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Dutton’s bidding to put press freedom under threat, again: GetUp!

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton is seeking added powers to grant to ASIO to strike at freedoms granted to journalists and citizens alike, activist group GetUp! alleged on Sunday.

In an e-mail sent to its subscribers with a link to a petition, GetUp! claimed that Dutton’s attempts to expand those range of powers could be fast-tracked with federal Parliament currently in its final fortnight of sitting for 2020, beyond initial discussions with Parliament’s bipartisan intelligence committee.

The organisation also alleges that Dutton – whose portfolio has grown markedly from the time he was a member of the cabinet of former Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull from 2013 and the initial creation of his Department of Home Affairs portfolio in 2017 – would use the impact of such proposed legislation as “far-reaching powers” to be used “against journalists, whistleblowers, and environmental and human rights groups” as a few examples.

With public interest journalism and press freedoms at threat due to the proposed legislation, GetUp!’s claims – the activist group’s second in as many months against Dutton’s legislative attempts in this matter – possess the backings of legal opinion.

Insofar as journalists, whistleblowers and the establishment, application and expansion of press freedom are concerned, the proposed legislation could “undermine the important role played by civil society organisations in holding government to account,” according to the legal pairing of Dominic Villa and Diana Tang, twin barristers from the Sydney-based legal firm of New Chambers.

Furthermore, the scrutiny of Villa and Tang over a bill which would essentially expand ASIO’s tasks and roles beyond matters relating to terrorism would possess chilling consequences to journalists for simply doing their jobs in the public interest, should they get called up on any matters deemed questionable to the intelligence community at-large.

“A journalist would then be obliged to provide information pursuant to the warrant, where the failure to do so would be a criminal offence punishable by five years imprisonment,” the barristers said last week ahead of a Senate Estimates hearing and prior to Parliament’s ongoing sitting session.

“Despite well-recognised professional and ethical obligations of a journalist to maintain anonymity and confidentiality of a source, if so questioned under a warrant, a journalist would be required to disclose the identity of a confidential source,” Villa and Tang added in their legal opinion.

Furthermore, the legislation that would allow Dutton to grant these expanded powers to ASIO would contain very little in the way of grey areas, if any at all.

And that in itself would have consequences on journalists’ efforts to obtain sensitive information from primary sources or even whistleblowers.

“There may therefore be a chilling effect on the willingness of people to speak to journalists about issues of political significance, including security matters and foreign relations,” said Villa and Tang.

As for the process, ASIO’s pathway would be streamlined to the point that all they would require the mere approval from the Attorney-General’s office without a warrant from a judge, in order to exercise its actions and intentions.

The Law Council of Australia also opposes the proposed legislation.

In addition to preferring to see a judge have the final say on approving such actions, or even intervening in emergency situations, they also recommend a three-day buffer interval in situations of appeal.

“If the judicial officer does not confirm the issuing decision, the warrant is cancelled, and the judicial officer may order the destruction of the intelligence, or may impose conditions on its retention,” its representative told the intelligence committee.

The Department of Home Affairs, speaking on behalf of ASIO, cites a claim that, according to its director-general Mike Burgess, “the current threat from espionage and foreign interference as greater now than at the height of the Cold War” and a justification for the proposed legislation that “these sophisticated activities pose a risk to key pillars of Australia’s democracy and attempt to undermine our sovereignty”.

While Dutton and his agencies under his Home Affairs portfolio have form in the way of making actions against journalists – namely, the ABC’s “Afghan Files” duo of Dan Oakes and Sam Clarke as well as former News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst – in which the possibilities of charges were later dropped, GetUp! through its managing director Paul Oosting aim to garner greater support on its petition to lobby the Morrison government against the proposed legislation.

“From prosecuting whistleblowers and journalists, to secret court cases, and threats to crack down on protesters – the Morrison government is slowly whittling away at our democracy,” the group states, as the petition has currently gathered approximately 113,000 signatures with 120,000 signatures as its target.

“If they get their way with these latest laws, Peter Dutton and his spy agency will be handed unchecked power, and journalists, activists, and civil society groups will all be in their reach.

“So with just two weeks of Parliament left for the year, we need to stop these laws in their tracks,” GetUp! added.



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  1. Kronomex

    Whenever Heinrich Spudstapo goes quiet for more than four weeks he always reappears with some new way to try and increase his already frightening powers to crush the country under his jackboots. I am anything but surprised at this latest attempt.

  2. Kathryn

    Somebody MUST put a STOP to this ruthless, diabolical, undemocratic FASCIST – Herr Potato-head Dutton! The man is starting to make Mussolini look like Mother Theresa! Dutton goes on and on seeking ABSOLUTE POWER AND CONTROL over the citizens of this (once) democratic nation. His callous disregard for the democratic rights of others is beyond depraved and extremely dangerous. Everything Dutton says and does goes AGAINST the best interests of ordinary Australians! This despicable, out-of-control DESPOT needs to be put back into his box but, of course, the lily-livered, non-achieving and gutless Sloth MorriScum hasn’t got the intestinal fortitude, ability or impetus to kerb the outrageous excesses of Dutton who is one of the most dangerous and detested politicians in living memory!

