SMH website redesign – pleeeeease don’t do it
Sunday October 30th 2005, 9:09 pm

image: Fairfax PublicationsFairfax is upselling the release of a redesigned layout for the online version of the Sydney Morning Herald:

Click onto the hot news website where the focus is on fun
By Daniel Dasey
October 30, 2005
The Sun-Herald

Readers of The Sun-Herald will have access to detailed information on Sydney’s best films, bars and restaurants and enjoy enhanced news coverage under a full redesign of the paper’s website.

For a decade the joint Sun-Herald and Sydney Morning Herald website, http://www.smh.com.au, has provided readers with quality news coverage sourced from the print edition of the papers and elsewhere.

Its new look is being unveiled on Thursday.

If the online SMH winds up looking like the new layout for The Age, I really wish they wouldn’t.

yaaarrrrrgh.

-weez 

UPDATE: They did it- and it looks just like The Age. Navigational nightmare. Double yaaarrrrrgh.



Hosting service fubar – suggestions please?
Sunday October 30th 2005, 8:15 am

I just moved mgk to a new host only a few weeks ago due to poor response time performance on the last one. MD Webhosting did something to their FTP host about a week ago which has stopped me from being able to access the web storage space- and they either can not or will not fix it.

We gotta move house again. Got any suggestions for a hosting service that works well and has capable tech support?

thanks

-weez 



Today’s Noose: Libby indicted on 5 charges, resigns
Saturday October 29th 2005, 1:13 pm

Noose of the DayThe noose is beginning to tighten around the neo-cons’ necks. The Fitzgerald investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to the press has indicted US Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Irving "Scooter" Libby on five criminal charges.

A federal grand jury handed down indictments on two counts of perjury for lying to the Fitzgerald investigation, two more for lying to FBI investigators in the matter and one count of obstruction of justice. Libby tendered his resignation- which Shrubbo quickly accepted, yet apologising for and praising Libby all the while.

Not since the Watergate scandal in 1973-4, in Nixon’s presidency, have criminal charges been laid against a person so close in the org chart to a US president, when VP Spiro Agnew was convicted of tax evasion in a bribes scheme. It’s the first time in 130 years that a White House official has faced criminal charges.

Now- how did Libby learn of Plame’s identity? Rove? Cheney? Bush himself?

If Rove goes, Shrub is, in a word, screwed. Without Rove’s dirty-tricks strategy advice, the neo-cons seem almost certain to crash and burn. The Fitzgerald investigation has taken quite a lot of Rove’s time. The evidence of White House rudderlessness was fatally obvious in the botched FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina and the ill-fated nomination of White House counsel and Bush crony Harriet Miers, who has never served as a judge, to the Supreme Court.

If the information is traced to Cheney, it’s highly probable that the Dickster could be the first US Vice President since Spiro Agnew to resign from the office and only the third VP in US history to resign in disgrace.

If the information came from Shrub, impeachment is a sure thing. Bush’s resignation would be almost inevitable. Could Dubya be taking his first steps on his journey to The Hague for attacking Iraq over bogus WMD?

I propose a new drinking game; every time Shrubbo invokes executive privilege to prevent giving evidence in the Plame matter, you must quaff a beer. If you voted for Bush, you must chug a frosty mug of hemlock.

Interestingly, the Democrats haven’t had to lift a finger to see all their Fitzmases come at once.

Now…  who will Shrub pick to replace Cheney? This is the guy who will replace Shrubbo himself if he resigns. 

-weez 



Terrorism laws: No police state in Australia
Thursday October 27th 2005, 7:19 am

Treasurer Peter Costello says he won’t know if HoWARd’s terror laws are constitutional until there has been a challenge in the High Court. He’s not wrong. Australia has no Bill of Rights which defines limits on government power. Citizens do have some rights, but only those established by precedent in case law.

If we had a Bill of Rights, in a case where the government enacts law which exceeds its authority, it would be possible to sue the government to have a decision on the questionable law rendered in the courts, against defined limits on government power. Without a Bill of Rights, someone prosecuted under the laws has to suffer through a test case.

However, if police are given power to shoot-to-kill people only suspected of illegal activity, that person is fully deprived of due process. There’s no redress and being a test case is just a tick undesirable.

HoWARd’s terror legislation is extraordinary in that in any application of these laws, a person would suffer unusually and would have extreme difficulty challenging them. There is a very good chance that the government could even prevent a test case from ever making it to the High Court.

Peter Beatty, Steve Bracks and Paul Lennon have expressed reservations about the proposed laws. HoWARd is heavily engaged in lobbying the Premiers and Chief Ministers to get them to acquiesce to these police-state powers.

You should be lobbying them, too.

Dear Premier/Chief Minister

I am most concerned about John Howard’s proposed terrorism laws. The unchecked powers to detain, surveil and to shoot-to-kill persons who are merely suspected of criminal activity, as well as removal of right to legal counsel and to inform one’s family of being detained are completely unacceptable in a first-world democracy.

