Fighting Words from the Law Reform Commission

The debate about sedition laws was featured on my old blog in November last year. Readers may remember that the Senate Committee that examined the legislation recommended that the section updating sedition provisions be deleted from the latest ‘anti-terror’ laws being rushed through Parliament. The government didn’t agree with that recommendation and used their Senate majority to ensure the law passed with the sedition provisions retained. However, they did agree to get the Australian Law Reform Commission to review the sedition laws.

That review – titled “Fighting Words” – was tabled in the Senate today. There are 27 recommendations, which you can read by clicking here. The media release put out by the Commission specifically notes that they believe the government should:

• drop the ‘red rag’ term ‘sedition’ from federal laws;
• further refine the existing law to require the Crown to prove that a person urged others to use force or violence against community groups or the institutions of democratic government, and with the intention that this violence would eventuate; and
• lead a process through the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to reform state and territory laws in this area “which mostly are a good deal worse than the federal law”.

Other key recommendations include:

  • amending the offences of ‘assisting’ the enemy, to clarify that this refers to material assistance—such as providing arms, funds, personnel or strategic information;
  • outright repeal of the outdated ‘unlawful associations’ provisions in the Crimes Act, which have been superseded by more recent laws dealing with terrorist organisations; and
  • reviewing some old, related offences—such as ‘treachery’ and ‘sabotage’—to determine whether these should now be repealed or ‘modernised’.
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  1. Or he might not be in trouble at all, because you’re just indulging in rampant paranoia and nonsense.

    The changes to the sedition laws have been in place for more than nine months now.

    How many people have been charged?

    Answer: None, zero, zilch, nada.

    All the panic-mongering about “crushing dissent” and “arresting comedians” has proven to be just another left-wing lie.

  2. Aaaah Evil Pundit, I wish you were correct, but sadly you are wrong.

    I and my friends in the Pine Gap 6 have been charged under the Defence (Special Undetakings) Act which was cobbled together out of the “sedition” and “unlawful spying” sections of the Commonwealth Criminal Code back in 1952, at the height of the Cold War. We face seven years imprisonment. We are nonviolent Christian peace activists.

    Our Counsel advises us that this law is poorly constructed, and that we face substantial difficulties in obtaining a fair trial. Our Counsel is former Federal Court Judge, Ron Merkel, who knows a thing or two about fair trials.

    If you want to find out more about our case, you could try attending the NT Supreme Court in Darwin at 9.00 am Monday where we’re due for some pre-trial discussion before Justice Thomas. The Australian Government Solicitor will be appearing, along with the Prosecution and Defence Counsel.

    The only trouble is that you, Andrew, other members of the public, and the media may be barred from entering the Court, which will probably be closed.

    I cannot even mention, let alone discuss, some of the secret legal actions that have been and are being taken against us.

    Welcome to the new security state.

  3. well here we go againe
    howards running around putting pressure on a minority groupe to speek english
    taking attention away from what we should all be conserned about .

  4. Evil Pundit:
    I do suggest you talk to people who have actually had to live ordinary day-to-day lives in a dictatorship.

    Draconian regulations and edicts take time to come into effect and, more often than not, they come into effect gradually.

    The Secret Police or whoever else enforces a ruling clique’s domination don’t go bursting into people’s homes in the wee small hours of the first night they are in power, nor on the second nor the third nor the fourth …. that sort of thing rarely happened even when Hitler’s or Stalin’s troops occupied a country. The process is generally much more gradual, more carefully planned, more complete and more devastating for innocent people caught up in it..

    Besides, under the new anti-terrrorism laws, how on earth would you know who had been detained? In talking about who had been charged and who had not, you are simply harking back to the Good Old Days when the Rule Of Law had real meaning in Australia; this is now late 2006; those happy days are gone – perhaps forever.

  5. Bryan, you are completely wrong. The legislation under which you have been charged is not the sedition legislation which the paranoids are whining about, as you admit yourself. Your post has nothing to do with the topic I addressed.

    In passing, I should note that you are not a peace activist as far as I’m concerned. You are an anti-Australian activist, and I hope you will receive your just deserts.

    Graham, we’ve discussed your paranoia before. You were wrong nine months ago, you’re wrong now, and you will most likely continue to be wrong. You keep talking about some creeping totalitarianism that never actually arrives.

    Like a fanatic predicting the end of the world, only to change the date when the world doesn’t actually end, you won’t listen to reason or evidence.

