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Friday, 1 August 2014

Opaque and irresponsible - » The Australian Independent Media Network

Opaque and irresponsible - » The Australian Independent Media Network

Opaque and irresponsible

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

“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

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

Timor l’Este

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

Suppression Order

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.”

MP expenses

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.

Federal ICAC

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 contrast….

Peter Slipper

“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.

Atifete Jahjaga

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