Thanks to Jon Stanhope, we’ve now had time to study the proposed anti-terrorism legislation. Its supporters assure us that there’s nothing to worry about; this morning’s Australian,
amazingly enough, says that “we cannot afford the terror law debate to
be packaged as a civil liberties issue.” But some of us are still
concerned.

Especially worrying – and finally getting their fair
share of attention – are the anti-sedition provisions, schedule 7 of
the draft bill, which criminalise words, not actions. But the prime
minister tells us
that “we’ve had sedition laws in this country for years.” All that’s
happening, he says, “is that essentially we have codified the existing
law in relation to sedition and brought it up to date.”

To some
extent he’s right. But there are two important differences. Firstly,
the old sedition laws were a relic that no-one took seriously: the fact
that they are being re-enacted, with greatly increased penalties (three
years increased to seven), would be a major concern even if there were
no new content. It’s a warning that the government may really intend to
use these anachronistic provisions.

But secondly, there is new
content: the proposed section 80.2 (7) and (8) of the Commonwealth
Criminal Code, concerning encouragement of overseas “enemies,” have no
counterpart in the old law. Again, we are being reassured: “I can say
to those people who want to go out and barrack for … terrorist acts,
it should have no impact at all,” said Ruddock.

That’s
not how I read it. Here’s the proposed s. 80.2 (8): “A person commits
an offence if … the person urges another person to engage in conduct
[intended] to assist, by any means whatever, an organisation or country
… engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force.”
It takes finer hair-splitting than mine to find a distinction between
“barracking” and “urging.”

The Australian’s claim that
this only affects “people suspected of being terrorists on active
service, or their confederates,” is simply not true. It will apply to
any supporters of the other side in an armed conflict in which
Australian troops are engaged – even if, as in Iraq, it’s a war that we
started.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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