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Shush it’s a Secret. “Well that’s what Tony Abbott told me”.

Shush it's an Abbott government secret (Image by sodahead.com)

Shush it’s an Abbott government secret (Image by sodahead.com)

The best governments are those that are open and transparent. Those that realise they have been entrusted with the public’s permission to form government. They govern without secrecy and take the people into their confidence.

But when a political party deliberately, secretly, withholds information the voter needs to reach informed, balanced and reasoned opinions, it is lying by omission. It is destroying the democracy that enables it to exist.

In the first weeks of forming government Tony Abbott made his intentions unambiguously clear. Truth and openness would not be gifted to the people by him or his ministers. Secrecy would trump the public’s right to know. It is normal for Government Departments to release briefing documents when a new government is formed. The wide-ranging, high-level briefings contain the bureaucracy’s assessment of the winning party’s election commitments, and other information designed to allow a smooth transition between governments.

No Government Department has released a brief since the election. Requests to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury and the Attorney-General’s department rejected requests for their briefs. Labor Senator Joe Ludwig lodged FOI requests but was quickly told that a processing charge of $2000 would be applied to each request. Secrecy had begun. They would become the most secret Government in Australia’s history.

Since then Freedom of Information has been subjugated or covered up by the Abbott Government. And it is ongoing. If the Government doesn’t want us to know what we are entitled to know they suppress it, lie about it directly or by exclusion. Everything is a secret.

So frustrated by the secrecy of a new conservative government was the media that it provoked a plethora of commentary from very experienced journalists. From these observations on Independent Australia . . .

James Masola:

‘The new Coalition government has established an early – and unwelcome – habit of shutting down debates it doesn’t want to have.’

Michelle Grattan described the muzzling of ministers by the PMs Department this way:

‘It was the ultimate “get stuffed”.

Annabelle Crabb asked:

‘If a boat is turned around, and nobody is told about it, did it happen at all?’

Lenore Taylor was somewhat annoyed that Treasury would no longer release its advice to the Treasurer:

‘Treasury has advised that the “blue book” – one of two documents prepared during an election campaign by each department for each of its possible incoming ministers – will not be released under freedom of information laws.’

Barry Cassidy observed:

‘How long can the ministerial sound of silence last?’

Sean Parnell suggested that:

‘A new era of government secrecy has been ushered in …’

Laurie Oakes at the time was particularly critical of Scott Morrison’s media diplomacy. Or his ability to say much while saying nothing.

Mark Kenny deplored the Governments cover-up or rorting of travel allowances.

‘It is jarring to see how quickly the public’s reasonable expectation of probity in its political representatives has been superseded by the reflex to secrecy and self-protection in the new political class.’

Mungo MacCallum had this to say:

‘It is now clear that the underlying principle of the Abbott Government is to be ignorance: not only are the masses to be kept as far as possible in the dark, but the Government itself does not want to know.’

Crikey in an editorial said this:

‘… worrying signs of a secretive government.’
It is reasonable to ask what has been going on to make senior political commentators so alarmed about the descent into political darkness.
Since its election the Abbott Government sought to dumb down the Australian community with lies, half-truths and distorted statements designed to create a constant stream of blame for everything on Labor. Budget crisis, debt and deficient etc. etc.

The first step was to limit what Ministers could say by insisting that all public comment go through the Prime Ministers department. A leaked email from Abbott’s press secretary revealed:

‘All media coordination and requests should go through (the PM’s press office). This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print.’

A veil of secrecy was hung over the media.

As a new Government they further sought to demonise those seeking to escape persecution by creating a perception of national security rather than a humanitarian one. They created “Operation Sovereign Borders” and announced to the Australian people that they didn’t have a right to know anything. And that continues today. It’s a secret. We will determine what you need to know. Secrecy, not in the interest of human morality but for the protection of a political slogan was born.

So secret, so embroiled in underhanded confidentially is everything about this issue that when Abbott says he has stopped the boats, one really wouldn’t know.

When the ABC reported Asylum Seeker claims of mistreatment, the Prime Minister described “Aunty” as unpatriotic. The Foreign Minister followed up with similar remarks and the announcement of a review into funding followed.

Journalists seeking information would, generally speaking, approach a minister or his or her department. If a wall of secrecy was met they could file an FOI request. The Attorney General George Brandis has made the process so difficult, so convoluted, so censored and expensive that it’s hardly worth their time.

