The Turnbull Cabinet is upset because some of its secrets are outed through incompetence. The filing cabinet papers so far reveal some hypocrisy and the untruths of Government Ministers past and present.
If you want to see some rather more consequential challenges to government secrecy go and see the movie The Post, which is about how in 1971 Daniel Ellsberg and the Washington Post revealed the history of US interference in Vietnam through the 1950s and 60s. The so-called Pentagon Papers revealed that successive US administrations had systematically lied to Congress and the public about their activities and goals in Vietnam.
For decades the US knew it could not win. It continued mainly to try to save face. In the end it suffered the humiliating defeat it feared. Tens of thousands of US young men, hundreds of Australians and many more Vietnamese died for that vain folly.
The US Supreme Court denied an attempt by the Nixon Administration to stop publication of the papers, voting 6-3. It is doubtful the current well-stacked Supreme Court would show as much concern for the interest of the general public, as against wealthy special interests.
Charges against Ellsberg were dismissed because government prosecutors used illegal methods to gather evidence.
Many lessons were learnt from the Vietnam War. Conscripts have not been used in subsequent invasions. Governments learnt to be much more careful about secrecy. The media were tightly controlled in the invasions of Iraq. Searing pictures of US atrocities did not flood into people’s living rooms. Reassuring lies about freedom and victory have dominated the news.
In the internet era, control of information and monitoring of citizens is far more comprehensive. We know this because Edward Snowden released the official documentation. The US Government engaged, and engages, in massive and illegal surveillance of its citizens.
Snowden has not had the brave legal defence accorded Ellsberg. He is a fugitive in Moscow because of the illegal activities of the US Government.
Australian Julian Assange is also a fugitive, for revealing some of the illegal activities in the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. Successive Australian Prime Ministers, from Julia Gillard on, have refused to assist Assange to obtain justice, preferring to condemn him and thus implicitly to commit to further illegal government activities against their citizens.
Australia is, of course, a faithful ally of the US Government. It is complicit in all of the lies and illegal activities. Had John Howard not enthusiastically involved us in the Middle East invasions we would not how suffer the level of terrorist threats we do.
But of course the alleged terrorist threats provide the excuse for the militarisation of our bureaucracy and the massive surveillance of Australian citizens. This is necessary because the wealthy establishment would quickly lose control if people knew what is really going on.
The Australian government also has its own dirty ‘secrets’. Asylum seekers are actually legal, and the government’s treatment of them is illegal. Of course this is not secret at all, just neglected by the colluding mainstream media.
Whether it’s coal mining, rampant banks, foreign ‘investment’, pumping rivers dry, suppression of employee rights or whatever, it is clear our governments of both stripes have not been governing in the interests of the people. Rather, they govern in the interests of wealthy sponsors, or in the interests of the wealthy who might attack the government if it misbehaves, as Kevin Rudd found out.
One could call this corruption, or a corporate coup, but apparently it’s not nice to use words like those.
Australian politics is a culture of untruths. Australia’s governments are monstrous fabrications, facades erected to obscure the nefarious activities of those who really wield power.
The current fuss about a few cabinet papers will elicit some some polite ‘debate’ about the public interest versus the supposed right of Cabinet to have free and frank discussions. Bullshit.
Most of the reason for Cabinet secrecy is to avoid embarrassment, or more functionally to facilitate the lying.
The Government is supposed to conduct the public’s business. We have the right to know what it is doing, because it is our business. If a topic is claimed to be commercial-in-confidence then either the government should not be involved or the company should take its chances in dealing openly in the public business. Then there is the routine appeal to ‘national security’, which seems to neuter any slight trace of independence left in our compromised or cowed media.
We have the right to know who is talking to the government. We have the right to know who is funding politicians, directly or indirectly. There should not be any commercial funding of politics, period.
Are those claims too drastic? Government secrecy has given us a succession or wars, a dangerously fragile international situation, a ravaged planet and misery or death for many. The people of the US, in desperation, elected Donald Trump to stop it. He was the wrong choice of course, but the mood of the populace is clear.
Dr. Geoff Davies is an author, commentator and scientist. He is a retired geophysicist at the Australian National University and author of The Rise and Failure of the Radical Right (May 2017) and Desperately Seeking the Fair Go.. He blogs at BetterNature http://betternature.wordpress.com/.