More than any other current or recent Western government, Australia today is showing why the world needs Julian Assange, William Binney, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.
No other administration has generated in so short a time so many illegal actions, unjustified secrets, unbelievable statements and sheer hypocrisies.
Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s speech in Washington DC on Wednesday added to these. She condemned US whistleblower Edward Snowden for “unprecedented treachery”. The former CIA agent, she said, “continues to shamefully betray his nation while skulking in Russia”.
Yet the same speech declares, “We welcome President Obama’s statement last Friday on your signals intelligence reviews.”
That presidential statement undertook to limit private phone data collection and promised that personal phone calls of allied leaders would no longer be intercepted. Obama's assurances were prompted by Snowden’s leaks last June, that showed US agencies had violated the law and breached relationships of trust with earlier spying practices.
So which is Bishop’s position? Was the illegal spying regime in the US before June quite okay, or did it need to be exposed? She can’t have it both ways.
Hypocrisy number two in the speech was her brag about overseas aid: “Australia will work with the United States, as we are doing in Syria … funding the humanitarian efforts with over 100 million Australian dollars in aid …”
She neglected to mention that her government has announced a reduction of $4.5 billion to Australia’s already stingy aid budget.
The speech touched lightly on Australia’s faltering relations with Indonesia — the area where Australia’s secrecy, illegal acts and falsehoods are doing most to validate the Snowden-Assange business model.
On Wednesday of last week, immigration minister Scott Morrison called a press conference with Lieutenant General Angus Campbell with nothing new whatsoever to announce. They did, however, stress that Australia’s navy would never ever go into Indonesian waters.
“Australia also respects Indonesia's territorial sovereignty,” the minister affirmed sternly. “Our operations reflect this commitment to the government of Indonesia, and will continue to do so, and any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
The general was just as emphatic: “Finally, I would like to reiterate two points. First, our activities and assets have never and will never violate the sovereign territory of another country …”
But, as was admitted two days later, Australian vessels had indeed violated Indonesian territorial waters “on several occasions, in breach of Australian Government policy”. Clearly, the earlier statements that no violations would ever take place were false. It seems only too possible that explanations of “positional errors in the movements of our vessels” being the cause are also false.
Refusal to offer any explanation as to how the “inadvertent” incursions happened reinforces this conclusion. Curiously, it seems no mainstream journalist has asked whether the Wednesday press conference which denied the possibility of territorial incursions had been convened before or after the minister and the general had learned of the violations.
The former appears most probable on the evidence. There seems no other reason for the Wednesday presser. Morrison had already made an important announcement the day before that four mainland detention centres were to be close.
This adds to the long list of problematic statements in this policy area. They started, of course, when Abbott and Morrison in government insisted that revealing the number of arriving refugees compromises Australia’s security. They have been most emphatic on this point.
Yet in opposition they continually publicised the number of boat arrivals with huge mobile billboards. Does the Coalition now admit that it gained office by conducting a campaign which undermined Australia’s security? Again, they can’t have it both ways. Morrison continually advances the falsehood that all arrivals in Australia are illegal, when many clearly are not.
Bizarrely, he uses the expression IMAs — illegal maritime arrivals — even for those “found to be refugees”. Surely it is evident, even to the minister, that if they are found to be genuine refugees, they have done nothing illegal.
With so many falsehoods and refusals to clarify claims, it is understandable that suspicion is mounting about the performance of Australia’s military personnel. Morrison’s reply to a question last week about alleged brutality was this:
“Now, I ask you, do you believe an Australian officer serving in Customs and Border Protection or the Australian Defence Forces would have conducted themselves in that way? I don’t …”
Claims of an army cadet in 2011 transmitting footage via Skype of him having sex with a woman without the woman’s consent were first denied but later proven. Just last year, Army chief Lieutenant General David Morrison admitted there were “systemic problems with culture inside the army” as further damaging sex scandals became public. These had been initially denied.
Unfortunately for the minister there have been too many allegations of military abuses followed by indignant assurances of innocence followed by later admissions of guilt.
Other ministries and government departments are also now seeking to evade public scrutiny which hitherto has been routine. Under new treasurer Joe Hockey, Treasury papers formerly released to the public are now withheld.
The Abbott government's commission of audit is formulating recommendations about cuts to services, privatising assets and tax changes. Their deliberations, according to an alarmed Greens senator Richard Di Natale are “shrouded in secrecy”. Journalists wishing to visit Nauru may do so. But the visa fee has just risen from $200 to $8000.
Had voters been warned that a regime of silence would be imposed, perhaps the dismay might be less extreme. But the Coalition before the election was emphatic: “We will restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you.”
Julie Bishop declared on Wednesday of Edward Snowden, “He is no hero.” But if embarrassing unauthorised revelations continue — and popular support for whistleblowers surges — the Abbott government will be largely to blame if an Australian Snowden emerges.
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