Australian Civil Liberties Union

from Your Rights 2002
(Chapter 20)



Free speech needs to be defended. Phillip Adams and complaint to HREOC. Curbs on freedom of information. Howard’s new anti terrorist laws give ASIO too much power. New “anti spy” laws will threaten whistleblowers.

You are being watched”. Eftpos, credit cards, e-tags, mobile phones, closed circuit television, face recognition systems, “cookies on the web”, computer operating systems. echelon, monitoring of Phone Calls, emails, etc.  We are on camera 80 times each day.  Confiscation of asettsBiometrics - face and eye recognition. Persecution of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) followers by Chinese authorities in Australia.  Recent press releases.



The proposal by the Federal Government to impose severe penalties on public servants who released non security-related information to journalists, and on journalists who published the information was abandoned in March 2002, due to widespread public opposition and a clear indication that the ALP, the Greens and the Democrats would prevent the legislation being passed in the Senate. The opposition of the ACLU to the proposed changes was reported in the New York Times and elsewhere. The proposal was in part due to an over reaction to the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. A proposal to give ASIO the power to detain Australians without charge or legal representation for 48 hours seemed to be due to a similar over reaction and this proposal may also be blocked by the Senate. Under the proposal ASIO would merely have to suspect someone of terrorist links to be able to detain and question them. The Government seems to have confused the role of ASIO with the role of the FBI in the USA. Unlike the FBI, ASIO is not a law enforcement agency and many ASIO officials are opposed to the proposal. The Australian Federal police already have the power to detain suspected terrorists.

The overuse of surveillance cameras has been discussed at length in previous editions of Your Rights and the ACLU was quoted in articles on this subject in the Sunday Mail in 2001 and the Adelaide Advertiser in 2002. A proposal to take DNA samples from all Victorian police to help prevent police planting evidence was not accompanied by appropriate safeguards and was opposed by the ACLU. Reservations by the ACLU about DNA testing are set out on the ACLU website - see "Data Bank Of Medical Records"

A federal government proposal to confiscate assets of people merely suspected of criminal activity is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence. The proposal does not require a criminal conviction and a similar law has been used in the USA in a draconian way (see

MPs speaking in Parliament have a freedom of speech not afforded the ordinary citizens. (Parliamentary Privilege). Senator Heffernan abused this freedom with his reckless and false allegations against Mr Justice Michael Kirby made in the Senate in March 2002 - allegations which were later withdrawn.

The law of contempt of court can be used to stifle freedom of speech. Raymond Hoser , the author of books on police corruption was charged with contempt of court following his criticism of various judges. He was prosecuted and fined about $5000 and ordered to pay costs which will probably exceed $30,000. Unlike other serious criminal charges, contempt of court cases are heard by judges without a jury, and again unlike other charges costs are awarded against an accused who is found guilty. Hoser is appealing against what is effectively a fine of $35,000 on a free speech issue. The ACLU has made representations that contempt cases should be heard by a judge and jury and the accused should not have the additional burden of paying the costs of the prosecution (see Hoser's website -

The most promising free speech development in recent years is the creation of the website by Stephen Mayne, a former adviser to Geoff Kennett. Mayne often attends the AGMs of various companies, keeping directors on their toes, exposes the failings of the mainstream media, and generally operates as an "on line" equivalent of the UK satirical magazine Private Eye The magazine seems to be part of the inspiration for Crikey which also incorporates an earlier website " Jeffed" which targetted Mr. Kennett in the last state elections.

Mayne recently paid out $50,000 in settlement of a claim for damages brought by Steve Price the former announcer for 3AW (now with 2UE) (see Access to this useful website is free but you may also become a subscriber for $55 which gives you accress for Crikey and Jeffed archives. The ACLU also encourages people who believe that Crikey, (like Private Eye) is an indispensable gadfly in our democracy to become a life member of Crikey for $500 (which also gives you a free subscription to Private Eye). The ACLU also encourages you to join Free Speech Victoria which gave support to Crikey and many other people whose freedom of speech was threatened. Thus Terry Lane, the President of FSV gave public support to me when the ABC tried to stop the distribution of Your Rights 1998 which contained criticism of the ABC complaints procedures FCV had been active in calling for less restrictive libel laws.

