Posts Tagged ‘press freedom’

Don’t stop being angry about Australia’s lack of legal protections for press freedom and whistle-blowers

June 23, 2019

I know it was a few weeks ago now that the federal police raided the ABC offices and the home of Annika Smethurst, a journalist at the Sunday Telegraph. However, where has all that anger gone? Lost in the news cycle and drowned out no doubt by what Trump might have been saying in his latest tweets. The recent protest in Hong Kong have got me thinking about just how placid we really are here in Australia. We get all outraged in the moment, then move on to the next thing without really protesting or preventing things that might ultimately be undermining the liberal democracy we hold so dear.

The raids were shocking, but they shed further light on the fact that the ABC had previously reported on allegations of illegal actions by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, such as the killing of unarmed men and children. These are not actions forces of a liberal democracy should be allowed to get away with it. The ABC was reporting on gross misconduct by our forces and this is indeed in the ‘public interest’. What is shocking is that the warrant served on the ABC looked like it was from an authoritarian, Kafkaesque society in that it allowed investigators to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the broadcaster’s computers.

The raid on the home of Annika Smethurst was in connection with an article she wrote about potential ‘top secret’ strategies to expand surveillance powers that could be used by the authorities in Australia. These strategies include covert reading of people’s e-mails, text messages and even being able to see their bank accounts.

Stories like these are important in that they keep our governments and authorities within democracy honest. Furthermore, these stories would not have come to light if it were not for the whistle-blowers who risked everything to bring them to the fore. The allegations in the ABC story were brought light by David McBride who used to be a lawyer with the defence department. He did not go running straight to a journalist, indeed he had done all he could to adhere to the ‘public-interest disclosure rules’ and is on record of having raised his concerns with the department. However, they did nothing to address his concerns or allegation and it was this that prompted him to contact journalists. However, protections under the law for whistle-blowers are woefully lacking, and in fact these laws specifically exclude protection for public servants the very people who should be protected in order to guarantee the protection of our democracy!

David McBride is now being charged with the disclosure of unauthorised documents and faces a life sentence. Some in the right-wing media have said this an apt punishment as this story posed a national security threat, but this is a load of tosh as they relate to events that happened more than six years ago.

Democracy is clearly under attack in several parts of the world and some even say it is failing. Therefore, the last thing we need is for democracy to be under attack in the very countries that should be standing up for the benefits of democracy. So, what does it say about our own democracy that here in Australia we lack explicit constitutional protection for civil liberties and that we as citizens on the whole seem to sit back and let our government pass legislation that weakens our civil liberties.

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