an interesting development in OZ

peter mcgregor (p.mcgregor@uws.edu.au)
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 14:46:22 +1000 (EST)


Please circulate/disseminate/publish the following wherever you can.
peter

'One, two, three...many "Bankstown/Blaxland 4"s...'

Just when you thought it wasn't safe any more to go out onto Johnnie
Howard's
oh-so white, Christian, middle-class streets...

The 'rights' of Australians to free speech, & to express their political
opinions publicly, were reinforced/expanded at Bankstown (Sydney) Local
Court on
22 July when charges against 4 East Timor solidarity activists(aka the
'Bankstown/Blaxland 4'), were dismissed by Magistrate Geoffrey Bradd.
The charges arose from a protest staged at the Bankstown electoral office
of
former Prime Monster(whoops !) Paul Keating in February this year. About
20
people had occupied the foyer & balcony of the office, & four were
arrested when
they refused police instructions to leave.

It was a delight to watch Stuart Littlemore (QC) grill Keating's
ex-office
manager Michael Hatton ( & now the member for that seat: Blaxland) - "Are
you
uncomfortable talking about human rights, Mr. Hatton ?" - & argue the
case for
free speech & political protest. (Better even than Monday nites from 9.15
on
Channel 2 !)
Magistrate Bradd found that the four activists had 'lawful excuse' to
persist
with their protest - even though the police had asked them to leave -
namely,
that they were exercising their constitutional right to free speech in a
public
area.
Bradd agreed with Littlemore's argument that the electoral office of a
parliamentarian, while private property, is a public place because people
have
been invited to visit, with open-to-the-public office hours being displayed.
It would appear that the constitutional right of citizens to free speech
on
political matters in a public place does not disappear just because they
are
instructed to leave.

On the one hand, there are the various international covenants (eg. on
Political, Social & Economic Rights), that have been ratified by the
Australian
government; on the other hand, there is the recent High Court ruling
(Theophanous v The Herald & Weekly Times), that the Australian
constitution
allows free speech on political matters...

As most of us realise, 'rights' aren't natural & universal, they are
socially
constructed, malleable & relative: they can be given or taken away by
those in
authority, but they can also be taken/acted upon by those who want them.
At any
point in time, the 'rights' ordinary people have is an expression of (the
struggle over) the balance of power, within a society, & at that time.
Historically freedom has rarely been given, rather it has had to be taken.
Compare the genocidal trespass/occupation of Indonesia in East Timor with
the
peaceful trespass/occupation of Keating's office. Compare Australians'
'rights'
to demonstrate with those of the East Timorese...

Despite increasingly conservative & authoritarian governments here in OZ,
successful direct actions (eg. the occupation of the foyer of the Federal
Government offices in Sydney on 30 May, over cuts to education), &
tactical use
of the political, judicial, media, etc. systems, allow us room to move.
If we
don't use/exercise that room, we may find it is getting harder to move at
all:
if we don't even rock the boat, we sure won't sink it.

This court case is significant in the way it expands our 'rights' - what
we can
get away with. For instance, it has implications for what may constitute
a
'public place' (eg. shopping malls, parks, government & other offices).
Anywhere
frequented by the public would appear to have a claim to be such. Also,
it
interprets an occupation/sit in/ protest as an exercise of one's
constitutional
democratic right to free speech.

So, seize the time, the currently existing - but fluctuating -
opportunities:
leaflet & protest, sit in & occupy - disrupt & sabotage even - wherever
you
can.
(We're currently looking for people interested in such an occupation of
Howard's
office over the East Timor issue... Who wants to be one of the
'Benelong 20'
?)

Peter McGregor 31 July 1996
c/o P.O. Box 10, Kingswood, 2747 Ph(02)6787356 F(02)6787399
-----
Thanks Hannah & The Guardian, also Stephen, Joshua, Stuart et al
-------
PS The latest news is that the Ploughshares women have got off !

Copy of leaflet handed out at the court case:-

JUSTICE FOR EAST TIMOR
A statement by four people arrested during a protest
at Paul Keating's electoral office

Whether we are convicted or acquitted of the charge against us, the real
issue
is justice for the people of East Timor. Since Indonesia invaded their
country
in 1975, over 200,000 East Timorese have died through massacre or
war-related
famine & disease. They have suffered a systematic campaign of torture,
extra-judicial killings, forced sterilisation, & a denial of culture &
language
that amounts to nothing less than a program of genocide.
What should be on trial today is Australia's active support for this
brutal
occupation: Australian military aid & training of Indonesian troops,
political
support for Indonesia in international forums, & recognition of
Indonesia's
sovereignty over East Timor all contribute to keeping the violent
oppression of
the East Timorese a viable option for the Indonesian regime.
Meanwhile international support for East Timor is increasing. Today in
Britain
four women will appear in court facing possible sentences of up to ten
years for
disarming a Hawk jet which was due to be shipped to Indonesia as part of
a $500
million contract with British Aerospace. Part of their defence wil be
eyewitness
accounts that Hawk jets already supplied to Indonesia have been used to
bomb
unarmed civilians.

We demand:
* An end to Australian military cooperation with the Suharto regime.
* A reversal of the Australian Government's recognition of East Timor as
part of
Indonesia.
* Pressure from the Australian Government on Indonesia to allow an
internationally suppervised act of self-determination in East Timor.
* Immediate refugee status for the 1,300 East Timorese asylum seekers
currently
in Australia. (The government has the power to grant them the special
visa class
as it did for Chinese refugees of the Tiananmen Square massacre.)

Stephen Langford, Peter McGregor, Dr Hannah Middleton, Joshua Young
(for further info contact, Australia-East Timor Association 3315968)