“The Best Weapon of a Dictatorship is Secrecy” – Australia and Detention

“The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.” Niels Bohr.


Refugees suffer dangerous odds when they journey to Australia via boat to seek refuge and opportunity. Over the last 15 years the government (from both sides of the Australian duopoly) has taken the hard line to dissuade and stop the flow of refugees. Referred to as “queue jumpers”, these people have landed up in detention centres (some off shore) – and often for extended periods, under degrading conditions, waiting to be processed.

In 2013, Whistleblower, former G4S guard Rod St George, claimed that the Dept of Immigration staff turned a blind eye to a series of rapes and assaults at the Manus detention centre. He said (reported in smh):

“I’ve never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless before.” 

And as Julian Burnside AO QC wrote in The Drum (23/1/2015):

It should shock us to know how comprehensively the government has lied to us about Manus (Island detention centre)….

There is not much doubt that our treatment of asylum seekers in Manus constitutes a crime against humanity. This is a matter of legal analysis, not political rhetoric. The hard facts about the horrific conditions on Manus Island that I’ve outlined above may not be enough to shock us, but the one thing that really might shock us is to see Abbott, Morrison and Dutton prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for those crimes. That’s a pro bono case I would gladly prosecute. (my emphasis)

Have crimes been committed?

Well, you would have hoped that the government would improve their governance, plus show some humanity. So what is their solution to the problem? More SECRECY.

A few days ago a new Commonwealth law came into force – the Australian Border Force Act 2015.  This legislation has disturbing consequences.

Today Barrister Greg Barns and Special Counsel George Newhouse in their article entitledBorder Force Act: Detention Secrecy Just Got Worse,” they write:

Those working in Australia’s detention centres are now forbidden under threat of jail time from revealing information to anyone about anything they come across while doing their jobs,

The refugee detention centres have always been difficult to access and report on. And in the past cameras were secretly smuggled in to expose some of the human rights abuses that were prevalent.

Barns and Newhouse continue:

“…(Section 42 of the Act) is entitled “Secrecy”. It provides that a person who is an “entrusted person” commits an offence if he or she makes a record of, or discloses, what is termed protected information.

If section 42 is not chilling enough, consider the definition of “corrupt conduct”. It includes conduct by an employee or contractor or consultant that is judged to be “abusing his or her position”.

The effect of these provisions will be to deter individuals such as doctors, counsellors, and others who have voiced publicly their concerns about the appalling conditions endured by asylum seekers in detention centres from collecting information about those conditions and then raising their concerns in the community via the media and other fora.

So, for example, those former and current medical staff, teachers and social workers who signed and released a letter last month that referred to sexual assaults and abuse occurring at the Nauru detention centre could now be charged and prosecuted under section 42. No doubt there might also be consideration given to whether or not they had abused their positions by going public with their concerns and therefore engaged in corrupt conduct.

The Abbott Government is erecting an iron curtain of secrecy over what is happening and what has happened in Australia’s immigration detention system. The Act not only criminalises whistleblowers but those such as medical professionals and teachers who believe they have an ethical duty to report physical and mental harm that occurs in a systemic fashion.” (my emphasis)

We have truly moved into a new era of governance.

Having being brought up under the Apartheid Regime in South Africa, this is all too familiar. But, I believe this is far worse. The South African government at least had a brazen honesty about what they were doing. This government is deceitful.

Canberra is wrapping these barbed laws up in satin and silk. I wrote in September 2014 (in Teetering Towards Totalitarianism) about the new laws that can lock up journalists and whistleblowers for 10 years, for “recklessly” disclosing “information … [that] relates to a special intelligence operation”. And now we can potentially jail people for exposing government human rights abuses. Good people will be dissuaded from, or prosecuted for “doing the right thing”.

The Australian government continues to demonstrate that SECRECY is now the preferred modus operandi of governance.

cage tiger

And is this what will happen to journalists with big teeth, or detention centre whistleblowers?

Shh – they might awake the tiger within us all.



  1. Reblogged this on kernaghanassociates.

  2. Julian Burnside is quoted above thusly:
    “The hard facts about the horrific conditions on Manus Island that I’ve outlined above may not be enough to shock us, but the one thing that really might shock us is to see Abbott, Morrison and Dutton prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for those crimes. That’s a pro bono case I would gladly prosecute.”

    Doesn’t every QC know how to identify some charges against any criminal?
    And isn’t it true that prosecutions can be conducted by private parties not just the DPP? So what’s holding you back, Julian?

    And why worry about the ridiculous ICC. We have beautiful law right here Down Under. (Last time I looked.)


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