Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


No Right Turn: Sedition in Australia

No Right Turn

Sedition in Australia


http://norightturn.blogspot.com

In the wake of terrorist threats against Melbourne and more bombings in Bali, the Australian government is attempting to pass draconian new anti-terrorism laws. The draft of the legislation had originally been kept secret, but last week it was leaked by ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope, who while approving it, believed that legislation with such an impact on civil liberties should be open to public scrutiny and debate. John Howard seems to regard this as practically treason. But fortunately he'll soon have the tools to combat this sort of betrayal of Australian values, because the legislation would modernise the law relating to sedition.

As with Ne w Zealand, Australia has long had anti-sedition legislation on the books (see sections 24A - 24F of the Australian Crimes

Act 1914), but it had fallen into disuse (though somewhat later than it had in New Zealand). The last prosecution was in 1960, when Department of Native Affairs office Brian Cooper was prosecuted for urging "the natives" of Papua New Guinea to demand independence from Australia. He was convicted, and committed suicide after losing his appeal. The draft legislation [PDF] would repeal the old offence of "uttering seditious words", but replace it with five new ones. It would also double the penalties for sedition, from three years imprisonment to seven, and allow convictions on the basis of "recklessness" rather than requiring specific intent. But most importantly, it would signify an intention on behalf of the government to actually use the legislation and prosecute people for saying things deemed disloyal to Australia or to indirectly incite terrorism. And there's no doubt about who the targets would be...

Fortunately, this is producing something of a backlash in the press and public opinion. There's a particularly good piece by Ben Saul in The Australian which lays out why sedition laws are incompatible with democracy:

There is a danger that criminalising the expression of support for terrorism will drive such beliefs underground. Rather than exposing them to public debate, which allows erroneous or misconceived ideas to be corrected and ventilates their poison, criminalisation risks aggravating the grievances underlying terrorism.

Although some extreme speech may never be rationally countered by other speech, the cut and thrust of public debate remains the best option for combating odious or ignorant ideas. The criminal law is ill-suited to reforming expressions of poor judgment or bad taste.

Every society has the highest public interest in protecting itself and its institutions from violence, but no society should criminalise speech that it finds distasteful when such speech is remote from the practice of terrorist violence by others.

A robust and mature democracy should be expected to absorb unpalatable ideas without prosecuting them.

Unfortunately, unlike other western democracies, Australia has only weak protections for freedom of speech. Which is precisely why they need a formal bill of rights...

Finally, there is one curious aspect of the proposed law which ought to concern even those of us in New Zealand. The section on sedition includes this clause:

80.4 Extended geographical jurisdiction for offences

Section 15.4 (extended geographical jurisdiction - category D) applies to an offence against this Division

According to the Australian Criminal Code, this means that the offence applies

(a) whether or not the conduct constituting the alleged offence occurs in Australia; and
(b) whether or not a result of the conduct constituting the alleged offence occurs in Australia.

This is quite deliberate; the Australian Criminal Code provides for other forms of extended geographical jurisdiction of lesser reach, providing defences where neither the person nor the victim is an Australian or the crime does not impact on Australian territory. But this is the true "universal jurisdiction" clause, used for war crimes. And it's being used here not just to cover sedition, but also treason. This is utterly unprecedented. To the extent that either sedition or treason are crimes, they are crimes of disloyalty, predicated on some obligation to be loyal to the Australian government. What Howard is saying is that everyone in the world has a duty to be loyal to and not criticise Australia, on pain of imprisonment. As a non-Australian, I'm not too impressed by this.

ENDS


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Gordon Campbell: On The West’s Existential Crisis About What To Do With Putin, And The Islamic State

Say one thing for Russian President Vladimir Putin. At least he’s given NATO a purpose in life. Right now, that consists of being something that Barack Obama and David Cameron can hide behind, point at Putin, and say : “Go get him, tiger.” Just what NATO is supposed to do about Putin’s armed advance into eastern Ukraine is less than clear. But there is a lot of “steely determination” around in high places. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The US Foreign Policy Somersaults Over Syria And Iran

Amidst the day-to-day reports about the military advances of the Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, one remarkable aspect of this war has barely been mentioned. More>>

ALSO:

Daphne Lawless: The Whale Oil Leaks: Anti-Politics From Above

As we go to press, the election campaign has been turned upside down by a new book by investigative journalist Nicky Hager. Dirty Politics is based mainly on a leak of 2 gigabytes of emails and Facebook messages from “Whale Oil”, the vicious ... More>>

ALSO:

Branko Marcetic: When John Key Was Concerned About Dirty Politics

If Nicky Hager needs some support in the midst of a whirlwind of government criticism for his allegations of “dirty tricks” by the National Party, he may find one unlikely ally – John Key, six years ago. More>>

Jim Miles: Israeli War Crimes In Gaza

Israel reveals its true colours and true aspirations every time it attacks Gaza (or any other self-perceived enemy) as being the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, even to the degree - as the references above indicate - to the act of genocide. More>>

David Swanson: Top 9 Reasons To Stop Bombing Iraq

1. It's not a rescue mission. The U.S. personnel could be evacuated without the 500-pound bombs. The persecuted minorities could be supplied, moved, or their enemy dissuaded, or all three, without the 500-pound bombs or the hundreds of 'advisors' (trained ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Comedian’s Death: Robin Williams And The Virtues Of Suicide

The Grim Reaper never runs out of converts. Put another way, death never gets his full due. Comedians do not figure well in this – they are particularly attractive targets in the business of death. More>>

Suzan Mazur: "Oomph" & Origin Of Life At Hydrothermal Vents

The notion that life originated in hydrothermal vents was for a long time a sleepy area of scientific inquiry because the vents first found, known as 'black smokers,' were way too hot and acidic. But in 1989, Michael Russell, a British geochemist who ... More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news