Another useful source of information often not found in the mainstream media is Neil Baird's daily newsletter which covers matters such as immigration, multiculturalism, inter racial crime, globalisation and American over reaction to September 11th.

The role of a free (if oligopolistic) media in keeping the government and other agencies honest was seen in the exposure of the lie that parents dropped their children overboard from a refugee ship, the maladministration of Woomera and other refugee camps and the apparent political use of transcripts of conversations between the Maritime Union of Australia and the Tampa by the Defence Signals Directorate. The ACLU is not opposed to the existence of agencies such as DSD, ASIO and ASIS, but believes the agencies are not sufficiently accountable (see ACLU website for detailed analysis).

Dr. Fred Toben and Olga Scully face Federal Court proceedings this year following complaints to the Human Rights Commission about their claims that the extent of the Holocaust has been exaggerated and that the Holocaust is used on an almost daily basis in the media as a propaganda weapon for Israel.

The ACLU objected to media harassment of a man suspected (but never charged) of being involved in the murder of six people some 20 years ago as being an invasion of privacy and trial by media - and was quoted to that effect in the Herald Sun and the Australian in March 2001. The ACLU made similar comments on Channel 9. The ACLU has also taken up the persecution of members of Falun Dafa in Australia by the Chinese Embassy and others.

A complaint made against Phillip Adams to the Human Rights Commission that allegedly anti American statements made by him amounted to racial vilification of Americans was dismissed by the Commission.

But the main threat to freedom of speech is not laws which threaten freedom of speech, but the reluctance of people to think for themselves and speak out in defiance of peer group pressure. Australia is still a conformist society in which many people are frightened of appearing to be different or eccentric. John Stuart Mill said that the greatest danger of our time is the decline of eccentricity.




The Australian Editorial, 8112/01

A COLUMN written by Phillip Adams for The Weekend Australian which criticised the US foreign policy record is being investigated by the Human Rights and Equal opportunity commission for racial vilification.  Acting on a complaint from a US citizen, the commission is spending taxpayers' dollars to decide whether the denizens of the land of the free have been vilified by our humble columnist's assertion that Americans were "mad" and the US had "always been among the most violent nations on earth".

If a settlement can't be reached the case could go to the Federal Court.  That is simply bonkers.  The people of the world's strongest democracy (which incidentally offers better protections for free speech than anywhere else) do not need a semi-legal, semi government body in Australia to defend them against a piece of opinion published in an Australian newspaper.  Some US citizens may be affronted by what Adams wrote, but that doesn't make writing it an offence.  The only victim is the Australian public whose right to full and frank opinion, debate and even the facts is being undermined by an encroaching culture of secrecy among our public institutions.

Who upholds the public's rights?  Elected representatives.  Courts.  Yet when it comes to the public's right to know, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.  Their desire to avoid being caught out, combined with a belief in their right to rule, overrides all other considerations.  Our Government refuses to tell us anything about the activities of our troops in the war on terror, in contrast with the openness of the British and Americans.  Our Government gags the navy and claims without substantiation that asylum-seekers are throwing children overboard, simultaneously preventing them from talking to the media and thereby depriving them of' their only opportunity to defend themselves against the shocking accusation:

As Warren Beeby, chairman of the Australian division of the Commonwealth Press Union and group editorial manager of News Limited, publisher of The Australian, pointed out this week, bureaucrats quote outrageous bills in at least one case, $1 million - for processing Freedom of Information requests.  Other ploys such as labelling documents "commercial in confidence" or declaring them "cabinet confidential" are cynically used to keep the workings of government secret.  Some government departments make it a condition of funding that lobby groups tell them if they are planning to make media comment on touchy issues.

