia.
So, in closing, let me suggest that the first in line for a seven year taxpayer funded holiday at Her Majesty's pleasure should be Honest John, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock and his Cabinet cronies - who have been plotting with intent the downfall of our democracy behind closed doors.