Civil liberties

Mass-murderer Castro dies unpunished

If there is a Latin American nation in which human rights and the rule of law seem to have completely vanished, that nation certainly is Cuba. And yet the recently deceased dictator Fidel Castro remains revered by those who regard him as a revolutionary hero who bravely stood against ‘capitalism’ and ‘American imperialism’.

Amongst these leftist admirers of Castro are the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau and the leader of the Opposition in Australia, Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten has been to Cuba and he deeply admired a notorious six-hour speech delivered by Castro. ‘It was amazing,’ Shorten said. Of course, he is not the only Labor leader to deeply admire the brutal dictator. British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Castro was a ‘champion of social justice’ — a nonsensical statement given all the people Castro brutally murdered and all the human rights he grossly violated.

The fact that so many left-wing leaders have expressed admiration to Castro should be a reason for great concern. After all, since the adoption by Castro of Marxist-Leninism in 1959 the Cuban regime has sanctioned the brutal assassination of dissidents, the introduction of retroactive criminal legislation, the confiscation of property for political reasons, and numerous other ’emergency measures’ against the so-called ‘enemies’ of the communist regime.

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IPA research: prisoner numbers costs $3.8bn a year

The IPA’s latest report, “The use of prisons in Australia: reform directions”, released today, was featured in The Australian by legal affairs editor Chris Merritt:

Groundbreaking research has revealed that the rate at which the nation is sending people to prison has jumped by 40 per cent in a decade and is costing taxpayers $3.8 billion a year.

More than 36,000 people are now in prison around the nation — at an annual cost of $110,000 per prisoner — compared to a ­national total in 1975 of just 8900 prisoners.

The rate at which people are going to prison in Australia is now 196 for every 100,000 people — which is the highest since just after federation.

With the exception of the US, Australia has a higher incarceration rate than other major common law countries and the democracies of continental Europe.

About 46 per cent of those in prison have been jailed for non­violent offences and taxpayers are paying $1.8bn every year to keep them there.

These findings are outlined in a new report by the Institute of Public Affairs that calls for governments to make greater use of alternatives to prison for non­violent offenders.

The report, by Andrew Bushnell and Daniel Wild, warns that the overuse of prisons is failing to keep the community safe from crime and is wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere in the criminal justice system.

“While prisons are necessary for isolating violent and anti-­social criminals, there are other ways to punish nonviolent, low-risk offenders,” Mr Bushnell said.

… In February, the Australian Bar Association described man­datory sentencing as a national disgrace and endorsed the concept of “justice reinvestment”.

The IPA report warns that ­increased use of mandatory ­sentencing will increase the incarceration rate and calls for governments to wind back the use of strict liability offences.

But while the ABA wants less money spent on prisons and more money spent on community projects, the IPA report says savings from prisons should be spent on policing.

Simon Breheny, the IPA’s director of policy, argues that because criminals are generally more likely than others to respond to immediate incentives, deterrence is better achieved by increasing the chance of being caught rather than imposing longer sentences. “This in turn implies that money saved by reducing incarceration could be profitably invested in policing,” Mr Breheny says.

The report says people are jailed for several purposes but community safety is the only aim of the criminal justice system that cannot be achieved by other reasonable means.

“The criminal law should not sprawl into domains traditionally governed by the civil law,” the report says. “In cases where the remedies available in civil law courts would suffice, the criminal law is not needed.”

It says violent offenders should be jailed in order to protect society, but it backs a series of changes intended to help keep non-violent offenders out of prison. These include:

  • Extending the use of alternative punishments such as fines and home detention to nonviolent, low-risk offenders.
  • Limiting the use of strict liability offences and restoring the requirement of mens rea — or a guilty mind — for regulatory criminal offences. Where strict liability is imposed, the report calls for alternatives to prison when the offender has not demonstrated a propensity for violence or anti-social behaviour.
  • Ending the practice of sending people to prison for victimless crimes such as insider trading or mishandling trust accounts.
  • Allowing offenders to make restitution to victims of crime and taking this into account in sen­tencing.

Read The Australian‘s coverage here ($).

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Rowan Callick on Chinese democracy

A fascinating piece from Rowan Callick in The Australian today on the repressive nature of Chinese democracy, where those insufficiently loyal to the ruling Communist party are not allowed to participate:

Today, under Xi Jinping, we are seeing clear limits on how far popular representation can go.

