June 06, 2019

Horse 2556 - Freedom Of Journalism In Australia (1901 - 2019): Dead, Buried; Cremated.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has executed a search warrant on the Ultimo premises of the ABC today (Wednesday, 5 June 2019) in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914.
The search warrant relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence.
All AFP search warrants are authorised by a magistrate or an appropriate member of the judiciary. This is the result of supporting documentation or material being presented to the court which provides sufficient suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed.
No arrests are planned today as a result of this activity.
This activity is not linked to a search warrant executed in Canberra yesterday (Tuesday, 4 June 2019).
- Statement, Australian Federal Police, 5th June 2019

I am going to just come out and say this but the Morrison Government has not only laughed in the face of decency but is actively trying to kick democracy in the face. Having secured a win at the polls, which was aided and abetted by its owners of News Corp, it is now actively using the power of the state to smash its enemies. If the raids on the Australian Workers' Union in October 2017 were a foretaste of what was to come, where Michaelia Cash had tipped off News Corp before it had happened (thus making it look like they were highly politically motivated), then the raids on the home of News Corp's own journalist Annika Smethurst as well as the ABC's offices in Utimo were even more politically motivated.

The articles by Annika Smethurst about the powers to spy on Australian citizens which Australian Signals Directorate were being reported to possibly being given by the Departments of Defence and Home Affairs, are absolutely and unquestionably in the public's interest¹. The articles by the ABC about Australian special forces killing unarmed men and children in Afghanistan², are absolutely and unquestionably in the public's interest.

I am sorry but if that's the sort of thing which is being covered up by the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Home Affairs, then I think that as the responsible Minister that they should be before the Crown Prosecutors. If Australian troops are committing war crimes, and there is no accountability and no consequence, then this country is in my opinion a terrible one. This sort of thing is exactly the kind of thing that Erich Mielke as head of the East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit - the Stasi) was renown for.

The fact that this is not quite two years after a referral from the Chief of Defence, leads me to believe that this is nothing other than politically motivated. The raids on Annika Smethurst's house were probably a neat tactic of poisoning the well of public opinion, so that the raids on the ABC didn't look quite so bad.

Thanks to the provisions laid out by the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2014, the Australian Federal Police have the power to³:
- copy, access and delete data without warrant
- put journalists in prison
- indemnify ASIO for their actions
- indemnify the AFP for their actions
Also, as AFP search warrants are authorised by a magistrate or an appropriate member of the judiciary, then this is all nice and legal. It nice to know that as we watch democracy get itself bashed in the face, that it is being done by legal authority. I feel better knowing that as we progressively slide into authoritarianism if not actual functional fascism that we will have done there through legal means.

Let's talk about the optics of conducting these raids back to back like this despite the investigations starting an entire year apart. The message that I am getting as an Australian citizen is "don't you dare cross us; don't your dare expose us, or we will get you." Not only will they get you, but they will get you hard. I don't know if the public has that long term of a memory but a whistle-blower at the ATO, Richard Boyle could be sentenced to a maximum prison sentence of 161 years if found guilty. If you are facing a century an a half of gaol time, then what hope is there?

If we pull back the curtain to reveal what is behind the stage in the merry old land of Oz, what we find are people who speaking up about these issues being punished and  marginalised by all of those institutions, before being flung to the far edges of public debate and even prison. We have thugs actively wielding power in this country, and they are openly choosing to use it like this. The bats have left the bell tower; the the victims have been bled; red velvet lines the black box; democracy is dead. The emu has run off into the never never and the kangaroo has all the while been happily bouncing towards a police state and this is the latest hop.

The scary thing is that this is by design. This is a direct result of the National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2014. In a civil society we would expect freedom of the press and a protection of the journalistic veil because exposing these sorts of things is very obviously in the public's interest. This was never about not abusing the power handed to the AFP.
If you do happen to see something corrupt, good luck finding anyone willing to publish it and good luck getting legal representation when you inevitably get prosecuted for your ethics. The only conclusion that I can draw is that the raids on Annika Smethurst's house and the ABC are about finding the identity of the whistleblowers; so that they can prosecute them into the stone age. Just so long as it's nice and legal, then that makes it all right, right?


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