A democracy cannot function without scrutiny. To her credit Julia Gillard would stand before journalists and answer questions to the degree that one or the other would reach exhaustion. This Prime Minister is the opposite, usually making a statement then allowing a few questions before walking away when the questions become too probing.

Everything is clouded in secrecy.

This walking away from hard questions does him no credit and only reinforces the secrecy he seeks to perpetuate.

Tony Abbott won the last election for three reasons. Labor’s leadership dysfunction, Murdoch’s support and Abbott’s convincing of the Australian public with shock and awe tactics that everything was a disaster. His secret hidden agenda of lying and deceit has since been uncovered. His first budget has divulged his secret objective. Inequality in all its manifestations. His omission of not telling the people of what he fully intended at the election has manifestly been uncovered. He held in secret his intentions on many policy issues.

Whilst being openly a denier (even if he says otherwise) of climate science the extent and secrecy of his motives was kept hidden from the public only to be later revealed by the scrapping of the ministry of science and other environmental departments. His uttering on this subject have been demonstrably full of secrecy. The hidden agenda was for our country to be dependent on coal.

When, early in his Prime Ministership the issue of “Travel Rorts” raised its head and the public was outraged. Abbott feigned righteous indignation. Secrecy was made the order of the day. Or many days as it turned out.

Mark Kenny said:

‘It is jarring to see how quickly the public’s reasonable expectation of probity in its political representatives has been superseded by the reflex to secrecy and self-protection in the new political class.’

He promised to govern for all Australians but immediately cultivated those who agreed with him, having little time for those who didn’t. He decided to entertain those in the media who had supported him. The guest list included a Who’s Who of locked in Coalition supporters — among them, Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Alan Jones, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine, Chris Kenny, Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker, News Corp editor Col Allan, Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson.

Again Secrecy was the order of the day with guests being asked to keep the evening strictly confidential. So secret was it that we still don’t know who footed the bill.

Secrecy is a natural divider. Those who know and those that don’t. What motivates a Government to lie and be secret about its intentions? It may be the embarrassment of being found to be wrong. Or the fear of losing office. More sinister motives might come into play but essentially it’s about two things. One, the attainment of power and two the retention of it. People wouldn’t vote for them if their secret program was exposed. It’s easier to manipulate society with lies blurred in long term malevolent secrecy, than truth.

By its very nature secrecy corrodes democracy. Power is compromised when the people are exempted from the full knowledge of a party’s motives and actions.

We must guard against the evil that is political secrecy. Unless of course it is in the national interest.

Secrecy and lying are interwoven and history has shown the greater evil they can lead to.

The right of Australian politics should be careful as to where they are leading us.

An excerpt from:
They Thought They Were Free
The Germans, 1933-45
But Then It Was Too Late

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

You see, one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. In your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things that aren’t there’ or ‘you’re an alarmist.’

You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in, could not have imagined.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.” (Milton Mayer).

25 comments

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  1. Dan Rowden

    Just to be clear, John, was this article about secrecy by any chance?

  2. John Lord

    If I didn’t make that clear Dan I would be happy to take your suggestions.

  3. mars08

    Well, John you seem to have omitted a very relevant part from your “They Thought They Were Free” excerpt:

    “What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security…”

  4. jimhaz

    Yep, secrecy in a world where holding information others do not have provides about the only opportunity to enhance ones level of power relative to one’s cohorts. While information is not as crucial as it once was, when less was known or visible and the overlords were more authoritarian, it is still those who wish to be kings that are misusing the key information they can keep secret. The Obeid case is a case in point.

    When they cannot keep it secret, then we see the Murdoch and other media traitors step in and do everything they can to confuse and dirty what real information is out, abetted by brainwashed (or just plain selfish) ordinary folk and their speculative conspiracy theories and misuse of data.

    I don’t really mind some short term secrecy about *safe* boat arrivals, as it does seem to lessen the smugglers sales pitch (albeit that its main ‘secret’ purpose is actually to whitewash the issue within the general population), I do expect a lot more info about refugee policies, claims and treatment. For me, this is needed to determine if the tough love and somewhat cruel policies are working well enough to continue to support (and unlike 90% of the posters here I do still support a tough stance).

  5. Sue-Ellen

    Excellent article, totally agree!

