Wednesday 23rd of October 2019

former robocop now in charge of robolaws to decide your freedom to know nothing ...


A directive from Attorney-General Christian Porter is being regarded as a move by the LNP to control freedom of press, writes William Olson.

AUSTRALIAN GREENS SENATOR Sarah Hanson-Young has called for greater press freedom protections for journalists and whistleblowers, amid Attorney-General Christian Porter’s office declaring that journalists at News Corp and the ABC – who were raided by the Australian Federal Police last June – will not be charged without Porter’s approval.

Hanson-Young, the Greens’ Minister for Communications, has also characterised the ongoing Senate inquiry into press freedom as “going nowhere” on Monday.

In a directive signed and dated 19 September, Porter ruled that News Corp investigative journalist Annika Smethurst, ABC Sydney-based reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, along with whistleblowers aiding both news organisations, would not be facing charges over their reporting of stories deemed sensitive to national security matters, instructing the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution not to charge them without his formal approval under sections of secrecy laws.


The vague long-term nature of Porter’s decree lends credence to Hanson-Young’s assessment of the Senate inquiry which she happens to be chairing.

Hanson-Young insists that a greater degree of objectivity and transparency must be applied in the name of press freedom:

Freedom of the press and protection for whistleblowers should not be at the whim of the government of the day.


What we need is legislated safeguards to guarantee the freedom of the press and whistleblower protections. These protections must be independent of the Government.


The Senate inquiry into press freedoms will take a close look at this so-called directive. It’s clear the Government’s inquiry, where it investigates its own attack on the freedom of the press, is going nowhere.



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the potato blight...

“They keep turning up week after week because a slap on the wrist is just not working.”

Mr Dutton also called for mandatory sentencing of protesters disrupting traffic and shutting down cities.

“If there needs to be mandatory sentences … the state government can pass laws that do reflect community standards and, at the moment, they don’t,” Mr Dutton said.

“If the courts are not going to impose a penalty again it comes back to the (judicial) appointments by the Queensland government. There are some good magistrates and judges.

“But you know raiding farms, climbing on to the roof of my electoral office and then get told by the magistrate he would be proud of her if it his daughter had done it.

“We should push back on it because these people are a scourge.”


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The real scourge is people like Dutton (potato man), Porter (robocop) and Morrison (scummo)— people who have no interest in what the sciences are telling us. We need dissent to shake the cobwebs...

what about calling it the debt-nazi?...

The Coalition’s controversial debt recovery scheme should not be called robodebt, Liberal MPs say, in part because the phrase is causing anxiety in the community.

A day after the Liberal senator Matt O’Sullivan told the first hearing of a Senate inquiry into the scheme “robodebt” was a “misnomer”, his colleague, Hollie Hughes, admonished representatives from Western Australia’s community legal centres for using the term.

Hughes also told the inquiry on Friday the term robodebt was “a bit of a misnomer, particularly under the current system”.

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let's call the system: Arbitrary Debt Repo Arm-Twisting Nut-Crunching Automated Device, Koffup or Robot-Waffen...

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national security improvements by freedom of the press...

“Nobody has demonstrated how those stories undermined national security,” says Peter Greste. “You could make the case that they improved it.”

The former Al Jazeera journalist, now professor at the University of Queensland, is referring to The Afghan Files – a series of articles published by ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark in 2017, which levelled accusations that Australian troops committed war crimes while serving in Afghanistan. For their reporting, Oakes and Clark relied on secret documents allegedly leaked to them by military lawyer David McBride.

Greste has worked in Afghanistan. He knows of its effective bush telegraph, which he says would have communicated the ways Australia’s special forces were behaving. “That would have made Australians very vulnerable to retaliation,” he says. “We undermine national security by going outside the rules of war, and we improve it by keeping government accountable.”

In recent months, with his UQ colleague Richard Murray, Greste has been undertaking qualitative research with more than 20 senior investigative journalists, editors and newsroom lawyers, looking at their ability to perform their fourth-estate roles. He has observed the marked impact of national security legislation and the Australian Federal Police raids on News Corp and ABC journalists, including Oakes and Clark, on journalism in Australia.

Greste says provisional findings of the ongoing study suggest senior journalists’ sources are drying up as they find it increasingly difficult to protect their sources and to guarantee their sources’ anonymity. “The data retention legislation, the espionage legislation, the encryption legislation and now the raids – it’s all been very damaging,” says Greste.

Legal and media experts say recent directives by Attorney-General Christian Porter and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton are unlikely to warm the chilling effect that Australia’s unique and draconian national security laws and the AFP raids are having on public-interest journalism.


