Since 9/11, Australian State and Federal Government’s have passed over 80 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation – usually with bipartisan support, and little parliamentary scrutiny or debate.
As the scope and power of these laws grows, so does the potential for their misuse – with the case of George Dixon, a marijuana activist who fell under their purview, demonstrating the need for greater scrutiny.
In 2018, Mr Dixon was given a prison sentence for vandalising two police cars after he was arrested for marijuana possession in Nimbin.
Bizarrely, upon his release, the police used one of these new powers to have him classified as a ‘high risk terrorist offender’ – subjecting him to a draconian control order and round-the-clock surveillance, despite him never having committed a terrorist offence.
Mark Davis, who represented Mr Dixon in the Supreme Court and successfully had the control order lifted, was recently interviewed on ABC Sunday Extra.
Below is an edited transcript of that interview.
Could you give us a quick outline of George Dixon’s life story before he was subjected to the control order?
Nothing out of the ordinary, except that his primary political interest in life is drug reform – he’s a marijuana user and has advocated for it’s decriminalisation for well over 10 years.
But it wasn’t his activism that led him to the attention of the police, what tripped him up was the police deciding to do a drug raid of the Nimbin marijuana festival. He was found with marijuana, shock-horror, and gets taken down the mountain to Lismore police station, where he gets charged and released in the middle of the night – maybe 1:00am.
He’s got scant clothing on, he’s got no shoes, it’s cold, and it’s a 30 km walk back up to the mountain – and they won’t drive him. So he’s irate, he goes outside, picks up a rock and he smashes the windscreens of two police cars.
And that’s the beginning of his journey – a very terrifying journey, not just for George Dixon but for us all.
Obviously throwing a rock at a police car is going to get you into some sort of trouble – but the connection to anti-terror laws is not obvious.
Could you help chart the link for us? And in particular, what this term “terrorism context” means in New South Wales law?
What it means, incredibly, is that you don’t have to be a terrorist to come under the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Act.
This was frequently mentioned during the proceedings. No-one claimed he was a terrorist, but they still wanted a ‘terrorist high risk offender order’ put on him.
A Sydney lawyer claims anti-terror laws designed to protect us against #AlQaeda and the like – are now being used against troublesome political activists. A big new twist today in the case of #GeorgeTheTerrorist
My report for @10NewsFirst pic.twitter.com/2a2YOgmF9E
— Hugh Riminton (@hughriminton) February 20, 2020
Because that definition of “terrorism context” says you’ve just got to have “the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and “the intention of coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government”.
Now, some of George Dixon’s more colourful statements err into that territory, but still… how does he end up getting charged and treated under this legislation?
Because it’s a checklist for predictive crimes – and that’s the most chilling thing you can comprehend as a lawyer.
You don’t actually have to commit an offence, instead the men and women in white coats use this little checklist to “predict” your chance of committing a terrorist offence. It really is pretty creepy stuff.
For George, the checklist was as follows:
- In court, he said ‘I believe in Aboriginal law, not the laws of the invader’ – a fairly commonly held view by many people in Australia.
- He advocates for the smoking of marijuana, now that’s an illegal offence isn’t it, and so that’s striking at “the laws of Australia”.
- In prison, in a group session, he says as a joke that he should have burnt down the police station, not just broken the car windows.
I’m not satisfied that there was any serious concern about this last one, I just think it was the third box to tick – I can promise you from the number of times I’ve been to prisons that there are many such jokes.
When he was released from prison, George was subjected to a “supervision order” order even though he hadn’t committed any new offences. What did that order mean for the rest of his life?
Even if you haven’t committed another offence, someone who ticks enough of these boxes can still be punished with continuing detention, or a type of control order.
The control order is extensive, it means: a bracelet on your leg; confinement to a certain residence; that you are monitored by all means; that you are not allowed to have a computer, email, or smartphone, and; that the police need to vet everyone that you’re coming into contact with.
For George, it was even more onerous.
George was from Adelaide, and needed to return because his father was dying – but because of the control order he couldn’t leave New South Wales even though he’d been released from prison.
I told the police this, and they still wouldn’t let him go back to Adelaide. His father died, and they wouldn’t let him go to the funeral.
Now, this is an innocent man – and his father died thinking that his son was a terrorist.
So, why was this order granted? You might understand the authorities applying for it, even if that was a misjudgment, but why was the order granted in the first place?
The way the act is written there’s not much discretion on behalf of the judge, they need to give full weight to everything that the police say – so it’s not scrutinised in any particular way.
But, and I’m not speaking out of school here, there’s a large number of people whose full-time job was circulating around this “dangerous terrorist”, and I could tell that they thought this was absurd – but that didn’t give much comfort to me, they still went ahead and did it, they still went ahead and refused to let him go to his father’s funeral.
The obvious problem here is the legislation itself, and how broadly it can be applied.
Are you aware of other cases where this sort of control order has been granted in a place you wouldn’t expect it to be?
There’s been very few, because the act’s new – it takes a while to grind through.
Listen to the full interview: The long tentacles of our anti terror laws, Sunday Extra (ABC)