by Dee McLachlan
Two items featured in the news this week.
1) Proposed New Security Laws – “Creeping Stalinism”
To quote The Guardian:
“Proposed changes to Australia’s national security laws that could see journalists and whistle blowers jailed for up to 20 years will “criminalise” reporting and undermine the media’s ability to act in the public interest, the nation’s major news outlets have warned.”
In a submission, 14 major media outlets (including the ABC, Fairfax, and News Corp) claim that sweeping changes would place journalists at “significant risk of jail time” for doing their jobs. To continue with the Guardian:
“The government says the new laws are about countering the influence of foreign states such as China and Russia, [What about the US?] but the proposal includes major changes to secrecy laws that could potentially be applied to journalists and organisations such as WikiLeaks.” [And Gumshoe?]
“Described as “creeping Stalinism” by policy experts, the proposed legislation would make it illegal for any person to communicate or deal with information obtained by a public servant that is ‘inherently harmful’ or likely to harm ‘Australia’s interests’… Those interests include information which prejudices international relations ‘in any way’ or damages relations between the federal government and a state.”
So how do we decide on what “Australia’s Interests” are?
Is selling a 99 year lease of the Port of Darwin in Australia’s interests? Would covering up the lies about the massacre at Port Arthur be in Australia interests — or would it be treasonous? If several top bureaucrats or members of the Bar were accused of complicity in the Port Arthur massacre it might destabilize government — and one could argue that it might not be in the best interests of Australia.
It seems keeping the status quo is what the law is designed to do.
This is what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in parliament on the 7th of December 2017:
“I move that this bill be now read a second time… Today I’m introducing legislation to counter the threat of foreign states exerting improper influence over our system of government and our political landscape. [But are you not already under the influence?]
“…interference is unacceptable from any country… we will not tolerate foreign influence activities that are in any way covert, coercive or corrupt…“
On ‘Protecting our Democracy,’ Turnbull said:
“Globally, Russia has been wreaking havoc across the democratic world… [And the US?]
“We are witnessing the mass production, the democratisation if you like, of disinformation. [The mainstream media have been the masters of disinformation for decades. They now have competition.]…George Orwell portrayed a post-truth dystopia, where, ‘The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth’.” [Oh please Mr Turnbull, take note of the USS Liberty, Port Arthur, 9-11 etc.]
He then explains the legislation:
“…we are introducing a new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme… If a person or entity engages with the Australian political landscape on behalf of a foreign state or principal then they must register accordingly… we will criminalise covert, deceptive and threatening actions by persons acting on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal aiming to influence Australia’s political processes or prejudice our national security.
Maybe the prolific contributor on Gumshoe, Mary Maxwell, normally resident in Adelaide, could be considered a “foreign principal” as she aspires to be a Senator in the US Congress. I also hold a British passport — maybe I should pack my toothbrush?
The submission by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security wrote:
“… how could the journalist determine whether the material is in breach without possessing, communicating, and otherwise dealing with it?”
That’s right. We at Gumshoe are reporting what we believe is in the interests of ‘the people’ (where ever you are).
2) The Convenient Filing Cabinets
This week it was disclosed that some filing cabinets from parliament house had gone AWOL. They landed up in the hands of the ABC.
The Age wrote:
“Mercifully, the ABC, the recipient of the leaks once the last owner of the cabinet took a drill to the locks…” [Mercifully?]
This below from SBS news — from an article entitled, “Top secret documents found in old filing cabinets in Canberra”:
“The prime minister’s department has launched an urgent investigation into secret and highly sensitive cabinet documents that were discovered in two second-hand filing cabinets bought at a Canberra auction. [Really?]
It seems extraordinary that officials in Canberra allowed two heavy locked cabinets to be wheeled out for auction. And how did the ABC get possession of these cabinets? When were these cabinets delivered to the auctioneers? Who brought the cabinets to the auction house? Who drilled them open?
To continue with the article:
“One document points to an audit showing the Australian Federal Police lost almost 400 national security files over five years.
“The papers also included a document that stated 195 top-secret codeword-protected and sensitive documents had been left in the office of former Labor government minister Penny Wong when Labor lost the 2013 election.
“The documents which were left in the office – but not included in the old filing cabinets – included Middle East defence plans, national security briefs, Afghan war updates, intelligence on Australia’s neighbours and details of counter-terrorism operations.” [That’s a stretch.]
Wow. One document claims that the AFP lost almost 400 national security files. Is that why we need this new security legislation?
It seems most convenient that this very unusual breach occurred — and it might very well spur on the next security bill. I am convinced the Bella Vista incident (that never happened) was the catalyst that allowed the 2014 Terror laws to pass.
Why am I getting déjà vu from the Bella Vista incident?
A Recap of the Bella Vista Incident
Back in September 2014, I wrote an article entitled, “Teetering Towards Totalitarianism.” To quote my article:
“Journalists, whistle blowers and even bloggers who ‘recklessly’ disclose ‘information … [that] relates to a special intelligence operation’ will face up to 10 years’ jail. Any operation can be declared ‘special’… ASIO will have criminal and civil immunity… Those who identify ASIO agents could also face a decade in prison – a tenfold increase in the existing maximum penalty.”
There wasn’t really an appetite then to pass the laws — until the Bella Vista incident. To recap what happened on the 25 September, 2014:
The mainstream media alleged a 41-year-old Navy man was threatened and assaulted by two men of Middle Eastern appearance. They threatened to cut his throat, and he reported this to Kings Cross (Sydney) police station in person. Later than night Terror laws clear Senate, enabling entire Australian web to be monitored, and for whistle blowers, journalists, and bloggers to be jailed for 10 years if they disclose information about a special intelligence operation. The next morning (26/9/2014), the officer/sailor withdraws the assault claim. When I called the media unit in New South Wales in 2015, a very pleasant officer confirmed (via phone) that, “We don’t believe it happened”.
Let me conclude by defining treason:
“the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.” [and/or] “…showing no loyalty to your country…”