There must be checks and safeguards made available to suspects under this legislation, to at very least conform with international human rights standards. A person must be able to contact their family and have a right to legal representation. Police shooting to kill without warning must only be permissible when there is a clear and present danger to life- not a mere suspicion of wrongdoing.

There are already laws in effect which define and prohibit terrorist activities. The government is in effect asking for the power to detain and surveil persons who cannot be demonstrated to a magistrate to be involved in terrorism activities as they are currently defined. The government wants the power to detain innocents and hold them incommunicado- powers the government shouldn’t have for ten seconds, much less the proposed 10 years until the sunset provision takes effect.

The most disturbing of Howard’s proposals concern the redefinition of the offence of sedition. The draft legislation proposes to eliminate the test of ‘overthrowing the government by force’ as one of the necessarily intended goals of a person prosecuted under the law.

All one need do under the Howard proposal is to ‘urge disaffection against the Government’ to be guilty of sedition. This specification could very easily be interpreted by a court as a prohibition of letter you are now reading. The change is an unacceptable prior restraint on free speech. This restraint would also prevent the proper operation of a free press.

Through the deportation of Scott Parkin, a well-known pacifist and peace activist, it is clear that this government will abuse its authority to protect itself from public criticism. It is not unimaginable that public comment critical of government policy could be deemed sedition.

Please work to oppose the Howard terrorism law proposals.  There is no threat at present which justifies a police-state or martial law in Australia. Restricting civil liberties in the face of a perceived threat to civil liberties at the hands of terrorists is not only illogical but counterproductive. Please help to preserve our freedoms in Australia.

Regards 

(your signature)

Contact details for Premiers and Chief Ministers, for your convenience: 

Steve Bracks – Victoria
Office of the Premier
1 Treasury Place
Melbourne
Australia 3000

Ph (03) 9651 5000
Fax (03) 9651 5054

email: premier@dpc.vic.gov.au

Morris Iemma – New South Wales
Electorate Office:
48 Thurlow Street,
Riverwood NSW 2210
PO Box 1200,
RIVERWOOD NSW 2210

Phone (02) 9584 1788
Fax (02) 9584 1945

Ministerial Office:
Level 40 Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place SYDNEY NSW 2000

Phone (02) 9228 5239
Fax (02) 9228 3934

email: thepremier@www.nsw.gov.au or lakemba@parliament.nsw.gov.au


Peter Beatty – Queensland
Office of the Premier
PO Box 15185
City East
Queensland 4002

Phone: (07) 3224 4500
Fax: (07) 3221 3631

email: ThePremier@premiers.qld.gov.au

Dr. Geoff Gallop – Western Australia
197 St George’s Terrace,
Perth, WA 6000

Phone: (08) 9222 9888
Fax: (08) 9322 1213

email: wa-government@dpc.wa.gov.au

Mike Rann – South Australia
State Administration Centre
200 Victoria Square
Adelaide SA 5000

Phone: (08) 8463 3166
Fax: (08) 8463 3168

email: premier@saugov.sa.gov.au

Paul Lennon – Tasmania
Premiers Office
Department of Premier and Cabinet
11th Floor, 15 Murray St, Hobart
GPO Box 123B
Hobart Tasmania 7001

Phone: (03) 6233 3464
Fax: (03) 6234 1572 

email Paul Lennon

Jon Stanhope – Australian Capital Territory
Chief Minister’s Department
GPO Box 158
Canberra ACT 2601

Telephone: 13 22 81
Fax: (02) 6207 5886

email: stanhope@act.gov.au

Clare Martin – Northern Territory
GPO Box 3146
Darwin NT 0801

Telephone: (08) 8901 4000
Facsimile: (08) 8901 4099

email: chiefminister.nt@nt.gov.au

Make sure our leaders know that you don’t want a police-state in Australia.  If you don’t have easy access to a fax machine, I am happy to forward faxes on this issue. Compose your letter in MS Word or scan it into a JPG or PDF file and send it to me via email and I will fax it as soon as I receive it.

-weez 



Thoughtcrime, Australian style
Saturday October 22nd 2005, 8:17 pm

You feeling safer yet?

Believe it or not, John HoWARd’s proposed terrorism law is not terribly novel regarding the specification of what speech can be deemed sedition. Since 1914, it has been a crime punishable by up to three years imprisonment to engage in seditious enterprises:

CRIMES ACT 1914 – SECT 24C

Seditious enterprises – A person who engages in a seditious enterprise with the intention of causing violence, or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, is guilty of an indictable offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment for not longer than 3 years.

HoWARd’s   draft   daft terrorism laws would repeal sections 24A-F of the Crimes Act 1914 and replace them with a new, but similar definition of seditious intention:

seditious intention means an intention to effect any of the
following purposes:

  • (a) to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
  • (b) to urge disaffection against the following:
    • (i) the Constitution;
    • (ii) the Government of the Commonwealth;
    • (iii) either House of the Parliament;
  • (c) to urge another person to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure a change to any matter established by law in the Commonwealth;
  • (d) to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different groups so as to threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth.

