Yesterday, Crikey reported on Treasurer Peter Costello’s claims that demonstrators at the G20 forum were “throwing balloons filled with urine at police”.
Now, with the citizen status of an arrested protestor uncertain, the Treasurer is equating violent demonstrators with immigrants, telling Southern Cross Radio:
“We’ll have to have a look at who these people are, whether they’re in fact Australian citizens, and what benefits they’re getting.”
Might this mean stripping them of their Centrelink entitlements? ”I don’t think taxpayers want to support people who use their time inside this country to trash our city and trash our reputation.”
But in Costello’s vision, this might apply to peaceful demonstrators. He reportedly said demonstration organisers — who have publicly condemned and distanced themselves from the violent few — must take full responsibility for the violence.
Current anti-terror laws have exceptionally broad powers to deem a group of citizens an “organisation”, and acts like those at the G20 demonstration “terrorist”. It may not be far-fetched to question whether current laws could be used against peaceful activists. Last year, US environmentalist Scott Parkin was identified by ASIO as a “threat” for undisclosed reasons, and deported. The year before, senior government advisors attended an Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) workshops on “winning the war against activists”. The workshops featured counter-terror techniques developed by RAND, a US military think-tank.
And stripping dissenters of funds isn’t a new strategy for the federal government. It gave the IPA $46,000 to help develop the Draft Charities Bill, which denies charitable NGOs tax exemption if they engage in advocacy.
But Costello is probably just dog-whistling, says Peter Kemp, Associate at Sam Hegney Solicitors. “To discriminate against protesters (assume they were convicted of a criminal offence) would be practically impossible [under current laws]. If they passed new legislation, it would fall foul of possibly every law against discrimination ever written, including our obligations under the UN Covenants. To withdraw Centrelink payments for offences (apart from cheating Centrelink) would be a legal nightmare. The government would also have to rework the whole Criminal Code’s Commonwealth definitions, falling foul of the implied constitutional rights of political communication.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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