Civil liberties: are they melting away?

January 7, 2008 at 3:09 am Leave a comment

Kim photoDon’t know about you: but I’m finding it hard to get revved up into 2008. I’m still in holiday mode and enjoying my new toy: a Nikon D40 with a Sigma 18-200mm lens. So I’m prowling around looking for insects and poor unsuspecting birds to freeze frame! But I did find this article by Richard Ackland of the Sydney Morning Herald to be of some concern. He takes a look at civil liberties violations in Australia and concludes that our “relaxed and comfortable land” is watching these liberties go down the toilet. And frankly, whilst I was overjoyed to see Rudd win the PM election, I’m getting the vibe that the Federal Labor Government will continue its predecessor’s authoritarian track record. But time will tell.

Ackland offers up a crop of 10 violations – if you’re too lazy to go off and read the SMH article, here’s a run down:

  • The Trent Smith “witch-hunt” – he’s a trade economist (from DFAT) who was sacked by the Howard Government for allegedly leaking information by email to a Labor staffer and for having loose-lips. Smith worked as an ALP adviser between 1997-1999 and there were accusations from Labor of a “witch-hunt”. It was a four-year, $1 million witch-hunt, with police ferreting through 8,000 emails. Although cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation, Smith was ultimately sacked (and I believe the reason was that in an email he referred a Labor staffer to publicly available material).
  • Escalation in police powers. APEC and the Cronulla riots have given police new powers to create restricted, cordoned off areas and the police (without warrants or reasonable suspicion) can search people and confiscate “offensive property” (which apparently includes mobile phones and the Australian flag – didn’t think the flag was THAT bad).
  • Deportation. ASIO is busy appealing to the Federal Court over its obligations to provide deportees with details of their adverse security arrangements. So we have, for example, Scott Parkin, the US peace activist thrown into jail in Australia and then deported, without any explanation. And 2 refugees who were kept in the dark and held on Nauru (where Australia has a refugee detention centre) for 5 years.
  • The Pine Gap Four. Some Christian pacifists gained entry to Pine Gap. They alleged that the base was being used by the US in their bombing of Iraq. The four were prosecuted under an unused piece of legislation – Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952. The Crown asked the court to send the four to jail.
  • Dr Izhar ul-Haque. An Australian judge found that ASIO falsely imprisoned, kidnapped and intimidated a Sydney medical student, Izhar ul-Haque, for allegedly receiving terrorist training in Pakistan.
  • A strong campaign AGAINST human rights for Australia. Hello?
  • Philip Ruddock. The former Attorney-General is singled out for saying that any accused person can have a “fair trial” based on hearsay evidence and evidence extracted by coercion. Obviously, he went to a different law school from me.
  • The High Court of Australia. The court has whittled away freedom of speech with the Channel Seven Adelaide v Manock decision. Majority ruling in this case suggests that for any published comment to be defensible it must be “reasonable”. So the right of any “ratbag or crank” to speak up about unpopular cases has been severely curtailed.
  • David Hicks. As if 5 or so years of detention without charge wasn’t enough, the control order issued by a Federal magistrate certainly ensures that Hicks continues to be hounded.

So maybe, just maybe, before we Australians declare we live in a free, open country, we should take some time to familiarise ourselves with all of the above and look at the holistic pattern. Might make us stop and think a bit.

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      Entry filed under: Civil liberties, Privacy, Surveillance society.

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