Saturday, 27 March 2010

Unaccountable Power: the case of Scott Parkin

Have you noticed the criticisms of the Chinese legal system by many commentators in relation to the Stern Hu case? Many of those criticisms are justified, but Australia’s legal system all too often fails to be open and accountable – especially when it comes to challenging government power.

On 10th September 2005, I had just finished speaking at a United Nations Association function when the phone rang. Could I provide some urgent advice? A young man on his way to a peace workshop had just been spirited off the streets of Brunswick.

Scott Parkin, a non-violent peace activist visiting from the United States, was hauled off Sydney Road Brunswick by police, taken to jail, held incommunicado, and then flown out of Australia. He was presented with an $11,700 bill for his custody and his flight, as well as that of the two security officials who accompanied him. He was said to be a “security risk”. He was such a security risk that once he reached the United States he was released into the community as a free man.

Scott had embarrassed Halliburton because of his non-violent street theatre against their role in the Iraq war, but there was no suggestion of any offence or any breach of the terms of his visa. We simply do not know on what grounds he was silenced. Nor does he.

He has challenged his treatment in the Federal Court. The Commonwealth argues that Mr Parkin and his lawyers are not allowed to see the evidence against him. They are not allowed to be in court when the government makes its submissions. And indeed, during key aspects of his hearing, his lawyers had to sit patiently outside, not able to contribute to anything that was happening. This is all permitted under the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004, a certificate having been signed by the Attorney-General.

Once we reach this stage, where political repression can be unreviewed because a politician says so, we no longer have the rule of law, but the unbridled, unfettered exercise of power – the rule of the despot.

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