However, as usual, the devil is in the detail. Gone from the 1914 Crimes Act is the specification that seditious enterprises must be committed in the course of encitement of others to overthrow the government by force in order to be an indictable offence. It doesn’t appear that you must necessarily have the intention of overthrowing of the government by force under HoWARd’s proposals. All you have to do to be guilty of seditious intention is ‘urge disaffection against the Government.’

George Orwell had a name for HoWARd style sedition: thoughtcrime.

You feeling safer yet?

-weez 



My Way or the Highway
Friday October 21st 2005, 7:54 am

 let's go serfin' now, everybody's learnin' how

Australian bloggers are not fooled by John HoWARd’s ridiculous spin that his crushing of workers’ rights and entitlements will lead to more jobs and better working conditions. In a completely foolish attempt to pander to workplace bullies, HoWARd has already given employers the nod to use the elimination of unfair dismissal laws to harass workers into quitting.

John HoWARd has often been accused of living in the 1950s. However, the Dickensian WorkChoices is straight out of the 1850s. Employers were once kings, able to abuse, intimidate, threaten and harass employees at will, with their workers’ livelihoods at the tips of their fingers. It was abuse of workers which gave rise to the current system of industrial relations in Australia, which include reasonable protections for workers. John HoWARd is giving employers flexibility- to again reign as undisputed monarchs of their patch and lords of the sharecroppers who till the soil for them.

From the first day I set foot in Australia from the USA in October 1996, the difference in the general manner of Australians from Americans was immediately obvious. Americans can never relax- there is no safety net in the American workplace. There is no reasonable amount of holiday or sick time available to American workers. By contrast, Australians get a minimum of 4 weeks per year of annual leave as well as generous sick leave conditions, national healthcare and adequate supports for those who do find themselves unemployed or unable to work. Australia is indeed a kinder and gentler place than America- and I would never swap one for the other. Australia has surfies- America has serfs.

Many Australians idealise America and wonder why I could bear to leave such a place for Australia. The workplace relations system in Australia is in no small part responsible for the general character of the Australian people and thus my affection for them and the place we live. In 2003, I became an Australian citizen, intending to live in Australia indefinitely.

I never expected America to come and hunt me down, but John HoWARd is about to loose the hounds of laissez-faire capitalism on me, you, and every other Australian. Prepare to live like a fox, snatching your livelihood where you can, before the dogs close in.

-weez 



Blogs: the last free press
Friday October 21st 2005, 6:09 am

the last free press is on your desktop (image: EFF.org)

At present, under section 60 of Australian Commonwealth legislation, a person must not control:          

*a commercial television broadcasting licence and a commercial radio broadcasting licence having the same licence area;

*a commercial television broadcasting licence and a newspaper associated with that licence area;

* or a commercial radio broadcasting licence and newspaper associated with that licence area.

There’s a good reason for these restrictions. While Australia is regarded as having a free press, it has long been recognised that the owner of a broadcasting or publishing facility has final control over what materials are carried to the public. Public perception of what is news at any moment is strongly influenced by the preponderance of what issues are covered in one’s local news media.

If Kerdoch doesn’t think genocide in Darfur is newsworthy, the public will get very little information about Darfur. If John HoWARd is good mates with Kerdoch, HoWARd’s views will get emphasis on Kerdoch media. If the only news you have is Kerdoch’s, there’s a very high likelihood that you will have Kerdoch opinions. You really don’t know what you’re missing.

With media cross-ownership laws long ago decimated in the US and set for a similar fate here in Australia, about ten incredibly wealthy people will effectively have final editorial control in mainstream news media between both countries. If you politically agree with those ten rich people, I suppose it’s all well and good, but there’s no way that ten media moguls’ breadth of opinion could encompass the views of the roughly 300 million people who live in the service areas of these moguls’ facilities.

Blogging, or ‘citizen journalism,’ with no editorial contraints, is indeed the last truly free press. The magic is in the distribution system. Any blogger has as big a signal as Kerdoch. No need for a 1000 foot tower in the backyard to be heard just as well. There is no final editorial control on what a blogger may publish- and that is of paramount importance in a time when conservative governments collude with the super-rich to mould public opinion in the manner that they all see fit.

With the ability to communicate clearly and directly, between suburbs or between continents with equal speed and clarity comes particular rights and responsibilities that were previously only ascribed to journalists working in mainstream media. The US based Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) has a very useful handbook for bloggers to introduce them to being journalists. EFF’s cousin, Electronic Frontiers Australia, is working to protect the rights of bloggers and help craft sensible telecommunications legislation.

"Blogging is the future" has been said many, many times in the last several years. That future will be only what we make of it.

Bloggers are journalists… and it’s time we raised the bar and started acting like them.

-weez 



Malcolm Fraser: Terror laws “seriously flawed”
Friday October 21st 2005, 6:03 am

Former Australian PM Malcolm Fraser (image: australianbiography.gov.au)I usually write all the material that appears on mgk, but what former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser has to say about John HoWARd’s latest spate of terrorism laws should be taken in its entirety, without my comment.

