Giving comfort to the enemy

Published in New Matilda, 24th Jan 2006

The Australian government late last year passed legislation making it an offence for citizens to give comfort to the enemy. This is presumably because they believe they are not the enemy. Yet, it has been a reasonable libertarian position that the government is the enemy of democracy. I presume that libertarians will now believe that the government is no longer the enemy, democracy has no enemies or we had to do away with democracy in order to protect it from the enemy, or perhaps all three.

The Federal government has made it an offence to spread disaffection against all manner of posh people including that rich old lady who lives in England and believes she is our Head of State. It is also now illegal to spread disaffection against the people who believe she is the head of our government and any of their rich hangers-on, whether they give a toss about who is head of government, so long as the basis for their accumulating wealth is not questioned.

Before this recent legislation it might have been possible to question the legitimacy of the invasion of this land, the dispossession of the original owners, even the continuing occupation. I suppose that such debates have been “washed away by the tide of history”. At least the legal situation is now clarified and the descendants of the original owners, who we have not been able to incarcerate, have been given fair notice that any murmurings of discontent will remove all previous obstacles to jailing them.

Asylum seekers, who are experiencing all the amenities of the Baxter Holiday Resort – for people we don’t want but can’t deport – had better not complain about being slowly driven mad or they may find that they too are accused of spreading disaffection. Such an accusation (proof is no longer required) could mean that even if they are found to be refugees, they will be denied a permit to stay.

One of the problems that some people are having is that they are not entirely sure what the government has agreed to do with our allies. Are Australians expected to support torture in Abu Gharib, Guantamo Bay, Diego Garcia and Bagram in Afghanistan? Are we expected to support the CIA’s special renditions of terrorist suspects? Are we expected to support aerial assassinations of villagers in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the West Bank and Iraq? Will we take part in bombing Iran and Syria? Will we support the ongoing suppression of West Papuan people by Kompassas troops? Loyal citizens should not be troubled by such questions: our government would not do these things if they were wrong.

May be, the government is not being hard enough on those who would spread disaffection or comfort the enemy. At the moment, a police officer, or some other official, has to suspect that someone might, at some time, do something, say something or think about doing something which might in some way cause offence. The legislation would be far easier to administer if these officials had only to assert that they had a slight feeling of unease about the person, the members of a religious group or an ethnic group before they could be rounded up and jailed. New South Wales, after all, has given its police the power to lock down entire suburbs.

The present legislation is useful in that the Commonwealth officials don’t have to tell the accused person what they are suspected of having done or are planning to do. Given the lengths to which some lawyers are prepared to go in an attempt to establish the innocence of some suspects, this added secrecy is vital. Clearly, the guilty know what they’ve done – so they don’t need to be told.

Despite the substantial steps taken so far, the legislation needs to be enhanced in two significant regards. Two new offences should be added to the existing armoury. The first should be “failing to plead guilty as charged” and the second “attempting to prove innocence”. Both should carry mandatory life sentences.