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Freedom…well for some of us anyway.

“Freedom of speech is not just an academic nicety but the essential pre-condition for any kind of progress. A child learns by trial and error. A society advances when people can discuss what works and what doesn’t. To the extent that alternatives can’t be discussed, people are tethered to the status quo, regardless of its effectiveness.

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.” – Tony Abbott 2012

George Brandis repeatedly justified his plans to remove the protections of the Racial Discrimination Act by insisting that “our freedom and our democracy fundamentally depend upon the right to free speech”.

How does he reconcile that sentiment with the substantial restrictions the government has placed on efforts by the media and public to access information about asylum seeker arrivals and conditions on Manus Island?

When ten aid workers from Save the Children staff at the Nauru detention centre raised concerns of sexual abuse and self harm of children in detention they were suspended.

“If people want to be political activists, that’s their choice. But they don’t get to do it on the taxpayer’s dollar,” the minister said.

I wonder if getting children on Christmas Island to ring Senator Ricky Muir begging him to release them so he will vote for legislation count as activism? I can think of a few more appropriate terms.

Yesterday it was reported that thousands of Immigration Department public servants face the sack if they fail to comply with tough new security tests imposed by their new bosses.

Immigration’s 8500 officials have been told they must complete an “organisational suitability assessment” if they want to work at Border Force Australia, the new merged agency combining Immigration and Customs.

There will also be a crackdown on second jobs, social media use and sloppy appearances among the department’s public servants, as the Customs agency hierarchy tightens its grip on Immigration.

Holders of a baseline security clearance must declare any criminal or other legal matters in their past, changes to their personal circumstances and even any shift in political or religious belief or affiliation.

But under the organisational suitability rules, the public servants must disclose “criminal or high risk associations, conflicts of interest, criminal history and/or involvement in criminal or illegal activities, compliance with border-related laws, use of illicit substances [and] compliance with the Australian Public Service values”.

Officers were told that a failure to take part in the process or getting an adverse ruling would result in employees losing their jobs, or at least being transferred to another public service department.

Could you imagine our politicians submitting to similar rules?

In 2012, when addressing the IPA, Tony Abbott said

“There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.”

Unless it is critical of him apparently.

In April last year an edict came from the office of PM&C

“PUBLIC servants will be 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 are still in force in Queensland and NSW.

“Where the Organisation receives 50 per cent or more of its total funding from Queensland Health and other Queensland Government agencies, the Organisation must not advocate for State or Federal legislative change. The Organisation must also not include links on their website to other organisations’ websites that advocate for State or Federal legislative change.”

There are so many examples of this government withholding information from the public.

The oft-promised cost-benefit-analyses are suddenly “commercial in confidence” as are the secret negotiations for the much touted Free Trade Agreements.

Freedom of Information requests are being denied. The blue books giving advice to the incoming Coalition Government were unavailable.

Tony Abbott said in that same address in 2012

“Essentially, we are the freedom party. We stand for the freedoms which Australians have a right to expect and which governments have a duty to uphold. We stand for freedom and will be freedom’s bulwark against the encroachments of an unworthy and dishonourable government.”

“From Menzies to Fraser to Howard and to the current government, the Liberal Party has been the party that gives more freedom,” he wrote in October last year on the occasion of the Liberal Party’s 70th anniversary.

Not, however, when it comes to draconian provisions in national security legislation, including jailing journalists for up to 10 years for disclosing information about anything deemed to be a special intelligence operation. Nor when it comes to freedom of information, where the Government is legislating for less freedom.

Appropriately, if coincidentally, it was Scott Morrison – he of the “on water” matters not to be disclosed to the Australian public – who introduced the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill in the House of Representatives, representing Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. That was two weeks before Abbott’s October comments.

The new bill abolishes the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, created as an independent position to foster a culture of open government and to review requests for government information denied by departments and agencies. The Attorney-General’s department, which certainly is not independent, takes over some of its functions. Reviews are sent back to the same government body that rejected the initial request, with the last resort an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Abolishing the Information Commissioner runs contrary to the trend in most of the Australian states and other countries, which have created similar independent offices.

