The case of Melbourne man Jack Thomas should be ringing alarm bells over the use of the so-called anti-terror laws in Australia. Thomas' case demonstrates that these laws can be, and are being, misused for political purposes against someone who is not a terrorist.
Thomas, who was found innocent at his previous trial, faces a retrial soon, charged with contravening an "anti-terror" law. That law criminalises receiving money from a terrorist organisation with a penalty of up to 25 years' jail. Thomas denies the money he received was from a terrorist organisation, and will contest the charges.
In any case, the "anti-terror" law takes no account of the purpose for which the money is to be used. In Thomas's case, the jury at his original trial accepted that he had no terrorist intentions when receiving the money; he simply wanted to use it to get home to Australia. Yet the law applies regardless, and he was convicted.
A man, who is no danger to society, is being pursued under laws which we are told are to protect us from terrorism.
Rob Stary, a lawyer for Thomas, told Green Left Weekly that the hype about the "war on terrorism" means that people such as Thomas, and David Hicks, are convenient distractions from the war debacle in Iraq and the Howard government's disastrous foreign policy.
Stary thinks the threat of terrorism in Australia has been greatly exaggerated. He believes the Howard government is being "disgracefully opportunistic" in playing up the threat. The money Thomas received was from Muslim families who wanted to repatriate their Muslim brothers, and had nothing to do with terrorism. In any event, Stary said Thomas had no intention of using the funds for terrorism.
Thomas has been placed under a control order, something akin to house arrest. Ostensibly they are used to control people who are a danger to society. In this case, the order is being used to punish someone who has not been convicted of any criminal offence.
In the future, control orders and the "anti-terror" laws could be used against political activists, and to suppress dissent or industrial action. "The dangerous people in Australia are people like Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and John Howard, because they have committed Australia to an unlawful war in Iraq under a false pretext, not Jack Thomas", Stary said.
The constitutionality of control orders is currently being challenged in the High Court. Stary says that if that challenge fails, they will challenge the application of a control order in Thomas's case on its merits since he is clearly no threat to Australia.
While the ALP wants Hicks to be charged and brought back to Australia, it says that he should be placed under a control order. This is not too surprising given that Labor also supported the introduction of the "anti-terror" laws, including the law which is being misused against Thomas. Apart from shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon providing support to the Thomas family when Jack was first arrested, the ALP has not spoken up in support of him.
Mirko Bagaric, a lawyer who does support the use of torture in some circumstances, recently spoke out against the retrial of Thomas. Quoted in the Sunday Herald Sun on December 27, Bagaric said: "Thomas does not present a significant threat to the community", and "the offences for which Thomas will be re-tried do not allege an intention to plot violent acts against the community". He concluded that "there is no overwhelming community interest that requires the courts to re-examine Thomas' past activities".
The Howard government does have a political interest in pursuing Thomas. There's a lot of money being ploughed into security agencies and the legal system as part of the "war on terror" to convince us that we really are being protected from dangerous terrorists.
Will new ALP leader Kevin Rudd have the ticker to stand up for civil liberties and basic principles of justice? So far Labor has been unwilling to oppose the government when "security" is invoked. It seems unlikely that, in government, Labor will modify or repeal anti-terror laws.
It is more likely to adopt a copycat "tough on security" stance that sidelines basic civil rights (as has Tony Blair's New Labour government in Britain) unless public opinion forces it to take notice, something we're now seeing over Hicks's unjust imprisonment.
David Hicks matters. So does Jack Thomas.