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Journalists, artists battle Australian anti-terror laws

CBC | November 1 2005

Leading Australian artists and journalists are banding together to fight new anti-terrorism measures called "the greatest threat to publication imposed by the government in the history of the Commonwealth."

They say proposed new sedition provisions will infringe freedom of speech and that provisions for "preventive detention" could be abused.

Urging disaffection against the government and urging disaffection against the sovereign could be seen as sedition under some interpretations of the draft law.

Australia's largest news organizations, Fairfax and News Ltd., are teaming up to lobby the federal government over the bill.

"The expansion of the sedition laws contemplated in this bill is the greatest threat to publication imposed by the government in the history of the Commonwealth," they wrote in a statement addressed to Prime Minister John Howard.

State and territorial governments have expressed support in principle for the proposed anti-terrorism law. Howard backed the bill as necessary in a time of international instability.

Journalists, playwrights, documentary filmmakers, political cartoonists and others who might lampoon the government or question what it does fear the proposed sedition provisions.

"My feeling is that the arts have always existed at an arm's length to government in order to articulate views which are not necessarily considered to be politically correct at the time," said film director Robert Connolly, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"I know in my own films – look at Three Dollars and The Bank, and also The Boys – and all three films have as part of their agenda to document and critique contemporary Australia.

"And I think it would be a great tragedy to have laws that in effect make the act of making those stories and telling those stories illegal."

Proposed laws 'horrific for journalists'

A group of artists and journalists met in Sydney on Sunday to talk about the dangers of the proposed law. Civil libertarians and people who oppose Australia's involvement in Iraq also have protested.

The proposed laws are "horrific for journalists," senior Fairfax journalist David Marr said.

"Firstly, there's a completely secret new regime of putting people in preventive detention — that's entirely secret," he said. "If we report it, if we report that people have gone into preventive detention, we're going to go individually to jail for five to seven years, something like that. Even if we report what happened to people in detention, we go to jail. "

Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission president John Von Doussa says the proposed counter-terrorism laws are the first step towards a police state.

The legislation gives police extraordinary powers to detain people without charge, but does not set out means by which the application of those powers can be checked or appealed, he said.

Although there have been no terrorist acts within Australia since the late 1970s, the Bali bombing in 2002 was seen as an attack against Australians. The nightclub hit was filled with Australian tourists at the time of the blast.

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