Newspapers can no longer publish pictures of MPs in parliament unless they are standing at the despatch box.  Suppression orders to prevent media coverage of court proceedings are increasingly common.  Judges keep aborting trials on  the basis that media coverage prejudices juries despite evidence to the contrary.  Medieval defamation laws protect the powerful while denying the reality that Australians are smart enough to separate fact from opinion.  The Walkley-award winning articles - by The Age's Andrew Rule on rape allegations against ATSIC's Geoff Clark and The Australian's Mark Westfield warning of an HIH collapse - performed a great public service yet were published at risk of punishment by defamation laws.  Many other such pieces never see light of day.

Power over information is great power indeed.  As the cult of secrecy spreads, more groups seek that power.  The people’s right to know demands a united defence from those on the front line: media groups, civic groups, lobby groups and citizens.





The new anti-terrorist laws are at odds with a free society, warns Chris Maxwell

Terrorism  is a scourge.  The murder of innocent people for political ends - whether In New York or the Middle East or the Indian continent is an unspeakable horror. But our horror is no excuse for suspending clear thinking, least of all in Australia, where, as the Attorney General has put it, “there remains no known specific threat of terrorism". Since September 11, governments across the Western world have rushed through "tough new anti-terrorist laws".  The establishment by President George W. Bush of secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists is only the most grotesque example.

But these measures are founded on a fallacy, a verbal trick.  Governments pretend that "terrorism" is some new species of human malefaction, having its own legal and moral qualities.  Thus, Daryl Williams speaks of the need for "measures to enhance our ability to meet the challenge of the new terrorist environment". In fact, "terrorism" is only another name for serious criminal activity.  All that distinguishes a "terrorist" act from any other criminal act is its scale and political motivation.  There is no need for a new offence on terrorism: our crime laws already provide heavy penalties for the crimes in question. The response to a terrorist act - or, in Australia's case, to the entirely theoretical possibility that someone may be planning one - must be to bring to bear the full armoury of police and ASIO powers as they now exist.  And to resist calls for new laws unless and until a compelling case is made that existing powers are inadequate.

Of course, detection and prevention are the first priority.  That is why ASIO already has power to intercept telecommunications where it suspects "activities prejudicial to security".  The same commonwealth legislation (the Telecommunications [Interception] Act 1979) enables law enforcement authorities to tap phones when investigating murder, kidnapping (or involvement in planning either) or conduct likely to involve serious risk of loss of life or personal injury. These powers - for which, properly, a warrant must first be obtained – are tailormade for tackling terrorist activity, and in particular for finding out about it before it happens. The Howard Government's "raft" of new measures can now be seen for what it is: at once intellectually dishonest and profoundly worrying.  Here is a government that has already exploited, cynically and disingenuously, people's fears about asylum-seekers.  Now it seeks to exploit their anxiety about terrorism by introducing laws that have not and could not be justified.

Let's look more closely at the proposed 48-hour interrogation power.  It is without precedent in Australia’s (peacetime) legal history.  It is proposed that ASIO be able to detain a person incommunicado; without suspicion of involvement in criminal activity; without legal advice or assistance; purely to seek "information". And if the person declines to answer (a right which Australian law has always guaranteed), ASIO will have "power to coerce [him or her] to answer questions", as Williams has argued. The Attorney-General says this new power will be used where it is "necessary to prevent a terrorist attack.  A terrorist sympathiser who knows of a planned bombing on an embassy could be held incommunicado for questioning so authorities could close in on the would-be perpetrators of this serious crime".

This would be laughable if the implications for our society weren't so serious.  First, this is preventive detention, not investigative detention. Second, there is nothing new about such a circumstance.  The need to avoid alerting conspirators to the fact of surveillance is a commonplace of criminal investigation. Third, the example does not justify introducing a new power to detain.  Arrest of the sympathiser on suspicion of being "knowingly involved" would seem to be amply justified. Fourth, word would soon spread of the sudden disappearance of the “sympathiser".  This would presumably send the loudest possible warning to those planning the attack that the authorities were on to it.