  6. Taswegian1957

    Very interesting article. The description of how things are changed little by little so that most of us barely notice sounds like “salami tactics” to me.

  7. diannaart

    The infamous Milgram experiments of the 1960’s indicated there is a little Nazi in us all.

    http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/milgram.htm

    Meanwhile in the horribly real world of detention, in addition to suicide attempts on Christmas Island some women in detention in places such as Nauru have tried to access abortions so as to avoid bringing new babies into an indefinite stay in these camps.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/08/asylum-seeker-mothers-on-suicide-watch-on-christmas-island

    Of course, the Federal government has attempted to play down these attempts – well they wouldn’t they?

  8. abbienoiraude

    As I read each sentence John Lord, I found it harder and harder to physically swallow.
    The fear started to rise in me and flow around me.

    And then; Milton Mayer’s piece.
    I had in the past read a quote here and there ( when studying modern history at night school).

    But put like this, at the end of your slowly creeping secret piece, it fell into place so loudly that I cried out.

    How do I thank you for frightening me so, when I hate to be scared… but also relieving me of the burden that it isn’t ‘just me’ that senses this.

  9. aravis1

    We should be afraid. The only thing that mitigates the fear to some degree, for me, is seeing how unutterably stupid the whole crew of them are. Their very stupidity undercuts their agenda, over and over again. We can realistically hope that the same stupidity will eventually wash them away in a tsunami of revulsion. And then we will have to start picking up the pieces, and learning never, never again, to trust the media, or any political party. We, the people will have to take power to ourselves, change the system so that we can force our will on the politicians. Learn from Iceland, from Switzerland. Find wise people amongst us to teach us and teach those in politics. This time is a watershed. We must not miss the opportunity to change our system.

  10. Maria

    This gov is working towards a dictatorship.I can see hear people now saying “what an exaggeration” but let’s see how we go. They lie and avoid and constantly refuse to answer questions. The ones that get answered are lies. Not one of them is standing up to them. They are all as guilty as the other.

  11. corvus boreus

    No dissemination of information, forthcoming from the government source,
    Biased fiction of limited diction, regurgitated from the newscorp maws.

  12. corvus boreus

    aravis1,
    Along with the justified fear, there should be a cold, rational and informed anger, to fuel the engines of social and political change. Not a rage that overwhelms our reason and muddies our strategies, but a righteous outrage at the endgame plan currently being openly implemented, that can be communicated with clinical clarity when people show their minds to be open. Learn how to fight smart for what’s right.
    The inability of large sections of the public to see patterns in consistently displayed behaviors, but to see each act as an isolated, aberrational occurrence, must also be overcome. Learn to see a bigger picture, and paint it for others, framed and harshly lit.
    A sense of collective indignation at displays of personal dishonesty, particularly in people in positions of public trust(political and media), must also be encouraged. Reclaim the value of truth and integrity.
    Above all, complacent ignorance and fear of exposure to information that challenges our personal limitations, prejudices and selfish comforts must be confronted individually, and challenged collectively. Understand the effects of causality as a universal truth, not open to philosophical or theological sophistry(what we do in terms of our actions have effects that matter). When you are certain of the veracity of your information, share it amongst the potentially receptive in your circles of influence.
    I am convinced that our behavior during this epoch is utterly crucial to our collective survival.

  13. abbienoiraude

    @Dan Rowden; Oh gawd….oh dear…..Horrific stuff…Please where is this in the MSM?
    What do the people actually know?
    What are they aware of?
    Is there no one in the LNP ranks who are disgusted by this? No one?

  14. Dan Rowden

    abbienoiraude,

    If you do a Google search for things like “Abbott government secrecy” (or similar) you’ll find endless references to people concerned over it.

  15. lawrencewinder

    …and where’s our Freedom of Speech Commissioner, Timmy “The Twat” in all this. Off memorising Bolt-the-Dolt’s missives?

  16. patsy

    wonderful article….and the truth….and we are told to fear the terrorists…..what a joke abbot and his fellow pollies are……..ugly mean people

  17. aravis1

    Maria, the Senate is standing up to them; Penny Wong is standing up to them; Clive Palmer, Ricky Muir, it’s just that the morally bankrupt media doesn’t report it much. And this government is so stupid, if we can’t get rid of them we deserve them.