  6. EP:
    Correct, nobody has been charged under the new sedition laws. But it’s only been nine months.

    There are two points to make here. Firstly, the sedition part of the Anti-Terrorism Act (No. 2) 2005 is poorly drafted. When it created so much confusion, paranoia and public debate, this is clear. It’s not just public debate either – take, for example, the advice of Stephen Gageler’s advice to the ACT Chief Minister. Just take a look at the number of submissions from respectable lawyers arguing uncertainty.

    Next is the question of the utility of the law. It hasn’t been used in nine months. Then it shouldn’t be required, surely. If nobody’s going to be charged the law shouldn’t be on the books. It shouldn’t be on the books just in case at some stage in the future some Attorney-General sees fit to use it in a way it shouldn’t be. I don’t argue that the intention was to lock up comedians – that’s obviously not it. But it might be used that way.

    To provide an example of the way laws tend to be used against their purpose, let’s look at Jack Thomas. A control order should be issued only in order to prevent a terrorist attack. That’s what the law says – see Criminal Code Act 1995 s 104.1. Mr Thomas was acquitted of assisting a terrorist organisation on the basis of evidence. By a trial. He was convicted of passport tampering, then that conviction was quashed, though there is an appeal in progress against that decision. He can hardly be considered a danger to the community, someone likely to be involved in a terrorist action, if he does not provide assitance to terrorist organisations. Equally most terrorist attacks actually don’t happen during his midnight – 5am curfew, so that doesn’t seem to help either, does it? This is an abuse of governmental power. It does happen.

  7. Evil Pundit:
    I don’t give a damn about whatever insults and wild assertions you chuck at me nor about whatever you dislike and label as “paranoia”. History, not you, will judge whether people like me are wrong or not. Strange as it may seem, I really do hope I am completely wrong.

    After you have taken the trouble of actually talking to people who survived under such charmers as Videla, Galtieri, Pinochet, the Greek Colonels, Franco, Hitler, Pieck, Ulbricht, Horthy, Ka’dar, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd, Gheorghiu-Dej, Ceaus@escu, some of our beloved African leaders as well as a few leaders of our marvellous trading partners in Asia …. then please feel free to give us all the benefit of your insights on how personal liberty, the rule of law and accountable government can best be preserved in Australia.

    I have never been one for doom and gloom; I’m quite optimistic in fact. Democracy, accountable government, free enterprise, personal liberty, the rule of law, open education and all the other aspects of a vigorous civil society will spread far and wide throughout the world, even into countries that were once or still are dictatorships …. it’s just that these things, which we used to take for granted, are becoming very much harder to find in the countries that once espoused them, such as the United States and Australia.

    The “creeping totalitarianism” of which you are so scornful has been here for quite some time now. Were you waiting for its arrival to be announced with a brass band and flashing lights?

  8. Dear Evil,

    Do you think Jesus was a peace activist, or did Monty Python get it right with “blessed are the cheesemakers”?

    While you’re correct that it’s an old version of the sedition legislation we’re charged with, we’re being subjected also to quite modern forms of secret legal action, which I’m not at liberty to discuss.

    I take it you’re happy to see the return of the star chamber.

    I also expect that “modern” sedition legislation and control orders will soon be used against us when we teach and practice the arts of interventionary nonviolence – some of which we learned from the Cheesemaker.

    By the way, which bits of me are anti-Australian? Would it be the nonviolence? the practice of democratic rights? the full disclosure and transparency of our actions? our dispute with a ratbag lying government? or our failure to kiss George W’s arse?

  9. I don’t see any “star chambers”.

    If you commit criminal acts, you should be prepared to face prosecution. Don’t come whingeing to me, expecting sympathy.

    As for your “peace activism” — I might accept that you had some sincerity if you actually targeted every military installation equally. That you seemingly only choose to impede the defences of democratic countries reeks of partisanship and, dare I say it, cowardice.

    I don’t think you support peace at all. I think you’re on the other side.

  10. Yo Evil!

    Moving the goal posts again eh?

    You said I was anti-Australian, but you won’t answer why.

    Now you say I’m a cowardly anti-democrat. Wow.

    Here I was thinking it was my job to support democratic values first in my country of birth. Now you tell me that I should first stick my nose into all the other countries of the world – the ones that you don’t like. Wow.

    Is that what you’re doing? With George W Bombs of course. Doesn’t that make you a terrorist?

  11. Everyone:
    Just a mischievous thought …. I wonder if Mr J. W. Howard could ever be charged under his own Sedition Laws? :-)

  12. Why not Graham – whast so mischeivious, anyone shouild and could be charged under any law if they commit an offense agaisnt it.

    Being conviced is of course antoehr matter

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