This is the full text of the Stephen Murray-Smith Memorial Lecture, presented by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, at the State Library of Victoria on October 19, 2005.

Today’s world is preoccupied with terrorism. How we in Democracies respond is critical to the maintenance of our own values and to the ideals of liberty. There is a danger that Islam, which is essentially a peaceful religion, will be blamed for the actions of terrorists and that we will be increasingly divided by religion and race.

We need to understand that terrorism is as old as the human race.

The Crusaders from Britain who fought against Islam in the Middle Ages; the Spanish Inquisition; the IRA and the Protestant militias in Ireland all practised terrorism; all were Fundamentalist in their beliefs; the Chechnians wanting independence, are terrorists. People in some parts of the Philippines who want independence, were once called Communists, then Freedom Fighters are now called terrorists. The Basques in Spain; the Belgians in the Congo; the Portuguese and Spaniards in Central and South America; the Red Army and the Red Brigades in Germany and Italy in the late seventies and early eighties were all terrorists.

These groups were mostly fundamental in their attitudes. They all practised terrorism.

Many in today’s world say Islamic Fundamentalists have no cause and no purpose but hatred and destruction of the West. In a major speech to his own Labour Party last year, Prime Minister Tony Blair made that point but on the very next page he said that peace between Israel and Palestine would do more to end terrorism than all the bullets in the world. Both statements cannot be true. The second is true.

Many believe the war in Iraq has provided a new motivation for terrorists, to end the occupation of an Islamic country by an infidel army.

To understand that there are different causes of terrorism is not to condone but is essential if we wish to overcome and end terrorism.

Because civilisation as we know it was so nearly destroyed during the Second World War, in its aftermath, leaders of all major states believed they must strive and work to achieve a better world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed in 1948. In the years since, protocols and conventions established under it were designed to build a law-based world. The International Criminal Court finally came into force on 1 July 2002. This was a further major step in that direction.

It is more than unfortunate that our response to terrorism has reversed much of that progress and leaders in too many countries do not seem to understand that that is happening.

I want to look briefly at the response of Britain, of the United States and of Australia.

In Britain, the government had attempted to put asylum seekers permanently in jail if they were not successful in their claims and if they could not be returned to their country of origin. The Law Lords made it plain that jail of more than a few weeks was inappropriate under British law. Unless the detainees had to be charged and tried. A compromise was reached which involved judicial and parliamentary oversight.

Since the London bombings the United Kingdom has sharpened some aspects of its laws against terrorism, especially laws in relation to aliens. It seems to have done this however, with greater discussion and openness than we have had in Australia.

In the United States, long before war was declared on Iraq, members of the Administration, especially from the Justice Department, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House, began an involved paper trail which sought to define how far interrogators could go in "intrusive questioning". Their purpose was to avoid charges of torture under United States or International Law, or to avoid being in breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The US Administration published these papers. They are put together in a large document called the Torture Papers by the New York University Center for Law and Security, published by Cambridge Press. These papers were before Iraq, designed to define the treatment that could be metered out to prisoners taken from Afghanistan. The papers were intended to place such prisoners beyond the reach of any law and to provide immunity for the jailers.

President Bush came out of it with credit. He signed a short note which said "any interrogation must be humane" – he did not elaborate. Colin Powell argued that to torture prisoners would place American servicemen at risk and, on that practical rather than on an ethical ground, he argued against the practices.

A State Department lawyer, William Taft argued fervently against torture. Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee argued that if you caused major organ failure or death, it would be torture but short of that, it almost certainly wasn’t. Former Assistant Attorney-General Bybee is now a judge.

Attorney-General Gonzales in his confirmation hearings before the United States Senate, claimed that he was opposed to torture, but he signed a piece of paper, which appears in the Torture Papers, which many would construe as endorsing torture. The Justice Department has most to be ashamed of in its perversion of both domestic and international law in relation to torture.

Torture began to be outlawed as reliable evidence by British Courts in the 1500s. For a long while now domestic jurisdictions and international law have outlawed torture absolutely. We cannot take one step along that path. To take one leads to many. To its credit, the Supreme Court of the State of Israel in 1999 made a judgement that torture was outside the law in all circumstances. On practical grounds it is recognised as the most unreliable means of extracting evidence, but on moral and ethical grounds it betrays the core belief of our existence. By acceptance of torture too many have stepped into a darker past.

General Taguba’s report, and the Red Cross report on Guantanemo Bay, both use careful language, as one would expect. But it was clear that abuse was pervasive and substantial. Long before Abu Ghraib, it was possible to see how every violation of decent behaviour, later revealed at Abu Ghraib, had its origins in high level memorandum, passed between the highest organs of United States Administration.

There was a clear attempt to place prisoners taken by the Northern Alliance and handed over to the Americans outside the reach of any law of any human decency. They were described as "unlawful combatants". The Taliban were described as a "failed state" which Colin Powell pointed out was wrong because the United States had always held all states and in particular, Afghanistan to their international obligations.

