Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Australia to abolish sedition laws

Three years ago, the Australian government passed draconian sedition laws as part its knee-jerk response to the "war on terror". Now, Kevin Rudd is planning to repeal them:

The Howard government's controversial ban on sedition will be scrapped and replaced with legislation that bolsters the protection of free speech under a series of changes to the nation's terrorism laws.

Yesterday the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, flagged plans to increase oversight of the national security apparatus and promised to accept the bulk of the recommendations from the Clarke inquiry, a 2006 Australian Law Reform Commission report on sedition and a parliamentary committee report on intelligence and security.

(The ALRC review recommended replacing the law with a narrower one bearing more resemblance to criminal incitement, with stronger protections for academic, artistic, scientific, political or journalistic speech to make it clear that merely criticising the government, or reporting or studying such criticism, was not in and of itself seditious or treasonous. They also recommended removing the ludicrous claim of universal jurisdiction which allowed people who had never set foot in Australia, let alone bore it any allegiance, to be prosecuted for "disloyalty" against it).

But its not all good news. There's this bit:

The new counter-terrorism laws - to be drafted in the first half of next year - will cover attacks that cause psychological as well as physical harm...
This current internationally accepted definition of terrorism (as seen in e.g. New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act) includes acts which are carried out for the purpose of "induc[ing] terror in a civilian population" - but it still requires that they cause death, injury, or serious destruction. So, in order to be "terrorism", it has to involve killing people or blowing stuff up. Allowing psychological as well as physical harm runs the risk of substantially lowering that threshold, allowing the misclassification of other offences as "terrorism", with all that that entails. Given that anti-terror laws are already overused, that would be a Very Bad Thing.