RICHARD FLANAGAN. The AFP media raids aim to suppress the truth. Without it we head into the darkness of oppression. (The Guardian 6.6.2019)

In March of this year police union leaders warned that the Australian federal police was losing “its independence and integrity and must be separated from Peter Dutton’s home affairs portfolio”. 

According to the Australian Federal Police Association’s president, Angela Smith, there was a widely shared feeling across the AFP that the body had “lost autonomy”. “It’s an embarrassing situation,” Smith was quoted as saying. “We look the least independent police force in Australia.”

In the wake of the AFP’s raids on a leading News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst on Tuesday and the ABC on Wednesday, the position of the AFP has gone from embarrassing to deeply disturbing.

Even Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the cheerleaders of the re-election of the Morrison government, seemed in no doubt as to the political purpose of the raid on Smethurst two weeks after a federal election. It was, News Corp said in an official statement, a “dangerous act of intimidation”.

Implicit in News Corp’s statement is that this is not an act of policing, but an act of politics.

What are we to make of two raids in two days as anything other than a symptom of deeply disturbing developments at the heart of our democracy?

Smethurst’s story was over a year old. It was about a plan to allow the National Signals Directorate, for the first time, to directly spy on Australians by “hacking into critical infrastructure”.

In a statement the AFP attempted to justify its raid on Smethurst by arguing the disclosure of “these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security”. But how can our knowing about a possible major change to our freedoms as citizens in any way threaten our national security? The AFP doesn’t tell us because there is no argument they can make, only an unfounded assertion that they can repeat, mantra-like.

If mass surveillance is brought in, how will we know about it? Is national security best served by the inevitable abuses of such a scheme about which we are never told and which would go unpunished? Would national security be enhanced or weakened were Mr Dutton to use such powers for political advantage or to enable political persecution without our knowledge?

And if we cannot know the truth of such fundamental matters, what security as a democracy do we have?

If one raid was “a dangerous act of intimidation” what are we to make of two raids in two days – the second of our national broadcaster – as anything other than a symptom of deeply disturbing developments at the heart of our democracy?

The story in this case was not one but two years old, a major exposé of how Australian special forces soldiers had killed unarmed men and children in Afghanistan. On what possible grounds is it a good thing to not know atrocities have been committed by our nation?

How is our national security threatened by revealing crimes done in our name? Surely we are best served as a nation by a military that we can be confident acts within certain boundaries that are deemed acceptable in war and does not go beyond them?

In all this we cannot pretend to be surprised. The repression and culture of lying, deceit and evasion of public accountability that cloaked previous Liberal governments’ refugees policy is now coming home to haunt us all.

It was after all under Scott Morrison’s stewardship of the immigration portfolio that the notorious section 42 of the Border Force Act was enacted, allowing for the jailing for two years of any doctors or social workers who bore public witness to children beaten or sexually abused, to acts of rape or cruelty. The new crime was not crime, but the reporting of state-sanctioned violence on the innocent.

National security was invoked then to justify the enforcement of a national silence over what were no more or less than crimes.

And so it is again.

The consecutive timing of these acts represents not just a moment when a government crackdown on journalism began. The method may be to intimidate any whistleblower or journalist who would wish to reveal crimes committed by our government or in the name of our government.

But the aim is to suppress the truth. 

And without the light of truth shining on what happens in public life we head into the darkness of oppression.

The Morrison government will soon seek to assume the high moral ground by diverting public discussion to the need for religious freedoms. But until I see Hillsong being raided by Dutton’s stooges, with the feds occupying their offices, accessing all their phone and computer records, I am not buying any of it.

This is a new government uninhibited, and it would now seem, unhinged. It does seem extraordinary that two cases, each of long standing, would immediately after an election, suddenly be activated to this level of public attention without ministerial knowledge. And yet, we have Dutton’s word it is not so. And were a news organisation subsequently to report, based on government documents, that the truth is otherwise, who knows who might come knocking on their door in the interest of national security?

Under his home affairs super ministry, Peter Dutton has more overt and covert power than any minister in our history. And this week officers of his ministry have been willing to use their powers recklessly against those practices that make us a democracy.

After the raids of the last two days, Australians would be justified in feeling fearful about their future. The politicians who might speak for us have long ceased to do so. And the journalists who still can, now risk everything if they publish political secrets that may be in our interests to know but are in our political masters’ to keep hidden.

