Miranda goes mad over Jihad Jack

September 1, 2006

I should be happy.  I spent my university years trading insults with hard core left wing apparatchiks and reading left leaning columns in all the national dailies.  If you were of the left it was salad days.  The Labor party ruled in the States and Federally and they ran any agenda that mattered.  I was in the Liberal Club and president of it for a while.  I then endured as an opposition staffer on Peter Reith’s staff.  It was grim to be of the right then.

Now the right rules the airwaves.  Talk back is the ugly end of the spectrum while Albrechtson, Henderson, Devine (both of them), Bolt, Ackerman and Sheridan cut down sacred cows of the left herd with wild abandon. I often nod approvingly as I read these scribes burnt offerings (though Piers is a tough swallow most days).   But things are becoming a bit surreal of late with these culture warriors  The right has gone from taking on the silliness of the left and their many PC oriented positions on government, family, feminism and social policy to muscling up on basic rights and responsiblities.  There is this crazy race to see who can be more macho and aggressive on anything that isn’t hairy chested on the war on terror, law and order and all things associated with those halcyon days of yore when children respected parents, one could leave the back door open (though why is a good question) and there was social cohesion by the bucketload.  Yeah right! 

Take Miranda Devine in a suprisingly inane column in today’s SMH  Under the title Raw Truths about the great divide she asserts that where you stand on the Jihad Jack issue (read what you think of the civil liberties implications) tells us where you stand demographically and geographically. 

A sample of demonsiing and labelling dressed up as analysis:

Just like fellow Muslim convert and jihadist David Hicks, Thomas has become the pin-up boy for human rights lawyers, left-wingers, Noam Chomsky and anyone else who believes John Howard and George Bush are a bigger threat to world security than Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakar Bashir (Jihad Jack’s mates).

So human rights lawyers are now not only left wingers but Noam Chomsky acolytes and Howard haters.  Nonsense.  I voted for Howard and think Bush is getting a bad wrap and will probably remembered as a reasonable second tier president.  And I think Bin Laden and Bashir are each a threat which must be met. But control orders are oppressive, uinnecessary and an affront to a civilised society.  And lawyers do have the habit of leading charges against these sort of measures because they have the skills to do it.  They also see what happens when bad laws are applied.

Thomas is the fifth-generation Australian taxi driver who, like Hicks, trained in al-Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.

What is the relevance of his heritage or occupation?  As for training in Al Qaeda training camps that, I understand, is wrong.  He trained in a Taliban training camp.  There is a difference.  Until September 11 there was offial contact with the regime and the DEA in the US were working with them to eradicate poppy fields.  Curiously enough the Taliban were very anti poppy. 

He was on his way back to Australia with a falsified passport on an al-Qaeda-funded airline ticket when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. He was convicted in the Victorian Supreme Court in February under anti-terrorism laws for receiving funds from al-Qaeda and holding a false passport and sentenced to five years’ jail.

All true as far as it goes (except that the charge was not related to a false passport but rather tampering with a official passport.  Passports are the property of the Commonwealth.)  BUT….

That jury conviction was overturned on appeal two weeks ago because the court believed the confession he made to the federal police had been given under duress.

It did not believe the confession was given under duress.  It made that finding based on pretty clear evidence.  Furthermore when an AFP officer writes a memo having doubts about the admissibility of a confession you know the stench from Denmark is pretty damn strong.  There was no surprises with this result.  The surprise was the DPP pushing on with the case.

Believing Thomas to be a threat to national security, the Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, this week signed a control order under anti-terrorism legislation, which prevents the father of three from leaving his house between midnight and 5am, restricts his phone and internet use, requires him to report to police three days a week, and not contact Osama bin Laden.

WRONG WRONG WRONG.  The control order was made by a Magistrate in an ex parte application.  Sloppy is your middle name Miranda.  That material which gives rise to this rush of blood to extremity will be fascinating to see. Lets see how much of a national security blanket is thrown over the hearing.  Presumably in setting out the restrictions Miranda seeks to show that all the jumping up and down by those evil lefty types is much ado about nothing.  Perhaps she should give it a whirl for 12 months and see how easy it is to work into her busy schedule.

These restrictions “attack our way of life”, squealed civil libertarians who are upset that Thomas was “at the beach with his family” when the control order was signed.

But people can simultaneously be family men who go to the beach and all sorts of other things, and the simple pleasures of going to the beach with your family was something his terrorist friends turned into a nightmare for 88 Australians and their families in Bali in 2002.

