Nationwide rallies against anti-terror laws held in Australia

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Saturday, November 5, 2005

Protester demonstrates concern that new laws will gag dissent

A coordinated set of Australian protests against proposed anti-terror bills and calling on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq began in Sydney today. Approximately one thousand people gathered in Belmore Park in the center of the New South Wales capital for a rally and march through the city.

According to the protestors the new legislation may, if passed, may be used to suppress important civil liberties.

"These new laws are against dissent" said David Bernie, a speaker from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. "We are seeing a big change. Now, ASIO questioning warrants, people subject to those are not allowed to talk about it for two years. Now, this is automatic, and it is automatic irrespective of whether there is any need for secrecy or not. So ASIO doesn't have to apply for any gag order, the gag order applies automatically. Its stops not only that person talking about it, but their lawyer talking about or the media talking about it."

Mr. Bernie said that under the laws, it may be a criminal act for family members to discuss the fact that a member of the same family had been secretly detained. "Would John Howard, if he was told by his son, 'I am safe but I can't tell you where I am', not tell Janette about it? It just is a ridiculous situation."

The Prime Minister has said that the new anti-terror legislation is justified because of the threat to Australia. Mr Howard said in an interview with John Laws on November 3 that he won't enjoy enacting laws that restrict civil liberties, but that it is necessary under the current circumstances.

"Now I don’t like the fact that we have to do this. I don’t like it at all. In many ways it’s as distasteful to me as it is to the most rampant civil libertarian in the country. But we are living in different times, and anybody who thinks that we’re not, is frankly, out of touch with reality. This country is not immune from the possibility of a terrorist attack. It is not. And people who think it is are just kidding themselves," Mr Howard said.

Protest enters Elizabeth Street

The rally was addressed by several other speakers including the Greens party Senator Kerry Nettle before setting out on a police escorted march through the streets of Sydney.

On return to Belmore Park further speeches took place, and the rally was concluded with a speech from Paul White from the Muslims for Peace organisation. He suggested that the notion that it was necessary for foreign troops to stay in Iraq to prevent civil war was false. "The historical fact is that Iraq has never had a history of sectarian conflict. Never, never, never. Sunnis and Shi'tes live all over Iraq, not just in the South and in fact they are heavily inter-married." he said. He suggested that most of the violence in Iraq was directly or indirectly the result of foreign intervention. "The real leaders of Iraq's Muslims are unanimous, Sunni and Shi'ite, in denouncing sectarian violence". He concluded, "The only solution to the chaos in Iraq is for all foreign troops to leave Iraq."

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
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