AFP raids journalists: We need to talk about our Government

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

There is no doubt the AFP raids are an affront to our democracy. One in which the hand of a secretive and ruthless Government can be felt, if not seen or heard.

This is a fact that no one seems to dispute — not even the Government. In fact, it is pertinent that since the AFP started rifling through News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s underwear drawer, the official Government position seems to be characterised by the sound of crickets. There has been no official statement.

It is a frustrating yet completely predictable response from the Government of the day. After all, what can be said when long-held plans to increase surveillance and restrict the freedoms of its own citizens are finally coming to fruition? And the transition to this end – while long and not completely without obstacle – has been largely effortless.


Just a few short months ago, the News Corp organisation was waxing lyrical in as many media outlets as possible (and they have the most) about how the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 (AA Bill) was in the interests of Australia’s “national security”. The Government’s line that the Labor Party – which had been critical of the planned legislative changes – was “soft on security”, was robotically repeated. And the emotive and idiotic stance (as citizens in any dictatorial state can attest) that only people who have something to hide will have something to fear, was successfully marketed.

And it was sold to a largely ignorant public as greater and more insidious affronts to our privacy continued. And let’s be clear, Australians, laconic by nature and lacking an independent media landscape to provide perspective (see managing editor Dave Donovan’s summary of this here), are open to exploitation.


The next step was to effectively continue to amend legislation enabling more and more powers for the government to spy on its own citizens.

As IA's Dr Jennifer Wilson points out:

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Australia has passed or amended more than 60 laws related to secrecy, spying and terrorism — more than any other mature liberal democracy on the planet. All this has occurred under the banner of national security and “keeping Australians safe”.

And, scared into submission lest anyone should think it soft, the Labor Opposition went along with it. Of course, IA was present in Parliament at the time and it should be said that a complex sub-text involving the success of the Medevac Bill was also unfolding.

Indeed, six whole years after this Government was first elected and even following its return for another three years, the mainstream media is still more concerned with the Labor Opposition than with the actual Government.

But the ALP did support the final amendment with the most sweeping powers — the AA Bill.


Meanwhile, rising slowly in the background like a storm weather front, Peter Dutton’s super-ministry, the Department of Home Affairs, was being constructed. A work of genius for any dictatorship, this dark ministry includes all the instruments of law enforcement plus all the departments which oversee them, effectively creating a mega-department tasked with policing everyone, as well as itself. 

The overlord of this mega-department was even touted as a possible prime minister. Why not? He was taking care of our “national security”, after all.

At the same time, a sub-plot involving several affronts to our freedoms was already playing out.


During this time, IA’s articles drawing attention to the erosion of our freedoms along with those of a few other independent publications kept plodding along in a vacuum, while the mainstream media – who are currently in a complete dummy spit about privacy and freedom of the press – were largely silent. This included the public broadcaster and pretty much everyone else — not just Murdoch’s usual suspects.

Some, shockingly, even went as far as to be selective with who is deserving of freedom. The lauded journalist, Peter Greste, for example, went to great lengths to assert that Julian Assange should not be afforded the same rights as everyone else since he is not a “real” journalist. Even The Guardian, who profited from the whistleblowing research provided by WikiLeaks, deserted Assange. While you may or may not agree with Assange’s methods – just as many of us do not agree with News Corp’s methods – there is no doubt that he is a journalist.

Assange, WikiLeaks and its journalists have received many awards attesting to this fact including: 

  • The Economist New Media Award (2008)
  • The Amnesty New Media Award (2009)
  • TIME Magazine Person of the Year, People’s Choice (highest global vote) (2010)
  • The Sam Adams Award for Integrity (2010)
  • The National Union of Journalists Journalist of the Year (Hrafnsson) (2011)
  • The Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal (2011)
  • The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (2011)
  • The Blanquerna Award for Best Communicator (2011)
  • The Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism (2011)
  • The Voltaire Award for Free Speech (2011)
  • The International Piero Passetti Journalism Prize of the National Union of Italian Journalists (2011)
  • The Jose Couso Press Freedom Award (2011)
  • The Privacy International Hero of Privacy (2012)
  • The Global Exchange Human Rights People’s Choice Award (2013)
  • The Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts (2013)
  • The Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award (2013)
  • The Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize (2014)

Despite such accolades, Assange is not, it seems, one of the club. Like other whistleblowers ‒ such as, for example, Bernard Collaery and Witness K, who are being tried in secret, and ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle who faces 161 years’ gaol ‒ Assange has been hung out to dry. By the Australian Government. And by his colleagues.


The very public message concerning the escalation of AFP surveillance and investigation into the media is inescapable for both the press and for whistleblowers. It states clearly and resonates loudly: “We will find you”.

According to The Guardian:

‘Annika Smethurst’s report suggesting the nation’s surveillance agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, was seeking to broaden its powers to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge was immediately referred for police investigation.’

The ABC warrant included the power to 'add, copy delete or alter data'. Everyone is rightly shocked by this, yet these powers are expressly included in the legislation — the very same legislation the mainstream media largely ignored in the interests of confected “national security”.

There can be no doubt the raids were designed to intimidate. Annika Smethurst – a fairly progressive News Corp journalist – had her home searched and not the News Corp offices, while the ABC offices and not the home of the relevant journos, were targeted.

Let’s think about that. The AFP are prepared to go through the smalls of Annika Smethurst — a journalist with News Corp. An organisation that is practically an agency of the Government, fully on board with the Coalition and all its scare campaigns so far.

Why? Well, don’t go thinking anyone is “above the law”, as the PM told us. And, the PM says, he is comfortable with these laws being enforced. And of course, from the Morrison Government's vantage point, this is essentially correct. Since the laws are made by the Government, they apply to everyone — other than the Government.

As Mungo MacCallum pointed out:

'By definition, all governments are comfortable with their own laws — and that applies to the governments of all regimes. There was nothing illegal, at least domestically, about the repressions in Russia, China, Turkey or North Korea — or, for that matter, Nazi Germany.'

This does not mean that the Government is not above its own laws. The leak concerning the AFP union raids came from Senator Michaelia Cash’s office, yet she has not co-operated with the AFP investigation or had her home raided. In fact, like most allegations of corruption concerning this Government, this has conveniently gone away without consequence. 

Alas, many Australians bought the national security spiel, hook line and sinker. Only those with something to hide have anything to fear, right? If this were not true, we would likely not have this legislation. Nor would its instigators be in power. However, the nightmare is real and we now need to talk about a clear and present danger: this Coalition Government.

This editorial is usually only available to IA subscribers and may be read in the IA members only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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