Tony Abbott promised to “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you”.
This is a reminder of just a few of the stories that put pay to that hollow pledge.
They began their era of accountability by denying Freedom of Information.
Freedom of Information
“An attempt by technology media outlet Delimiter to retrieve the ‘Blue Book’ incoming ministerial briefing of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull under Freedom of Information laws has failed, with the Federal Government as a whole appearing to standardise around interpreting its rights as blocking such documents wholesale.”
“The first Abbott government budget will see the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) closed, and its functions assigned to other government agencies. This back-to-the-future move is likely to make it harder and probably more expensive for long suffering FOI users.
The budget shows that the FOI review function will be transferred back to the AAT from 2015 with the Attorney-General’s department responsible for overseeing the Freedom of Information Act and issuing FOI guidelines. In essence Attorney General George Brandis will be expected to drive the decades-long effort to change the culture of secrecy to one of openness and facilitation of access to information.”
The next step was to gag ministers and employees.
Keeping Ministers in check
Prime Minister Tony Abbott admits that he has ordered all ministers contact his office before speaking to the media, saying his government needs to speak with a ‘‘united voice’’.
On Wednesday, an email leaked to the Australian Financial Review, Mr Abbott’s senior press secretary, James Boyce, informed ministerial staff that all requests for interviews, right down to ABC local outlets, must be vetted by Kate Walshe who has taken over leadership of communications in Mr Abbott’s office.
In the leaked email, Mr Boyce wrote: ”All media co-ordination and requests should go through Kate first. This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print. This includes any ABC local radio or ABC television interviews, the Sunday program, Sky News, and metropolitan print media longer-format interviews, etc.
“With any regular appearances on shows such as Sky AM Agenda, they should first have been coordinated through Kate at least the day before.”
Social Media Gag
On Sunday, Samantha Maiden reported that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had issued new social media guidelines that included a clause instructing employees that there “is an expectation” to dob in colleagues if they see them do anything on social media that might contravene the code of conduct. Such things included being “critical or highly critical of the Department, the Minister or the Prime Minister”.
The new guidelines made it a contravention of the code if anything you did on social media “could be perceived” as “compromising the APS employee’s capacity to fulfil their duties in an unbiased manner”. While this was particular to comments made about “policies and programmes of the employee’s agency”, it could be applied to other matters. “Such comment does not have to relate to the employee’s area of work.”
Raids to confiscate damning evidence in a case before the International Court were the next step
“A lawyer representing East Timor in its spying case against Australia says his office has been raided by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Bernard Collaery says a number of agents seized electronic and paper files on Tuesday afternoon from his law practice in Canberra.
He says the agents identified themselves as working for ASIO and the AFP, and would not show his employees the search warrant because it related to national security.
East Timor will launch a case in The Hague alleging the Australia Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) covertly recorded Timorese ministers and officials during oil and gas negotiations in Dili in 2004, allegedly giving Australia the upper hand.
Mr Collaery also says a key witness in the Timorese case – a former spy turned whistleblower – has been arrested in a separate raid in Canberra.”
Next on the list…muzzle the ABC and journalists (unless you are Andrew Bolt)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stepped up his criticism of the ABC, accusing the national broadcaster of being unpatriotic in its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks and asylum seeker abuse claims.
Mr Abbott also questioned the ABC’s newly established Fact Check unit, saying he wanted the corporation to focus on straight news gathering and reporting.
“A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s,” he said in an interview with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio station 2GB.
“I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but its own and I think it is a problem.”
Brandis’ National Security plans.
The attorney general, George Brandis, would decide who would be prosecuted under a controversial new provision in national security legislation designed to head off a homegrown Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden.
The reforms proposed by the Abbott government are intended to make it easier for the peak spy agency, Asio, to monitor computers and computer networks. They also contain provisions which create a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who discloses information relating to “special intelligence operations”.
The broad wording in the proposed anti-leaking provision has prompted some leading criminal lawyers, the journalists’ union and media companies to warn the change could criminalise not only the initial disclosure, but any subsequent reporting of Snowden-style intelligence leaks.
An explanatory submission by Brandis’s department to the new JPCIS inquiry makes it plain that it will be the attorney general who decides who will be prosecuted under the new provisions.
We don’t want no stinkin’ accountability….
Open Government Partnership
THE Abbott government is reconsidering Labor’s pledge to sign Australia up for a major international transparency and citizen engagement initiative.
Australia was expected to formally enter the Open Government Partnership this month, joining 63 other nations in rolling out action plans to make their governments more open and accountable to the public.
Boys Own meets the bastard child of Secret and Magnificent Seven.
Operation Sovereign Borders
The current management arrangements for Operation Sovereign Borders have little to commend them. They confuse accountability and provide scope for too much buck-passing. Their only obvious virtue, if it can be called that, is that they provide a veneer of military respectability for what, underneath, is an unedifying spectacle. And it has given employment to former major-general Jim Molan, who apparently had some hand in designing the operation’s ”concept”. Molan says he is, of all things, the operation’s ”troubleshooter”. It would be interesting to know how many targets he’s hit thus far, with what effect and at what cost.