So much the better, if the conspirators were forced to abandon their plan.  But the foiling of the plot would have been the result not of the sympathiser being detained incommunicado, but of the timely swoop on the sympathiser. If enacted, this would be very bad law.  It is redolent of Stalinist Russia and has no place in the free and open society which the Howard Government claims to be protecting. Australians must speak out loudly in opposition, lest we be complicit in this travesty. The Australian - 24 December 2001    (Chris Maxwell is president of liberty Victoria)




YOU ARE BEING WATCHED - Garry Barker, The Age, 2 June 2001

No matter where you go or what you do, someone can see.

Technically speaking, you now stand naked in the world.  People you have never met may know more about you than you can remember yourself It's all down to advancing technology and our continuing love-hate relationship with computers, networking, automatic processing and customer relations management. Tougher laws protecting individual privacy rights come into force in September but, says Federal Privacy Commissioner Malcolm Crompton, few Australian companies are truly ready with privacy policies to cover the information they collect as by-products of their enterprise.  Yet breaches will be rigorously prosecuted and restitution exacted for failure to protect private rights, he says. The risk to individual privacy has arisen almost unnoticed.  Video surveillance, telephonic tracking, data mining and a host of other technologies, collecting, collating and hoarding every detail of yourself and your life are now proliferating faster Mallee rabbits.

Big Brother is bigger in some countries than others but, wherever there are computers, Eftpos, electronic banking, closed circuit cameras, c-mail, electronic tollway billing and the Internet you're being watched.  Britain, which now has more than 1.5 million closed-circuit television cameras in its streets, parks and buildings is the most watched country on Earth, although German and the US are catching up fast.  So, for that matter, is Australia.

Here are some of, the snoops you may encounter on an average day around town:

The Federal Government's Privacy Commissioner supervises national legislation and handles complaints from individuals who believe their rights under the law have been infringed.  At the moment such appeals are limited to complaints about government actions. From September, however, the law will set out how private-sector organisations should collect, use, keep secure and disclose personal information.  The new law will also give individuals the right to know what information an organisation holds about them and to correct it if it is wrong. Special provisions for sensitive and health information and direct marketing are included in the legislation, though small businesses, political parties, employee records and information collected by journalists are excluded.





We’re on camera 80 times each day. Big Brother really is watching - on the train, at work, in the shops and on the street. Working  from a secret underground bunker, this small team of surveillance camera operators knows what bus or train you caught to town. They can tell what book you are reading how many pages you read. They know the route you walked into the city.  How long it took.  Where you stopped like the bank, the coffee shop, or to make phone call. Modern surveillance cameras are everywhere.  Security experts estimate city commuters are secretly caught by electronic surveillance between 60 and 80 times a day. And as Adelaide model Rachael discovered on a trip into the city, the sensation of being watched, every step of the way can be "very eerie". "It is really strange to think that from the minute you leave home a camera can watch every move," she said.

It is estimated there are more than half a million surveillance cameras in Australia. "They are everywhere,'' a top security consultant said. "There are the normal forms of surveillance, such as cameras on buses, trains, tabs, at ATMS, in shops, at service stations, in banks, in office lifts and foyers, and on the streets.” "And then we have covert surveillance, such as spy cameras in some business houses to monitor staff."

More than half of Australia's major companies admit they conduct video surveillance of employees and the public. There also is increased monitoring of the phone conversations, e-mail content and Internet use of staff. Tens of thousands of privately owned cameras are operated around the city, but the exact number is unknown, with few planning regulations. Domestic demand for surveillance cameras is rapidly on the rise, according to security and spy camera consultants. People concerned about robberies, home invasions, property damage or domestic violence are adding to the boom, they say.

