Tag Archives: LNP Government

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairfax and Centrelink unite in an unprecedented move to publicly persecute one woman.

28 Feb

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Early in February, writer and blogger Andie Fox published an account of her interactions with Centrelink over a failure by her ex partner to submit tax returns that led to the department issuing her with a debt notice for over-payment of Family Tax Benefit.

It’s a harrowing account and it resonated with very many people who’ve endured the tortuous process of attempting to explain their situation to Centrelink, after being notified of debt they do not carry. As you may recall, Centrelink is responsible for the unprecedented failure of an automated system that has harassed, threatened, engaged debt collectors and otherwise hounded citizens who have no debt, or a good deal less debt than the department claims.

On Monday, Fairfax journalist Paul Malone published an article titled Centrelink is an easy target for complaints but there are two sides to every story. The article contains the private details of Ms Fox’s interactions with Centrelink, provided to him by the department with the authority of the Minister for Human Services,  Alan Tudge.

Tudge later triumphantly tweeted the article, which contains details Ms Fox contests.

Just to make it clear: Centrelink has released the private details of an individual citizen without her permission in order to present Alan Tudge’s “side of the story.” 

In case there might be any doubt about Tudge’s intentions, Paul Malone and Fairfax have confirmed in their headline that Tudge’s only goal is to use the personal information of a citizen to present his side of the story.

Let’s first consider that both Alan Tudge and Paul Malone are protected by the institutions that employ them. Ms Fox is protected by nobody. So we have the unprecedented situation of Centrelink and Fairfax media joining forces to expose a citizen’s private data in an attempt to claw back some face for Alan Tudge, after the outrageously incompetent debt debacle he oversaw earlier this year.

This is not a question of “both sides of the story.” The actors have no equal ground. It is a breathtaking and unprecedented attack by the LNP government and a compliant Fairfax media on an individual. And it should make everyone of us very afraid.

Family Tax Benefit is paid to millions of families. Not one family is safe from exposure by Alan Tudge, not one, should that family publicly complain about Centrelink. Your private data is fair game in Tudge’s desperate and doomed efforts to appear competent.

There is absolutely no other reason for Centrelink to release Ms Fox’s private data to Fairfax media. Absolutely none.

In other words, any private data held by any government department can now be used as a weapon against you, should you have the temerity to publicly describe your interactions with that department. It can be used to put that department’s “side of the story.” It will be supplied to the media by faceless bureaucrats who do not have to be named, and authorised by their minister. 

You write a piece about Medicare? Expect to see you health records appear in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Can there be any more effective way to silence citizens than to threaten them with media exposure of their most private and intimate information?

In Australia today, the LNP and Fairfax media have joined forces in persecuting one woman to save a lamentably incompetent  minister’s face. Think about that. 

The very fact that Tudge has chosen this course of action confirms his incompetence, and his unfitness to hold his position.

There’s a lot more to be unpacked from this situation, too much for one blog post.

To be continued.

Government v Triggs

24 Oct

 

messenger-season

It’s hardly President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs’ fault when the Australian government is the worst human rights offender that Commission has to deal with.

When a government acts criminally, one hope for recourse is that statutory bodies will refuse to collude with or enable that government’s criminal behaviour, and indeed, that such bodies will name and shame the errant government.

The Turnbull government’s accusation that Professor Triggs is “politicising” her role is, like much of this government’s spin, farcical. For a start human rights are inherently political, and secondly all actions by governments are also inherently political. If the Turnbull government is determined to transgress the human rights of refugees currently abandoned to a highly uncertain future on Manus Island and Nauru, Professor Triggs has no option but to hold it accountable, otherwise she isn’t doing her job.

Of course any commentary Triggs runs on the government of the day is necessarily political, favourable or otherwise. There are instances in which even the silence of someone in her position is political.

Is it the government’s expectation that Triggs will ignore human rights abuses because they are perpetrated by the government? In what country are we living?

Triggs isn’t acting in isolation. Amnesty, the UNHCR, professionals who’ve worked on Manus and Nauru, refugee advocates, some thirty nation states, and this editorial in the New York Times speak with one voice to Australia’s refugee detention policies, and that one voice is damning.

There’s no doubt that in some instances, including the New York Times editorial, there’s blatant examples of the pot/kettle affliction, however, that does not invalidate the truth of the protests against Australia’s policies.

In a classic abuser pattern of behaviour, the Turnbull government continues its efforts to destroy the messenger, in this case Professor Triggs, though the government isn’t fussy, the tactic is transferable. The first concern of abusers is to silence accusers, and the government has displayed this pathology innumerable times, not only in relation to the secrecy with which it surrounds Manus and Nauru and threats of retribution, including imprisonment, against anyone who might transgress those secrecy demands.

Last week, the Border Force Act was amended to remove a comprehensive list of health professionals from the threat of two years jail for speaking publicly about conditions they encountered whilst working in the detention camps. The Turnbull government was forced to make this particular backflip because health professionals have spoken out regardless of the intimidation, and even this collection of political grotesques can see the folly of prosecuting them. However, they can still go after Gillian Triggs and deprived of other targets, they’ll no doubt double their efforts.

(Note to Turnbull government: never wise to make threats you can’t carry out. Makes you look wussy.)

Obviously, the solution for the government is to cease persecuting refugees. The pursuit of Professor Triggs is a distraction: don’t look at the refugees, look at this woman who is (allegedly) overstepping her role. It’s a greater offence to (allegedly) overstep a role than it is to torture refugees. Again, we see the classic abuser spin: it is a far worse crime to speak out about abuse than it is to perpetrate it.

It’s been messenger season as long as I can remember, in private and in public life. The paradigm is deeply entrenched in our society. It starts at the top and it doesn’t trickle down, it roars like a river in flood. It’s time to turn it around and put the focus where it belongs: on the perpetrator. In this case, the Turnbull government.

Stand with the messengers. Stand with Gillian Triggs.

 

 

 

Benefit of the doubt. What the Minister for Women doesn’t say

23 Feb

 

Minister for Women

Minister for Women

In his desire to distract the general public from the depth and breadth of the country’s increasing contempt for him (with the exception of Gerard Henderson, bless) Prime Minister Tony Abbott has resorted to the good old conservative standby, fear, in an effort to somewhat fancifully reinvent himself as the nation’s protector.

As part of this cunning stunt (no doubt thought out by someone in his office I’m not naming anyone but I wouldn’t employ them to wash my dog and he’s dead) Abbott announced that anyone perceived to be a potential terrorist would no longer be given the benefit of the doubt.

Immigration and Centrelink have been touted by the PM as two possible areas for increased scrutiny. That is, don’t admit possible potential maybe somehow some day terror suspects in the first place. Failing that, it is incumbent on someone behind the Centrelink counter to exclaim oh my! Immigration missed that this person might potentially possibly somehow maybe some day somewhere be a terrorist and I must not give him/her the benefit of the doubt even though Immigration did, damn their eyes, and I’m not giving them any welfare and I have now foiled a terror attack.

Man Haran Monis, perpetrator of the Martin Place Lindt Cafe horror, passed through both Immigration and Centrelink. He was also well-known to police in matters of domestic violence for which he was on bail, and there were a string of allegations of the sexual assault by him of some forty women.

Strangely, we have not heard the Minister for Women Tony Abbott once mention that anyone who perpetrates domestic violence ought to be noted as a potential terror suspect, and definitely not given the benefit of the doubt.

If Immigration and Centrelink are to be burdened with the task of identifying potential terror suspects and withholding the benefit of the doubt, why not police who are at the front line of domestic violence allegations?

Of course, the idea of expecting either Immigration or Centrelink to have the capacity to assess a potential terrorist is ludicrous, as is my suggestion that police assume terrorist potential in every person they arrest for domestic violence.

What is interesting, however, is that Abbott did not even go to the latter option, which out of all of them makes the most sense in a triad of bone-achingly senseless options. Obviously, no agency has the capacity or the training to identify terror suspects unless they are so bleedingly obvious as to have already embarked upon their ghastly vocation.

The number of ways in which the Minister for Women avoids the topic of domestic violence are spectacular. What other Minister in any government ever in the history of Western democracy has remained so consistently silent on his portfolio and kept it?

 

 

 

 

 

When the PM normalises lying

26 Nov

 government lying to you

 “It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.”  Tony Abbott, August 22, 2011 

Every time Abbott lies to the citizens of this country we become increasingly disaffected, and not only from our Prime Minister, but from the institution he represents. Abbott has normalised the discourse of lies. He has taken the dishonesty of politicians to a whole new level. We barely expect anything else from him, and from his fellow politicians. Under the leadership of our mendacious Prime Minister, we have increasingly abandoned hope of fairness, straightforwardness, belief and trust. Our Prime Minister doesn’t think we are worthy of the truth.

One of the many unpleasant effects of being lied to is that the liar insults and patronises me by creating a false reality that I have to inhabit, until I discover I’m the victim of deception.The liar denies me the right to know the truth, a serious offence against me, because truth is something no one has the right to deny me.

Whether it’s on a personal or a political level, lying to me signifies the liar doesn’t consider me as entitled to the truth as is he or she. This infantilises me, is disrespectful to me, and denies me the knowledge I need to make informed decisions about my life. There’s little more insulting than being lied to, kept in the dark with lies of omission, and intentionally misled because the liar doesn’t consider you capable of handling the truth, or is acting entirely in their own self-interest because you knowing the truth will in some way threaten them.

The Prime Minister of our country, Tony Abbott, has never made any secret of his ambivalent relationship with truth. There is his notorious assertion that nothing he says is “gospel” truth unless it’s written down.

There’s his prescriptive declaration that “It is better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.” While this isn’t necessarily an endorsement of lying, it is a ruthless and callous prescription for relationship with one’s fellow humans. It recommends that one do that which one desires and if it backfires apologise, but it isn’t necessary under the terms of Abbott’s prescriptive to negotiate with or communicate intention to others, prior to taking an action. This has a similar effect to lying, in that it assumes an inferiority of some kind on the part of another that doesn’t require Abbott to enter into an equal, respectful relationship in which another’s opinions and wishes count for the same as his own.

We have a liar for a leader. When the lies start at the top, there’s little hope truth will ever see the light of day. Abbott is leading us into an abyss of normalised deception that will damage every one of us, because when dedicated liars are in power, the country will inevitably lose its way. If you don’t think this country is losing its way, you’re dreaming.

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