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Attorney-General employs “extremely heavy-handed piece of legislation” meant for international spies, huge taxpayers’ funds in bid to persecute peace protesters, Dems Senator says

Posted by gasweek on 11 October, 2007

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett (Queensland) told the Senate on 20 September 2007 it was wrong for the Government to use the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act, intended for application toward international spies, against non-violent protesters who had entered the Pine Gap facility.

No need for extreme laws against non-violent mob: Bartlett said: “I think it is completely unjustifiable for the Attorney-General to have made the specific, political, individual decision to use this extremely heavy-handed piece of legislation that was obviously meant to be used for international spies or people who are genuinely attempting to create major security hazards. I think it is a disgrace to use it on non-violent peace protesters”.

Govt employs heavy legal guns: “What is even more disgraceful is that, having done so, the government then employed an army of QCs to ensure that the defence of protesters was as limited as possible and that there was very little opportunity for them to get the totality of their defence and their justifications on the public record or accepted in court. Those people were thus, almost unavoidably, found guilty by a jury. The judge then produced a sentence”.

Judge left in lurch without any precedents to go on: “Clearly the judge did not have a precedent to use in determining a sentence because no-one has ever been charged under the act before. The judge in this case weighed up the intent of the actions, the extent of the risk or lack thereof to public safety and security, the motivation of the protesters and a range of other factors and brought down a fine”.

Over-the-top measure, using public funds: “The key issue with the use of the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act is that it has the potential for a very extreme jail sentence. I cannot off the top of my head remember exactly what it is. I have 15 years in my head, but it may be seven years; I am not sure. Either way, the decision of the Attorney-General not to charge them with trespassing but to charge them under that act specifically introduced the prospect of many years jail for a very simple act of civil disobedience and non-violent protest. A particular disgrace is not only the use of that act but that, after the sentence was brought down, the government and the Attorney-General once again came through with a sledgehammer. They are using taxpayers’ funds to launch an appeal against the sentence. I think that is not only an excessive abuse of government power but a deliberate act of intimidation not just against those protesters but against anybody who seeks to express concern about this government’s defence policy, military policy and foreign policy in regard to the use of our defence forces”.

Wrong to use laws intended for other purposes: “I do have a real problem with the use of that sort of legislation for a purpose that it clearly was not intended for and with large amounts of taxpayers’ funds being used to persecute and pursue peace protesters rather than to protect and improve the safety of Australians”.

Reference: Andrew Bartlett, Democrat Senator from Queensland, Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats Australian Democrats Whip, Australian Democrats Party, Senate Hansard, Commonwealth of Australia, 20 September 2007.

Erisk Net, 7/10/2007

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