This approach is now being applied consistently, through mainland China and in special administrative regions such as Hong Kong, where two awkward young legislators were disqualified from taking their places on Tuesday night…

In mainland China, everyone above 18 can vote for their district People’s Congress representatives, who do not have to be party members. Those congresses meet for five years. The local congresses choose the representatives for the municipal or provincial level congresses, which choose those who form the National People’s Congress that meets every March in Beijing.

… Under China’s constitution, anyone can stand for membership of a district congress. In practice, party authorities will assess candidates. Those who pass muster initially but act too independently after being elected are soon weeded out. Others who ­appear palpably unacceptable to the authorities are prevented from standing.

All must in time, if not at the start, defer to the party hierarchy, which is superior to the civic structures and retains the power to veto or initiate policies.

No access is available to the mass media or social media for candidates to explain themselves. The only way to present a case is to meet voters in person.

Five years ago in Wukan, a ­village in Guangdong province in the country’s south, in the dying days of the Hu-Wen leadership team, a bitter dispute over an ­alleged land grab by party officials of farms was defused by ­villagers being allowed to choose their own leaders.

However, these leaders were unable to wrest back the stolen land and protests began again — this time led by Lin Zuluan, elected in 2011. The authorities’ deployed heavily armed riot police, and jailed Lin. The courts confirmed a three-year sentence last month and fined him $40,000. He and the villagers who continued to back him said the corruption charges were trumped up.

In the outskirts of southwest Beijing, villagers of Gaodiansan in Fangshan district had two rounds of voting — the first round reducing the number of candidates. Farmer Liu Huizhen, 45, received substantial support and reached the second round.

But by then the authorities had woken up to the risk of letting her reach any further. She told The Australian she was followed constantly by as many as 20 well-built agents.

Her home is a crude wooden structure, which she and her husband built on land her family had farmed until it was confiscated by the government. The compensation was $50 per adult per month — in a city where the cost of living is considerably higher than Sydney’s.

She said the local government gave police the election records from the first round and visited each of the villagers who had voted for her.

“They asked why they had supported me. After that, most of my neighbours were too scared to do so in the second round,” she said. “All my neighbours had lost land too, and I wanted to speak on behalf of them if I had been elected.”

Liu was defeated in the second ballot.

Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at ­Beijing’s University of Posts and Telecommunications, won two terms from 2003 and opposed the forced repatriation to hometowns of those without a Beijing hukou, or registration or who represented the families of children who fell sick after taking milk powder enhanced with ­mela­mine. Soon after stepping down from the congress, he was jailed for four years for “disturbing the social order”.

 

Continue reading here ($)

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Metadata mission creep? Who would have thought?

Victoria_Police

The latest proposal from Victoria Police to monitor mobile phone use highlights the danger of mission creep under mandatory metadata retention laws:

The so-called textalysers… are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time – while driving, for example.

… The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
… Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.

However, Australia’s new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology’s introduction here.

While the government justified the introduction of metadata laws largely to fight terrorism, the inherent danger with gathering mountains of personal data (beyond privacy and data security issues) is that once it exists other entities will inevitably demand access (see that list here).

In fact, the IPA’s Simon Breheny predicted this as early as 2012, and the IPA’s Chris Berg warned about the likelihood of the compulsorily acquired metadata being used for purposes other than national security at the time of its introduction in 2014:

A lot of opponents of data retention have pointed out that this creates a very real risk of unauthorised access. It’s hard to keep data secure.

Yet just as concerning is authorised access. Once these databases have been created they will be one subpoena away from access in any and every private lawsuit.

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So much for the “Freedom Commissioner”

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Less than three years after the Coalition government appointed Tim Wilson as the “Freedom Commissioner“, Attorney-General George Brandis has now appointed someone from an organisation which has repeatedly been on the wrong side of debates on freedoms, and public policy more generally.

This is just some of what the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – led by the new Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow – has said in recent years:

Freedom of speech:

PIAC has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act…

‘Freedom of speech is a crucial human right but so too is the right not to be vilified on the basis of your race or ethnicity. Serious race-based insult, offence and humiliation can be deeply wounding and threatens important aspects of Australia’s liberal democracy,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders:

PIAC generally supports the proposal for a statement of values or recognition, which appropriately recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution… PIAC submits that constitutional protection is imperative to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians against racial discrimination.

Freedom of religion:

We oppose, in particular, the granting of blanket exemptions to churches and religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws.

