DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS — lest we forget


A lunchtime rally organised by the Stop The War Collective was held today (Thursday July 19) in support of Dr Haneef at the Department of Immigration Offices in Adelaide St, Brisbane to condemn the federal government’s use of the Migration Act to detain Dr Haneef, and the undemocratic nature of the recently introduced “terror” laws.

About 120 people were in attendance plus a large media contingent generated by the sudden detention of Dr Haneef by the immigration minister yesterday.
The Building where the demonstration was held was placed in lock down by police some people were denied entry and workers in the building were kept inside during the protest.

Workers in the QANTAS call centre wanted to know why the police paddy wagons were outside their place of work. One worker said it was the normal police over-reaction.
Another looking out the window of the call centre asked what is the meaning of the placard that read “Reckless with a Sim Card — Arrest Shane Warne.

An Australian Services Union delegate in the call centre said later: “It makes you wonder how clueless some people are about (the Dr Haneef matter)”.

The speakers included Rob Nicholson who spoke on behalf of the Stop the War Collective, Dr Emad Soliman (Australian Democrats and Muslim community); Shabari Nair, Indian community; Peter Russo (Dr Haneef’s solicitor). Others on the speakers’ list were Ciaron O’Reilly (Christian Peace Activist), Jim McIlroy (Socialist Alliance and candidate for Griffith [Rudd’s seat]), and Stop the War representative, Paul Benedek who chaired the meeting.
For details of who said what see the excellent report by the Spring Hill Voice

Dr Haneef’s lawyer, Peter Russo said that the case presents a lesson for all of us. “The question now is, how do we treat people who come to the attention of authorities?” he said. “That’s the crux of the matter.”

The use of such laws is not new.

The report below titled Lest We Forget speaks of 27 crew members of the Pong Su who were released by the Court, only to be scooped up by the Immigration department (then DIMA-now DIAC).

Down the years both extra-judicial and judicial detention has been used against Aboriginal people, trade unionists, socialists and workers. In the early 1990s the Goss Labour Government redefined a detention centre for Aboriginal kids to frustrate an order for their release.

The use of such tactics can be compared with the use by Labor and Liberal Governments since the Second World War. These attacks on democratic rights have often been policed by secret government organisations like ASIO or Special Branches set up by various governments.

In Queensland the Special Branch worked for years using secret targetting of union members. Student activists were also detained unlawfully by various police acting with support of the Bjelke Petersen goverment.

The message is that this is nothing new. And the response may develop in various ways.

I have addressed three types of response below.
I have ignored the legalistic or liberal response demonstrated by conservative judges arguing ‘due process’ and government ministers.

The idealist response where people protest only to be ignored as happened in the large mobilisations against the Iraq war. Academics, chuch leaders and peace activists often participate in this way.

The opportunist (electoralist) response is demonstrated by people who push candidates for election to parliament on the back of such opposition. As one refugee activist, Freddy Stein, put it. ‘I am not running for parliament so I do not need to speak for more than 2 minutes.’


Freddy Stein spoke well but put much emphasis on a parliamentary solution which has many risks for democratic rights advocates — not the least of which is the parliament is essentially undemocratic.

Parliament means rule for the rich not the poor. It is the executive of the parliament that has the power to detain people summarily.

On a strategic level, the opportunist response has been ineffective.

This is partly because the racists and war mongers on both sides of the house control the federal senate and will continue to do so after the 2007 federal election.
For example, only the minor parties have supported the release of Dr Haneef. Rudd has been silent. His spokeperson, Lindsay Tanner, has been an apologist for inaction.

The class or collective response.
We see little of this today. The workers are quiet. The organised labour movement want to get the ALP elected. At the rally today there was not one trade union leader or organiser who spoke. Yet it is workers who have the power to prevent the abuse of democratic rights.

This is a failing of the anti-war movement as much as it is of the organised labour movement.

We should not forget that this is very difficult to reach ordinary workers through the media. The rally focussed on the media so it was an attempt to get into the lounge rooms in the same way that party political advertisements do.

Also the police told one organiser of the rally that they would arrest anyone entering the building for trespass. For whatever reason this was not conveyed to the rally. I think it is important to let people know what the police have told you. It makes the rally more democratic. However we do live in times of fear, where people screen this kind of information out for one reason or another.

I told people at the rally about it but I was not on the speaking list so could not tell all present.

There are very real limits to protest. Protest does not engage in a challenge for power or, if it does, it is confined to a similar approach as parliamentary parties that ignores the class nature of society.

The power of the executive over courts
Recently a judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory fined four Pine Gap activists for entering the US spybase there. Nevertheless Minister Ruddock has authorised the DPP to seek jail terms against these people who were charge under Cold War legislation (Defence Special Undertakings Act 1952).

Punitive Detention
Today Dr Haneef is in punitive detention in Wolston Correctional Centre, at Richlands in Brisbane’s south-west. These means that he cannot speak to other prisioners.

Lest We Forget

The following is a report from Pamela Curr, Campaign Coordinator, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre ASRC,

As the detention of Doctor Haneef once more highlights the seemingly limitless power of the Immigration Act, it is worth remembering other cases where people have been released by the Courts and the Immigration Minister has then turned gaoler under his own powers.

When charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, the 27 crew members of the Pong Su were released by the Court, only to be scooped up by the


Immigration department (then DIMA-now DIAC) and taken out to Baxter detention centre. There they languished in secret in a formerly, unused compound until the day that other detainees became aware of their presence.

Policy changes in the Baxter hellhole allowed detainees to be escorted on foot between compounds instead of in locked vans. On one such occasion, detainees attention was called to this never used compound by cries and eyes peering over the compound walls.

Detainee contacted advocates with their concern for these people. “We don’t know who they are but they are crying for help and we can only see their eyes. We don’t think that they are Chinese- we can’t understand their language.” The guard asked them to disregard what they had seen because “you will get me in trouble”.

Subsequent investigations revealed that they might be the crew of the ‘Pong Su’. This was confirmed when a list of names was produced. The list indicated the likelihood that many of these sailors were most likely fathers and sons. They were not seeking asylum. They desperately wanted to go home to their families but DIMA were holding them for their own purposes. It was only after it was revealed how distressed they were at being held incommunicado that they were finally granted their wish to leave- 13 weeks after the Courts had found them not guilty of any crime.

Technically the power to detain under the Migration act is so that persons can be removed from Australia, however as we have witnessed in the case of long term detainees, this power in reality allows the Australian government to hold a person for their entire lives without charge or judicial oversight.

To contact Pamela Curr about this article visit

OR at ASRC, 12 Batman St West Melbourne 3003, ph 03 93266066 fax 03 93265199

See also on BushTelegraph The Sweet Life

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