It emerged this week that Porter instructed Commonwealth prosecutors on September 19 to seek his formal approval before charging any journalists with certain crimes. The news follows a directive Dutton issued to the AFP in August, telling it to “take into account the importance of a free and open press” before undertaking investigative action involving journalists.

The AFP began an investigation into The Afghan Files leak and, in September 2018, McBride was charged, unexpectedly, with theft; he has since been committed to stand trial on that and two other charges. The warrant executed by the AFP in June authorised the agency to search for evidence to build its case against McBride, but also against Oakes – for, the warrant said, “unlawfully obtaining military information” and for receiving stolen Commonwealth property.

Unlike the new secrecy laws introduced in 2018, the receiving charge does not allow a defence for journalists reporting in the public interest. But in June, Porter declared he would be “seriously disinclined” to authorise the prosecution of journalists for doing their jobs; that disinclination is reinforced by his September directive, which specifically nominates the two offences for which the AFP was considering prosecuting Oakes.

Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, a member of ABC Alumni, which represents almost 300 former staff and other supporters of the national broadcaster, says the attorney-general’s decision is a positive one for the reporting team behind The Afghan Files.

“I would definitely be taking some comfort from [Porter’s directive] if I were Dan Oakes,” he says. “It’s absolutely gobsmacking that a journalist could conceivably be charged with receiving stolen property as the result of receiving leaked information.”

Oakes, Clark and News Corp’s Annika Smethurst – the other journalist raided in June – appear safe for as long as Porter, or whoever eventually succeeds him as attorney-general, refuses to authorise their prosecution.

But experts say the effects of these raids, and of the extraordinary stream of legislation being ushered through parliament, are much broader. “The real targets of the June raids weren’t the journalists,” suggests Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, senior lecturer at UQ and an expert on national security legislation, “though if journalists are prosecuted, that will have a chilling effect. But the real targets were the leaks themselves.”

During a hearing in September, the ABC’s manager of editorial policy, Mark Maley, told the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security: “Anecdotally, there are reams of examples from within the ABC alone … of sources saying, ‘It’s just too dangerous’ … There are stories that are not being told, because whistleblowers are afraid. They’re afraid not just of losing their job, but of losing their liberty.” For talking to journalists without authorisation from their departments, government employees face maximum prison terms of 10 years – and even longer for some charges.

Maley told the committee he has also observed a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism in the past two to three years. “People feel as though they’re being surveilled and are at the risk of criminal sanctions; and having to defend criminal actions is genuinely chilling and distressing for people who see themselves as ordinary reporters and feel as though they’re doing good daily work,” he said.

Many experts now accept that much of the Howard-era national security legislation was arguably necessary to catch Australia up to other democracies. “We had no laws dealing with counterterrorism in 2001, compared with Britain, which had a long history,” says Professor George Williams, the dean of law at the University of New South Wales and a leading expert in constitutional law. “But we’re well past that now.”

Williams began counting the number of new security laws Australia’s parliament was making from 2002. His UNSW Law School colleague Dr Nicola McGarrity has continued the count. After a slower rate in 2007-2013, during the Rudd and Gillard governments, Dr McGarrity says an acceleration began when Islamic State declared its worldwide caliphate in mid-2014. “Australia has gotten a new piece of national security legislation, on average, about once every 13 weeks since then,” she says. The count is now at 82, with another five bills currently before parliament.

It has been a crime for Commonwealth employees to leak secret information to journalists since the first months of World War I in 1914. But as long as journalists protected their sources and whistleblowers were careful, government secrets could be divulged in the public interest without much fear that leakers would be identified. When public servant Desmond Kelly was charged with leaking a Howard government plan to clamp down on war veterans’ entitlements, Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus famously refused to name their source at Kelly’s pre-trial hearing. They were convicted of contempt of court, but they kept their source’s confidence.

Protecting sources became much more difficult following the passage of data retention laws in 2015 – laws the Commonwealth Ombudsman later found were being almost routinely breached by police without consequence. New laws allowing agencies to get through encryption technologies – including by co-opting telcos, getting around passwords and installing spyware – were rushed through in the final sitting week of 2018. Six months earlier, laws broadening protections for government secrets and increasing penalties for whistleblowers were passed.

Since the AFP raids in June this year, Labor has suggested a conspiracy between the Morrison government and the federal police, which both deny. But there is a far more straightforward explanation for the raids – Labor voted for the laws that not only authorised them but probably required them. “It’s the job of the authorities to enforce these laws,” says George Williams. “It would be more surprising if they didn’t use them.”

