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Howard's Australia: Unfair Go

Julian Burnside QC is a well-known Melbourne silk who has been involved in many high-profile cases, in particular those relating to refugees in Australia. Burnside is also often called on as a commentator and speaker.

In an article just published in New Matilda [on the www - but available only by subscription] entitled "Howard's Australia: Unfair Go", Burnside, validly and forcefully, attacks the Federal Government's new refugees laws including the processing of asylum seekers off-shore.

Amonsgt the things Burnside addresses in his article is this:

"But the Howard Government has developed a taste for unfairness, which has been masked by Howard’s deceptive rhetoric about ‘Australian values’ and a ‘fair go.’ In a speech in Adelaide in 2004, Howard reaffirmed his faith in Australia as ‘a fair and decent society.’ What bullshit.

Unfair: Howard has overhauled the Workplace Relations Act. One aspect of the new law expressly permits employees to be dismissed unfairly. Another aspect makes it a jailable offence to ask a co-worker how much they are paid.

Unfair: Another provision forces employers to punish employees if they engage in any unauthorised industrial action. Recently, a group of workers had four hours’ pay docked because they took one hour off to raise money for the widow of a mate who had been killed at work.

Unfair: In John Howard’s Australia, it is possible for a person to be jailed for 14 days without trial and without being told the evidence against them. It is now possible for a person to be placed under house arrest for up to a year without trial, without being told the evidence against them. It is possible for an Australian citizen’s passport to be cancelled, without them being told why. And it is possible for a person’s visa to be cancelled without the visa-holder being told why. These measures are ostensibly designed to protect us from terrorism, but Howard’s new laws now permit, even guarantee, unfair trials.

Unfair: When the so-called anti-terrorist legislation was introduced, the Howard Government explained that basic rights would be protected, because people would be able to go to court to challenge the decisions. They failed to explain that the review process could be rendered futile by the Attorney-General. This is because the Attorney-General can, by conclusive certificate, prevent the applicant from hearing the evidence and the submissions relied on by the Government. In addition, the applicant’s lawyers will be prevented from hearing the evidence and the submissions relied on by the Government. This means that decisions which have a profound effect on a person’s life will be, in effect, be unchallengable.

It is virtually impossible to show that a decision was wrong if you are not allowed to know the facts and the reasoning on which it was based. Secret hearings based on secret evidence are anathema in any democracy, but they are a fact of life in Australia today.

Unfair: In any proceedings that touch on security, the Attorney-General can, by conclusive certificate, prevent a person from calling relevant evidence to advance their case or to contradict the Government’s case. This is made possible by the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Trials) Act. It can be done when the Attorney-General considers that the evidence might jeopardise our national security."

Do yourself a favour and be well-informed and challenged by subscribing to New Matilda. Check out its web site here.

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