Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

VSU: The Silver Lining?

Looking back on the past week is a little like reading one of those starry-eyed books on socialism written in the early part of the 20th century, writen from the perspective of when it all seemed entirely possible. These books are often quite accurate, to a point. `Well, there'll be one or two major world conflicts (yes), a financial crash which will bring the world to its knees (yes), followed by a lengthy period of consolidation, prosperity, and rampant capitalism (uh huh) ... but everyone will be sick of it by around 1980 and thenceforward will the socialist utopia begin (erm ...)

At the beginning of this year - or even the beginning of this week - it seemed possible that some of the wide ranging legislation that is destined to change the face of Australia would at least be amended to make it less bloody alarming. No chance. It's almost all gone through - little softening for the Welfare to Work legislation, no reduction on the sunset clause for the anti-terrorism legislation from 10 to 5 years (Senator John Faulkner's adjournment debate on this issue, which I've posted in the comments section below, is a good summary of my thoughts on this issue).

The tiny ray of light is still VSU, with Barnaby Joyce and Brendan Nelson both digging in their heels and refusing to budge. Still, given the past week I wouldn't be surprised if they simply forced the Senate to pull an all nighter and bullied Barnaby into acquiescing. If it succeeds in being pushed to the year, I say we all go to our nearest uni bar and have a coldie. What a sad day for Australian democracy, when these are the small victories we celebrate.

There's no doubt about it - Australia in 2006 will be a different Australia. Especially, it will be a crueler place for those on the fringes of society. Let's talk about it now - while we still can.


At 10:33 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2005

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (11.22 pm)-

This afternoon the government used their Senate majority to block debate on the second reading of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2005. It is chillingly ironic that the antiterrorism bill, with its potential to infringe the freedom of speech of many in our community, is itself the subject of a gag. It was legislation that ought to have been exposed to proper scrutiny. These are bad laws written for bad reasons. The government acknowledge that these laws are flawed. They have admitted that they need to be reviewed. But, rather than allow proper legislative process with adequate scrutiny and amendments, the government propose passing the laws first and fixing them later. A responsible government one might think would get the laws right before they got them passed. A responsible government might try to fix the problems in the laws before innocent people's rights and liberties are unnecessarily infringed.

Just how flawed are these laws? To start off with, a government controlled and chaired Senate committee inquiry into the antiterrorism bill made 52 unfavourable recommendations, one for every week of the year. And that is after a farcically abbreviated inquiry designed to prevent genuine scrutiny of the bill. I will not go through each and every one of those recommendations, but let me draw your attention, Mr President, to a few key issues.

First of all, I draw your attention to schedule 4, control orders and preventative detention orders. These orders are designed to make it possible for people to be put under house arrest or in actual detention when no charge has been proved or even brought against them. After the public outcry when an early draft of this bill was made public by Jon Stanhope, the ACT Chief Minister, some judicial review of these orders was included in the bill. But those changes remain inadequate. Serious questions remain about the constitutional validity of these provisions and serious questions remain about the necessity of these provisions when existing powers of arrest for broadly defined preparatory terrorist offences, combined with ASIO's powers of questioning and detention, provide alternatives with less impact on civil liberties.

I would also like to draw your attention to schedule 7 which relates to sedition. Sedition is an archaic and anachronistic offence. It has no place on the modern statute book. Our federal criminal law already provides an avenue for prosecuting those who incite others to crime. The sedition provisions in the antiterrorism bill in part duplicate the existing law and in part go dangerously beyond it. It will be possible for a person to be prosecuted even if the conduct they urge is not a crime. The Howard government cannot sugar-coat the violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in these sedition provisions of the bill by including a new offence of incitement to inter-group violence. In principle this is a welcome protection for members of the Australian community suffering vilification and violence. Why not, then, put it where it belongs-in anti-vilification law?

It is a new development for John Howard's government to show concern for protecting the rights of the marginalised and the minorities in our community. It was, after all, Mr Howard whose response to Pauline Hanson's inflammatory, ignorant and racist comments was a mild, 'You may not agree with everything that is said but you defend the right of people to participate.'

It was Mr Howard's government that whipped up anti-refugee feeling with false stories about kids overboard and false speculation about al-Qaeda terrorists on asylum seeker boats. Under John Howard, as former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said last week, the Liberal party 'has become a party of fear and reaction.' It has allowed-and some would say promoted-race and religion to be part of today's agenda.

The narrow provisions of the antiterrorism bill will do nothing to protect those in real danger of vilification and racial and religiously motivated violence in Australia.

But they will allow the government to pretend that the revival of sedition in our modern legal code is not a massively retrograde step. The good-faith defences in the antiterrorism bill are limited and inadequate, and minor changes to these defences in recent days do little to blunt the effect of the sedition provisions in these laws.

What is the government proposal to deal with the massive problems with these new sedition laws? They will review the legislation some time into the future. That is right: they will pass legislation that they know that members of their own government have told them is flawed, badly flawed, and then they will fix it later. If legislation is flawed, it ought to be fixed. And if it cannot be fixed, it should not be passed.

That is the responsible attitude. That is the response of a responsible government, a responsible Prime Minister, a responsible Attorney-General. That is the approach that they would take; but then a responsible government would not take the nation to war based on a lie. A responsible Prime Minister would not deny the connection between his own grievous error and the increased danger to Australians and Australian interests from terrorism, and a responsible Attorney-General would not allow shoddy laws to be put to the parliament for cheap political effect. What a pity then that Australia does not have such a government, such a Prime Minister or such an Attorney-General.

Instead, Australia has Mr Howard and Mr Howard's government. Australia has Philip Ruddock fresh from his time as minister for immigration, where he got plenty of practice locking people up or making people disappear. Having done John Howard's dirty work at DIMIA, from lies about 'children overboard' to more than 200 unjustified and illegal detentions and deportations, now Minister Ruddock is doing John Howard's bidding in a new portfolio, the Attorney-General's portfolio. Once a self-styled moderate, Philip Ruddock has become the pallid poster boy for the inhumane face of the Howard government's policies. He oversaw the development of a culture in DIMIA that prioritised detention and deportation over accuracy and fairness. I just ask this: what kind of culture will Philip Ruddock oversee when these laws are passed?

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