The Guardian 23 November, 2005

Mansell in warning on terror laws

Aboriginal lawyer and activist Michael Mansell believes Aboriginal protestors will be targeted by the anti-terror laws as a new way to discredit Aboriginal leaders.

"This is even clearer after the so-called ‘counter-terrorist’ stage-managed media stunts in Melbourne and Sydney. The arrests were little more than an attempt to justify the rapid passing of anti-terror laws", Mr Mansell said after the November 7 raids.

"The specific reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in section 23CA (4) (a) of the Criminal Code (Anti-terrorism Act) makes it clear that the Indigenous peoples will be targeted by the new anti-terror laws. Otherwise, why refer to us at all?

"The new Federal laws will override existing State and Territory laws, rules and protocols that evolved from the Deaths in Custody Royal Commission.

"These required police to initiate contact with an Aboriginal legal service or a friend whenever an Aboriginal person is taken into custody. Now, no-one will be contacted unless the Aboriginal detainee requests it, absolving police of responsibility to have a representative present to ensure fairness.

"In the case of Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders, police must take that person before a ‘judicial officer’ within two hours — s.23CA (4) (a).

"However, the clock does not start running until the person is in a place where there are ‘facilities’ — s.23CA 8 (a). In the case of the Torres Strait or a remote Aboriginal community, police can legitimately harass or use oppressive and overbearing tactics to extract a confession in however many hours it takes to get a detainee to ‘facilities’.

"The ‘judicial officer’ can be a JP chosen by the prosecution. Most lawyers’ experience is that JPs are putty in the hands of prosecutors when it comes to ordinary bail applications. If police oppose bail, JPs rarely grant bail".

Mr Mansell said police could refuse access to a lawyer of the person’s choice on the grounds that the lawyer may be a security risk, and police could recommend their own lawyer.

"Even when a lawyer is present, police can sit in on any discussion, and thereby the new law erases the common law right of legal professional privilege that attaches to information provided by a client to their lawyer, and advice given on the basis of it", he said.

"The new laws are more about perceptions and innuendo than stopping violence against the public. The laws are more likely to harm a detainee’s reputation and put the public in fear than stop terrorism.

"The expansion of the definitions of sedition and terrorist organisations go as close as is realistically possible to outlawing thoughts of dissent.

"One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. It will be more difficult for citizens to oppose American (and likewise Australian) foreign policy under these laws.

"An organisation can be listed as ‘terrorist’ for stating publicly that ‘the9/11 bombings in the US was a case of Americans getting a taste of their own medicine’.

"Such expression is outlawed by s.102.1 (2), even although neither the person who spoke the words nor their organisation has lifted a finger to assist anyone.

"Dissenting opinions about the World Trade Centre event may be distasteful to some; but the right to express a different view has never been so challenged."

Mr Mansell said Aborigines travelling overseas to conferences with Indigenous peoples elsewhere may now be prohibited from even talking to other delegates.

"If the Australian Government lists an overseas group as ‘terrorist’, and the Aboriginal delegate is aware of the listing, talking twice to representatives of the listed group can bring seven years’ jail — s.80.2 (7)", he said.

"This could apply to the Kanaks from New Caledonia who are fighting for independence from France, or the Mohawks from Canada who fought against the Canadian Government and army to preserve their traditional lands from being made a golf course.

"While sedition charges allow for criticism of policy in good faith, the onus is on a defendant to prove it — s.80.3 (1) (e)."

Mr Mansell has warned that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the Aboriginal Provisional Government, both of which publicly challenge the legitimacy claims to sovereignty by the Australian Government, could find themselves charged under the sedition laws.

He said an Aboriginal leader accused under these laws could so easily be discredited as a consequence, even where their actions had legitimately been to promote the rights of their people.

"People’s lives can be destroyed in more ways than with a gun", Mr Mansell said.

"The Howard/Ruddock/Beazely troika has become the thought police, and police are now expected to act against political views rather than criminal activity.

"In one fell swoop, the troika has changed the face of law enforcement in Australia forever.

"These laws do well beyond any required to prevent organised violence in Australia. The new laws attack freedom of expression by intimidation and suggestion.

"The policy underlining the new legal regime is to kill dissent. There is even a section that provides George Orwell-like, for re-programming — s.104.4 (3)(1)".

The Koori Mail, Nov 16, 2005

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