An aspect of Phillip Ruddock's noxious 'anti-terror' laws which is beginning to receive some attention is the effect it may have on freedom of opinion and public comment. It will certainly have a censorious effect on freedom of expression in the arts, which come to think of it, may have been the point all along.
Peter Garrett, the Member for Kingsford-Smith, who many readers would know as the lead singer of Midnight Oil, is also the Labor Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts. In Randwick the other day, he quoted legal opinion recieved from senior counsel Peter Gray in relation to the effect of these Bills, should they be made law. It stated:
”Australians involved in the artistic and creative fields are particularly vulnerable to the risk of prosecution under the regime to be introduced by this Bill.”
Garrett said that the laws appeared to create a new category of conduct under the sedition clauses, the 'urging' of another person to do various things. The lack of definition appears to include and implicate artistic expression.
It is in the hands of the Attorney General to decide if an artist should be prosecuted, which will be cold comfort to those who’ve witnessed the failure of Mr Ruddock to protect core principles of our legal system.
Those still suffering (and I mean suffering) from the effects of Ruddock's term as Immigration Minister will be able to tell us exactly what Garrett means by this.
An accusation of breaking this law could implicate plays films or TV programs which take an informative or insufficiently hostile look at, say, the Iraqi insurgency for example. Also include news or magazine articles that take such an approach, even when based on accurate material, or any creative work that repeated 'seditious' views expressed by others.
It's not hard to see how this would apply in practice. This government would be very pleased to shut down an exhibition or play about or by someone it was determined to blacklist or isolate. It would only do this after 'community consultation' of course, and in response to an overwhelming argument for the national interest. By which I mean contacts, campaigns or boycotts by groups it is sympathetic to, like the Family Association, or after a few well chosen articles by the hordes of Howard lick-spittles in the Murdoch media and the think-tanks.
Exhibitions have been shut down in this way in recent years, and many films have been re-classified or withdrawn from exhibition in just this way already, even without these laws.
How much closer do we want to creep towards a state of oppression? And the supposed defence of acting "in good faith" would only apply in very limited circumstances, so we can't rely on that to be able to defend our freedom of expression.
John Howard and his government have done their normal trick. The Prime Minister throws in a ridiculous ambit claim, or has an extreme position, or includes a "straw man" like the ‘shoot to kill’ provisions then removes it or alters it slightly and paints himself and his changed position as reasonable.
This law is not reasonable. It has major implications for civil liberties, freedom of speech and expression - and these ridiculous new “sedition" elements, with their present wording, will do nothing to counter the threat of terrorism, and much to dampen legitimate, creative expression in our country.