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Premiers are concerned about sedition laws as part of anti-terrorism measures.

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Monday 14 November 2005

Premiers are concerned about sedition laws as part of anti-terrorism measures


TONY EASTLEY: The support of State Premiers for the Federal Governmen t's tough new anti-terror laws was a breakthrough for the Federal Government, which of course allowed it to introduce the legislation to Parliament. 


But now the Premiers are beginning to break ranks, with Victorian leader Steve Bracks and Queensland's Peter Beattie coming out against the way the proposed new laws define the offence of "sedition", or urging rebellion. 


From Canberra, Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: The Federal Government's new anti-terror laws define the offence of sedition as promoting ill will and hostility between different groups.  


For Victorian Premier Steve Bracks that definition is too loose and could wind back free speech. 


STEVE BRACKS: You know, if someone innocently or unexpectedly is parodying some terrorism effort, they could be caught up in these laws, and … 


PETA DONALD: Well couldn't they say then, if it was an innocent satire or parody, as you say, couldn't they use the defence that what they were saying was said in good faith and they didn't mean to encourage violence? 


STEVE BRACKS: Yes they could, but wouldn't it be better if it didn't come to that and didn't come to court for consideration and those matters were a threshold matter which wasn't accepted. 


Look, I think there are ways of dealing with this matter. We have dealt with it. There is a balance. There is laws internationally. There's laws in Victoria, for example. There's some laws in New South Wales which operate to protect religious and racial tolerance.  


And I think that can be done better, in a more considered way, without affecting, if you like, the right of people to publicly speak out and to have that restricted as part of these laws. 


PETA DONALD: Mr Bracks wants the sedition provisions of the bill withdrawn, to be dealt with separately, and he's been joined by Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. 


PETER BEATTIE: Oh, I'm just a little concerned that they will impose restrictions on free speech which aren't intended. I don't think that the sedition provisions are central, frankly, to achieving the anti-terrorism position, and I've made that view from the beginning. 


I mean, the thrust of what we agreed to at COAG's in the law. The sedition provisions, as far as I'm concerned, are ancillary and unnecessary. They're not part of dealing with the terror provisions, as far as we're concerned. 


The spirit of COAG and the agreement we've reached can be done without the sedition provisions. 


PETA DONALD: Do you regret now signing up to these laws and not looking a bit more closely at the sedition provisions? 


PETER BEATTTIE: No, not at all. I mean, we signed up to the provisions of the act that related to the Commonwealth and the States. Sedition is something that is entirely a matter for the Commonwealth. 


PETA DONALD: Premiers Bracks and Beattie admit there's nothing they can do at this point to stop the Commonwealth going ahead with the laws.  


And the Federal Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, is not deterred by their latest intervention. 


PHILIP RUDDOCK: The point I would make is that the definition of sedition, seditious intention, which Mr Bracks seems to be concerned about, has nothing to do with the sedition offence which is within the legislation. And I would counsel him to get clear advice on how the measures are intended to operate and to speak of them in an informed way, rather than picking up on some of the ill-informed debate that is occurring right now. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock.