The Politics    Thursday, June 6, 2019

Cop it sweet?

By Paddy Manning

Cop it sweet?

Acting AFP Commissioner Neil Gaughan addresses journalists in Canberra. Source: Twitter

It’s time for a rollback of draconian national security laws

Defending this week’s federal police raids on the media, acting AFP commissioner Neil Gaughan told journalists today that the AFP was upholding the laws of the land, and that “if those laws are no good, it’s up to the parliament to change them”. Overnight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the door to a review of national security laws that impinge on a free press. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton today also says [$] that he is open to a discussion. It is the opening Australia needs to begin a carefully considered rollback of recent mass-surveillance laws that may have saved some lives – Gaughan was forceful on that point – but that also trade away fundamental freedoms.

Dutton’s Opposition counterpart, Kristina Keneally, today asked whether Australia was on a “slippery slope to losing a free press”. But Labor has helped pass much of the legislation that is now being wielded under the false guise of national security against journalists, whistleblowers, protesters and others. As the Greens attorney-general spokesperson Nick McKim says, the bipartisanship on security – that has seen over 200 pieces of legislation pass since 2001 – “needs to end”. 

In his press conference this afternoon, Gaughan said the AFP’s execution of search warrants against Annika Smethurst and the ABC this week were long-planned and, as the person who made the ultimate decision about their timing, that he did not factor in the election just gone. He confirmed that no government minister, or their staff, were briefed on the search warrants (as Dutton himself said yesterday). However, Gaughan later added the qualification that the heads of the referring agencies may well have been told – which leaves open the possibility that the departmental secretaries themselves advised their ministers.

Gaughan stressed that it was not up to the AFP to decide whether the stories that resulted from the leaks were in the public interest: “We’re not going to make a judgement and nor should we … [as to] whether a referral is a good referral or a bad referral.” Rather, he said, the AFP was investigating whether secret or top-secret information was released to a member of the public. If the police did not investigate the unauthorised leaking of classified information, he said, Australia would no longer be entrusted by Five Eyes partners with intelligence that saves lives.

As the ABC’s executive editor John Lyons live-tweeted, the scope of the warrants executed yesterday was staggering, allowing the AFP to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the organisation’s computers. Gaughan explained today that this wording was necessary because every time the AFP obtained a digital file, it was altering it. Unconvincing. 

The Greens’ Nick McKim tells me: “The sad truth is that most of Australia’s media have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this ongoing shuffle down the road to an authoritarian regime and a police and surveillance state, which is undoubtedly what is happening in this country.” As a general rule, he says, the media lose interest when legislation has bipartisan support, but “the Greens have fought this erosion of rights and freedoms every step of the way in the parliament. We have not supported any of this legislation.”

While pleased that the media is finally showing some interest, McKim says it is largely self-interest. “There’s been all this outrage about the fact that the AFP warrant allowed for the alteration or removal or deletion of data but – memo to the media – because of laws passed under this bipartisan model, security agencies can do that to any citizen without a warrant. They could be in my phone now, adding information, taking information, without a warrant and without me knowing about it.”

McKim supports a review of national security laws, and has a ready formula for what needs to happen to restore those freedoms that have been wound back: finally introduce a charter of human rights; break the bipartisan lock on national security legislation, for example by allowing crossbenchers onto the parliament’s powerful Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which they’re currently excluded from; and to break up the all-powerful Home Affairs department (which Labor has just tacitly accepted by appointing Keneally as shadow). It’s time to start listening.


“This is what they have under construction right now in India for solar; 225 gigawatts. They are not going to continue with coal. You want to sell coal to India? Good luck with that … May I just say, this is nuts. But I doubt [Adani] is ever going to happen anyway.”

Former US vice president Al Gore during the Climate Reality Project conference in Brisbane.

“I think the simple message is we should be proud of what we are doing with LNG exports. They are creating a lot of jobs and, by substituting higher carbon-intensive alternatives, are reducing global emissions by one-quarter of Australia’s total emissions. Sadly, global carbon accounting doesn’t give us credit for that.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor puts his spin on the latest figures showing that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The amount that Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions had decreased since 1990 in the year to December 2018.

“National emission levels for the December quarter 2018 increased by 0.8 per cent relative to the previous quarter … primarily due to increased emissions from LNG for export, diesel consumption across transport, and metal manufacturing … Emissions for the year to December 2018 are estimated to be … up 0.7 per cent … on the previous year, primarily due to increased LNG exports (22.2 per cent).”

The federal Department of the Environment and Energy attributes the increase in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to the boom in exports of liquified natural gas.

The list

“The 13th feature from Claire Denis, High Life, premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it was by some margin the film I was most looking forward to at that event. Yet when I emerged from the theatre two hours later, it was with a baffled and wholly unexpected sense of disappointment. What had I just watched?”

“The announcement by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg that repealing the medivac legislation would be one of the first priorities of the government has shocked the refugee sector ... Let that sink in. Denying people medical care is a priority for our government.”

“Keneally is an unusual specimen in the political lab. Neither a former union hack nor a former ALP staffer, nor indeed a member of any political dynasty (the ‘holy families of Labor politics’ John Button called them), she is instead an anomaly. In Australia, Keneally has worked for the St Vincent de Paul Society; in the US, she was a teacher of Native American and Mexican children. As an undergraduate at the Catholic University of Dayton in Ohio, she studied political science; later, she wrote a master’s thesis in theology.”

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor at The Monthly and the author of Inside the Greens and Body Count.

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