" AUSTRALIA has a new measure of sound public policy. Called the Fairfax Index, it works like this. The more hysterical the hyperbole on a particular topic on the Fairfax opinion pages and the greater the number of progressive pen pals spilling their outrage on the Fairfax letters pages, the more likely it is that the target of their anguish is good public policy. Using the Fairfax Index, the latest anti-terrorism laws must represent very sound public policy indeed."
I was somewhat chuffed to find my blog made Margo Kingston's page yesterday, presumably because of my "clever" heading on a previous post. Funny thing is, it seems to have done almost nothing to my hit rate, which may say something about the number of Margo's readership at the moment.
But the main point of today's post is just to make clear what some others have already pointed out, but no letter writers to Fairfax seem to acknowledge. Namely, the offence of sedition, in terms very similar to that in the anti terrorist legislation, has been around since 1914. The easiest way to check this out is to use the very handy Austlii site, which has links to all Commonwealth and State legislation.
Here is section 24 A of the Crimes Act 1914:
"Definition of seditious intention
- An intention to effect any of the following purposes, that is to say:
(a) to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
(d) to excite disaffection against the Government or Constitution of the Commonwealth or against either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth;
(f) to excite Her Majesty's subjects to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter in the Commonwealth established by law of the Commonwealth; or
(g) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of Her Majesty's subjects so as to endanger the peace, order or good government of the Commonwealth;
is a seditious intention."
Here is section 24D:
- Any person who, with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, writes, prints, utters or publishes any seditious words shall be guilty of an indictable offence.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years."
Now certain acts done in good faith are not sedition by virtue of s.24F, but it is too long to post here.
The new anti terrorist bill in fact amends the Commonwealth Criminal Code. But the basic terms of "seditious intention" are very close to those listed above. The offence itself is worded differently, but there is still a section providing for criticism done in good faith not being sedition.
It seems to me that the Premiers know that the changes here are not dramatic, because I have noticed little (or none?) of their criticism as being about this part of the Bill. It is pretty funny how the Sydney Morning Herald readers have lived under legislation of very similar effect all of their lives, but only now (that it is a Howard government) has it become the greatest threat to democracy, freedom of speech, etc, ever seen.
Update: OK, I have found a lengthy Margo Kingston post which does set out (via a legal opinion Peter Garrett obtained) the differences between the new law and the old. So Margo's readers were at least aware of the old law. (Not that it seems to have made any difference.)
As I have said before, lawyers were designed to disagree. It should come as no shock that some can be found (including QC's or SC's) who will criticise this bill. I think this particular opinion in Margo's piece is very contentious. No time to set out why now, but if you read it, I think you will see what I mean.