Torture has been further reinforced as a technique by the expanded Rendition programmes, which most recently brought American authorities into sharp conflict with the Italian government.

A Canadian citizen had earlier been taken to Egypt and was only released 12 months later, after the most vigorous Canadian protests. There is no point in the Rendition Programme unless it is to place prisoners in a jurisdiction where they can be tortured.

One of the Australians at Guantanamo Bay reportedly spent six months in Egypt on his way to Guantanamo. He has since been released without charge. The Australian Government claimed that it had approached the Egyptian authorities who had no record of him entering or leaving the country. Egyptian immigration authorities would not be lined up to record people who were taken off an American executive jet to an Egyptian jail under the Rendition programme.

The United States’ response has also involved the establishment of special Military Tribunals. There is a body of opinion, which has condemned those Tribunals as lacking basic justice. These include Lord Goldsmith, First Law Officer of Britain, who said that they would not provide justice required for a British citizen. As a consequence the United Kingdom persuaded the United States to return British citizens held in Guantanamo Bay to Britain. One of the Federal Courts in the United States has ruled Military Tribunals unconstitutional on the grounds that prisoners were not told the evidence against them and on the grounds that the tribunals accepted evidence taken under torture.

Major Robert Preston and Captain John Carr, both within the United States system and both Prosecutors, condemned the process as not providing a reasonable basis for a just trial. Captain Paul Willey, head of Australia’s Military Bar and Navy Reservist has also been heavily critical of the process. The President of the Law Council of Australia has described the attitude of the Australian Government as an outrage. Geoffrey Robertson, QC has joined in the criticism. He suggested that an Australian should be required to sit as Judge with the Military Tribunal. There are two problems with that suggestion. The United States would not accept it and secondly, no reputable Australian judge would take part in the proceedings of those Military Tribunals. Prof Tim McCormack, Australian Red Cross Professor of Humanitarian Law at Melbourne University and one of the drafters of the Statues of the International Criminal Court, and adviser to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague has said that at the very least Hicks deserves the same standard of justice that is being provided for former President Milosevic of Yugoslavia.

The weight of opinion and the weight of evidence is overwhelming. The rules for the conduct of the Tribunals, their lack of independence, the lack of a judicial appeal, deserve condemnation from all of us.

The United States has a Bill of Rights and so their legal system has come into play.

The courts have ruled that people in Guantanamo Bay must have their day in court. Unfortunately it has not yet taken the step of confirming that the Tribunals are unconstitutional.

Australia has supported the military tribunals. The Government has said that Hicks will get justice, but the majority of opinion is against the Government which unlike the British Government has abandoned its own citizen. We have, by implication, supported the Rendition Programme and therefore have not opposed torture.

The ASIO legislation of 2002 underlines Australia’s official indifference to "due process" and to what until recently would have been regarded as universally accepted Rule of Law.

We are the only democratic country, I am advised, to legislate for the detention of people whom the authorities do not suspect of any wrong doing or even of any wrong thought.

In Australia, any of us can be detained merely because authorities believe we might know something that we don’t even know we know. The authorities do not have to believe we are guilty of any crime, or are planning any crime, or have consorted with any suspicious persons. How could such a law be drafted by the Government and supported by the Labor opposition? You can be detained for one week but then on a new warrant, another and another and another week. Unless it is approved in the original warrant, and why would ASIO do that? – you are not allowed to contact your wife, your husband, your child, your mother, your father and of course not a lawyer.

If you don’t answer ASIO’s questions satisfactorily, you can be charged and subject to 5 years in jail. But the law is reasonable, it goes on to say that if you don’t know anything, then it’s not an offence not to tell ASIO anything!!! But you have to prove you didn’t know anything and so the "onus of proof" is reversed.

You can be asked to produce a paper and if you don’t, you also go to jail on prosecution for 5 years but the law goes on to say, being fair-minded again, if you don’t have such a paper, it’s not an offence not to produce it but you have to prove that you didn’t have it. How do you prove that you do not have something that you do not even know exists!!! Again, the "onus of proof" is reversed.

If a journalist heard that you had been detained and sought to report it, he would go to jail for 5 years. If a detained person were released and talked to anyone about his or her experiences, subject to prosecution, five years in jail.

This seems to be a law for secret behaviour by authorities, for making somebody disappear. It is a law that one would expect in tyrannical countries and not in Australia. Do we do nothing about it because we believe it will not apply to ourselves? Do we believe it is only going to apply to people of a different religion who look a bit different?

United States authorities and others have, time and again, denigrated those in Guantanamo Bay. We have been told they are the worst of the worst, that they are terrible people, that they do not deserve the normal protection of the law.

People who make such comments clearly do not understand or believe in the Rule of Law as it has evolved through the ages. They have taken such views because they believe those in Guantanamo Bay and others are not "people" like ourselves. In a different day and a different time, but within the memories of many, we have heard those words before.

In other words the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the presumption that all people should have access to "due process" in a properly constituted legal system is no longer valid in Australia.

It is not reasonable just to blame the Government alone for such laws. The Labor Party approved such laws.

