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Saturday, 24 January 2015

Clique of secrecy

Clique of secrecy

 

Clique of secrecy





This
government does not have the healthiest relationship with truth. We
knew this from the first election Tony Abbott contested as opposition
leader.



In that campaign, he had the following to say on the subject, during
an interview with Kerry O’Brien: “I know politicians are going to be
judged on everything they say. But sometimes, in the heat of discussion,
you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely
calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark. Which is one of the reasons
why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are
those carefully prepared scripted remarks.”



Since then, his government has been shown to have lied in its
successful tilt at office, on funding cuts to the public broadcasters,
changes to health and education, changes to the pension and changes to
tax, among other things. It has continued to lie in government.



The Abbott government’s frequent misrepresentation of the truth is
worrying in itself. But it is made worse by its vicious campaign to
prevent the access of contrary information.



The government’s counterterrorism laws neatly control the reporting
of activities by Australia’s security agencies, introducing the threat
of a decade in prison to journalists covering operations. Its
legislation on data retention would make easier the prosecution of
journalists’ sources.



Immigration has been an area of particular secrecy for the
government. One of the reasons asylum seekers are processed on remote
islands, at great expense, is to control information about their cases
and conditions.



While Scott Morrison was immigration minister, stonewalling was a
hallmark of his office. Peter Dutton’s first impulse in the portfolio
has been to deny reports he is forced later to confirm.



This week, Guardian Australia revealed a concerted effort to
stop reporting of offshore detention centres and boat arrivals –
Morrison’s famous “on-water matters”.



The report showed at least eight news stories about immigration from
various outlets had been referred to the Australian Federal Police in
the past year, in an attempt to uncover sources.



In one referral, the head of Customs and Border Protection Service,
Michael Pezzullo, wrote: “On review of the article, it appears that
several of the claims may have drawn upon classified information. This
suspected disclosure of this classified information relates specifically
to operational and assessment activity that is not available through
open sources or authorised media releases. I would be grateful if your
agency would accept the responsibility for investigating this matter
with a view to identification and, if appropriate, prosecution of the
persons responsible.”



The words would be laughable to anyone who has sat through the
obfuscation and obstructions of an Operation Sovereign Borders briefing,
or read an “authorised media release”.



If these were the only source of information about the appalling
treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention, Australians would
know almost nothing of what is happening on Manus Island or Nauru.



Of course, this is what the government would prefer: falsehoods in
the “heat of discussion” and the odd drip of “absolutely calm,
considered, prepared, scripted remarks”.














This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 24, 2015 as "Clique of secrecy". Subscribe here.