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Malcolm Turnbull writes for Daily Telegraph on sedition laws.

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Malcolm Turnbull writes for Daily Telegraph on Sedition Laws

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sedition laws have a bad reputation. Originally designed centuries ago to prohibit political agitators stirring up

the masses into riot and rebellion against His Majesty, they were last used, in their Australian form, against a

communist unionist more than fifty years ago.

So many prophets, preachers and political heroes (including Jesus, St Paul, Ghandi and Mandela) have been

charged with “sedition”, the word itself is laden with connotations of heavy handed Governments stamping out


Thankfully our sedition laws have been unused for more than half a century and were assumed to be a dead


The London bombings on July 7 reminded us of the real threat from home grown terrorism. One of those

suicide bombers was the 20 year old cricket loving son of a successful small businessman. Hardly the

stereotype of a terrorist. Or is it?

Sadly there are people in our community who are actively working to indoctrinate young men and women with

a totalitarian ideology of intolerance, hatred and suicidal violence that not only defiles the name of Islam, but

threatens the security of our society.

Faced with this very real threat from those who are promoting and urging terrorist violence, the Government

sought to introduce some clear provisions prohibiting the urging of violence for political ends or urging others to

assist our enemies.

However while the new provisions certainly improved the law, they also shone a light on the old sedition law.

And so we have had protests from journalists, writers and artists anxious that they will be prosecuted for just

doing their job, let alone poking fun at the Government.

These concerns have been understandable but are, in my view, unrealistic in practical terms. Over the last two

months our backbench committee has worked closely and constructively with Attorney General Phillip Ruddock

to improve the legislation and address the concerns about civil liberties.

Just last week the Attorney General agreed to some additional words which make it abundantly clear that

anyone reporting or commenting on matters of public interest is protected. I see leading lawyer and critic of the

sedition laws, Bret Walker SC, agreed that these changes had dampened his concerns.

Responding to a request from the backbench committee and the Senate Committee, the Attorney General has

agreed to a review of the sedition laws by the Australian Law Reform Commission in the new year. I believe we

should move the term “sedition” out of the law books and into the history books. Both the term “sedition” and

some of the language associated with it is archaic and difficult to understand. We can complete the reform

process started with today’s amendments and ensure the law is expressed in clear contemporary language and

focused on the real threat: those urging violence and terrorism.

The United Kingdom’s new anti terror laws also provide it is an offence to make a statement glorifying terrorism

if the person making it believes, or has reasonable grounds for believing, that it is likely to be understood by its

audience as an inducement to terrorism. This is a very clear, but nonetheless controversial, attempt to confront

those who are the ultimate promoters and encouragers of suicide bombers. Next year’s review should also

consider whether our law requires a sharply focused provision of this kind.