There was one change of particular significance so I give credit for that. The original legislation applied to people of any age, even to children, except that intrusive strip searching should not take place of a girl under 10. The Labor Party took the view that the legislation should only apply to adults. It now applies to those over 18.

As a consequence of the Government and the Opposition basically agreeing, Australian law already provides for the abolition of "due process", of Habeas Corpus and the presumption of innocence.

All this is already law.

Australian Law or lack of it has already failed many individuals and groups. Amongst these we can include: Aboriginals; people held in the Department of Immigration detention centres; an Australian citizen deported; Australian citizens wrongly held in detention centres without medical attention; a United States citizen deported without "due process" and an Australian citizen being tried before a Military Tribunal. By the detention of the innocent, by the questioning of people known to be innocent by the authorities, by the right confirmed by the High Court with a majority of 4 to 3, to keep a failed asylum seeker in jail for the term of his natural life, if he could not be returned to his land of origin.

Authorities in Australia already have the capacity for the exercise of extreme and arbitrary power without adequate judicial safeguards.

Much of this involves the gravest failure of administrative and ministerial responsibilities. As shown in the Palmer and Comrie Reports the Department of Immigration has been at the centre of much of it. Two Ministers have been in charge, neither Minister is responsible. As far as one can tell, nobody has been held accountable. The people involved appear not to have mattered to the Administration or to the Government.

Australia now has new proposals in front of it providing even greater power to the police and to the Government. Attention should in particular be turned to those provisions that allow for "preventative detention" and the use of "control orders" to arrest and to limit and monitor the activities of individuals. No cogent case has been made for the expansion of these powers, except a general one that it is necessary to fight terrorism. It would be reasonable to ask why, it would be reasonable to expect a considered answer.

The legislation says that a control order may be sought if, on the balance of probabilities the order would substantially assist in preventing a terrorist act, or if the person has provided training or received training from a listed terrorist organisation and furthermore, on the balance of probabilities that the order is reasonably necessary to protect the public from a terrorist act.

The intelligence rationale for a "control order" is not easy to grasp. If surveillance is thorough why not watch the person, collect more evidence and then charge the person with an offence?

One consequence of a "control order" would be the immediate disappearance of all the subject’s contacts and collaborators. They would know from their point of view that something was wrong, they would fade away and disappear.

The terms of the legislation are broad. One of the grounds for a "control order" is that a person has provided training to or has received training from a listed terrorist organisation. Does the organisation need to be listed when the training was received? Does the training have to be recent, could it have occurred 20 years ago in different times and different circumstances?

In one respect more severe problems arise in relation to detention orders. A person can be detained for a limited period if there are reasonable grounds to suspect the person will engage in a terrorist act, or has done or will do an act in preparation for, or planning of a terrorist act. Again the terms are broad.

There is no involvement of a court in achieving authority for a "prevention order". An issuing authority is appointed by the Minister.

In the draft legislation an issuing of authority is defined as: the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, or a member of the Australian Federal Police above the rank of Superintendent. For continued "preventative detention" the issuing authority is a Federal Magistrate or a Judge but acting in a personal capacity, not presiding over a court.

The same questions arise once "preventative detention" is applied, a person’s collaborators, colleagues, will again know from their point of view that something was seriously wrong and they would fade away.

If there was valid grounds for concern, why not double surveillance, collect more information, which would enable a charge and a prosecution to be laid. The strategy of "control orders" and "preventative detention" may have some relevance but the case has not been made. Furthermore the lack of judicial involvement in the application for "preventative detention" is a total derogation of justice.

There appears to be no involvement of the judiciary in application of a "preventative detention" order and secondly, the involvement of legal officers in the case of continued "preventative detention" is marginal, and would be totally ineffective. No legal officer would in those circumstances be prepared to second guess the policeman. In reality, "preventative detention" and continued "preventative detention" can be imposed solely on the involvement of ASIO and the police.

Do we really believe these powers will be effective in the fight against terrorism, or do we believe that the powers themselves are likely to lead to a sense of grievance of alienation? These are powers whose breadth and arbitrary nature, with lack of judicial oversight, should not exist in any democratic country. If one says, but they will not be abused, I do not agree. If arbitrary power exists they will be abused.

All this has happened in a country which has not experienced a significant terrorist incident for many years. What would be our Government’s reaction if this great city were tied up and disorganised by terrorist attacks similar to those which recently occurred in London?

The Government is really saying on these issues, trust us, but no part of the history of the Coalition’s invasion and occupation of Iraq gives any member of that coalition the right to say on these issues: "Trust us." We were told there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren’t. The British were led to believe that weapons of mass destruction could be dropped on London within 45 minutes. They could not and the authorities knew they could not.

More recently published British Cabinet Papers have made it clear that President Bush had made the decision to go to war seven or eight months before the American people were told.

During the time when Dr Hans Blix, Executive Chairman UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was painstakingly revealing the truth about weapons of mass destruction, or the lack of them in Iraq, the United States had no intention of allowing that process to continue, to conclude. They did not indeed want it to conclude because it would have taken away the primary cause for war – a decision which had already been made.

More particularly after the Tampa, after the Children Overboard, the experience and treatment of asylum seekers, the abandonment of Hicks, all suggest that any right to trust has been long destroyed. Would Cornelia Rau trust the Government? Would Vivian Solon trust the Government? Concerning the Tampa and Children Overboard, the Government knew they were playing to the more fearful and conservative elements in the Australian community and with great success. The Government also knows in relation to terrorism that the public is concerned, even fearful and can be made more fearful. These laws again play to conservative elements in Australian society.

It may be brilliant politics but will such laws make Australia secure? By its actions, the Government has long abandoned and lost the middle ground. The Rule of Law and "due process" has been set aside. Has the Government already created an environment in which people will accept too much if the Government says it will help in the fight against terrorism?

These new proposals should be opposed. No strong case has been made that these breaches in the Rule of Law will be effective in the fight against terrorism. The London bombings are probably used as a rationale, but apply these laws to London bombings, they could not succeed. The laws should be opposed on the basis of substance. The powers are arbitrary altering the quality of ASIO and of the police in significant ways. There are no real safe guards, there is no adequate judicial review.

The laws should be opposed because the process itself is seriously flawed. Instead of wide ranging discussion the Government has sought to nobble the field in secret and to prevent debate. The laws should be opposed because they provide arbitrary power which would be dependent on trust, a trust that has not been earnt.

Western civilisation is again betrayed by the treatment metered out to prisoners at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay. We are told that this was the view of a few misguided, low-level troops but Donald Gregg, former National Security Advisor to the first President Bush, wrote that the memorandum, published in the Torture Papers: "cleared the way for the horrors that had been revealed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo that make a mockery of Administration assertions that a few misguided enlisted personnel perpetrated the vile abuse of prisoners. I can think of nothing that can more devastatingly undercut America’s standing in the world or more importantly our view of ourselves than those decisions."

The Government and the Labor Party have both assumed that we cannot fight terrorism and adhere to the basic principles of justice and democracy. They have assumed that certain people are outside the law and do not deserve justice. They are already saying to us "Trust us" on the issue. I suggest they have given us every reason not to trust them on these issues of peace and war and on security for our people.

From Australia, our Government has constantly said that our participation in the Coalition in Iraq has not increased the risk of terrorist attacks in Australia. But the former head of ASIO, Dennis Richardson, and the former Chief of the Defence Force Staff, General Cosgrove, have both suggested the contrary.

Professor Naomi Chazan said, in the recent Gandel Oration in Melbourne: "There is one standard and one standard for all, and the challenge that is posed by terrorism is how to defend the rights of those that we don’t agree with? How can we defend the rights, the basic human and civil rights, of those whose ideas we simply abhor?"

Unless we do so, the terrorists have already had a significant victory. It is not enough to say we believe in justice, in human rights for those who agree with us, for those whom we classify as honourable and law abiding citizens. It is the system, the process, the courts, it is the measurement of justice that determines the nature of our civilisation.

Churchill put it this way:

He suggested that the great privilege of Habeas Corpus, and of trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the English people for ordinary individuals against the State – the power of the executive to send a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers – is, in the highest degree, odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments… extraordinary powers assumed by the Executive with the consent of Parliament in emergencies should be yielded up, when and as, the emergency declines. This is really the test of civilisation."

Thomas Paine said:

"He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his own enemy from oppression, for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."

That is succinct and accurate advice. It is an expression of what has happened through the course of history. If we stand silent in the face of discrimination and in violation of the basic principles of humanity, then we betray our own principles and our way of life. We must fight extremism, fundamentalism, terrorism, whatever its origins, whatever its objectives.

Fundamentalism has, throughout history, often been represented by an extreme and arbitrary belief, often without justice and without principles which make it possible for us to lead our lives as part of a civilised community. I regret that many, who almost certainly mean well have so little faith in our freedom, in our democracy, in our laws, that they believe they must throw basic rights overboard to defend those same rights. Such views are wrong and will make it harder to overcome terrorism.

Hear, hear, Mr. Fraser.

-weez 



If you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear
Saturday October 15th 2005, 6:39 pm

image: police-state.netACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has put the draft for HoWARd’s latest terrorism bill on his website, jamming HoWARd’s intent to spring it on Parliament and the Australian public with almost no time for debate. HoWARd’s cheesed orf, too- he knows that more public noise on this issue may jeopardise passage.

Remarkable in HoWARd’s bill is the provision to incarcerate anyone, without cause, for up to two weeks, with no right to contest the incarceration nor a right to contact legal counsel- or even one’s family. With HoWARd’s laws, you will be held fully incommunicado.  You will not be able to tell anyone of your experience, even if you are released without charge. You may as well live in China.

HoWARd says that only those who are doing something wrong should fear his new laws. However, his laws are the only ones I can think of where fully innocent people can be legally incarcerated, with no proof at all rendered to a judge that there is any cause to hold them. You don’t have to be doing anything HoWARd thinks is ‘wrong’ to be arrested and jailed with his abusive new laws.