  18. aravis1

    Excellent précis of our responsibilities, corvus boreus. And i agree, the matter is urgent. No good thinking, someone must do something. WE are Someone.

  19. mars08

    corvus boreus:

    …a righteous outrage at the endgame plan currently being openly implemented, that can be communicated with clinical clarity when people show their minds to be open.

    Fair enough. But not all of us are up to the task…

    I’ve always been a news junkie, but the events of Sept 11, kicked that curiosity into overdrive. Since then it seems not a week goes by that I don’t find something else to be outraged about. Yet so much of the world continues to blindly march down the same old road. Meanwhile my “clarity” about the fools that lead us leaves me more and more socially isolated from my fellow citizens and in a permanent state of outrage fatigue.

    “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

  20. florabryn

    Thank you for this article. My friends think I am going insane when I make comments about this government behaving like Nazis. I try to explain to them that this government is eroding our rights. I can’t understand why others can’t see their strategies. If you know history or care to look up the information it is all there. I wondered in the first few weeks what was happening when the previous verbosity of Abbott and company went into lockdown mode. Suddenly there was nothing being said or announced. Perhaps my suspicion of Abbott and Julie Bishop caused me to suspect they were up to no good. I spend much of my day posting and reposting things I think are pertinant to exposing this government before things go to far we can’t stop what I call the death by a thouand cuts of freedom and morality.
    We who see clearly what is occurring must fight to stop the deterioration of honesty and morality in our country. I totally concur that politics in this country have been taken over by people who do not have the interests of the Australian people at heart. They only have the interests of the few. If Abbott considers that Alan Jones is a personal friend, then already we know the calibre of Abbott and it isn’t very high. I don’t believe that having a lying, deceitful and conniving man leading our country is to our advantage. Not only this, there does not seem to be a high level of intelligence amongst the core group. However, there is a high level of sheer sociopathic behaviour which seems hellbent on bringing our country into international disrepute. Every day there seems to be some form of offence offered to our countrymen, our neighbouring countries, our trading partners etc without regard for the outcomes from these comments and strategies. I am very afraid of the agenda Abbott is in the process of introducing.

  21. corvus boreus

    mars08, I hear you.
    Information overload, activist fatigue,
    situational depression at the scope, scale and severity of the problems we face,
    A blinding rage that challenges all personal restraint and discipline,
    at those who shout most loudly and vigorously with plagiarised cliches of deception,
    and feelings of total alienation and desire for dissociation from standardised society,
    contempt for those content in complacent non-contemplative consumption.
    We also harbour envy within our disdain. The wisdom of Lisa Simpson stated an inverse correlation between intelligence and happiness, demonstrated in a graph. The laziest aspects of me wishes I could find the easy solutions of stultid fundamentalists and herd beasts. ‘Oh that I did not know that which I know!’.
    There is the solution of crayons up the nose, or other forms of pharmaceutical anaesthetic for the intellect, but this is, I think, a waste of what might be our one shot at worldly experience. It can be too rich and diverse to dull.
    I have been clinically diagnosed as suffering a form of bipolar depression.
    The mental health professional I was referred to assessed my problem to be situational(with behavioral exacerbation thrown in), and resisted any recommendations to dose me with pills, instead prescribing good diet, exercise and sex. To the situational aspects of my condition, grounded as they were in pessimistic, evidence-based conclusions about the likely future, he could offer no simple solutions, nor indeed refutations.
    Which leaves me with the lifeline that I could be wrong. Socrates, often quoted as the wisest of the wise, retained humility about his viewpoint, so I should probably do likewise, but more so. Better outcomes are possible with conscious, committed effort.
    If I am right in my darkest beliefs, I will still fill my existence meaningfully, taking the time to appreciate that which enables me to be (this sweet planet of life). There is still beauty to be found in the form and function of our world.
    This helps sustain an appreciation of my own being, and recharges my commitment to striving to change the behaviors which threaten all that is right to mind, heart and loins.
    It is also, in my view, acceptable, and sometimes essential, to indulge in short holidays from commitment and studied sanity when it is appropriate or necessary.

  22. mars08

    I’m sure that this government’s “secrecy fetish” is not good for democracy or policy making in general…

    BUT

    Ask yourselves on question: Can you imagine any future government having the confidence to go back to the (somewhat limited) openness and transparency of the Gillard/Rudd years?

    The bar has now been set very low. It is unlikely to move much… if at all…

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