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BOOK REVIEW: A Secret Australia – Revealed by the WikiLeaks exposés

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Claudia Perry-Beltrame examines a new book revealing government secrets, crimes against humanity and the role collaborative journalism plays within it all.

IT WAS A hot long weekend, best spent in a cool place. In my case, it’s the shade of a wide veranda comfortably embraced by a breeze. I am unmoving, enthralled, concerned and at times staring into the distance unseeing. Thought provoked. Shocked. I am reading A Secret Australia: Revealed by the WikiLeaks exposés (edited by Felicity Ruby and Peter Cronau) from Monash University Publishing.

A sobering book about truths, justice and democracy in 18 diverse chapters and two different stories, the first is about the legacy of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, its development and the exposure of national secrets.

Some themes are about WikiLeaks' real benefits and threats to society and the public. The WikiLeaks’ innovation has created collaborative journalism, the use of digital drop boxes for anonymous source material and the ability for lawyers to access information for their work. The threats are to journalistic freedom of speech. It warns of the shaky fourth pillar of democracy — the media.

The story of Julian Assange is well known. One story, which particularly shocked me, looks into the experience by Assange of sitting in a high-security prison, without charge. The physical and psychological damage is immense and traumatic. The chapter is aptly called 'Torture Australia style'. Here the second story intertwines.

This story is about governments — dominantly Australia, but also the USA, UK, Japan and Indonesia. WikiLeaks exposed their take on democracy, secrets, lies and crimes to humanity through structural and real violence to people. The treatment of one journalist can derail democracy as it teaches journalists about the consequences of holding governments to account for their actions and crimes.

Reading this book made me look up the term "terrorism", which is defined in Australian law and explained in Australia’s counter-terrorism laws. A secret Australia indeed. One kept out of the mainstream media for evident reasons.

In contrast, as per the Department of Home Affairs, Australia prides itself on values of 'respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual... a 'fair go'... equality of opportunity for all', to name a few. Yet, both stories highlight how the Australian Government does not act accordingly.

The chapter 'WikiLeaks, Australia and Empire', demonstrates how governments across the globe are stuck in empire thinking. This chapter raised the following image for me: the Australian flag has exchanged the British Union Jack with the American flag. Yet, COVID-19 shows that governments can do more through collaboration.

Collaboration is also a theme of this book. Written by 21 authors bringing their different perspectives to the stories, many are journalists or writers. Others have an academic background with varied disciplines, which shine through in some of the chapters. Other stories are written by psychologists, lawyers and former politicians and public servants.

One recommendation for improving the book would have been to reduce the repetition between some of the chapters. The collaborative effort would also have been improved by stating the dominant WikiLeaks' exposés explained in the book in separate chapters, with authors only making reference rather than explaining them.

For me, this has been the most revealing book about the state of democracy and truth-telling in Australia. However, it offers something for a wider readership with interests or values in humanity, freedom, leadership, technology, innovation, or societal development.

Claudia Perry-Beltrame helps organisations with transformations and strategic change, specialising in conscious development of culture. She is the synchroniser and capacity builder at Business Ecosystem Sync. You can follow Claudia on twitter @CPerryBeltrame.

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