New Matilda is very concerned at the implications of Howard’s anti-terror laws for freedom of speech in Australia. See Kirk McKenzie’s article ‘Howard’s Choice — A Police State?’ in New Matilda 62, click here.

The drafts of the laws made public so far would seriously curtail the ability of Australian journalists and artists to comment, report on and criticise government actions. These parts of the proposed laws seem to be more about protecting the government of the day from adverse comment than about protecting the Australian people from a terrorist attack.

As we rush down the path towards Howard’s draconian anti-terror world, we need a free and fearless media more than ever before. And no Australian artist should ever be stopped from criticising or commenting on events of the day. This guarantee of freedom of expression is a keystone of the Western democratic model. Supine, subservient and fearful acquiescence to the powers-that-be is supposed to be what we’re fighting against in this War on Terror.

There is no need for these laws as they stand. Australians should not accept their imposition. In the past few days, there have been a number of developments in the resistance to Howard’s laws on sedition including the following.

On Monday 31 October, a coalition of Australian arts organisations and individuals was formed to fight against the Howard Government’s new sedition laws. Below is their Press Release:

At an extraordinary general meeting held in Sydney on Monday 31 October, writers, artists, filmmakers, publishers, composers and their organisations unanimously opposed the sedition provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005.

The group is concerned that the sedition provisions will unreasonably erode freedom of speech and artistic expression, which have long been essential to the Australian way of life.

The group is convinced that it is unnecessary to add these provisions to existing laws and calls urgently for the sedition provisions to be removed for the following key reasons.

Sedition provisions are:

1) Unnecessary — current law already prohibits inciting crimes, membership and funding of terrorist organisations, and racial vilification.

2) Dangerous — by their nature they are political and have been used against Gandhi, Mandela, and the supporters of the Eureka Stockade.

3) Too broad — a person or an organisation could be charged with sedition without, as existing law requires, having urged force or violence.

4) Unfair — the sedition laws reverse the onus of proof. The accused will be assumed guilty and will need to prove their innocence. It will be almost impossible for them to do this under the proposed legislation.

The proposed sedition laws threaten Australia’s proud tradition of protecting free speech and promoting democracy.

For further information and comment

This is a dangerous moment in Australia’s history. It is a moment where a failure of nerve or a failure to act through distraction or cynicism will have disastrous consequences for many Australians and for a long time. It is of critical importance that well-meaning Australians contact their parliamentarians and express their concern about the new sedition laws and other aspects of the proposed anti-terror legislation.

Act now.

Jose Borghino

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.