A Senate inquiry laid bare the government’s other intention: to reduce access to information. Reviews by the Information Commissioner cost nothing, whereas an appeal to the AAT incurs a fee of $861, plus the costs of legal advice and representation, given that government bodies almost always bring their lawyers to tribunal hearings.

Once again the Australian people will have unnecessarily restricted access to government information and a complicated, legalistic, expensive system which defeats many people from even applying for access to information.

In May, Fairfax Media examined the activities of the North Sydney Forum, a campaign fund-raising body run by Mr Hockey’s North Sydney Federal Electoral Conference. They reported that members were granted meetings with Mr Hockey, including in private boardrooms, in return for annual fees of up to $22,000.

At the time Mr Hockey said he found the stories “offensive and repugnant” and promptly filed defamation proceedings.

And whilst pondering these obvious examples of hypocrisy and different rules for some, remember how whistleblowers are treated.

Stealing Peter Slipper’s diary and then engaging in a concerted attempt to destroy a man in the hope of bringing down a government is fine. Kathy Jackson is “courageous” in her persecution of Craig Thomson, though any mention of the alleged millions she misappropriated are a ‘witch hunt’.

When a former ASIO operative reveals that our government engaged in commercial espionage under the guise of Foreign Aid his passport is confiscated and his lawyer’s offices are raided and documents seized.

And when Freya Newman reveals that Frances Abbott has been given a $60,000 scholarship that was not available to anyone else she is prosecuted. The fact that the White House School of Design is a pollie pedal sponsor who benefitted greatly from the Abbott government’s decision to provide funding to private colleges shortly after is no doubt coincidental.

Freedom of speech, transparency and accountability are rights and responsibilities, but apparently only for some.

28 comments

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  1. Peter Ball

    the Liberals, fighting for Truth , Justice and their own Australia caved in the totalitarian image of Tony Abbott and Co

  2. Loz

    This government is hypocritical beyond belief. They have neither integrity nor moral values and wish to create a George Orwellian society. Thanks Kaye for this article.

  3. Ana Milosevic

    One word would describe where we are heading, and that is: Fascism.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Ana, you’ve read my mind. That’ll be the subject of a post I’m working on.

  5. Kaye Lee

    They are silencing advocacy groups too which is unbelievably counterproductive. eg replacing Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes with George’s little IPA friend.

    Step by step, conservative forces move to silence NGOs’ voices

    http://theconversation.com/step-by-step-conservative-forces-move-to-silence-ngos-voices-29637

    Attacks on NGOs are a threat to our Democracy

    Attacks on NGOs are a threat to our democracy

    Could I also point out that Howard gave the IPA $50,000 to investigate NFPs

  6. Jexpat

    The only use right wing ideologues anywhere have for “free” speech is to be able lie with impunity, and harass, bully and intimidate minorities.

  7. stephentardrew

    Michale I been bounced. Don’t think its the spam filter. When I posted it sorta went weird.

  8. Wayne Turner

    Indeed Jexpat.

  9. Kyran

    Thank you, Ms Lee, for some perspective. In addition to Mr Turner’s suggestion, there is a very good read on Independent Australia from 12th January, titled “Wake up Charlies”. I hadn’t realised our world leaders had their own March! I must confess I am becoming horribly confused on the freedom of speech issue due to the number of twisted interpretations.
    I don’t have any clinical qualification, but do consider these criminal and violent acts are being committed by “nutters”, being my clinical term for deranged and delusional fools. How anyone can try and attribute logical thought or rationale to criminals who hide behind any flag that suits their delusions is beyond me. And in the off chance you consider these criminal nutters will pay any attention to legalities, I need only point out their criminal acts defy the law. We don’t need more laws to be applied to law abiding people, particularly when the people being targeted by new laws have no regard for any laws.
    As a suggestion, if we used a mere 10% of the defence budgets on mental health issues, we may even prevent some of our more vulnerable from becoming disenfranchised and radicalised.
    Take care

  10. Michael Taylor

    Stephen, it’s not in the spam filter.

