Interviewer – This week the Prime Minister told Parliament that while he supported freedom of the press, nobody was above the law. To clarify what this means in practice we have Liberal spokesman, whose name we’ve redacted to enable him or her to speak freely. Government Spokesman, do you mind if I call you Neville?
“Neville” – That’s not my name and I’m quite happy to speak freely without the need for all this subterfuge. You can use my real name?
Interviewer – I intend to ask you questions about Peter Dutton’s department.
Neville – Neville, it is then.
Interviewer – First of all, the Prime Minister asserted that nobody is above the law…
Neville – That’s quite correct.
Interviewer – Well, if that’s the case, how can the government justify that Freedom Of Information requests are falling outside the legal time?
Neville – Simply because the volume of requests is quite overwhelming and there aren’t enough staff to…
Interviewer – But isn’t this due to government decisions about the number of staffing…
Neville – Exactly. The government is committed to a Budget surplus and to ensuring that there is no waste.
Interviewer – Hang on. I don’t wish to get distracted by the obvious point that if there’s not enough people to process the requests then more staff are clearly needed. My point is simply that if nobody is above the law, then how can the government justify FOI requests falling outside the legislated time…
Neville – No, not at all.
Interviewer – Why not? I mean doesn’t this suggest that the government thinks that it is above the law?
Neville – No. They’re not above the law, they’re outside the law.
Interviewer – I don’t see the difference.
Neville – Well, something that’s like the difference between your roof and your garden shed. You wouldn’t want your shed to be inside.
Interviewer – I wouldn’t want my roof to be inside either.
Neville – Exactly.
Interviewer – But when it comes to the law, what’s the difference between being above the law and outside the law.
Neville – Well, clearly someone – let’s say a journalist like you – who thinks that they’re above the law feels that they can break it with impunity whereas somebody who’s outside the law doesn’t feel they can break it with impunity; they simply understand that the law doesn’t apply to them in a particular case.
Interviewer – Isn’t the result the same?
Neville – Yes, but the difference is that journalists are trying to suggest that they’re a special group whereas the government can just change the law if it doesn’t suit them, so while they’re getting around to changing it, they can just operate outside it.
Interviewer – But doesn’t that make the government above the law?
Neville – Exactly.
Interviewer – But wasn’t the PM suggesting that no-one is above the law.
Neville – No ONE is above the law, but because there are lots and lots of people in the government, then they’re more than one.
Interviewer – But there are lots of lots of journalists. Doesn’t that mean that they’re more than one?
Neville – Look, if you’re just going to play silly word games…
Interviewer – Let’s move on. The Intelligence and Security Committee announced its concerns about the proposed legislation to allow facial recognition because it felt there weren’t enough safeguards. Is the government prepared to consider further measures to ensure that people aren’t singled out when they’re simply engaging in legitimate protests.
Neville – No, it’s purely an anti-terror thing.
Interviewer – So, you’ll be happy to put in place legislation to ensure protesters aren’t targeted?
Neville – Definitely… Unless, of course, the protesters are doing illegal things such as holding seditious slogans.
Interviewer – Seditious slogans.
Neville – Yes, you know things that… um, let me quote the law directly. Seditious intent includes things such as using words “to excite disaffection against the Government or Constitution of the Commonwealth or against either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth”.
Interviewer – So you’re suggesting that people could be identified in demonstrations for holding signs criticising the government.
Neville – For example. I mean, they could also be identified and charged if they block traffic… or pedestrians.
Interviewer – But what about people’s right to protest?
Neville – They can protest as much as they like so long as they don’t use seditious language or get in anyone’s way. Nobody is above the law, you know.
Interviewer – Thank you.
Neville – Is that all?
Interviewer – I certainly hope so!
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