Adelaide City Council, using state-of-the-art equipment, has cameras hidden at nearly 30 sites around the city. These cameras are so powerful they can zoom in over 100m to pick up lettering the size of a thumbnail. "Our operators work to a very strict code of conduct, the primary role being pedestrian safety," a council spokesman said. Hidden in the bowels of a state building, accessed only by a maze of secure lock doors, the operations centre links with surveillance run by TransAdelaide. The room is filled with dozens of flickering screen monitors, where the city's entire transport network is tracked by some 200 surveillance cameras at about 20 sites. And that does not included cameras concealed on trains and buses.

Australian Civil Liberties Union president John Bennett said it was understood there were more than half a million surveillance cameras in public places across Australia. "With that many there is a danger we are becoming a Big Brother society," he said.  "There is a mindless drift more and more to this sort. of surveillance.  But one must ask if it is being overdone, and I think it is." Deputy Federal Privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim, said his office often fielded cans from members of the public Complaining about the clear increase in surveillance cameras. "Privacy in a modem society cannot be an absolute," he said.  "But we need to balance the needs of the broader community with Issues of safety and security without losing focus on the right of individual privacy."

There needed to be scrutiny of the ways surveillance was used.  "Someone walking down the street does not want to turn up on Australia’s funniest video shows because footage from a surveillance camera has been mishandled," he said. "There needs to be adequate notice given to individuals with signs saying 'this street under surveillance' and then we need to ask who gets access to the footage.”

Peter Michael, Sunday Mail, 22 April 2001





A Totalitarian Government's Disregard for Civil Liberties Spreads to Australia.

Notwithstanding frequent assurances from Beijing that 'life is just a bowl of cherries ' in mainland China the rest of the world is only to well aware that abuses of civil and human rights are as commonplace today as they have ever been.

An outstanding case in point is the now two year -old crackdown on the Falun Dafa (Falun Gong) spiritual movement.  The persecution has been unbelievable in its ferocity with over 320 practitioners having so far lost their lives as a result of torture and abuse in custody.  Moreover, for every death there are hundreds more who have been maimed or disabled from maltreatment.  There are currently up to 100,000 Falun Data practitioners in prisons, detention centres, mental hospitals and labour camps.  Only prominent members of the community such as public officials and university lecturers are afforded the luxury of a trial.  Even so, they have been denied legal representation and sentenced to terms of up to 18 years.

One of the principle weapons of the infamous Cultural Revolution was to divide families and communities against each other and also to humiliate dissidents in front of their peers.   Similar tactics are employed against Falun Data with practitioners being paraded barefoot through crowded streets or market places accompanied by placards or loudspeakers denigrating their beliefs.

Colleges and universities have inevitably been hit hard by the persecution.  Intellectuals are often freethinkers and always targets of suspicion for totalitarian governments.  Students and lecturers have been dismissed in large numbers.  Ms. Zhao Xin aged 32, a lecturer at Beijing University of Industry and Commerce died in agony six months after having three vertebra smashed while in police custody.

We therefore come to the part of this story which is likely to be especially disturbing for our readers here in Australia.  Regardless of the fact that Falun Dafa is a legally registered association in this country as well as an Active Australia provider, The Chinese Embassy in Canberra and Consulates in Sydney and Melbourne have been attempting to extend the persecution to these shores.

Highly misleading and defamatory literature is being circulated, some of these being left in public libraries without permission.  Salacious articles are constantly fed to the Chinese language newspapers, apparently accompanied by significant pressure to publish.  The 21st Century Chinese newspaper on 14th March 2001 carried a report of a meeting held on 9 March to set up an Anti-Falun Gong organisation with the express purpose of preventing the spread of the practice through a campaign of vilification.  The paper confirmed that the article was not written by a staff reporter but sent to them by an outside agency.

