I posted about the Howard government’s new(ish) sedition laws last year when they were going through Parliament, and expressed the view that they might well breach the implied cosntitutional freedom of political speech.
Constitutional law academic George Williams expresses a similar view in today’s SMH, and also agrees that a narrower provision would nevertheless be justified as long as it was carefully drafted to avoid infringement of important rights and freedoms in a democratic society. Williams points out that the Australian Law Reform Commission has just released a discussion paper which recommends substantial changes to the sedition provisions (including no longer calling the offence “sedition”):
Prof Weisbrot said the ALRC makes 25 proposals for reform. “The provisions need amendment to make clear that the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person intentionally urged others to use force or violence, and intended that this force or violence would occur.
I wonder if this marks the beginning of a pullback from some of the more extreme liberty-restricting responses to international terrorism in the wake of September 11 and Bali? Of course, there’s no reason to believe Howard would actually take any real notice of such an ALRC recommendation, although he did commission it in the wake of last year’s amendments, partly in order to quell backbench concerns among residual “small l” liberals. Or will Howard instead crank up the rhetoric of fear and enact even more draconian legislation in a bid to reverse an apparent drift in the Coalition’s standing in opinion polls? The lack of any ‘bounce’ from the big budget giveaway must be causing a bit of angst, one would think. We’re probably only a year or so out from the next federal election, and Howard certainly wouldn’t want a negative polling trend to get established.
On the other hand, I don’t imagine either he or Costello would be losing much sleep at this stage with Kimbo at the Labor wheel. Nevertheless, a succession of bad news stories for the government, along with another interest rate rise or two, and ongoing resentment about unfairness flowing from the IR reforms, might conceivably set up a negative momentum that would take some reversing. I wouldn’t be putting any money on a Labor win just yet, and I’m still very pessimistic about the Great Circumlocutor’s ability to seize the day, but you never know …