It was the briefest of comments on ABC TV’s Q&A on Monday evening.
One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, in response to an audience member’s defense of her religion, said that, “we have had terrorism on the streets that we’ve never had before.”
But is that actually the case? Does Australia actually have a history of terrorism? And does our sacred, defining historical moment in Ballarat – the uprising of the Eureka Stockade – fit into that history?
Lawyer and human rights advocate Julian Burnside says that it does.
In a tweet in response to Ms Hanson’s claim, Mr Burnside said clearly, “Hanson is wrong. The biggest terrorist event in Australia's history was the Eureka Stockade in 1854.”
And in an interview with The Courier, Mr Burnside confirmed that in his opinion and according to the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995, the events of December 1854 and declaration that "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”
In his blog, Mr Burnside writes:
“Yes: the Eureka Stockade, 1854, was a terrorist event by our contemporary legal standards. The current definition of“terrorist act” is set out below. It’s complex, but the bottom line is this: if an ordinary criminal act of damage to property or person is carried out in order to intimidate the government or the public, it is a terrorist act. The Eureka Stockade involved fairly serious criminal conduct: 30 people were killed. and it was explicitly for political purposes: they wanted to force the Victorian government to allow miners (who paid high mining licence fees) to vote. Their sentiment was part of the idea expressed 81 years earlier in America: the Boston tea party of 1773 and then the American war of independence were clear expressions of the sentiment: no taxation without representation.
“The leaders were charged with high treason, but they were acquitted. this was generally regarded as an expression of public sympathy for their cause. One of them, Peter Lalor went on to be Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Council (upper House) in 1880.
“The Commonwealth Criminal Code Act (1995) defines”terrorist act” in section 100.1. You can see the full version here. Here is an abbreviated version:
“terrorist act means an action where:
(a) the action falls within subsection (2)…; and
(b) the action is done with the intention of:
(i) coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of the Commonwealth or a State, Territory or foreign country, or of part of a State, Territory or foreign country; or
(ii) intimidating the public or a section of the public.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) causes serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(b) causes serious damage to property; or
(c) causes a person’s death; or …”
However it will not be a terrorist act if it falls within sub-section 3:
“(3) Action falls within this subsection if it:
(a) is advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action; and
(b) is not intended:
(i) to cause serious harm that is physical harm to a person; or
(ii) to cause a person’s death; or …”
“The Eureka Stockade clearly comes under that definition of terrorism,” said Mr Burnside.
“By the same definition, and historian Ian Jones has suggested this, the actions of Ned Kelly could also be defined as those of a terrorist.”
Mr Burnside writes in his blog, “The Eureka Stockade involved fairly serious criminal conduct (30 people were killed; the leaders were charged with high treason, but they were acquitted) and it was explicitly for political purposes: they wanted to force the Victorian government to allow miners (who paid high mining licence fees) to vote.”
Prominent Ballarat historian Dorothy Wickham disagrees.
“(Mr Burnside) is applying a 1995 Act to an 1854 event,” says Ms Wickham.
“It’s definitely an uprising and it’s an act of rebellion, but I think they (those at the Stockade) had just cause. They were tried for treason, and the reason they did not get convicted was that they were tried for treason.”
Ms Wickham says the contradictory and haphazard nature of the whole affair, which was criticised in a scathing report by the Hotham commission of enquiry at the time, means it’s unfair to try to reinvent the rebellion with a modern gloss.
The over-used adage of one man's terrorist being another's freedom fighter holds no truck with Ron Egeberg.
The direct descendant of Stockade participant Morgan Lee says the last thing that the participants at Eureka were seeking to do was intimidate or oppress their fellow diggers.
“I can’t make comment about what (Julian) said – but they certainly weren’t terrorists,” says Mr Egeberg.
“They were fighting the prevailing view of the day the then rule of law, which on the goldfields was found to be brutal and corrupt. Hence Julian Burnside’s assertion.
“Those arrested at the Stockade were then charged with treason. At their treason trials in Melbourne in March 1855 they were unanimously acquitted and lauded by the people of Melbourne and the Goldfields. The outcome, I believe, overcomes any suggestion that they were or could be called terrorists.”
Mr Egeberg says it’s important to understand clearly what is treason and what is terrorism.
“The Eureka Stockade was necessary. There was corruption, injustice and brutality.”
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