Letters have been sent to local councils 'advising' them not to allow Falun Dafa to use public parks for practising the exercises or participate in civic events as well as adding a large helping of negative propaganda.  Phone calls have been made to Festival organisers exhorting them not to invite Falun Data to participate.  Magazines that have previously published factual articles on the practice have been similarly approached.

In Melbourne the Chinese Consulate has traditionally supplied a particular Chinese ethnic school with textbooks: but on discovering that the Principal is a Falun Dafa practitioner they refused to continue.  They were given the option of dealing through other members of staff who had no links to Falun Dafa but still refused.  Here as at home they seem determined to apply the erroneous principle of 'guilt by association'.

Australian citizens and residents of Chinese origin have been particularly singled out for harassment with property mysteriously damaged, phones tapped, and computer operations interfered with.  The Beijing Government has openly stated that any Chinese living in a foreign country, who is not yet a citizen of that country, is still subject to the dictates of the Communist Party.  Visas to visit China are routinely refused to Australian practitioners of Falun Data regardless of the fact that it is their country of birth and they have relatives there.  Article 13, Section 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Since China is currently refusing to allow known practitioners leave the mainland they are totally in breach of Article 13, not to mention at least a further dozen articles of the above Charter to which they are a signatory.  It is highly regrettable that despite the best efforts of former UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson during her term of office China has still not ratified the agreements they have signed.

There was a disturbing incident outside the Chinese Consulate in Sydney on 12th August 2001.  A number of practitioners had gathered to peacefully meditate when a man came out of the Consulate with a video camera and started to film everyone from extremely close quarters (i.e. a few centimetres from the face).  A lady with a camera tried to photograph the man and he became verbally and physically abusive, knocking her to the ground.  The lady in question is of Chinese extraction but grew up in Australia and speaks without a trace of Chinese accent.  The man said to her: "Look at your face.  You are Chinese".  Because of her ethnic origin he expected her to obey the Chinese Government. (See previous para).

On Friday afternoon, 5 h October 2001 a man came out of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra to collect a sign left behind from a festival held there some nights before.   After picking up the sign, he walked across the road to where some female practitioners were holding a peaceful vigil to appeal for an end to the persecution.  He pointed his finger aggressively close to their faces shouting that they shouldn't be allowed to stay there.  The practitioners explained: "This is Australia, we are Australian citizens and we have the right to peacefully appeal here." The man retorted: "Australia, what is Australia? 1 don't care about your... (derogatory words omitted) Australia.  He was extremely angry and abusive.  When a practitioner took a photograph of him he tried to wrench the camera away from her and slapped her face.  She passed the camera to someone else and the man grabbed the second lady roughly by the wrist.  At that point some Embassy personnel came out and dragged him back inside.

A full report of this incident was made to the Police.  The practitioners made several visits to the police station over a six week period and were finally informed on 22 d November that the police had been prevented from taking action by the Department of Foreign Affairs because the Chinese Embassy had applied for diplomatic immunity.  They were told that Foreign Affairs had given the man a warning that future misdemeanours would result in his deportation.  The following day the practitioners contacted an official from Foreign Affairs who admitted that in fact no warning had been given at all, although the Chinese Embassy had been asked for their cooperation to ensure that no such incidents happened in the future.  The official refused to supply any written evidence of the Department's request or the Embassy's response.

So where do we go from here?  Certainly, isolating China and pushing the leadership into a corner is only likely to make them dig in their heels even harder, and also give them the opportunity to whip up nationalistic fervour against 'hostile' and 'anti-China' forces.  Regrettably their entry into the World Trade Organisation and winning the right to host the 2008 Olympics has boosted the confidence of the leadership and resulted in a further deterioration of human rights and civil liberties.  Since September 11th they have even seized the opportunity to ludicrously brand a whole host of dissident groups, including Falun Gong, as 'terrorist organisations'.   It goes without saying that all attempts to extend their unwarranted crackdown on Falun Data to countries outside of mainland China, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and of course Australia, must cease forthwith.

