So a considerable period of Question Time was wasted yesterday in the Opposition’s “pursuit” of Attorney-General Robert McClelland over his comments about the Benbrika terror trial.

It’s pretty funny seeing the Federal Coalition commenting on good process in a terrorism trial. The mob behind the Haneef debacle and its crass — well actually not so much crass as outright evil — politicisation doesn’t have a skerrick of credibility on this.

Kevin Andrews wasn’t in the chamber — he’s in Europe — but Phillip Ruddock was. His pallor was unblemished by even the faintest blush as the Opposition tried to ping McClelland. Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis wandered over from the Senate and sat in the bleachers behind the Opposition backbench. He didn’t actually do much, but it showed how, you know, serious it all was.

I went to the press conference in question. McClelland might’ve been trying exploit the trial outcome, but he carefully prefaced his remarks to make clear he was not commenting on the defendants about whom the jury had yet to make a finding, only about the verdicts that had already been delivered. Hello? How clear is that? But the trial judge, Bernard Bongiorno, apparently took exception to the comments.

Of course, he would, wouldn’t he. Like all other judges and indeed most of the legal system, Bongiorno continues this 19th century infantilisation of the community, on the basis that criminal justice is incompatible with jurors with minds of their own, who must be rigidly guided in their duties by the priest-like ritualists of the legal system, with no one daring to comment from outside.

Great for protecting the rights of the accused, of course, and great for keeping lawyers and judges in work.

This is, after all, the state where Underbelly was “banned” despite it being two clicks away on that interwebs thing that the youngsters are getting into, or available over the border on DVD. Those pesky zeroes and ones, undermining criminal justice, eh?

Meantime, Greg Sheridan, who has only recently been surgically removed from Alexander Downer, weighed in today to laud our success in the War Against Stuff by talking about a recent speech by some nameless bureaucrat from ASIO. Sheridan — even more so than Gerard Henderson — has been the leading spruiker for the National Security State garbage peddled by the Right since 2001.

Central to this has been an assertion that the systematic violation of basic rights — to which Mohammed Haneef can attest — is an essential part of our counter-terrorist response, and a refusal to accept the obvious truth that the issue was consistently (and in the end clumsily) exploited by the Howard Government for domestic political purposes.

Sheridan kicks off his piece by telling — in all seriousness — the story of how an Iraqi national was in Australia in 2002 trying to assemble a remote-controlled plane to crash into something somewhere in the US. “This information has never been revealed before,” Sheridan pompously avers. He should’ve done some googling.

Saddam Hussein’s threat to attack the US with unmanned planes has been exposed as rubbish years ago. Said Iraqi may well have thought he could assemble and build a plane that he could remotely fly across the Pacific. That sort of thing happens all the time in TV shows and movies, after all. But his delusions shouldn’t be the basis for a counter-terrorism policy.

There seems to have been a similar phenomenon at work in the Benbrika trial. The addled followers of Benbrika, despite their bad haircuts and worse beards, seem to differ little from the sort of mindless thugs who in other circumstances would end in bikie gangs, or thieving cars, or working in the “security industry”.

In short, they’re young men who like violence, or at least talking about it. This isn’t to cast doubt on the guilty verdicts, but to suggest that a man who is a wannabe terrorist in one context may well be your local small-time drug dealer and thug in another. That they were caught so easily suggests that their big mouths and poor grasp of reality were rather more important than their Muslim principles.

Having seen the AFP’s bungling in the Haneef trial, and ASIO’s appalling efforts in regard to the abduction and assault of Izhar ul-Haque — for which, scandalously, no ASIO officers have yet to be prosecuted – you suspect in this case it was the defendants’ stupidity and self-delusion that got them caught, not the sterling work of our wonderful security services and the draconian laws with which they work.

Meantime, the only person in Parliament really talking sense about terrorism is Petro Georgiou, whose private member’s bill for an independent reviewer of Commonwealth anti-terrorism laws is currently being considered by a Senate committee due to report next week. It’s an indictment of both his Opposition colleagues and the Labor Party that he’s been going one-out on this issue, while the rest of them carry on with the sort of drivel we saw yesterday.

Peter Fray

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