Further, HoWARd’s laws will give police shoot-to-kill powers, whether there is a life-threatening situation on not. You’d think that giving such powers would not have been considered after London Police mistakenly killed Jean Charles de Menezes in the wake of the 21 July 2005 attempted attacks.

HoWARd has only slated a week for these new police powers to be debated in Parliament. It has taken hundreds of years to wrest the powers of indiscriminate or unjust arrest from governments, and John bloody HoWARd wants to roll them back into the hands of people no more special than to be elected to do a job- in a week. A week!

Honest John is a good politician. He understands manipulation of public perception as well as any PR guy. He knows that if there is significant public debate and criticism of these measures, he stands a good chance of not getting them through Parliament, even with his bully majority in the Senate.

It’s noise time again, folks:

Dear Senator/Representative:

I am deeply concerned about John Howard’s proposed anti-terror legislation. I fear that this legislation affords too much discretionary power to incarcerate people to government and eliminates due process. The proposals that people may be detained without just cause for two weeks, without being able to contact their families nor having a right to legal representation, as well as elimination of the protection against self-incrimination are all completely unacceptable in a first world democracy.

We have plenty of laws on the books which cover anti-social behaviours and terrorist activity. Howard’s proposals only give the government the power to incarcerate people who cannot be shown to have been involved in illegal activity. The government is seeking the right to jail innocents. This is a power the government never, ever should have, especially not for a proposed period of 10 years.

In the light of the recent detention and deportation of peace activist Scott Parkin, it’s very clear that this government will abuse its authority.  This government will use these powers not to protect Australia from terrorism, but to protect itself against public criticism.

We don’t need any more terrorism legislation. Please work to oppose this unnecessary and draconian legislation.

Regards 

(your signature)

Parliamentary addresses and fax numbers, for your convenience:

Kim Beazley – Australian Labor Party
Electorate Office:
1/18 Council Avenue
Rockingham WA 6168
Fax: (02) 6277 8495

Bob Brown – Australian Greens
Electorate Office:
9th Floor, Marine Board Building
1 Franklin Wharf
Hobart TAS 7000
Fax: (02) 6277 3185

Lyn Allison – Australian Democrats
Electorate Office:
1st Floor, 62 Wellington Parade
East Melbourne VIC 3002
Fax: (02) 6277 3235

Andrew Bartlett - Australian Democrats
Electorate Office:
Suite 14 B1
7/421 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
Fax: (02) 6277 3087

Barnaby Joyce – National Party
Electorate Office:
90 The Terrace
St George QLD 4487
Fax: (07) 4625 1511

Steven Fielding – Family First Party
Electorate Office:
PO Box 500
Box Hill VIC 3128
Fax: (03) 9897 4578

If you don’t have easy access to a fax machine, I’m quite happy to forward faxes on this issue. Construct your letter in MS Word or scan it into a JPG file and send it to me via email. I’ll fax it as soon as I receive it.

-weez



Keep your politics off my elbows
Friday October 14th 2005, 10:56 am

A pill or general anaesthesia?I have a problem that Gray’s Anatomy hasn’t quite solved. I can’t seem to tell the difference between a uterus and an elbow. It’s not like one is magical and glows in the presence of copies of the Bible and the other doesn’t. Further, I don’t have a uterus, but I do have an elbow, so for the moment, I’ll address how I expect to be able to operate elbows.

If I fall off my barstool and break my elbow, chances are I’d need a surgery under general anaesthesia to insert a few pins and plates. The surgery itself has a high risk of complications and general anaesthesia is potentially lethal. If someone came up with a pill that could safely and effectively fix my elbow in a day or two, without the need for surgery under risky general anaesthesia, one would be foolish not to opt for the new magic elbow pill.

If politicians made the elbow pill illegal on their own personal religio-moralist grounds, I’d feel very put upon by that politician and his religion- wouldn’t you? How dare they tell me how to operate my elbow! Worse, for their personal moral reasons, they would force me to risk my life to have my elbow put right, when the current best practise medical technology makes that risk of lethality unnecessary.

This perilous position is precisely where Australian women were placed by former Tasmanian Senator Brian Harradine in 1996 when the government of the day acquiesced to his demand that the RU-486 (mifepristone) abortion pill not be approved for sale in Australia.  I’d like to know how many women died from 1996 to present as a result of complications or suffered acute pain from a surgical abortion procedure when such was completely unnecessary in the majority of cases. There’s little doubt who bears responsibility for all that pain and the possibility of needless deaths of Australian women, who only wanted not to be pregnant.

An elbow is a body part. So is a uterus. If you have problems with either one, you sort out the best medical course of action with your physician. I fail to see where the politicians have any place for comment in the private operation of elbows or uteri.  

RU-486 is under consideration again, absent Senator Harradine. Let’s hope there’s been a little commonsense infused in Parliament since his departure. However, if anti-choice Health Minister Tony Abbott is any indication, I’m not feeling rainbows of hope at the moment.

-weez