I get the connection but even for Miss Miranda this is an appalling labelling.  Where is the connection between Thomas’s statements and deeds and the Bali bombings.  By the same logic those who subscribed to the IRA cause to varying degrees, and there were many, are automatically drawn into and guilty of every act they committed. They may, and in my opinion were, stupid and naive in their support but putting them at the scene of a crime is another thing altogether.

As Peter Faris, QC, former head of the National Crime Authority, pointed out refreshingly on ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday night: “This is a case about trying to protect the Australian public. And all we have is this … this galaxy of civil liberties lawyers who don’t care a fig about the safety of the Australian public, but only care about the rights of Jack Thomas. What about the rights of the Australian public? Don’t they have a right to be protected?

I don’t know how good a lawyer Faris is but he is on a frolic on his own, leaving his legal knowledge alone, when he gets onto this hobby horse.  He has become a poster boy of the feral right.  One of the few lawyers who will sign onto the crusade for control orders.  I don’t know what his motivation is but it is not grounded in any appreciation of what civil rights are and history, recent and past.  I thought it funny that Miranda would cite his appointment at the NCA.  I doubt he puts that part of his CV so front and centre. Not exactly the high point of his professional life one would have thought. 

“We are at war. And this is a very important function for the Government to protect its citizens.”

This is an Devinesque reworking of the Latin saying that Laws are Silent in times of war.  Convenient and utterly untrue.  Courts do look at matters differently,especially at the onset of a conflict, and legislatures do pass laws to enable allow for the prosecution of war and protection of people but there has traditionally been an eye kept on basic liberties and the reaction is proportional.  And it is a poor understanding of history to assume that whenever such laws were passed there was no debate.  Have a look at some of the war time debates in the papers and parliament during World War 2 in this country. As to proportionality, where were control orders during the height of the Cold War and don’t go on that that didn’t have its hot moments. In this country and other Western democracies it was closer than people think today.  We have to thank people like McClelland, Laurie Short, Santamaria and Kerr in fighting the communists in Australia.  It was a read letter day for democracy when the proposal to ban the communist party was rejected.

Faris says apprehended violence orders are issued by courts every day, along with intervention orders, injunctions, money-laundering restraining orders, preventive detention orders, supervision orders. “The left is not marching in the streets about these.”

And here is where Faris becomes a legal goose.  How many apprehended violence orders or injunctions require someone to report to police stations or determine when to go to bed and what forms of telecommunications can be used.  They are also specifically targetted, preventing A from approaching B,  rather than the blunt catch all object that are control orders, telling A when to stay at home, what communications to use and reporting to the cops.  Faris is misrepresenting the operation of  intervention orders.  As for preventive detention and supervision orders they are of the criminal sphere and the point is that Thomas has been acquitted so how do the examples apply. 

Thomas and his boosters should be thankful he has been treated so well. For one thing, his enormous legal bills are being paid by taxpayers, who will presumably also fund the costly exercise of going to the High Court to challenge the control order.

What does she know of his funding arrangements?  Assuming she knows he had  Legal Aid that hardly constitutes being treated so well.  All Australians may make such a claim.  That someone gets a grant of legal aid is neither here nor there. Would she have “nice” criminals get grants while “bad” criminals run a case on their own.  Has Legal Aid put a caveat on the Thomas house?  Perhaps the taxpayer will get their money back when Thomas sells his place.  Is there a pro bono component to his representetation.  And should he not be able to challenge an order?

Really, the debate over Thomas, like the Hicks debate, is a proxy for the biggest point of difference between Australians – between the inner-urban “elites”, the academic/legal/media classes, and the rest of Australia – suburbanites, the working classes, and country people. It is a divide that the demographer Bernard Salt says will only grow. It is between those who believe the rule of law trumps all, and those who believe the law is servant, not master.

It is the same debate about discipline in schools, about lax parenting, about tougher penalties for criminals, about immigration detention, about whether or not there is a war on terrorism, about whether events of September 11, 2001, were “understandable”, as some believe.

Here is where Miranda actually makes some sense when looked at through right wing columnist glasses.  Her stomping ground is politics and a go at the trendy versus stable dichotomy.  Fair enough.  It makes no logical sense but at least it is not total manufactured or misrepresented legal tosh.  But looking at the debate on a demographic front is just silly.  The supposed battle lines of the effette elites versus the down to earth majority is at best a superfical analysis.  The scum of the earth versus the salt of the earth is the underlining theme.  Perhaps the opponents of control orders live in inner suburbs populated by civil rights activists.  But so what.  Perhaps a professional can afford to live in an place within a inner suburb which is generally, metre for metre, more expensive than an outer suburban equivalent. 

