One of the knock-on effects of the response to the Brittany Higgins allegations is what those in power are prepared to do, in order to maintain it.
Back in February, when Peter van Onselen revealed that the prime minister’s office was deliberately backgrounding journalists to smear Brittany Higgins’ now partner, I thought here we go again – dob on us and see what happens.
Now, months later, The Canberra Times has revealed that the Morrison government has gagged its staffers, instructing them to stay silent when approached by the media regarding the allegations raised by Brittany Higgins (or others) or risk punitive action, including two years behind bars.
Whenever this government is threatened with negative publicity, they respond with character assassination, threats, and vindictive retribution.
Bernard Collaery, a barrister and former ACT attorney-general, is facing jail for allegedly helping his client, intelligence officer Witness K, reveal information about Australia’s bugging of Timor-Leste government offices to gain the upper hand during oil and gas negotiations in 2004. The trial is being conducted in secret.
When Adelaide-based public servant Richard Boyle revealed disturbing debt-collection practices by the ATO, he was hit with charges which could see him spend the rest of his life in jail.
A few weeks before the 2016 election, the AFP raided the parliamentary office of shadow communications minister Stephen Conroy and the home of one of his staffers looking for leaked documents detailing the massive cost blowouts and delays at NBN Co, contrary to what the government had been telling the public. A Senate committee later ruled that the raids constituted ‘improper interference’ on the functions of parliament
Likewise, in October 2018 the AFP raided a home affairs employee’s home and the Canberra office of the department over leaks concerning Peter Dutton’s ministerial intervention in the case of two foreign au pairs. When it was revealed that Dutton’s chief of staff, Craig Maclachlan, was alerted to the fact the raids were going to take place the day before by the deputy commissioner, Neil Gaughan, it led to a complaint by the targeted public servant that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect the AFP is neither operationally independent or without political bias”.
When the Australian Human Rights Commission produced a report about the abuse of children in immigration detention and their declining physical and mental health, the government attacked Gillian Triggs mercilessly. It got very personal.
Scott Morrison also dismissed Save the Children staff, incorrectly claiming they had been “coaching” asylum seekers to self-harm. Despite commissioning a report which verified what the AHRC had said and exonerated the Save the Children staff (who consequently received a large settlement), no apology was forthcoming from Morrison and Triggs’ contract was not renewed.
The ABC’s revelation of allegations of potential war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan led to raids on the national broadcaster and the AFP referring journalist Dan Oakes for prosecution – charges that the CDPP subsequently decided not to pursue.
When Emma Alberici wrote an article analysing the government’s proposed company tax cuts and questioning whether they would deliver the claimed outcomes of greater business investment and higher wages, the politicians and Murdoch media went into such a frenzy that the ABC removed the article. After Alberici engaged lawyers, a slightly changed version of the article was reposted. However, with the axing of Lateline, Ms Alberici has now largely disappeared from our screens.
The ABC has been in the firing line ever since the Coalition came to power. Whether it be intelligence officers paying people smugglers, the shocking mismanagement of water resources, or the licentious behaviour of men in parliament – the government does not want their dirty linen aired in public and have made that very clear with constant complaints, attempts at editorial influence, and most destructive of all, savage funding cuts.
The same has happened to the Australian National Auditors Office with information withheld and reports gagged under spurious grounds like commercial-in-confidence and national security, followed by significant funding cuts.
None of what has been reported has been disputed – it has all proven to be factual. Nevertheless, the message is clear.
To quote Peter Dutton, if you dob, you’re ‘dead to me’.
This piece was originally published by the Australian Independent Media Network.