Williams, who ran for Labor preselection in 2007 and 2010, says he is “not aware of Labor ever voting against one of these measures.

“Many have gone through parliament with lightning speed, often facilitated by the opposition declaring, upfront, that they will vote for legislation – sometimes even before seeing its detail.”

Bill Shorten repeatedly declared Labor was “in lockstep with the government on national security” during his time as opposition leader.

“There would be times when Labor would have liked to oppose some of these laws,” says Williams, “but felt politically unable to. The question is, where will this end?”

Imprisoned for more than a year in Egypt while he was working for Al Jazeera, Peter Greste – who is also a spokesperson for the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom – knows about the consequences of an unfree press. “I’m not suggesting we’re about to become Egypt,” he says. “But the political imperatives [behind the Egyptian laws] are the same as those driving the national security legislation here.”

On The Afghan Files case, he is resolute. “We must accept those journalists were performing their duties in a democracy,” he says. “Any law that criminalises that kind of journalism is a flawed law, because that’s the kind of journalism our democracy needs.”


This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 5, 2019 as "Laws of detraction". Subscribe here.


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freedom for some, while assange is illegally in prison...


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demonstrated his contempt for our democratic freedoms on many occasions. Most recently, by snubbing the UN Climate Change Summit, before summarily dismissing the most significant display of freedom of assembly of our era, in which 300,000 Australians took to our streets protesting climate inaction.

Morrison could hardly disguise his derision, as he insisted Australia’s response to global warming was just fine and declared that climate protests were causing “needless anxiety” in children.

Democratic freedoms, as far as the openly Pentecostal PM is concerned, only refer to so-called “religious freedoms”. The most recent manifestation of this commitment to “freedom” involves the establishment of religious freedom legislation — which seeks to give special rights to those who refer to themselves as religious to say whatever they like to whomever they like, while not extending the same “freedom" of speech to their non-denominational counterparts.


Meanwhile, that beacon of the “freedom of speech” brigade, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, now wants to cancel welfare payments for anyone exercising such freedoms by protesting climate inaction. Dutton has called for mandatory gaol terms, as well as urging others to “name and shame” protesters on Newstart. Senator Michaelia Cash, unsurprisingly, supported this view.


And now, Member for Goldstein Tim Wilson explains, for all our ignorant benefit, the difference between “good” protests and “bad” protests.

In 2016, when his Government subjected LGBTI people to a same-sex marriage plebiscite, Wilson cried, with dramatic effect, but backed it anyway. Today – fresh from enjoying the LGBTI community’s campaigning while he toed the party line on marriage equality – Wilson is now practically a rebel.

Suddenly, so interested in the democratic right of free speech is Wilson, that he went to the Hong Kong protests and “joined in” with pro-democracy activists — along the way ensuring to take plenty of selfies for his social media campaign.


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Meanwhile in the animal world:



and the ATO whistleblower...

Australian Taxation Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle says the tax ombudsman failed to do a proper review of the tax office regarding allegations of improper use of debt-collection powers.

Key points:
  • Former ATO public servant Richard Boyle faces the prospect of life in prison for blowing the whistle on the ATO
  • Mr Boyle's submission to a federal inquiry claims the tax watchdog, the Inspector-General of Taxation, failed to offer "independent, open and transparent analysis" of his case
  • Other submissions to the inquiry say the tax ombudsman needs better resourcing to help small businesses and, some suggest, oversight of the watchdog itself


In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking at whether the tax ombudsman, the Inspector General of Taxation (IGT), properly fulfils its role, Mr Boyle claims the ombudsman's review of the ATO's debt-collection practices was botched.

number of other submissions lodged last month have called on the Federal Government to give the tax watchdog more powers to protect whistleblowers and keep proper watch over the ATO.

The allegations from Mr Boyle regarding the ATO cash grab and improper use of its powers against taxpayers were first aired in a joint Fairfax/ABC Four Corners report.

The ATO former debt-collection officer, who now faces the prospect of life in prison for blowing the whistle on the ATO and is yet to go to trial, revealed in that investigation a directive issued to ATO Adelaide office staff in June 2017.

This directive asked staff to issue a "standard garnishee notice" on all taxpayers and bank accounts, which required the bank to keep sending money to the ATO on an ongoing basis, whenever money was deposited in the account.

Following the media investigation, the tax ombudsman concluded in a review of the ATO's use of garnishee notices that there was no cash grab, but did find the ATO did not always use its garnishee powers "proportionately and appropriately".


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