Suing Coles for its “discriminatory” website:

“Ms Mesnage relies on a screen-reader to use the internet. Like many people who are blind or have a vision impairment, she has had ongoing problems using the Coles website to do her shopping since 2008,” PIAC CEO, Edward Santow said.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in October 2014 that after negotiations with Coles failed to bring about a solution, Mesnage brought legal proceedings against the supermarket chain under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

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Sanity prevails: Evangelical Union at USyd won’t be deregistered

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The University of Sydney Union has abandoned their plan to deregister the Evangelical Union.

Faith-based societies at the University of Sydney were facing deprivation of monetary resources and access to campus facilities over their requirement that members be Christian.

However, in a big win for freedom of association on campus, the union announced in a media statement today that faith based clubs and societies would be able to decide the conditions of their membership:

After long and thoughtful consultation with our religious communities on campus, the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors resolved at the April Board Meeting to amend the C&S Regulations to allow faith based declarations as a condition of membership and Executives of faith based clubs registered under the USU C&S program.

The Board has listened to its members and acknowledges the importance of such declarations to some of our faith based clubs and societies.

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First they came for the Evangelicals, now they’re coming for the Catholics

The University of Sydney Union is at it again, this time targeting the 88-year old Catholic Society over the requirement that executive members are Catholic.

In a repeat of the situation facing the Evangelical Union, the Catholic Society is facing deregistration because of their “discriminatory” policy.

The Australian reports on this latest attack on freedom of association on campus:

“It’s a surreal situation,” ­society president Francis Tamer said. “We have been told we are discriminating against people ­because you have to be Catholic to be on the executive. Of course you do — we are the Catholic ­Society.”

One of the university’s best known Catholic alumni, Tony Abbott, agrees, saying “it seems like a hell of a double standard” given that Sydney University has long offered both a “women’s room” and a Koori Centre for ­indigenous students…

Similarly, Liberal and Labor clubs on campus have pointed out that they would expect their members to be Labourites and Liberals.

In the other ongoing case at Sydney University, the Evangelical Union voted 71-1 to not remove their requirement that voting members identify with Jesus Christ.

In response, the Union has delayed the decision to deregister the Evangelical Union, stating that the final decision is yet to be made due to legal complexity.

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News of the predictable

Bike gang members on the Gold Coast dodge laws by pretending to “disassociate” for the time being:

Cunning Gold Coast bikies have publicly declared themselves not to be bikies to skirt tough laws banning them from associating with each other.

… Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said many bikies, particularly former Bandidos, had dropped the title but not the association.

“Since the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment laws were introduced we have seen many power players claim to be disassociated,” he said.

“They say they are no longer bikies and continue to meet without fear of strict laws.”

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Free speech and open debate under threat from anti-discrimination laws

Archbishop Julian Porteous, the subject of a complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner

It is deeply disturbing that a Catholic archbishop is being dragged to an anti-discrimination authority for simply expressing a traditional view on the subject that until quite recently was shared by both the major political parties as well as a large segment of the population. This exposes religious organisations to attack from outsiders and leaves their practices and beliefs unguarded.

If religious organisations can be punished for simply expressing their traditional views on marriage, family and a child’s right to a father and mother, then I wonder what else they and their followers might be punished for once same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia.

Before a plebiscite on same-sex marriage can even take place in this country, it is necessary to address the intolerable impact that anti-discrimination laws are having on free speech. As a society we really need to ask ourselves if we should undermine the rights of one group in order to protect or promote the interests of another.

A real democracy – and we must never forget this – requires that controversial issues will be resolved by the people only after a truly open and robust debate has taken place.

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It should never be a crime to offend a person

Reported today in The Australian:

Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher said it was “truly alarming” that any Australian would face proceedings before a tribunal for stating traditional Christian ­beliefs.

“Catholics, like the overwhelming majority of Aus­tralians, support freedoms of religion and speech,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Just as no one should be ­ridiculed or demeaned in the ­marriage debate, so too no one should be dragged before tribunals merely for stating one side of that debate.”

He said fair-minded readers of the bishops’ booklet “Don’t Mess With Marriage” would see that it was carefully worded and compassionate, and not designed to provoke or hurt.

… The commission’s decision was also attacked by champions of freedom of speech.

“This case highlights the ­attack on free speech represented by anti-discrimination law — it should never be a crime to offend a person,” said Simon Breheny, of free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

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