EDITORIAL

The right to dissent — use it, before we lose it!

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Alert! The Howard government plans to use the climate of fear resulting from the September 11 attacks in the United States to follow the lead of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S. It plans to introduce repressive laws designed to outlaw dissent. They must be stopped. Cabinet has announced draft Australian legislation modelled on the UK Terrorism Act and the USA PATRIOT Act, both of which grant the government and its agencies alarming new powers to spy on, question and detain residents and citizens.

The new laws, likely to be introduced in February 2002, will give ASIO the power to arrest and detain people for up to 48 hours without legal representation, and will remove the right to silence by mandating jail sentences of up to five years for refusing to answer questions. It also encroaches further on individual and organisational privacy rights. Even without these new measures, ASIO and police already have a long and shameful track record of illegally spying on radicals and critics of the government.

“Anti-terrorism” is the new form of McCarthyism and must be fought as vigorously. During the Cold War, the Menzies government fostered insecurity and paranoia as part of its campaign to outlaw the Communist Party. Menzies was defeated by a broad-based movement with strong union support. This is how Howard can be stopped.

The new measures, if implemented, will be used to pick off those deemed least popular.  The first targets will be immigrant communities, then anti-corporate activists and leftists and eventually all working people who take action to defend their working and living conditions. The campaign to defend our civil liberties is core union business. And it cannot be confined to polite lobbying — it’s time to vigorously use our right to dissent to ensure we don’t lose it!

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