Criminalising Dissent: Turnbull’s Attack on Protesters and Journalists

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Passed last Thursday, the Turnbull government’s espionage and foreign interference bill has established a series of draconian laws that further erode Australians’ civil rights, whilst taking particular aim at the already endangered right to freedom of speech.

 

Ostensibly designed to crackdown on the threat foreign adversaries pose, the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 has introduced new foreign interference and sabotage offences, reformed secrecy crimes and brought in tougher penalties.

The PM initially introduced the bill in December last year. Following a review, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) delivered its report on the legislation in early June. It recommended 60 amendments to the bill, which the subsequently government agreed to.

The bill was then passed in the Senate with bipartisan support on 28 June in the final hours before the winter break. Attorney general Christian Porter insisted the laws had to be passed prior to a series of byelections taking place nationally on 28 July, as foreign agent tampering is on the rise.

However, critics of the new laws argue that this was just an excuse to rush legislation through parliament that will effectively put a halt to journalists reporting information critical of government and have a chilling effect upon peaceful demonstrations.

Suppressing protests

“These far-reaching laws threaten our members and socially minded citizens everywhere with long prison sentences just for taking to the streets,” said Alice Drury, democracy campaigner for GetUp. The activist group sought legal advice that revealed the laws could criminalise peaceful protests.

Ms Drury pointed to sabotage offences created under new sections of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. Sections 82.5 and 82.6 now make it an offence to damage public infrastructure, using such broad definitions that the offences could capture public demonstrations.

Under division 82 of the Code, “public infrastructure” includes all Commonwealth property, as well as the premises of corporations providing “utilities or services of any kind” to the public. And it can be damaged by limiting or preventing access to it by persons who are usually entitled access.

The maximum penalty for intentionally carrying out such actions is 20 years imprisonment. And for recklessly doing so, it’s 15 years.

“We have a situation where protesters who temporarily blockade a railway to an export coal mine could face 20 years behind bars for sabotage,” Ms Drury told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

Gagging journalists

The advice provided to GetUp by Wentworth Selborne Chambers pinpointed an espionage provision that could see journalists imprisoned for life. Section 91.1 of the Code creates offences relating to communicating or making available national security information to a foreign country.

This offence, which can be perpetrated both intentionally or recklessly, includes prejudicing “Australia’s national security,” which can mean causing another country to lose trust or confidence in Australia.

The definition of national security includes “the country’s political, military or economic relations with another country or other countries.” And according to the attorney general’s office, it’s possible to communicate this information “through publication of news.”

This means it’s now an offence to report on anything that harms Australia’s international reputation politically or economically. As Ms Drury explained it could led to the imprisonment of journalists “for reporting on breaches of international humanitarian law by the Australian government.”

The maximum penalty that can be imposed on a journalist or a concerned citizen for committing this crime is life imprisonment for intentionally doing so, and up to 25 years imprisonment for recklessly communicating such information to a foreign principal.

The bipartisan corrosion of rights

Following intense criticism of the original bill, a number of amendments were made in relation to the way the laws would impact journalists, including providing them with the defence of disclosing “inherently harmful information” because they reasonably believed it was in the public interest.

However, Civil Liberties Australia CEO Bill Rowlings made clear that despite the government’s claim the laws “have softened provisions for journalists,” the burden of proof is still upon them. “Journos have to prove they are innocent,” he explained, “not the state prove they are guilty.”

“So, these laws continue a trend opposite to how the rule of law used to work in Australia,” he continued, before “we started scurrying down the path to a police state.”

According to the civil rights advocate, sending the legislation to be reviewed by the PJCIS is a ruse to make it appear that the amended legislation isn’t as severe as the original. “They introduce draft laws at first with huge penalties, then wind them back, slightly,” Mr Rowlings explained.

The PJCIS, which reviews Australian national security and intelligence laws, is actually a body that serves the interests of the Liberal and Labor parties, Rowlings believes. He pointed out that the membership of the committee is entirely comprised of politicians from both major parties.

“The Liberal and Labor parties won’t allow even one member of a minor party or one independent into the secret enclave that approves these draconian laws,” he stressed.

A rising tide of anti-democratic legislation

UNSW Law Professor George Williams said in November last year that 67 national security bills had been enacted at the federal level since 9/11. And Civil Liberties Australia has been calling for an audit of them with the aim of revoking the laws that are never used.

Mr Rowlings explained that the proponents of new national security and counterterrorism laws merely assert the need for expanded powers without providing evidence as to why they’re needed. And the PJCIS never demands that they do provide the evidence.

The danger of having such repressive laws hanging around on the books is that even if current authorities aren’t utilising them, there’s always the possibility that those in positions of power will in the future.

