Today’s newspapers reported on a law passed in the South Australia, which mandates anyone who comments on South Australian elections, due in March, to provide full name and address. It also mandates that the owners of such websites where the comments are made must submit these details to the electoral commission on request. This law comes courtesy of South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, who arrogantly denies this law limits freedom of speech. This is a government controlled censorship at its worst.
This law is a rude reminder Australia does not have Bill of Rights in the Constitution, guaranteeing the basic human rights, such as the right to the freedom of speech. Many people in this country assume we have these freedoms protected by law, but this is not the case. Seeing the phrase used over and over on American movies and TV shows gives false impression people in this country are as free as Americans under their First Amendment. We obviously are not and it is time it is changed so politicians do not make this country a draconian, Stalinist regime with big brother approach to everyday life. And yes, elections in democratic country or state should be free of any suppressions or limitations on people’s opinions. Shame on Michael Atkinson, and shame on SA government for passing this law. I am certain not a single voter who elected you would vote for you knowing you will pass such law.
I would like to remind all the people who voted for this legislation a verse from Australian anthem: “for we are young and free”.
Interestingly while I was writing this article I have found this paragraph in the South Australian Consolidated Acts, ELECTORAL ACT 1985 – SECT 111
111—Interference with political liberty
A person must not hinder or interfere with the free exercise or performance, by any other person, of a right or duty under this Act.
Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 1 year.
And here is the controversial section of the Act.
116—Published material to identify person responsible for political content
(1) A person must not, during an election period, publish material consisting of, or containing a commentary on, any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors, in written form, in a journal published in electronic form on the Internet or by radio or television or broadcast on the Internet, unless the material or the programme in which the material is presented contains a statement of the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material.
(a)if the offender is a natural person—$1 250;
(b)if the offender is a body corporate—$5 000.
(2) This section does not apply to—
(a) the publication in a journal (including a journal published in electronic form on the Internet) of a leading article;
(b) the publication of a report of a meeting that does not contain any comment (other than comment made by a speaker at the meeting) on any candidate, or political party, or the issues being submitted to electors;
(c) the publication in a journal (including a journal published in electronic form on the Internet) of an article, letter, report or other matter if—
(i) the name and address (not being a post office box) of a person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material is provided to the publisher of the journal and retained by the publisher for a period of 6 months after the end of the election period; and
(ii) the journal contains a statement of the name and postcode of the person who takes responsibility for the publication of the material;
(ca) the publication of a letter (otherwise than as described in paragraph (c)) that contains the name and address (not being a post office box) of the author of the letter;
(d) a news service or a current affairs programme on radio or television or broadcast on the Internet;
(e) any other prescribed material or class of material.
(3) In this section—
“journal” means a newspaper, magazine or other periodical.
Update: Wednesday 3rd of February 2010
Following the huge backlash this legislation received on numerous websites ATTORNEY-GENERAL Michael Atkinson has announced he will retrospectively repeal his censorship laws relating to internet comment on the state election. Mr. Atkins in his rescinding announcement said “It may be humiliating for me, but that’s politics in a democracy and I’ll take my lumps,”. Mr. Atkinson said he will do so AFTER THE ELECTIONS. Now, how does he know he will be re-elected to enact this promise?
This law has to be revoked NOW. And I still would like to see this dark episode in SA state legislation to be followed up with immediate creation of Constitutional law group with a single task of introduction of Bill of Rights at federal level, thus guarantying these rights for all Australians.