||Issue No. 173||04 April 2003|
The Fog of War
Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
Trots Bomb Back
Cole Launches Civil Rights Assault
Cole wants the Government to boost the already sweeping powers of extra-judicial inquires whilst curtailing the rights of individual citizens. He underpins his prescription with calls for large fines and long prison sentences.
Civil libertarians are most concerned by a recommendation which would require "any person" to provide a "statement of information" about his or her "knowledge" to a Royal Commission. Similar provisions, requiring all-embracing statements rather than answers to specific questions, were at the heart of the notorious US phenomenon that became known as McCarthyism.
Failure to provide such a statement, or omissions, would leave the maker open to fines or imprisonment.
In a related move, Cole wants the power to prohibit Australians from disclosing the fact that "he, she or it" has received a summons or even spoken with a Royal Commission investigator, "subject only to the right to disclose this information for the purpose of obtaining legal advice".
This provision would have silenced voices of dissent that have embarrassed his Commission with claims they had made sworn allegations of illegalities against non-union parties only to be told their testimonies were not wanted.
Cole wants this point reinforced by $2000 fines and two-year prison sentences.
Another significant broadening of Royal Commission powers, already much wider than in the UK or New Zealand, would be achieved by acting on his recommendation to whittle away judicial overview related to terms of reference.
The Commissioner recommends "that no challenge may be made to a notice of summons on the basis that the information sought does not fall within the Terms of Reference of a Royal Commission, except on the basis that the notice or summons is not a bona fide attempt to investigate matters into which the Commission is authorised to inquire".
At essence, witnesses or parties would be required to answer questions, provide information, or supply lists even when the information fell outside the Commission's terms of reference.
Another recommendation could come to be known as the Kingham provision. The Commissioner was greatly displeased, even enraged, by the Victorian CFMEU secretary's refusal to supply a list of dlegates who had undergone training and the names and contact details of trainers.
Cole referred Kingham, who argued it was important to protect the privacy of rank and file activists after learning he had been followed around Melbourne and Commission officers had had access to his and his family's bank accounts, for prosecution under the existing Royal Commissions Act which provides for six months jail or a $1000 fine.
Cole wants those sanctions boosted to a $20,000 fine or a five year prison sentence for anyone failing to answer questions or produce documents.
All-up the Royal Commissioner is seeking 11 changes to the Act. His report provided the Government with five paragraphs of explanation.
Australian Council for Civil Liberties secretary, Cameron Murphy, said his organisation "totally opposed" Cole's wishlist.
"There is no demonstrated need for increased fines or sanctions," he said. "Royal Commissions are nothing more than a witch hunt. As they exist, they go against the grain of all the principles of natural justice."
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