Monday, June 29, 2015

I Fear For My Citizenship And You Should Too

The government's proposed changes to citizenship for dual nationals would allow a minister to cancel a dual citizen's citizenship at their own discretion, and it would not allow appeals to the court. If someone is not a citizen, only having a visa enables them to stay in Australia. Even if they have a visa (and why would they?), it can be cancelled by the same minister, so they could potentially be deported or at least moved to detention, held incommunicado, before anyone knows what's happening. This is remarkably dangerous.

The Liberal Party have clearly included in their talking points a lot of emphasis on protections, but let's have a quick look at them. As an aside, Labor has also been working through how to word support for this. The bill would allow for judicial review. I don't believe that this is because of the government's concern for the rule of law; I believe it's because whenever, in the past, Australian governments have tried to exclude it as an option, the High Court has found a way to re-include it, either by saying the government didn't word the legislation effectively enough to exclude it, or that the government couldn't exclude it because the Constitution directly allows for some petitions to the High Court that the government can't legislate away.

But, put simply, judicial review only allows a person to challenge whether a decision was made properly; it does not allow a person to challenge whether a decision was made reasonably given the facts, i.e. it does not allow for a merits based appeal where the affected party can question the fairness or accuracy of the decision, except in very limited circumstances. Typically, the minister's decision would stand unless it meets a really high standard called Wednesbury unreasonableness, which is defined as:

"A reasoning or decision is Wednesbury unreasonable (or irrational) if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it."[1]

That's not very illuminating, so in practise, you need to prove that the decision was unreasonable beyond belief. Luckily, reasons for (most kind of) administrative decisions need to be made available, so that gives some fuel. In SZMDS[2], a homosexual man was deported back to Pakistan because the minister didn't believe he was really afraid (and the federal court judge didn't believe he was really gay (despite strong evidence)). That's the kind of stuff that doesn't meet the level of unreasonableness that would allow a successful challenge.

Even if a decision was challenged successfully, the typical result is that the minister just needs to remake the decision. Much of the time, they make it differently with a different result, because they know they're being watched, but we've seen how belligerent this government is with political decisions; they'd just make the same decision, maybe for better rationalised reasons, which is what Scott Morrison tried to do in S297.

In addition, the minister's reasons, which would normally be accessible to the formerly dual citizen, would likely be exempt from being made available, as the documents would probably have been prepared for cabinet, or be related to national security (as we've been told is the purpose of this legislation) and are therefore exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. All the safeguards that the Abbott government have given are a smokescreen.

So, I, a person who was born an Australian citizen, who has spent most of my life here, but commonly speak out against the policies of both the major Australian parties, should rationally fear that at some point, my citizenship could be revoked on a whim. That's a pretty bad chilling effect against my continued involvement in the political process. If that seems like an unreasonable position because the government has said that the bill is only meant to affect people who leave the country to fight against "our interests", consider that they don't feel so strongly that they'd actually put that as a requirement into the legislation. As usual, with civil-liberty-encroaching legislation, we are told that there are protections, but they're merely spoken platitudes, unwritten and unbinding.

My job involves finding edge cases that allow for a well meaning rule to be exploited, but I don't pride myself on finding this one, because it's not subtle. To any of these lawyers in power, assuming they wrote their own essays and sat their own exams, it's obvious. Obvious to the point of being clearly intended. All these laws to protect us from the way-of-life-changing effects of terrorism, and it's always the major party politicians destroying the rule of law and freedoms we hold dear.

[1] Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation (1948) 1 KB 223
[2] Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v SZMDS & ANOR [2010] 226 ALR 367

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Apple Craftini

I just made some tasty cocktails with some of what I had available, so I'm writing it down before I forget, and hopefully it will make someone else happy if they make it and drink it.

I'm calling it, egotistically, the Apple Craftini.

Recipe:
Put about a dozen cubes of ice info a 600ml+ measuring jug.
Blend a medium granny smith Apple with 40ml of extra dry vermouth.
Push the apple mixture through a sieve into the measuring jug, making sure to scrape off the solids from the underside of the sieve into the jug.
Add 80 more ml of vermouth, along with 120ml of vodka. Make sure the vodka is non-Russian, because of their anti-gay laws and totalitarian power structure.
Add 120ml of a good apple cider - I used Cascade - and then stir it all thoroughly together.

Serve out into two highball or large whisky glasses, including the ice. Feel free to garnish with some apple peel. I peeled off a bit, but forgot to put it on the glass.

Enjoy!

Friday, June 12, 2015

More Website Blocking for Australia

Now that Netflix is available in Australia, you might think you don't need a VPN. Think again.

The government, with opposition support, is planning to pass more site-blocking legislation, ostensibly to address piracy this time. They're even considering whether VPNs should be legal or not. There's no way they will criminalize them until a few more rounds of fascist scope creep have occurred, but whether or not they're ultimately successful, they will try.

When they finally do attempt to criminalize VPNs, there'll be a mental test, with the law worded something like "using a VPN with intent to access illegal services". Then it will be modified to "using a VPN in a way that could reasonably be considered to be for bad things m'kay". And there'll be a carve-out to protect business use, so that businesses don't complain and the government can screw individuals without endangering their campaign finances.

Anyway, get a VPN and tell your MPs to mind their own business.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pharmaceutical Price-fixing

I use a nasal spray, for which I was given a prescription and told to use it every single day. When I was given my prescription with 20 repeats, it cost almost $50 for a bottle that would last one month. It was an unexpected lifetime mobile phone contract worth of preventative health care.

I saw it advertised on TV the other day, and wondered if it was actually the same thing, because it was an over-the-counter drug they were advertising.

I asked a pharmacist, and the drug has been deregulated, so no more need to organise trips to the doctor just to get more of the same.

Now for the point of the story: in being deregulated, the price has changed from $50 per bottle to $20. I don't know exactly the cause of this, but I can only imagine it comes down to less access to government money through people with health care cards, or something like that.

That's a bloody outrage, that is. We're not meant to have that American kind of system where insurance drives up prices.

There should be an inquiry into the effects of regulation on medication prices. I don't know if it would find that there are any practical solutions, but regulation should not add 150% onto the price of the medication.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hey Bill, No Thanks, Love Tony

So, Bill Shorten is concerned that the new National Security laws might restrict freedom of speech and result in journalists going to jail for reporting on stories with a public interest...

Better late than never, I guess, but only marginally so. I can't imagine Tony Abbott will be all that concerned.