The Government plans to ram through 17 pieces of legislation in four
sitting days this week
– count ’em – including the anti-terror laws. The anti-terror laws with the
sedition provisions that they have already admitted are flawed and will need to
be re-examined in the new year.

The nation’s first law officer, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, seems
unable to explain why it is imperative to pass legislation that will be
amended.


The precedent is wrong – morally, politically and in pure terms of
public administration.

We’ve already seen what happens in this country when you arm a band of
crass incompetents with semi-totalitarian powers. The answer is Cornelia Rau
and Vivian Solon.

The crassest incompetent of them all, Senator Cartman in Drag, aka
Amanda Vanstone, will no doubt be entertaining today as she tries to explain
away why her Department has let Oday Adnan Al Tekriti, one of Saddam’s thugs,
shack up with a former Liberal MP in the Adelaide burbs
while we keep men and women and children who tried to flee the regime Al
Tekriti served – a regime we went to war against to overthrow – behind razor
wire.

Christ knows what these incompetents could do with the sedition laws.

The Sunday Telegraph reported
yesterday how two high profile Government legal eagles, Malcolm Turnbull and Senator
George Brandis, plan to take their fight against sedition laws to the
Australian Law Reform Commission.

The pair
forced Ruddock last week to guarantee a review by the commission as one
of a number of amendments to the new laws aimed at limiting the number of
people who may fall foul them.

Turnbull delivered a rousing speech on the
subject on Friday,
slamming the proposals as “archaic.”

“Sedition is a very outdated concept, it’s
kind of a sub-species of treason,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “The
problem with sedition is it’s got so many archaic connotations. We are better
off rid of it. We need to work out what it is we are actually concerned about
and how to make laws that target terrorists and not free speech.”

The Anti-Terrorism Bill contains some measures to
protect media organisations from the threat of imprisonment for reporting
terrorist activities, but Turnbull argues these are too vague.

“I think there are problems with some of the
language. The term ‘good faith’ is a rather old fashioned term, so that is an
example of an area that needs to be tightened,” he said.

Turnbull, instead, is pushing for the offence of
sedition to be scrapped and replaced with laws aimed at people who
“urge” others to commit terrorism.

“We need to replace it instead with some
clearly drawn provisions to prevent urging to violence,” he said. “Remember
urging can’t be accidental. Getting that right without impinging on free speech
is going to be a big point.”

Former
senior diplomat Tony Kevin is also concerned with the “good faith”
provisions. He has some strong comments to make on the matter on Margo
Kingston’s Webdiary.

The [Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs]
Committee had recommended:

“Recommendation 29 – If the above
Recommendation to remove Schedule 7 from the Bill is not accepted, the
committee recommends that: proposed subsections 80.2(7) and 80.2(8) in Schedule
7 be amended to require a link to force or violence and to remove the phrase
‘by any means whatever’; all offences in proposed section 80.2 in Schedule 7 be
amended to expressly require intentional urging; and proposed section 80.3 (the
defence for acts done ‘in good faith’) in Schedule 7 be amended to remove the
words ‘in good faith’ and extend the defence to include statements for
journalistic, educational, artistic, scientific, religious or public interest
purposes (along the lines of the defence in section 18D of the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975).

Mr Ruddock responded:

Sedition (see recommendations 27-29)

In relation to the provisions dealing
with sedition, the Government proposes to amend the bill to:

Insert the phrase ‘by means of force or
violence’ after the word ‘effect’ in the definition of ‘seditious intention’ to
make clear that a seditious intention necessarily involves the intention to use
force or violence to achieve a particular outcome.

Remove the phrase ‘by any means
whatsoever’ in the offences of urging a person to assist the enemy and urging a
person to assist those engaged in armed hostilities.

Make clear that recklessness only
applies to being reckless as to the consequences of the offence of urging the
overthrow of the Constitution or Government, not the behaviour of an individual
to ensure consistency with the other sedition offences.

Insert an additional good faith defence
in relation to publishers of material who do so in good faith and in the public
interest.

In addition, the Attorney-General has
agreed to a detailed review of the sedition offence.

He’s
also made these additional comments – which show the sedition measures up for
the shameful mess that they are:

The L and C Committee rightly wanted to
remove the term ‘good faith’ altogether because it is so spongy in
meaning, and open to abuse by an unscrupulous Attorney-General, so
as to target those persons or organisations he wants to go after, and
leave alone those that he does not. Instead, Mr Ruddock seems to
have ignored the bipartisan Committee’s very good suggested change to the
proposed section 80.3, and instead threw a small bone – ie, an additional
good faith defence – to ‘publishers,’ whatever that term means
(see below)

Mr Howard was bending over backwards on
the weekend assuring both mainstream cartoonists and media publishers
‘You are OK, this isn’t about you’ and hinting broadly that ‘We are not
going to use this new sedition law any more often than the old
one was used’ [ie, I infer to mean – hardly ever, and
only against Muslim terrorist advocates]. Of course it is Criminal Law
101 that
this is bad lawmaking – good law does not discriminate between persons
– but
Howard does not care what legal principles or values he corrupts in our
society, in his pursuit of ever-expanding power and control over
Australian life.

I have a practical question here though
– ‘what is a publisher?’

When the ABC or SBS transcribes a hard-hitting
radio or TV program eg on Lance Collins or Merv Jenkins or Andrew Wilkie or
SIEV X, is it being a publisher? When independent public interest websites like Crikey or New Matilda or Online
Opinion or Webdiary or Greenleftweekly.com or tonykevin.com or Marg Hutton’s
sievx.com or Jack Smit’s projectsafecom.com, write and/or publish
dissenting political texts that Mr Ruddock might think seditious, are they
publishers?

I think it is perhaps quite important to
know whether we have that miniscule fig leaf of protection offered by Mr
Ruddock last week to ‘publishers,’ or where he intends to draw the
line here?

I know it won’t affect what I write –
because basically, I don’t give an flying fig what Mr Ruddock might try
to do to me, I’d be glad to be a test case of this law in the public interest
– but it could concern some of those other internet sites I gave as
examples.