The message is clear from Canberra – those in the media who leak material will be punished. If that’s the case, why wasn’t Andrew Bolt subject to the same treatment?
Our government has seen fit to raid our national broadcaster, the ABC, over leaks that led to the publication of a story about alleged war crimes committed by Australia’s special forces, including the killings of unarmed men and children. The raid was live-tweeted by several journalists, as the AFP searched their computers for documents—an unprecedented authoritarian move by the Liberal government.
The whistleblower, David William McBride, is facing life in prison for the leaks, but stands by what he did, although he wasn’t pleased with the way the ABC handled the story.
“The Defence Force was being misused to carry out operations that were counter-productive and costing lives,” he told The New Daily.
“My story was about bad leadership and bad generals. ran a story about bad soldiers.”
Whatever the outcome of the story, if we want to continue believing we live in a free democracy, whistleblowers like McBride must be protected, as well as the journalists who report the uncovered misdeeds, otherwise journalists are unable to do their jobs and those in power will abuse it. These raids were an attack on a free press, as well as the sword-rattling of a self-styled authoritarian government.
Dutton and the AFP both pretended that he knew nothing of the raid, and praised the work of the AFP, which means either he’s lying or he has no control over the AFP, and it’s hard to tell which is worse. PM Morrison, for his part, “doesn’t know what the public’s reaction has been to all this,” which isn’t very comforting for the leader of our nation.
Former Secretary of Australian Departments of Defence and Primary Industries & Energy, Paul Barratt, put it best:
A Prime Minister who can’t find a way to keep in touch with what is going on at home base had better not leave the country.
Of course, according to the government, not all leaks are equal. Ones that make the government look bad and expose their alleged crimes? Those are bad leaks. Rather than truly looking strong or brave and facing the criticism, weathering the storm, and admitting fault in an everlong quest to Be Better, they just punished the journalists for showing the public that their Fearless Leaders are not incorruptible.
Other leaks, though, like ones to conservative talking heads like Andrew Bolt? Those are good leaks. Freedom leaks. Those don’t need to be investigated. Those are fair dinkum. Footage that might exonerate asylum seekers—already suffering inhumanely at the hands of our duly elected government—of wrongdoing? Better keep that buried, even if it isn’t classified.
“We’re not investigating,” Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg said. “I don’t know whether Andrew Bolt actually has possession of the footage. I certainly haven’t shared it with him.”
Members of our government, like Secretary of the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection Mike Pezzullo, think it’s “regrettable” that journalists aren’t sworn to secrecy, like public servants are.
“We don’t refer journalists to the Australian Federal Police because they don’t have obligations—unless they’ve broken the law otherwise—to protect official secrecy,” he said.
“Which is regrettable at times because it used to be the case that more weight was placed on the protection of official secrecy. But that doesn’t seem to be the fashion.”
This is how authoritarians think: it’s a shame journalists are allowed to uncover bad things and share them; it’s a shame we can’t do what we want and have the public never know; nice free press you got there, be a shame if someone were to…raid it.
Australia is a joke to the outside world. A personal story from Twitter user Daren Connor tells it best, honestly.
Speaking to a friend in the UK last night who said, ‘From the outside looking in, Australia is 100% corruption. Your police, your politicians & your courts are basically criminals. The Nazis had less corruption. Australia is known worldwide as the new Nazi regime.’
From the ground up, this country is corrupt. And we don’t seem to care. We voted the Libs back in because this population wants no “death tax”, more franking credits, and coal sweet coal. We do the things that we decry other countries for doing. We treat our Indigenous population like garbage. We hold asylum seekers in camps and leave them there to languish endlessly. We are clamping down on our press’ ability to inform the people.
Veteran journalist Kerry O’Brien pointed out that pollies like Morrison keep saying that “no one is above the law”, but as soon as their crimes are exposed they lash out.
“Firstly, I would say there would be an awful lot of politicians who would have had conversations with Annika Smethurst that would be very worried about those conversations being made public,” he told The Sunday Project.
“If they care about democracy, this does go to the heart of democracy and the democratic process. You are talking about the media going about its job in providing scrutiny to areas of government where scrutiny is not easy.”
And he’s right. Government’s need to be scrutinised because otherwise, they will act with impunity. If people don’t feel like they’re being watched, they’re liable to misbehave because they know they can get away with it. This is especially true of those with power, more especially when those people will obviously do everything they can to hold onto that power.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Voices in the media disappeared long before 2019
- To ensure freedom of the press, we need more public outrage
- We’re witnessing a worldwide war on journalists
- Beautiful one day, a police state the next
Laws that silence our media lead us down a dark path. We like to joke that Australia isn’t like Erdoğan’s Turkey, or Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. But those countries didn’t start off the way they are. They got that way through baby steps, little moves to the right. There’s a famous quote about how everything the Nazis did was legal, about how it didn’t all start with camps and murder. They lashed out at the Lügenpresse (lying press) and raided their offices.
I’m not saying our government is filled with Nazis—the ones it had got voted out, for the most part—but, like Trump in the USA, our government is taking moves that historians will recognise as all too familiar.