Ever worried about all these new anti-terrorist laws? Ever worried that their wide-ranging discretionary powers would be used for entirely non-terrorism related reasons? Well, it happened in Australia this week.
The Australian cricket team was threatened with action under the Australian Passports Act 2005 if they went ahead with this September's planned tour of Zimbabwe.
This Act was brought in primarily to tighten up regulations relating to the loss or theft of Australian passports. According to the media release issued by DFAT in July 2005, the Act:
"...explicitly allows for passport refusal or cancellation in cases where Australian law enforcement agencies advise my Department that an Australian is likely to engage in, is charged with or has been sentenced for specified crimes including terrorism, child sex tourism, child abduction or people smuggling."
In reality, the Foreign Minister could revoke a passport for any reason he deemed to be a matter of "international relations or criminal intelligence", and that would be sufficient to make his decision non-appellable.
Apparently (because the exact text of his letter hasn't been made public) Alexander Downer instructed Cricket Australia that if they were to go ahead with their tour of Zimbabwe that he would suspend their passports for the duration of the tour. It would be interesting to see the precise legal mechanics if such a decision had to be made.
But it won't happen, of course. The "threat" was simply a matter of convenience so that Cricket Australia could have a satisfactory reason for breaking its contractual obligations under the Future Tours Program.
The Government is happy, CA is happy, the ICC is happy, the Australian people are happy, and the British and New Zealand cricketing public are wondering why their governments couldn't be so decisive.
But the truth is that John Howard and Alexander Downer have pulled a swifty. They've called a bluff which has more to do with political expediency in an election year than any genuine humanitarian concerns. And in doing so, they've opened the Pandora's box of civil liberty abuses that some future (or present) Foreign Minister could dip into.
Meanwhile, Australia continues to import millions of dollars worth of Zimbabwean tobacco each year, and Australian companies continue to mine gold, platinum and diamonds there. And, to quote from the transcript of a doorstop interview earlier this week:
"JOURNALIST: There's been some talk, sir, that politics are interfering in sport, in this case could be carried over to an analogy with Australia sending an Olympic team to China. Does that stand up in your view?
PRIME MINISTER: There's absolutely no comparison. We're sending an Olympic team to China. There's no suggestion that we shouldn't and we're looking forward to Australia doing very well at the Beijing Olympics in 2008."
(source: pm.gov.au, 14.5.07)