Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I need an MP

It's time we did something about the criminalisation of sedition.

For those who haven't read my recent posts on the subject, sedition is the "crime" of saying things that the government doesn't like. The law specifically targets speech which "excites disaffection" against them or which could bring them into "hatred or contempt" (examples here). Predicated on a paternalistic feudal belief that the ruled should not simply obey, but love their rulers, and therefore utterly incompatible with modern ideas about relations between citizen and state, it should have been struck from the books long ago.

So, I'm looking for a Member of Parliament willing to take a private member's bill on the matter. My first draft of such a bill is below:

Crimes (Repeal of Archaic Crimes) Amendment Bill 2005

Title and Commencement

1. This Act is the Crimes (Repeal of Archaic Crimes) Amendment Act 2005

2. This Act shall come into force immediately upon receiving the Royal Assent.

Amendments to the Crimes Act 1961

3. Sections 81 - 85 of the Crimes Act 1961 are hereby repealed.

Past Offences

4. No person shall be liable to be convicted of an offence against any of sections 81 - 85 of the Crimes Act 1961 committed before the commencement of this Act.

Given their strong record on civil liberties issues, this is the sort of bill I'd expect the Greens to take. Unfortunately, MPs are only allowed one bill on the ballot at a time, and all their slots are full. The same applies to Matt Robson. Other MPs however do have space, and I am hoping to convince one of them to put the bill forward. Otherwise, we will have to lobby parties to make it a priority in the next Parliamentary term.

I do not care which party picks this up and runs with it; all I care about is that this obscene law is repealed. For a supposedly modern state which affirms the freedoms of conscience, expression and association to still have this sorts of law on the books is shameful, and the sooner it is relegated to the dustbin of history where it belongs, the better.


The sedition laws have a fairly clear conflict with the Bill of Rights Act:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form"

I suspect (and hope) that the current case will lead to the judges choosing (as they are expected to by the BORA) an interpretation consistent with the above and acquitting the accused.

It would be better in my view if the BORA automatically overrode any laws that conflicted with it. For those that object to that as negating parliamentary sovereignty, I would suggest this alternative:

- that a revised BORA be drafted to have the effect of amending legislation passed prior to it (such as the Crimes Act 1961) to be compliant with the BOR.

- that the revised BORA be re-asserted on a regular basis (annually or at the start of each parliamentary term). This re-assertion (technically an amending Act) would bring all intervening bills into the scope of the BORA.

I prefer this to having specific archaic crimes (e.g sedition) removed piecemeal. Having said that, good luck on your proposal.

Posted by Rich : 2/02/2005 01:34:00 PM

I too would rather see a BORA with teeth than piecemeal fixes - but I think the latter is a good way of highlighting the issue and pushing for immediate change.

Hopefully the question of an enforceable BORA will be addressed in the upcoming constitutional stocktake.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/02/2005 02:35:00 PM