When the Gillard government tried to appoint a Public Interest Media Advocate, the Coalition, aided by an hysterical Murdoch Press, went into overdrive.
“Freedom is at stake, liberty is at stake, democracy is at stake,” communication spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said.
Former press council head David Flint said “It is dangerous … it will give the government a power it should never have, the power to determine the content of the press. The press is there as a check and balance against the government.”
“This government will go down in history as the first Australian government outside of wartime to attack freedom of speech by seeking to introduce a regime which effectively institutes government sanctioned journalism,” News Limited chief executive Kim Williams said.
Considering the veil of secrecy that has descended over government actions since the Coalition took power, their hyperbolic opposition to Conroy’s proposals is laughable.
Malcolm Turnbull said “As Senator Conroy descends further and further into the pit of paranoia the ranks of the hate media in his mind get bigger and bigger. Anyone that disagrees with him is engaged in a vendetta.”
If you want to talk vendettas, how about the one carried out against anyone who raises concern about the plight of refugees locked up on Manus and Nauru like Gillian Triggs or the Save the Children workers or Sarah Hansen-Young.
The Drum recently reported that the AFP has been conducting an investigation of Dr Peter Young, the former medical director of mental health services for our offshore immigration detention centres, after he commented publicly and critically about the medical care of asylum seekers and particularly the horrible and completely avoidable death of Hamid Khazaei.
When an Amnesty International report provided evidence of the Australian government paying people smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, Peter Dutton slammed the report, saying it was “a slur on the men and women of the ABF and ADF”.
This secrecy also extends to climate change.
It wasn’t so long ago that Greg Hunt assured us that the decision to not list the Reef as in danger was proof of his good work.
“It’s really an astonishing and outstanding outcome for Australia and what it means is that the physical work is now being held up to the rest of the world for dealing with complex challenges facing the great coral reefs of the globe,” Hunt told the ABC.
Move on a few months and we now have the government insisting that all reference to Australia be removed from a UNESCO report titled “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” because it would be “bad for tourism” if people heard the truth about what is happening to our Reef, Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests.
Even the progress of the NBN rollout appears to be a secret.
This information control extends much further.
Public servants were urged to dob in colleagues posting political criticism of the Abbott government on social media, even if the comments are anonymous, under new Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines.
Gag clauses preventing organisations who receive government funding from speaking out about legislation have silenced many advocates.
Freedom of information requests are denied for the most spurious of reasons and court orders to release information, such as Ministers’ diaries, are ignored. Anything they are forced to release is so heavily redacted as to be indechiperable.
Contracts such as free trade agreements and defence procurement are negotiated in secret. Costings and potential benefits are hidden behind words like “commercial in confidence”.
In 2012, Tony Abbott said:
“Thanks to free speech, error can be exposed, corruption revealed, arrogance deflated, mistakes corrected, the right upheld and truth flaunted in the face of power. On issues of value, purpose and meaning, there is no committee, however expert, and no appointee, however eminent, with judgment superior to that of the whole community which is why the best decisions are made with free debate rather than without it.”
That same year, Malcolm Turnbull asked:
“How often do we hear Australian politicians discuss these challenges in a genuinely open, honest, spin-free and non-adversarial way? Where the intention is to clearly explain the problem, accept responsibility for past misteps if appropriate (rather than apportion as much blame as possible to the other side), allow a non-ideological discussion of possible remedies, and see if there is any common ground for bipartisan work?”
Despite their words about freedom of speech, transparency and accountability, and our right to know, one thing has become patently clear. A Coalition government will not allow the public to be told the truth.
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