France and Australia seem to
share one interesting feature: the impotence of their official
opposition. In France, urban riots have divided the ruling Gaullist
party, with the opposition Socialists treated largely as an
irrelevance. And in Australia, Beazley’s ALP has been missing in action
on the anti-terror legislation, and dissent on the government’s
backbench has been a more effective factor in securing changes.

Witness Malcolm Turnbull yesterday
on the “sedition” provisions: “They had been regarded as archaic and
dead letters for many years… they are cumbersome and difficult to
understand, especially for non-lawyers. It was no surprise, therefore,
that a lot of people have expressed apprehension …” George Brandis,
chairman of the relevant backbench committee, was even blunter: “I am
inclined to think the whole law of sedition is obsolete,” he said.

same story also reported the interesting fact that there has been no
prosecution for sedition since 1960; the last unfortunate victim was a
public servant who “was prosecuted for urging ‘the natives’ of Papua
New Guinea to demand independence from Australia.” He later committed
suicide after his conviction was upheld.

In the bill as introduced yesterday the sedition provisions are still unchanged from the worrying version found in the Stanhope draft, but the backbenchers have extracted a commitment to review them. We will monitor the outcome with great care.

the media, including Crikey, there is no doubt an element of
self-interest in this. We are no more likely than the average citizen
to be subject to preventive detention, or terrorist control orders, or
shoot-to-kill policies. But the criminalisation of speech, as in the
sedition rules, poses a direct threat to what we do for our
livelihoods. And if the media are silenced, then everyone’s rights are
put at risk.