Tweeting live from the ABC boardroom in which he was sitting with the AFP officers as they were going through the ABC’s files, John Lyons, the ABC’s executive news editor, wrote: “I have to say, sitting here watching police using a media organisation’s computers to track everything to do with a legitimate story I can’t help but think: this is a bad, sad and dangerous day for a country where we have for so long valued – and taken for granted – a free press.”

The Morrison government could not have signalled its turn to the new authoritarianism that is poisoning so many other democracies with any clearer message. Get ready for the future, because it may already be here.

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9 Responses to RICHARD FLANAGAN. The AFP media raids aim to suppress the truth. Without it we head into the darkness of oppression. (The Guardian 6.6.2019)

  1. P.Boylan says:

    As C.S. Lewis wrote,
    ‘The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint.
    It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.
    In those we see its final result.
    But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.’
    These days with catering.

  2. Charles Lowe says:

    It’s going to need more than a mere “plea” (from Sen. Keneally or anyone else) to start a counter-attack.

    Let’s begin by noting how Labor and the Greens are going to have to hold both Centre Alliance and Jacquie Lambie to ideological account. And take it from there.

  3. Bruce Waddell says:

    I couldn’t help note that in order to appear softer the 2IC in front of the cameras was dressed in the former pale blue instead of the AFB black preferred when in full intimidation mode. Dutton’s black shirts have never appeared to tell us why minister Cash was never questioned. Then again we are supposed to ignore government intervention in police matters

  4. Ed Cory says:

    I had thought it worth addressing (in my post below) the apparent inconsistency between a full house raid on the ABC, and the lack of same on the Australian to complement the raid on its journo. I thought some explanation by the AFP was called for. However I thought I would stick to keeping my post focussed on the classification question.

    This morning however that inconsistency has been brought into sharp focus (and it is surely a coincidence that The Australian is at the centre of this one, isn’t it?). These events are chilling in many dimensions, and for me, mostly for what they say about the APF as lapdogs of the government, and for a police force doing the political bidding of a government/minister, whether this is stated or unstated.

    It is time for long hard look at the AFP, its role(s), and its relationship with the government.

  5. Ed Cory says:

    I seem to remember a time when the classification rules were changed to distinguish between national security and ‘state secrets’ (or something along those lines), probably pre-2000. At the same time, perhaps part of the rationale, there was an injunction against over-classification of documents. I further remember a scale of classification ranging from (paraphrasing from a poor memory) embarrassment, harmful, and damaging.

    I wonder if the current classification rules and guidelines are in the public domain, and whether they represent a nuanced approach to classification. I also wonder whether embarrassment of the government has been elevated to ‘damaging to national security’ status.

  6. Ramesh Thakur says:

    And this is also why we should all, including News Corp, be speaking out loud and clear in defence of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

    • David Macilwain says:

      Perhaps the single most striking thing about yesterday’s raids on the ABC is that no one mentioned Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Evidently to do so would be to admit failure to heed the warnings of people like John Pilger, Craig Murray and George Galloway – and many other less prominent commentators. It would also have been an acknowledgement of failure in defending the very same principles of journalistic freedom, protection of sources and duty to expose criminality that both cases share.
      It may invoke a conspiracy of some sort to claim so, but it also seemed as though mention of Assange was somehow proscribed; how otherwise to explain that even sometime lawyer for Assange Geoffrey Robertson failed to note the recent precedent for the ABC raids in JA’s forcible extraction from the Ecuadorian embassy?
      We don’t need any more restrictions imposed on our media which are already so self-constrained in what viewpoints they can express.

  7. paul walter says:

    Just watching Sen Keneally’s plea for an explanation from Morrison and Dutton on the issues and I felt it to be a measured and fair analysis of what has gone before and its implication for democracy.

    Significantly, it gives further indication that concern now emanates not just from civil liberties sections but wider society, as to a perceived fundamental threat to the very bases of civilised society and an adequate response from the government and security organs is long over due.

    I feel quite justified to question the underlying psychological basis of this government and its ministers and the fitness for government that thus emanates from within…history is replete with examples of what becomes of nations when the mentally unbalanced gain control of a government.

  8. Peter Bennett says:

    And this of course is the Government that shut down parliament to hide from scrutiny in fear of defeat. We are indeed headed into dark times when the AFP is so politically compromised.

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