One of the campaign themes we’re likely to hear more of from the Coalition as the election approaches is the threat of “wall-to-wall” Labor governments — that, with Labor in power in Canberra as well as in every state, they could cooperate to make fundamental changes to the country.

On their record so far, however, the chance of state and federal Labor parties getting together to agree on anything much is pretty slim. Witness yesterday’s announcement by the South Australian Labor Government of special legislation to deprive David Hicks of the right to make any profit from relating his story.

All states have legislation in some form to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes; however, as South Australia’s Attorney-General said, it applies “only to serious offences committed in breach of Australian law”.

But Hicks has not been convicted of any crime under Australian law, and he is in prison for an offence that was not a crime under either Australian or American law at the time it was allegedly committed.

Indeed, Hicks hasn’t been convicted in a court at all. He was convicted by a military tribunal (on a charge that is not an offence under the laws of war either), under a process that had already once been declared illegal by the US Supreme Court — but he chose to accept a plea bargain rather than wait out the inevitable constitutional challenge.

Hicks may well have done dreadful and reprehensible things. But the same can be said of many people who have never been brought before a court for them. Hicks’s position is no different: he is entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

By legislating against Hicks, the SA Government is putting its endorsement on everything that went on at Guantanamo Bay. It is making a deliberate choice to import those standards — the standards of torture, arbitrary detention and retrospective punishment — into Australian law.

The federal ALP has consistently, although not loudly, defended Hicks’s right to a fair trial and due process. It’s even thought that its support for civil liberties might be winning it some electoral mileage.

But the South Australian brethren obviously haven’t got the message.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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