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Tag Archives: Government secrecy

Conspiracy of silence

Image by thethingswesay.com

Image by thethingswesay.com

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”
― Harry S Truman

If you think that Scott Morrison is justified in keeping “on-water” operations secret for safety and security reasons, perhaps you can explain to me why this secrecy extends to onshore activities like detention camps and gagging people who work with asylum seekers.  Perhaps you can explain why the carers of the two boys, recently disappeared by Immigration officials, are too scared to speak out for fear of losing their job which is to make a home for these kids.

There is a concerted campaign going on to remove accountability, avoid questioning, and silence dissent and it is not just in the area of border protection.  Advocacy groups for anyone other than industry are being systematically dismantled.

If you visit the government Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website you will be greeted by the following message:

“Thank you for visiting the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector website.

On 18 September 2013 the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, was sworn in by the Governor-General. On this day, the Governor General signed the Administrative Arrangements Order and the Social Inclusion Unit and the Office for the Not-for-Profit Sector was disbanded.

The Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, will have responsibility for the community sector, volunteering and philanthropy. The Minister for Human Services, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, will have responsibility for service delivery policy.”

We might have got a clue when Abbott announced his Cabinet.  No Youth Ministry, No Early Childhood Ministry, No Science Ministry, No Climate Change Ministry, No Disability Ministry, No Aged Care Ministry, No Workplace Relations Ministry, No Multiculturalism Ministry, BUT there’s a Minister for ANZAC Day!

Another red flag was raised when the community sector was not represented on the Commission of Audit and it has not been invited to make a submission to the McClure Welfare Review being conducted by former Mission Australia chief executive Patrick McClure.

“As far as we know no one was invited to make a submission. The review has no terms of reference, has held no public meetings and has issued no interim discussion paper. We have had discussions behind closed doors but there’s been nothing in the open,” Ms Goldie, head of ACOSS, said.

And if any further proof was needed, there was the inexplicable decision to sack Graeme Innes, Disability Commissioner, and replace him with an IPA sock puppet.

Two weeks after the budget, Mr Morrison withdrew funding for the Refugee Council of Australia, which had been allocated in the budget papers, saying he and the government did not believe that “taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group”.

Government funding for a wide range of community organisations including ACOSS expires on December 31 after a budget decision to extend it for only six months while new long-term arrangements are developed.

The organisations have been told their grants might be put out to tender.

A vital component of Non Government Organisations (NGOs), as the name suggests, is that they remain independent of the government.  Such independence is needed in order to effectively advocate for the marginalised, the environment and for those who can’t speak up for themselves. But because of a heavy reliance on government funding, and increasing use of gag clauses, NGOs are at risk of losing their vital independence.

Governments, at both the state and federal level, are increasingly contracting out services to independent providers, which is typically seen as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, more NGOs and community groups are providing services on behalf of government, in essence becoming contractors for government programs. As Browen Dalton noted recently in The Conversation, “Australia has a higher proportion of human services provided by [not for profits] than almost any other country, with the sector turning over $100 billion a year.”

However, this outsourcing means that NGOs are more reliant on government funding. And increasingly, government funding has come with heavy restrictions that threaten to jeopardise the indispensable independence of Australia’s NGOs.

The community sector plays a vital part in a democratic political system. These organisations are pivotal in shaping public advocacy and in representing those who fall through the cracks. They ensure that every person is considered in the democratic process. They also fill in the gaps where government services and programs fail. Community groups provide much needed services in homelessness support, education, refugee resettlement, disability care, arts, and many other community programs.

In a 1991 report, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs stated:

An integral part of the consultative and lobbying role of these organisations is to disagree with government policy where this is necessary in order to represent the interests of their constituents.”

The nature of government funding is a threat to this independence.  As funding for some of the most vital services comes from government rather than through the public, it is the government decides which services are more important and inevitably controls the direction and delivery of such services. This model undermines the independence of NGOs, and ignores the expertise of those working on the ground to decide where services and funds need to be allocated.

Last year, the Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews, stated that “to benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year”.  He introduced a late amendment to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 to delay the introduction of the Charities Act2013 from 1 January 2014 to September 2014.  This was referred to a Senate Committee.

In February, the Centre for Independent Studies advised the Federal Government to act on its pre-election promise to abolish the ACNC it “is not achieving its main objectives, which were to improve public trust in the not-for-profit sector, reduce red tape, and police fraud and wrongdoing”.  The vast majority of the sector disagrees.

In June we read that

The Senate Committee report into the abolition of the charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC), has failed to break the deadlock between the Government and other parties, and if the majority report is implemented it would be retrograde step for public trust and confidence in sector, the ACNC Advisory Board Chairman Robert Fitzgerald has warned.

Fitzgerald said despite 80 per cent of submissions received by the Senate Committee supporting the retention of the ACNC, the majority senate report recommended the ACNC Act be repealed.

“This recommendation was saying the Australian community had no right to information about a sector that receives substantial tax concessions and benefits every year.   The charity and Not for Profit sector is one of Australia’s fastest growing and important sectors. It has taken 17 years, at least six inquiries, 2000 submissions and volumes of evidence to get an effective national regulatory model. And now the effect of the majority opinion is would be to undermine basic transparency, the tackling of duplicative reporting and proven and effective regulation.

By moving to abolish the ACNC, the Government is going against the tide: England and Wales has had an independent charity regulator for more than 160 years; Scotland and Singapore established regulators and a public charity register following charity scandals; New Zealand has had a charity regulator since 2005.  In the last 12 months Ireland, Jamaica and now Jersey have moved to establish independent charity regulatory bodies and public registers. Hong Kong has also recommended establishing a public charity register.

Since the ACNC’s inception, three separate surveys have each found an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with respondents supporting the ACNC.

In a relative short period of time, the ACNC has created Australia’s first free, publicly available national charity register, provided sound education and advice services to support charities in their governance, and implemented the Charity Portal and Charity Passport, which is critical to reducing duplicative reporting across government.

It is now a matter for the Parliament to determine if it wishes to have an efficient and effective regulator, or return to a regulatory regime that will ultimately increase compliance burdens on the sector and fail to deliver transparency to the Australian public.”

Since the 2013 election

AXED

Social Inclusion Board

National Housing Supply Council

Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness

National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing

National Children and Family Roundtable

Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing

Immigration Health Advisory Group

DEFUNDED

Refugee Council of Australia

Australian Youth Affairs Council

Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

ADDED

Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council

Australian Treasury Advisory Council

Not for Profit Advisory Group to the ATO

Innovation and Technology Working Group

Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership

Indigenous Advisory Council

Aged Care Sector Committee

 

Note:  Two groups who argued vehemently for the abolition of a watchdog were the Catholic Church through Cardinal Pell’s office and the IPA.  The ATO will now be asked to take over the duties of watchdog even though they will be shedding about 900 staff over the next six months.  Happy days for tax cheats.

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).

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