    Dutton is BEYOND being a screaming hysterical right-wing extremist; he could fit quite well within the Stasi Police or be a fully admired general in Hitler’s Nazi Party! Any rational observer can see that Dutton is an out-of-control, mad, bad, racist and misogynistic fascist who’s condescending contempt for our democracy and the basic human rights of others has been demonstrated over and over again. The day cannot come soon enough for this irrational lunatic to be kicked to the kerb! Morrison needs to control Dutton by either muzzling him so that ordinary Australians are not continually confronted by his offensive racist tirades or autocratic “born-to-rule” monologues or put Dutton on a LEASH so that the megalomaniacal narcissist cannot go wandering out and about on his own and without constant supervision! There are now viable concerns and serious doubts about Dutton’s sanity – he now gives the appearance of some rabid, power-obsessed lunatic who firmly believes it is HIS birth right to “lord it over us” like some crazed Nero.

    Dutton is not only a power-hungry nutter with a God complex, he is unspeakably cruel and callously inhumane. The repugnant, unspeakably cruel manner in which he treats and speaks about desperate, vulnerable asylum seekers is callously inhumand and internationally condemned. There can be no denying that Dutton is one of the WORST political sociopaths this country has ever seen. The sooner Dutton and his ilk are kicked to the kerb, the better for our nation, our children’s future and the pride we ONCE had in our country when, under Labor, Australia was once regarded as a kind, compassionate and welcoming nation – a once fine reputation that Abbott, Dutton and Morrison have now almost completely destroyed.

  3. leefe

    So he’s trying to sideline the judiciary on FoI issues. Harks back to LJH’s “We will decide who … and the circumstances …”

    He’s going full fascist if he gets away with this one because there will be no way to stop him or to get the truth out.

  4. Harry Lime

    Is the resident pants man and egregious hypocrite, Pathetic Porter involved in this latest outrage? There is stench around the entire government.

  5. Matters Not

    So GetUp is organising a petition. Golly gee. About as useless as … take your pick. In 2017, 329 petitions were presented to the Australian Federal parliament with 317 petitions presented in 2018. Nothing is more boring and ho hum than a new petition to open the day’s proceedings. No-one notices.

    It’s a bit like canonisation (creation of new saints). Once was rare but now so common, the Vatican guides don’t even know who’s getting a gong on a particular day because they can’t keep up. Pope Francis once canonised 813 people as a job lot and needless to say it was on a Sunday.

    Truth is there is no structural mechanism that aids and abets action by citizens – apart from elections. Just a bit of fluff and bubble in between. More a case of intellectual masturbation writ large. But the punters believe it’s democracy in action. We deserve what we get.

  6. Matters Not

    Dutton is a very professional, successful operator who knows what he wants and how to get it. In many ways, he’s among the very best of this era. While he hasn’t gained the ultimate political prize he strikes fear into those who have. Just ask Turnbull and Morrison for starters. Should never be underestimated but invariably is.

  7. OnceWasALiberal

    The problem is not only with Dutton. He’s a pretty evil individual, but he’s following the trend towards extreme right authoritarianism set by Howard and intensified by every liberal leader since. Sadly, it’s been made much worse by the current subservience to a relatively new, American derived religion of self interest and selfishness.

  8. Andrew J. Smith

    More concerning for Australians is that with already strict libel/slander laws our government, supported by media, stakeholders and middle class elites, is looking more like Russia, Turkey, Poland and Hungary everyday…

    On one hand middle class apathy, fear of understanding and doing something e.g. in civil society (or NGOs) to halt democratic backsliding, while the LNP and other white Christian (and Jewish or Moslem) conservative nationalists are frantic in their need to embed deeply conservative ideology through education curricula, immigration and the legal system, while compromising (especially neutral) information channels i.e media.

    While present generations of Australian politics, society and media are strongly influenced/conditioned by imported unflitered US white nativism or nationalism (which often flirts with totalitarian neo Nazism), everyone is in a state of denial (‘most successful multicultural nation in the world’ BS; the word multicultural was even banned in PM Howard’s office) while having their beliefs and sentiments massaged, they ignore how liberal democracies are under pressure (helped by ageing electorates) to adopt permanent and draconian or disingenuous legislation… Brexit is a good example too.

  9. New England Cocky

    Benito Duddo is quietly crafting away at establishing full dictatorial for the benefit of his next tilt at the Liarbral Party ”leadership” that is likely to occur after the COALition misgovernment is defeated in 2022. This will well & truly make Australia the worst third world export economy in the OECD as planned by the Club of Rome in 1979 while protecting incumbent politicians from public scrutiny regarding backhander payments to themselves or their political party.

  10. Bronte ALLAN

    WTF?? It is past time for this neanderthal to go! Dutton is an Australian disgrace, so why is he even still in the fcking Liberal party?

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