Christian Kerr writes:

The term “sedition” should be removed from
the federal statute book, and offences urging force or violence against the
government or community groups redrafted, the Australian Law Reform Commission
said yesterday.

Releasing a discussion paper on federal sedition laws,
Commission president Professor David Weisbrot said the proposals aimed to
ensure “there is a bright line between freedom of expression – even when
exercised in a confronting or unpopular manner – and the reach of the criminal
law.

“Australians place a very high value on
free speech and robust political debate. There is no reason these offences,
which properly target the urging of force or violence, cannot be framed in such
a way to avoid capturing dissenting views and opinions or stifling the work of
journalists, cartoonists, artists and film makers, either directly or through
the ‘chilling effect’ of self-censorship,” Weisbrot said.

Last year Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock
asked the Law Reform Commission to consider whether the sedition laws
“modernised” in the Anti-Terrorism Act effectively dealt with the problem of
“intentionally urging others to use force or violence” and whether “sedition”
is the appropriate term to describe these offences.

The Commission has now made 25 proposals
for changes to the laws, including that the federal government provisions make
clear the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person intentionally
urged others to use force or violence and intended this force or violence to
occur.

Weisbrot says the word “sedition” should
not be included in legislation to describe these offences. “Given its history,
the term sedition is much too closely associated in the public mind with
punishment of those who criticise the established order. Under modern notions
and a liberal democracy, you should be allowed to strongly criticise
government.”

He recommends replacing the term sedition
with “offences against political liberty and public order”.

The report also rules out the need to
introduce a UK-style offence of “glorification of terrorism”.

The Attorney-General’s office has indicated
he is “predisposed” to abandon the term “sedition”, The Australian reports
today.

The report has already prompted “we were
right” claims from the Opposition – and calls from media organisations and
legal academics for an overhaul of the laws.

“One of the problems with the sedition law
is the narrowness of its exceptions,” Professor George Williams of the University of NSW writes in The SMH today.
“It contains no defence for many forms of communication, such as artistic
performances or even academic or scientific discussion. The law makes it an
offence to say such things even where it is in the public or national interest
to do so.”

The Commission’s proposals have been
supported by News Limited, Fairfax and the Media Entertainment and Arts
Alliance. Fairfax corporate affairs director Bruce Wolpe says,
“The law reform commission is recommending the effective repeal of the sedition
laws. It has explicitly recognised the profound threat the sedition laws pose
to a free press, and seeking further protections for the media.”

And the report also suggests that journalists
or others charged with sedition would no longer need to prove they came within
a “good faith” defence that had been introduced by the Government. Which might
mean that this email will need a new introduction…