With regard to the western nations; it will be unacceptable if they see fit to consider economic and financial liberalisation to be sufficient, and allow social justice and human rights to be subordinated to material greed as has happened so often before throughout history.  Never has there been a better time for a change and for all concerned citizens to stand up and be counted.


Amnesty International index.  ASA 17/12/2000, 12/2/2001, 17/4/2001.
The Age (Melbourne)
Sydney Morning Herald.
Compassion Magazine Issue 2, First Quarter,2001, New York.
Epoch Times.
Far Eastern Economic Review.
First hand reports from Falun Data practitioners




The Government has accused your company (falsely) of "money laundering." So the Government has confiscated all of your assets. Impossible in a “free” country? Yet that’s what John Howard’s “Proceeds of Crime Bill 2001” would allow government to do to you and your family. (You may view the bill at bills.) And there are dozens more “indictable” and “serious” offences. If the Federal Government were to simply ACCUSE you of having committed any one of these offences, you could be stripped instantly of everything you own. They wouldn’t have to convict you, prosecute you, or even charge you. Government agents would be authorized to confiscate all of your assets - your home, car, bank account, jewellery, everything - at any time. And you and your family would be in the street, without funds to even hire a lawyer to defend yourself against false accusations.

Similar blatantly unconstitutional “asset confiscation” laws have existed in the USA for more than twenty years. Thousands of innocent middle-class Americans have been instantly stripped of billions of dollars in cash and property, at the flash of a badge. For horrific victim abuse details, visit

Politicians and the compliant media will tell you “We’re only going to use this law to get those nasty drug dealers, and terrorists, and money launderers, and people smugglers who are now slipping through the cracks.” We suggest that - if draconian enforcement methods such as this could achieve their goal - American streets would NOT now be awash with more and stronger illegal drugs - at lower prices - than ever before. (As well as constant “terrorist” scares and an estimated eight million illegal immigrants.)

The “Proceeds of Crime Bill 2001” literally overturns the Magna Carta of 1215- the ultimate source of our basic Australian freedoms. You can help stop this outrage in its tracks. Make copies of this letter. Share with your family, friends, neighbours, co­workers. Tell John Howard, Simon Crean, your local MP and the media what YOU think!

Ronald Bradley






The Australian Civil Liberties union has called on the Government to redraft the Criminal Code Amendment Bill to ensure that the bill Is confined to people committing espionage, and does not punish whistleblowers in the public service, The Union’s President, John Bennett said that under the Bill, which aims to increase penalties for spying, public servants who leak information which could embarrass the government could be jailed.

Unless the Bill is redrafted, public servants who leaked information such as the use of the telecard of the former defence minister Peter Reith would face stiff penalties and the publics’ right to know about significant political matters would be thwarted.  Journalists would also be affected in view of a penalty of up to 7 years for receiving information.

Mr Bennett said that a distinction should be made between spies who are a threat to the security of Australia and public servants who drew attention to Government incompetence or malpractice. Ministers seldom admit to their own corruption and maladministration, and the public relies on leaks from public servants, and a free press prepared to publish the leaks to “keep the bastards honest.”

Mr Bennett said that the attempt to punish whistleblowers and journalists, as with the proposal to give ASlO greater powers to detain people, is part or a general overreaction to the events of September 11.

John Bennett, President, Australian Civil Liberties Union, P0 Box 1137, Carlton, Vic, 3053 phone (03) 9348671; fax (03) 93478617; email:




The Australian Civil Liberties Union has written to the Defence Minister Robert Hill stating that the Defence Signals Directorate has exceeded its functions by passing on transcripts of phone conversations between the Maritime Union of Australia and the Tampa, to the government.

The ACLU does not accept the Minister’s statement that the breach of the rules by the DSD was merely an inadvertent error in DSD reporting and believes that the actions of the DSD in listening in to Australians during the Tampa crisis and forwarding transcripts which could be used for political purposes, was a serious threat to free speech and the political process which could not be justified by vague references to “national security.”