In general, the provision of information on the operation’s workings and the public accountability about it fall well short of reasonable expectations. Some restrictions on operational grounds will be necessary but blanket bans on fessing up about all ”on-water matters” are absurd. It’s the equivalent of the ridiculous notion in sport that ”what happens on the field of play, stays on the field”. If current habits were to be extended to under the water, on the land and under it, and in the air, the accountability shop could just about be shut up.
UN denied access to offshore detention camps
Inspectors from a UN working group say they were denied access to Nauru after an initial invitation from the Nauruan government to investigate conditions in the detention centre.
The group’s leader Mads Andenas told a New Zealand radio station access had been cancelled, with the Nauruan government citing “practical reasons for it not being suitable, practical for us to come”.
Professor Gillian Triggs blamed the Abbott government for blocking the visit.
“Behind this is the Australian government pulling the strings in relation to who denies the UN access, but it’s just outrageous to deny the UN,” she told Fairfax Media.
“It’s an astonishing thing to do, to deny the very groups that are set up to monitor these matters globally with the consent of most of the international community, including Australia,” she said, following a National Press Club address on Wednesday.
Professor Triggs was similarly denied access to the Nauruan detention centre in February by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on the grounds that the commission’s jurisdiction did not extend beyond Australia’s borders.
Human rights advocates say this is the second time in a month that UN delegates have been refused access to Australian detention centres offshore.
Last month a delegate from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, was refused a meeting with asylum seekers and G4S in the Manus detention centre.
Children in detention
“The Refugee Council is demanding Immigration Department staff be sacked if they were involved in a cover-up about the scale of mental health issues among child asylum seekers in detention.
Yesterday a Human Rights Commission inquiry was told that Immigration Department officials reacted with alarm at figures showing the extent of mental health concerns among young detainees.
“[They] asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting,” psychiatrist Dr Peter Young said.
Any hint of government corruption may not be discussed.
Australia has secured a super-injunction order barring its media from reporting on a corruption case implicating top leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in deals with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
The case stems from the long-running allegations of bribery involving RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia to obtain contracts to supply polymer notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.
According to WikiLeaks, Canberra invoked grounds of “national security” in order to secure the so-called super-injunction, claiming that censoring reports on the matter would “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”.
“With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public,” WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange said in the statement. “The concept of ‘national security’ is not meant to serve as a blanket phrase to cover up serious corruption allegations involving government officials, in Australia or elsewhere… Corruption investigations and secret gag orders for ‘national security’ reasons are strange bedfellows.”
Under pressure to explain why taxpayers should spend thousands of dollars to help politicians compete in sports events and attend colleagues’ weddings, Mr Abbott said there would “always be arguments at the margins” and changing the rules would achieve nothing.
“I’m not proposing to change the system,” Mr Abbott said on Thursday. “You don’t want members of Parliament to be prisoners of their offices.”
Liberal Party slush funds
The sensational corruption inquiry into alleged Liberal Party slush funds is expected to be adjourned within days to give investigators time to examine new evidence.
It is time the Liberal Party accepted that corruption among politicians, public officials and businesspeople is not confined to the states or to its opponents.
The NSW Labor conference unanimously passed a motion that Labor’s national conference next July debate support for a federal ICAC. The federal ICAC would have royal commission-style powers to investigate MPs and public officials in relation to bribery, travel expenses and donations, while providing advice about ethical and legal duties.
The Labor motion even proposes a federal ICAC tackle white-collar crime, as the Serious Fraud Office does in Britain.
Former NSW ICAC chief David Ipp has told the ABC it is ”so screamingly obvious that there is a breakdown in trust” and that a federal ICAC is required.
Yet the Liberals have rejected every attempt to create one.
Abbott has questioned the need for it, notwithstanding his party’s appalling record on travel expenses.
We will not see the promised cost benefit analyses for anything costing over $100 million. The NBN has become a secret. Anything you want to know is commercial-in-confidence, or on-water, or a matter of national security, or before the courts. We will decide what we tell people in this country and how they will be told.
“In June, Mr Slipper’s lawyers argued the charges should be dismissed under the Mental Health Act because of the former MP’s state of mind.
The court was told that Mr Slipper’s life had spiralled into one of despair as a result of the criminal allegations, but the magistrate ruled the trial go ahead for the sake of the public interest.”
Royal Commission into Union Corruption
I will be recommending the establishment of a Royal Commission to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions. It will inquire into the activities relating to ‘slush funds’ and other similar funds and entities established by, or related to, the affairs of these organisations.
It will address increasing concern arising from a wide range of revelations and allegations involving officials of unions establishing and benefiting from funds which have been set up for purposes which are often unknown and frequently unrelated to the needs of their members.
Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.