Unbridled powers

Under the new laws, the only way journalists and activists can avoid prosecution is via the veto powers of the attorney general. GetUp has stated that this means “any government or minister that wished to suppress their political opponents will have the full power to do so.”

As far as Ms Drury is concerned, these new espionage laws are yet another sign that government is progressively dismantling Australian democracy by silencing free speech and removing processes that guarantee government accountability.

“It’s almost unbelievable that these are legal realities,” she concluded. “This is a government doing all it can to silence its critics and our democracy is the loser.”

Source: https://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/criminalising-dissent-turnbulls-attack-on-protesters-and-journalists/

 

 

6 thoughts on “Criminalising Dissent: Turnbull’s Attack on Protesters and Journalists

  1. myGovID

    How many PUBLIC SERVANTS will this online service GET RID OF ???????

    How many PUBLIC SERVANTS have already been GOTTEN RID OF ??????

    SACKED
    RENDERED UNEMPLOYED
    ON THE DOLE CUES

    Each one of them a REAL THREAT to
    1. THE POLITICAL ARENA

    The things that these PUBLIC SERVANTS have seen.
    1. Inappropriate SEX in the work place & even rape
    2. Double dealing in the work place
    3. Misappropriation of MONEY
    4. Inappropriate use of WORK PLACE money & credit cards
    5. International double dealing
    6. International FRAUD
    7. Corruption of unimaginable proportions
    8. TREASON

    THIS NEW – NATIONAL SECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENTS – ARE TO MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE TALKS – THAT NO ONE OPENS THEIR MOUTH – NOT IN AUSTRALIA & NOT ABROAD.

    THAT IS ALL THIS IS FOR – TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM BEING KICKED OUT OF THE SYSTEM
    OR WORSE
    ARRESTED – TRIED – FOUND GUILTY – & DOING TIME IN PRISON.
    NOTHING ELSE
    IT IS TO KEEP THEMSELVES SAFE FROM THE THREAT OF DISCOVERY & PROSECUTION.
    AMEN

    1. Any minute now …
      We will find out the truth about – oh so many illegal activities.

      Make no mistake – there is a real push from mainstream media – for the Australian government to shut down the ABC.
      The Australian governments propaganda machine.
      How can they do this without incurring the wrath of a fury from hell ??
      The ABC know where all the dead bodies are.
      Think about it .

  2. Just as soon as the Australian Political Arena feel secure enough – they will pull the plug of the ravenous parasite – upon the public purse – that the ABC has been & remains.
    $1 BILLION PLUS every year – thrown away.

  3. We are ANONYMOUS …. sounds great !!
    Nice of you to speak out.
    Alas, with your mask on, you might be scaremongering us in the wrong direction.
    You could be a stooge for the establishment, on the Turnbull payroll even.
    Thank you all the same though.

    There is a question as to weather Turnbull is bankrupt – he cannot hold office if he is broke you see.
    Your telling us that he is a millionaire, could be a lie.
    And that all the political arena are millionaires, could also be a lie.

    It is most likely that AUSTRALIA is in debt beyond any capacity to – even make monthly repayments.

    Our hospital will be taken over by foreign interests.
    Our whole healthcare system will be taken over by foreign interests that will want to see PROFIT.
    Hospitals are paid by MEDICARE PUBLIC & MEDICARE PRIVATE.
    The lethargic, layabout medical profession is paid by MEDICARE PUBLIC & MEDICARE PRIVATE.
    EQUALS PROFIT.

    Hospitals are multi BILLION DOLLAR facilities being run into the ground by incompetent FOOLS.
    Multi BILLION DOLLAR facilities that should be releasing profit.

    WHY ??
    A large public hospital receives 1 – 2 billion dollar a year to run.
    WHERE IS THIS MONEY GOING ??
    because it is not being spent on – or within the hospital system ??

    Is money being borrowed under the pretext that it is servicing the Australian community when in fact it is being pilfered away to private interests ??

    AND FORGET ABOUT THE MUSLIM MIGRANT RAND it is too old a bullshit to be true.
    Where exactly are the billions upon billions of foreign dollars being borrowed by the Australian government actually going ??

    This is the question most relevant as our nation is being asset stripped by foreign interests.

  4. Interesting article:
    WOLF STREET – Backlash Against “War on Cash” Reaches Washington & China by Don Quijones.

  5. The State, wether it is a corporate, monarchial, religious, communist or dictatorship (to name a few), is our minder, has been for millennia and will continue to be as we, the people, have lost our will to ask questions and insist on truthful answers.
    We rely on a controlled media to promote state propaganda and we accept this garbage as reality. If it\’s not in the media it didn\’t happen!
    The States, to carry the lies and propaganda necessary to maintain their predatory sustenance from the people, must control any dissent or public reaction against their deceit. This filtering is imperative for their survival and control in the power play over the people.
    There are mainly two issues here; State power and People power!

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