Thursday, 30 August 2007

Jailbreak! Prisoners get their vote back

In a rather surprising move, the High Court handed down a decision this morning overturning a 2006 amendment to the Electoral Act that disenfranchised prisoners.

Aside from the fact that the current court isn't exactly known for it's support for implied rights (think "right to vote", "right to free speech/ political communication", "right not to have an onerous curfew placed on you for no bloody good reason except that the government needs a terror scare every now and then", etc), what was surprising was that the High Court made public its decision without giving its reasoning and explanation (which they will of course give eventually).

But there's more. The person (represented by the
Victorian Human Rights Law Resource Centre) who initiated the case is an aboriginal prisoner from Victoria, Ms Vickie Roache, who was sent to jail for five years in 2004 for "negligently causing serious injury through a car accident", and isn't eligible for parole until August 2008.

Why is this noteworthy? Well, the reactionary 2006 amendments also included the deregistering of the small parties (the Socialist Alliance being just one, although they should be reregistered any day now), or rather, of any party that has not had, or doesn't currently have, representation in Federal Parliament. But this isn't the point the Wombats want to make here.

More importantly, the effects of the amendments with regards to prisoners' rights have two distinct elements:

  1. Their class nature: of the 25,000 prisoners currently incarcerated in Australian jails, the vast majority are of lower socio-economic background, and;
  2. Their racist nature: particularly (as readers may have noticed) I'm going to make a point of aboriginal over-representation. Despite being only 2 percent of the Australian population, indigenous people make up over 20 percent of the prison population, a reality that leads, amongst other things, to an inordinate amount of deaths in custody.

So, not only were the (defeated) amendments yet another attack on the working class, they
effectively constituted an attack on indigenous australia as well.

The High Court's decision restores voting rights to prisoners serving 3 years or less, but it still leaves other prisoners disenfranchised. Short of a Bill of Rights, or a revolution, this situation ain't going away, but this is still a welcome decision.

Apparently Phillip Ruddock was "disappointed" with the decision.
Hopefully he, Howard and their mates will be even more "disappointed" in a few months time.

Time's up Howard!

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