  11. mars08

    It’s bloody reverse racism is what it is!

  12. mark wells

    Spot on article, except for the fact that the current opposition was just as bad in restricting access to information and backed the governments anti whistle blower legislation. The danger is the professional politician who has no empathy for the citizenry except at election times. A pox on both their houses.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Mark, Labor’s all-too-quick acceptance of those laws was disappointing. Bill Shorten came out late and said he didn’t approve of the laws. Sorry, Bill, you should have thought of that earlier.

  14. David

    Bastard fascist Torys led by a maniacal physco

    [URL=http://s1131.photobucket.com/user/davidlen2/media/B6jPq6gCcAANICjjpglarge_zps480be54d.jpg.html][IMG]http://i1131.photobucket.com/albums/m548/davidlen2/B6jPq6gCcAANICjjpglarge_zps480be54d.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

  15. Graham Houghton

    This is nothing more, nor less, than totalitarianism masquerading as democracy. We must stand together against it like the people of France and people around the world have stood against lethal fanaticism masquerading as religion. Make no mistake, this is deadly serious. We are rapidly approaching a point of no return in this country. Look at this to see how easily 105 years ago it started to creep up on a complacent, peaceful civilisation in Europe.
    http://www.historyonthenet.com/chronology/timelinenazigermany.htm
    Don’t imagine for one moment that it can’t happen here. Unless we stand up and demand the removal of this unflinching government, root and branch, then we are heading for full-blown dictatorship, or civil war. And don’t be fooled by the removal of Abbott either by forced resignation or simple ousting by the party. Abbott has only ever been the dull, deluded, unwitting pawn of the party he belongs to. His removal, as an act of ‘political housekeeping’, will only serve the interests of those that remain; in other words, nothing will change apart from the clown leaving the ring. For democracy’s sake and without apology: https://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-this-government-s-madness Je suis Charlie.

  16. Kaye Lee

    Tasmania just committed to passing a law allowing corporations to sue protesters for defamation. That means when a group of concerned citizens lawfully assemble to voice concerns about corporate abuses of power — from environmental destruction, sweatshop labour practices, animal cruelty and literally everything else — they will soon be subject to repressive litigation and lawsuits by corporations with far, far more money to burn.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/07/tasmania-moves-to-allow-corporations-to-sue-protesters-for-defamation

  17. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, that’s appalling.

  18. Kaye Lee

    It WAS worse. An original draft proposed mandatory three-month jail terms for repeat offenders — an aspect only reluctantly amended once the United Nations intervened. I suspect the loggers are ready to make another run.

  19. John Fraser

    <

    Anyone seen or heard anything from the Lindt cafe survivors ?

    Why have they all been gagged ?

    Why are we being drip fed information about the murderer almost daily.

    And then on the very same day that we find out that one of the murdered victims may have been hit by friendly fire Abbott comes out talking about an award for the murdered victims, and they don't even mention that one victim was shot in the foot and one in the shoulder.

    Not much "freedom of speech" with reporting of the Sydney siege, just bits and pieces ….. and silence.

    No 60 minutes.

    No Sunday on 7.

    No interviews with …….. ……….. (fill in name of well known interviewer).

    Nothing !

  20. stephentardrew

    Silence of the Lambs John.

  21. stephentardrew

    Kaye I saw that yesterday. There are no words to express my disgust at these greed infested oligarchs.

    Just when you think it cannot get worse off they go and prove me wrong.

  22. Pingback: Free Speech | Pearltrees

  23. John Fraser

    <

    Kaye Lee

    Tasmania keeping up with multi national companies suing everything Australian.

    Thank the drinks waiter (Robb) and his FTAs and TPPs for that.

  24. David

    We cant rely on Labor and their softy softly timid approach to this Govt…are we heading for a people power revolution to show this sod awful mess of a Govt we want an election now.

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