Tag Archives: AFP

Press Freedom & the AFP Raids.

7 Jun

 

This piece was first published at Independent Australia.

In April 2018, Sun-Herald journalist Annika Smethurst reported that The Australian Signals Directorate(whose somewhat disturbing motto is, Reveal their secrets. Protect our own)was seeking expanded powers to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton dismissed Smethurst’s report as nonsense, while in an apparent contradiction of his Minister’s assessment department head, Mike Pezzullo, immediately referred the “nonsensical” report to the Australian Federal Police for investigation.

On June 4, 2019, some fourteen months after Pezzullo referred the matter to police, the AFP conducted a raid on Smethurst’s home, armed with warrants to seize her phone and computer. The raid is described as “brutish” by news.com.aupolitical editor, Malcolm Farr, who also demands that whoever ordered it should be held to account.

 

 

Interestingly, the raid was on the journalist’s home, and not the offices of the Sun-Herald. Perhaps raiding the offices of the media company that worked so hard to re-elect the LNP government is a bridge too far at this time?

The AFP confirmed the raid in the following statement:

 “The Australian Federal Police (AFP) can confirm it has executed a search warrant at a residence in the ACT suburb of Kingston today.

“The matter relates to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information that was referred to the AFP.

“Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security.

 That the AFP took fourteen months to act on a matter of national security after a complaint from the head of the Home Affairs department, ought to give us pause for speculation as to its motivations.

That the raid took place only a couple of weeks after the Morrison government gained re-election, having apparently been staved off for fourteen months despite the enormity of the threat to national security, should also give us pause for thought.

While the outrage subsequently expressed by many journalists at this sequence of events is entirely valid, the irony of such outrage ought not to be lost on those outside the profession who have watched with deepening alarm as the LNP government, with the full co-operation of the Labor opposition, has rushed increasingly draconian surveillance legislation through the parliament, largely unremarked upon by many in the fourth estate. Indeed, escalating government surveillance of citizens has frequently been justified by Smethurst’s employer, News Corp Australia,under the over-arching banner of “national security.”

Where, one wonders, have these outraged journalists been during the passage of this recent legislation, particularly the foreign interference bill passed in June 2108with amendments by Labor that do little to protect journalists from imprisonment, and nothing at all to protect whistle-blowers?

What, one wonders, did journalists imagine the government was going to do with the 2018 legislation? Apply it to everyone other than themselves?

That so many journalists are outraged and shocked by the Smethurst raid confirms what many of us have long suspected – they are too close to power, believe themselves to be untouchable, and are disinclined to give much consideration to the ways in which extreme and unnecessary legislation can affect those not of their profession, including the whistle blowers they depend on as their sources.

In March 2018 the United Nations Human Rights Council expressed astonishment at the Turnbull government’s “anti-democratic slide,” citing “mounting evidence of regressive measures” being pursued by the government. As an example, the then proposed laws to keep government information secret, and punish whistle-blowers, is highlighted. Those proposed laws, with their threats to journalism and its sources, were actualised in June 2018. As noted on Twitter, no media outlet bothered to cover the UN report.

 

 

Does the industry deserve our sympathy when laws they’ve largely ignored are turned against them?

Let’s not forget as well that several media outlets, including Fairfax, actively collaborated with the LNP government to dox a Centrelink clientwho dared to publicly criticise that department. The woman involved did not threaten our national security. She simply went public about her treatment at the hands of a government agency. Media outlets showed no compunction in publishing personal information released to them by then Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge. Echoing Malcolm Farr’s reaction to the Smethurst raid, this doxxing was a brutish intervention for which neither Tudge nor the compliant media was ever held to account.

Does the industry deserve our sympathy when the government finally turns its weapons on them?

News Corp Australia, widely regarded as the propaganda arm of the LNP,yesterday issued a thundering statement defending the public’s “right to know,” an attitude that is conspicuously absent from the great majority of News Corps output, unless it concerns the public’s right to know about hapless individuals who fall foul of that organisation, women they don’t like, and welfare recipients. For the Murdoch press to take a stand against governmental surveillance is a notable occurrence.