Traditionally the professions have raised the flag on these and other activist issues.  Before she damns the elites she should have a look at Soviet and Nazi history.  The opponents who made public comments about these incoming regimes were lawyers, journalists, academics and those used to fighting in courts and setting out opinions in the media.  Hardly a new concept.  Jan Hus and Martin Luther, one of the inner urban elites of their days, were the activist against the Catholic corruption and not the peasants on the land or even the landowners.  Pick a time in history and have a look at the agitators and see where they stood on the demographic and educational scale.    

As for her comment:

It is between those who believe the rule of law trumps all, and those who believe the law is servant, not master.

That is just frightening.  Perhaps Miranda should revisit Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons.”  In an exchange between the lawyers lawyer, and my hero, St Thomas Moore and the poltical player, Roper the need for the law to be the master not the servant is encapsulated better than any tome on the subject:  

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Miranda should read and reread this passage for one day the pendulum will swing young Miranda. 

On one side are those who believe the terrorist attacks of September 11 should have been dealt with as if they were a policing matter; in other words, leniently, with hardly anyone arrested, let alone convicted or given a penalty that was anything more than a joke. On the other side are those who understood that Islamic terrorism was an immediate threat requiring firm retaliation and pre-emptive action.

Well I don’t agree that the attacks on September 11 was a policing matter.  I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and have no problems with the West taking military action against terrorists.  And yes Miranda I have no problem with regarding Islamic terrorism as being a threat.  But if someone is going to be charged with a criminal offence then let that person enjoy the rights afforded to all accussed.  She seeks to create a special no rights zone in which to place those who are not convicted first time around.  I am of the right but that doesn’t mean I love injustice.  And these control orders, both in theory and practice are recipes for great injustice. 

2:37, what a waste of time

July 27, 2006

A good thing that James Hewison put the wraps over the 2:37.  It is a morose, dreary, turgid self indulgent supposed exploration into teenage angst in a no named but suburban school in middle Australia.  It is bookended with the discovery of a suicide and ends with the act of that suicide.  The film elite again revel in yet another ”worthy” film which is guaranteed to garner a minimal local audience.  According to the Herald Sun it has made 3 times its cost already with foreign bookings.  So what, it is still a dreary dull uninspired story. Teenage angst is not a new theme and it wasn’t handled in any signfiicantly different way bar being more gritty than the usual fare and extremely confronting in the final suicidal scene which bordered on pornographic.  

According to the Age Murali Thalluri is the veritable new wunderkid.  It marvels:

   Director Murali Thalluri, 21, wrote the script the morning after a suicide attempt two years ago in the wake of a friend’s death.

Two things immediately spring to mind.  First, the script is about what you would expect from someone befuddled.  The second, why didn’t he do the job properly.  Alright the second is cruel but the film is torture to body and soul.

For the last 10 years luminaries in the film industry complain about the obsession with ultra art, ultra independent worthy films which are being made and played to empty theatres.  2:37 is just another example and evidence that those who do the funding and selecting have tin ears when it comes to what the average punter wants to see. 

A few positives for this film:

  • the camera work is effective.  The endless corridors and claustrophobic atmosphere gives extra effect to the regularly placed crises;
  • the acting, in particular the black and white interviews, are gritty and gut wrenching.  I guess that had to be the case because the dialogue doesn’t really fill out the characters roles and motivations.
  • Thalluri shows real skill in demonstrating the “trick” of overlay, covering the same scene from another characters perspective.

Defence heavies doing the big brother thing

October 12, 2005

Book burning Always good to see the lumbering mass of government exercising its natural tendency to suppress free thought .  For a while it seemed that it was focusing on its core function, administration.  But bureaucracy can’t help itself sometimes. AM’s segment on the Department of Defence’s efforts to suppress the work of Major Fernandes.  Nick McKenzies excellent report is worth a read.  Bottom line is that the good Major wanted to turn his PhD into a book.  Nothing uncommon there.  The problem is that Reluctant Saviour touches on “no no” issues of the Jakarta lobby with the Service and taking a swipe at the Government.  All the kicks were grounded on documents and information in the public domain.  Perhaps a bit impolitic but not a breach of Public Sector guidelines or the Crimes Act, as the drooges in the Department menacingly suggested.

This time round the Department wasn’t going to repeat the fiasco of the Spycatcher type trial.  It decided to do what departments do best, drop the weights on the lad with increasingly nasty correspondence with a posting to departmental Siberia until he screams “enough!”  Right out of the text book of departmental torture.  It is heartening to see that Fernandes didn’t buckle but fought back.  The ultimate irony is that Reluctant Saviour is now recommended reading at the Australian Defence Force Academy. 

A rare victory for the little guy and a kick in the teeth of the censors!