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The AFP raiding a journalist is about silencing whistleblowers, not the press

The AFP raiding the house of a journalist is not about muzzling the media, it has everything to do with our government’s war on whistleblowers.



This morning, the Australian Federal Police turned up on the doorstep of Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst, in reference to her 2018 article that reported that the defence and home affairs ministries had discussed vast new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to spy on Australian citizens. This, per the article, would represent the first time the government has done such a thing.

Under the (now binned) plan, spies would be allowed to covertly access emails, bank accounts and text messages pending approval from Dutton’s portfolio. The current law allows the AFP and ASIO to investigate Australians with a warrant and seek advice from the ASD, with the latter institution not able to produce intelligence on citizens. The new plan would subvert that.

Via a statement, News Corp Australia said that the raid was “outrageous and heavy-handed…this raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths.”

The trade union for the media, the MEAA angrily stated that the move “is an outrageous attack on press freedom that seeks to punish a journalist for reporting a legitimate news story that was clearly in the public interest.”



Marcus Strom, the president of the MEAA wrote, “when you go after whistleblowers you are going after journalism. When you seek to muzzle the media and deny their right to subject the powerful to scrutiny, you are attacking democracy and the public’s right to know.”

Which sounds very good in a statement, but the narrative doesn’t seem to fit the greater truth in this country. Clearly, the AFP is less interested in a solitary journalist, they’re looking for the individual that supplied the information; again proving that this nation’s greatest antagonist is the whistleblower.

A familiar cycle is played out. We hear about the moment of the raid, and then we see the register the magnitude of their punishment. It’s not dissimilar to the tactics the English employed with William Wallace, leaving parts of him on the corners of the Empire to serve as a deterrent. The Assange situation is indicative of the government’s view of whistleblowers. As an Australian citizen, we could offer him asylum, but clearly, those in charge do not care. From there on, the tone is familiar. We register the raid, we get angry, we hear nothing else. Another contemporary example would be Richard Boyle, the chap who exposed the Australian Taxation Office’s questionable debt-recovery tactics, who earned himself a newspaper article in the face of 161 years in prison. Witness K, who revealed our government’s mission to spy on Timor-Leste during resource negotiations, remains shrouded in mystery, in name, in law, and indeed in the discussion, as they remain conspicuously absent from the pages of our main news publications. The same holds true for the NBN employee who leaked the finer points of the plot, resulting in yet another AFP endorsed knock on the door.

What we know, is nothing. The challenge as a nation is not to forget. We’re dealing with massive corruption obfuscated by a sleight of hand. Those in power protect the guilty and prosecute those who illuminate wrongdoing. They will continue to do that if we fail to continue asking questions.




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