 “The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society.

“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.

“News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public’s right to know about important decisions Governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.

“What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia.  This will chill public interest reporting.”

It cannot and should not be denied that the AFP raid on a journalist’s home following a complaint made by the head of Home Affairs is a deeply concerning turn of events. That News Corps Australia is the victim of the intervention is proof that contrary to popular belief, irony is not dead. Having worked so hard to ensure the Morrison government’s victory on May 18, 2019, it must be rather galling to find oneself the subject of an AFP onslaught. However, the AFP was considerate in focusing its primary attention on the journalist’s home, and not the organisation’s offices.

Many in the media might take this opportunity to quietly contemplate much of the public’s reaction to this assault on journalistic freedom. We have laughed. We have mocked. We have said, with one voice, it serves you right. Why did you think you’d be exempt, we’ve asked. We’ve said, you’ve consistently let us down in our expectation that you will do your job of speaking truth to power, and now we don’t care if power comes after you.

In a country in which the media is doing its job, citizens will defend the fourth estate. In Australia, citizens do not generally tend to view the media as our allies. That our first reaction is to guffaw at the AFP raid on a News Corp journalist says everything about the parlous state of relations between much of our media and its consumers. There are a very few notable exceptions. Not enough, sadly, to rescue the reputation of the profession as a whole and ensure our support in its hour of need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Turnbull plans to raise $4.6 billion from unemployed.

6 Jan

centrelink_fraud_003

The Turnbull government plans to raise a windfall of $4.6 billion over the next four years, and this is how they intend to do it.

Centrelink is averaging annual earnings over every fortnightly reporting period. This means that you are determined by them to have earned income at the same time as you received unemployment benefits. Therefore, you must pay those benefits back.

First you receive a letter advising of discrepancies between ATO and Centrelink records. You are asked to provide pay slips etc, and declare your income for the year/s in question. When you declare income, your problems can begin in earnest. Declared income is averaged out, Centrelink claims you’ve earned in every fortnightly reporting period, a debt is raised against you, you are threatened with debt collectors and ultimately jail, if you don’t comply.

In fact, you may have been unemployed for six months during which time you were entitled to benefits, then in work for six months. The government intends for you to repay the benefits to which you were absolutely entitled, by averaging out the income you received for six months work as fortnightly income over the entire twelve months.

More and more people are revealing this is exactly what has happened to them. It is the government’s intention to continue this practice for the next four years in order to achieve its $4.6 billion goal.

It beggars belief that this is a systems error.  If this is the case, those responsible for the design and implementation of the system are unbelievably, inconceivably incompetent.  Centrelink’s Hank Jongen claims the methodology hasn’t changed, but no one has explained why, if nothing has changed, the system has begun averaging annual earnings over every reporting fortnight, and raising debts as a result.

At the same time, Centrelink and the AFP announced the implementation of “Taskforce Integrity” to pursue fraudulent claims. As well, the government declared on the Tuesday before the election that they’d discovered  a brand new, unspecified way, to raise $4.6 billion.

The government is falsely  accusing people of fraud, by falsely declaring legitimate welfare benefits to be illegitimate. They are threatening people with debt collectors and jail, if the legitimately claimed welfare benefits are not repaid.  In other words, unemployment benefits have become repayable loans. I don’t recall that new legislation, or that amendment. Does anyone?

They are doing all this in partnership with the Australian Federal Police.

This is a situation out of a dystopian novel. Kafka comes to mind.

This is no systems error. This is deliberate policy. I hope there are lawyers out there all over this. Because we have to establish exactly who is obtaining financial advantage by deception. Increasingly, it sounds very much as if it is our government, by exploiting people at their most vulnerable.

If this mess is indeed an error and not deliberate policy, Centrelink and the relevant ministers have now been made thoroughly aware of it as such. So why do they continue to insist that nothing is amiss, and why do they not halt the distribution of letters until the error is fixed?