The DSD is a significant threat to freedom of communication and to privacy. The DSD seems to set its own agenda, is not subject to any adequate external control, does not require phone tap warrants from the Attorney General, and can monitor any phone conversations by satellite.




SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 9 - Australia wants firmer penalties and longer jail sentences for convicted spies and traitors, but broad legislation proposed after Sept. 11 for that purpose could also imprison public sector whistle-blowers and journalists who expose scandals, not state secrets, civil Libertarians and legal experts contend. Press freedom in this country, which has no constitutional right to free speech, has been decreasing for years critics say, as court suppression orders rise and the release of documents under freedom of information statutes slows. The main culprit is the government-sanctioned growth of official secrecy, said Warren Beeby, chairman of the Australian section of the Commonwealth Press Union, a group concerned with press freedom.  He is also an executive with the News Corporation.

Mr. Beeby points to the espionage- related legislation proposed by the government as one of the most recent examples. The bill was introduced in late September, before Prime Minister John Howard won a third term partly by taking a tough stand on issues of national security. Yet the proposal, which Attorney Genera! Daryl Williams has said will be reintroduced this month, has provisions that could stretch far beyond the scope of national security, critics contend. People who pass on “official information” could be sent to prison for two years, arid those who receive it could also get prison sentences of seven years. Yet the definition of official information is so broad in the bill that it could include routine data available to nearly any government worker, some legal experts said.

“It’s a nightmare,’ said Michael Chesterman, a law professor at the University of New South Wales. Government officials defend the proposed crackdown, insisting that laws intended to protect national security need to be toughened. Spying, they say, would carry penalties of 25 years in jail, up from 7, if the bill becomes law as it is now structured. “Claims that the government intends to use its espionage legislation to plug leaks are wrong,’ Mr. Williams said recently. Part of the concern is that portions of the bill could be interpreted very broadly because some provisions deal only with unauthorized disclosures of information. But, Mr. Williams said, "these are simply intended to restate the existing provisions under the Crimes Act in more modern language."

Peter Robinson, a journalist for more than 50 years in Australia, Japan, the United States and Britain, and the former editor in chief of the daily Australian Financial Review, is skeptical. He contends that governments are pushing through measures that limit their responsibility to be open about their actions. The trend is causing the most serious assault on Australia’s democratic base since World War II, he said. ‘The idea that a journalist could be imprisoned for accepting a leaked document seems, to me, evil, he said. John Bennett, president of the Australian Civil Liberties Union, agrees, saying that the country ought to distinguish between spies and public servants exposing government incompetence or malpractice. A decade ago, a criminal law review panel here recommended that prison sentences for the unauthorized disclosure of official information be limited to certain restricted categories and “no more widely stated than is required for the effective functioning of government,’ said the final report, released by the department that Mr. Williams now runs.

That approach was not taken, however. The proposed legislation does not carve out exceptions based on the source or content of information. Even some within the government have expressed concern that the proposed restrictions are too broad. The attorney general of the state of Victoria, Rob Hulls, is one of them. The legislation “would criminalize genuine whistle-blowers who try to expose corrupt and inappropriate activities,” a spokesman for Mr. Hulls said on Friday. “In a true democracy, bona fide whistle-blowers are protected, not punished,” the spokesman added. Mr. Hulls plans to urge the federal government to adopt protections for whistle-blowers. Brian Greig, the law and justice spokesman for the Australian Democrats, a minority party, said he would oppose any law that would send public servants or journalists to jail for passing on or receiving information that was merely embarrassing to the government. For its part, the government does not seem ready to change its stance. Mr. Williams says safeguards will ensure that legitimate transfers of information can continue. that has not placated critics, including Mr. Beeby. “You’ve got the attorney general holding out his arms and saying, ‘Trust me,’ ” he said. “And we don’t.”

Becky Gaylord, The New York Times, 10 February 2002


Contents of Your Rights

Australian Civil Liberties Union