Free speech under threat: activists Print E-mail
Saturday, 05 November 2005


THE Government's tough anti-terrorism laws were a threat to anyone disagreeing with Australian foreign policy, a rally to start a weekend of national protest about the laws has been told.

Up to 1000 people gathered at Belmore Park in Sydney's city centre today as part of the weekend of protests against the Federal Government's anti-terrorism laws.

They rallied to show their opposition to the anti-terrorism legislation tabled in Parliament this week and expected to come into force before Christmas.

Organisers of the noon rally, Stop the War Coalition, say the new laws would pose a threat to anyone who disagrees with Australian foreign policy, while compromising everybody's civil liberties.

Among the speakers was New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties vice-president and lawyer David Bernie, who described the new laws as ridiculous.

Mr Bernie said it was absurd that under the laws people detained as suspects would not have the right to discuss their situation with anyone including family members.

"Would John Howard, if he was told by his son, 'I am safe but I can't tell you where I am', not tell Janette about it? It is a ridiculous situation," Mr Bernie said.

After weeks of negotiations with the states over concerns the draft laws failed to properly protect civil rights, the fine-tuned legislation was introduced to Parliament this week.

The laws toughen jail terms for inciting race hatred or violence against the community, and have been criticised as an attack on free speech.

Their introduction came as Parliament rushed through a special amendment to anti-terrorism laws in the wake of an intelligence warning of a potential terror threat to Australia.

Greens Senator Kerrie Nettle said the laws sought to silence any opposition to Australia's involvement in the war on Iraq.

"The sedition laws that are in this legislation mean that you, me, anyone here, who says that we think that it is good that the US is having difficulty imposing their regime in Iraq, could be locked away," she told the rally.

"If this prime minister was genuinely interested in addressing the root causes of terrorism he'd be calling our troops back here to Australia and calling on the US to do the same thing."

Muslim Civil Rights and Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous said he believed the new laws would "undermine cherished principals that have taken centuries to develop".

"It is no longer clear who is doing the most damage to our freedoms and securities – is it the terrorist or our own government, we don't know anymore?" he said.

"We want all groups and communities to feel respected and not suspected which is what is happening now."

Other rallies have been organised for Melbourne and Canberra tomorrow about noon.

Concerns about the laws are not confined to civil libertarian groups.

Yesterday prominent Liberal backbencher Malcolm Turnbull reiterated concerns on the Coalition backbench about the proposed anti-terrorism laws.

Mr Turnbull told the ABC's Lateline program last night changes to sedition provisions in the Government's anti-terrorism package were not as clear as they should be.

"I do not believe the sedition provisions in this bill are ideally drafted," he said.

"I think they are an attempt, and I think a very good effort, but nonetheless I don't think the outcome is as clear or effective as it should be."

Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Nicola Roxon also said the sedition provisions in the Government's anti-terrorism legislation were "lazily drafted".

"They could actually catch a whole lot of people in an unintended way," Ms Roxon told the ABC.


The Australian, 5 November 2005

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