Of course, fixing the error may affect their $4.6 billion dollar goal.

Centrelink has now begun using its Twitter account to refer people to Life Line if they are experiencing distress. Life Line is a voluntary organisation given little or no support by the federal government. The government has also ripped millions from frontline services for domestic violence victims, community legal aid centres, and over a billion from aged services. You can bet that these outrageously underfunded services will be stretched to their limits by Turnbull’s latest attack on vulnerable citizens.

I cannot remember anytime in this country when a government department has referred citizens to an emergency service because they are experiencing suicidal levels of distress as a consequence of that government’s policies.

Does anyone?

The LNP war on welfare recipients

5 Jan

taskforce-integrity

 

Yesterday I watched, incredulous (I know, only a fool with no sense of the immediate past could continue to be startled by any action performed by this government) as Minister for Social Services Christian Porter claimed across the media that the Centrelink debt recovery process was working just fine, and the fact that a “few” citizens are being unfairly targeted was of no great consequence. If they’re upset, too bad, get over it, there’s nothing wrong with our process, was Porter’s basic message.

Here are some of the things that are wrong with the Centrelink process.

Porter seemed oblivious to the astounding news that the situation is of such concern A Current Affair, not renowned for warm feelings towards welfare recipients to whom they usually refer in stale Murdochian/conservative speak as dole bludgers, felt compelled to devote airtime to advising those on the receiving end of unpleasant notifications from Centrelink and the Australian Federal Police, apparently threatening jail terms for non compliance, how to cope.

Porter stated that one in five people who receive these letters do not owe a debt. However, the onus is on the recipient to prove to this to Centrelink. In what universe is a government department, assisted by the AFP, empowered to force citizens into the position of guilt until you prove innocence?

Here is how Centrelink is legally obliged to deal with investigating debts.

Quite how the AFP became co-opted as debt collectors for a government department I have yet to fathom. I believe it was a “joint task force” action, Centrelink having morphed from a public service into a “force” in the conservative war on welfare, and the AFP, well, ever since failed Prime Minister Tony Abbott took up lodging in their barracks nobody’s known where they’re at.

This is the first time the AFP logo has been used on Centrelink material. Obviously, the intention is to intimidate.

Porter continued to stare defiantly into the cameras and insist that any problems were the fault of Centrelink “customers”, past and present, not the system. Nor were they inspired by the contempt, ingrained like decades of neglected playground grime, the government has for any welfare recipients, other than the Gina Rinehart demographic.

At one point Porter went so far as to blame Labor for the situation, on the grounds that in his opinion the ALP hadn’t done a satisfactory job chasing up false welfare claims when they were in government. This might be amusing, considering the LNP refusal to address the matter of corporate taxes, were it not so destructive to lives undeserving of government persecution.

Here is how you will only be protected by the Turnbull government if you’re a millionaire.

No part of this latest debacle bears even a remote resemblance to the practice of good governance. Yes, systems develop glitches, we  saw evidence of that very recently with the Census train wreck. In an alternative reality, Porter might have acknowledged the imperfections and failures of the system, and put threatening the populace on hold until the glitches were resolved, thus salvaging some good will and damping down the massive backlash.

He didn’t even have the nous to take that path.

The LNP is enslaved by ideology, to the extent that it will eat itself rather than look outside the narrow confines of its ideological box. Which is fine by me: get on with the cannibalism until you’re a midden of shining white bones, is my position.

Criminalising people is what this government excels at. Unfortunately, the very people deserving of criminalisation generally go free: far easier to target the already vulnerable. There’s nothing wrong with prosecuting people who make false welfare claims. However, as in  so much else, this government has no sense of proportion in these matters and that, combined with its need to create scapegoats in a despicable effort to shore up its increasing unpopularity, has led to a savaging of Centrelink “customers” that has already dramatically backfired, as well it should.

 

 

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