Politics Opinion

David McBride verdict a sad day for democracy

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(Screenshot via YouTube)

Supporters rallied together in defiance of the verdict against whistleblower David McBride, which some have declared a 'war on truth'. Dr John Jiggens reports.

ON MONDAY 13 November, I joined the throng of media and David McBride supporters, crowding the courtyard outside the A.C.T. Supreme Court. It was the start of the Afghan Files prosecution of military whistleblower McBride, who was charged with leaking the classified information that formed the basis of the 2017 ABC exposé, The Afghan Files, that revealed war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.  

These allegations were substantiated by the Brereton Inquiry, which found “credible information” of war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Australian SAS personnel. Despite this, in an Australian replay of the U.S.-UK persecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; the war criminals are running the persecution while the whistleblower is facing five indictments for the leaks, which carry maximum sentences of ten years each.  

A roll call of Australian whistleblowers and politicians was on hand to lend support. They addressed the assembled media and the McBride supporters, decrying what some described as a “war on whistleblowers” and others called the “war on truth”.   

Mary Kostakidis, the former SBS news anchor, was the MC for the rally.

It was a sad day for democracy, she said, because it was democracy that was on trial that day in the A.C.T. Supreme Court:  

“There can be no democracy without a strong press and a strong press relies on whistleblowers. Over the next three weeks, the hypocrisy of the Australian Government's claims to protect whistleblowers will be in full view in this court, where the first person to be prosecuted over war crimes in Afghanistan is David McBride who revealed wrongdoing perpetrated in our name.”  

McBride, she said, fulfilled his duty as a lawyer to uphold the law and to report serious crime. Only when it was apparent that nothing was going to be done about it, did he blow the whistle. The level of public condemnation for this unjust prosecution was enormous.   

An important question most of the speakers grappled with was: Why is a prosecution of someone like McBride, who is seen by many as a hero of truth, going on? Former Senator Rex Patrick condemned Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, blaming them for sending, McBride, a whistleblower, to trial.

Patrick declared:

“Mark Dreyfus has the power under the Judiciary Act to stop this. He can stop this prosecution. Currently, he's hiding behind a coward shield by saying that he can only exercise that power in exceptional circumstances. That is not what the law says! The Parliament has granted him that power to deal with situations which are wrong with prosecutions that are not in the public interest.”  

Like Rex Patrick, many of the speakers condemned the Albanese Government for not stopping the trial.   

Jeff Morris, who blew the whistle on the misconduct of the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning in 2008 and has been a powerful advocate for a whistleblower protection agency and a compensation scheme for whistleblowers, warned the Government against the war on whistleblowers, declaring:  

I am going to use the C-word that isn’t used by polite people in Canberra: Corruption. When the Albanese Government chose to go to war with whistleblowers, chose to prosecute whistleblowers – and they are not just doing it once, they are doing it twice, with Richard Boyle as well – there is a pattern.  

 

Whistleblowers are the antidote to corruption. In fact, from my experience with useless regulators, they are about the only antidote to corruption in this country. So when the Albanese Government chooses to go to war with whistleblowers and prosecute them, it’s choosing to embrace corruption. It's choosing corruption over integrity and truth.

Troy Stolz blew the whistle on gambling industry lobby group, ClubsNSW, for failing to comply with anti-money laundering financing rules and was subjected to a court-ordered gag by the gambling industry lobby group.

He took a marginally more nuanced view of this example of government perfidy:

I think the numbers here today send a clear message to the Government what a disgrace they are. The Albanese Government, to their disadvantage, inherited this mess from the Liberal Government. Using Jeff's dirty C word – criminals – in this instance, the Albanese Government could have dropped these charges earlier on and said, “Well, the Liberals started that; this is wrong, we'll drop it”. So, I'm going to add another C word to this equation — collusion.   

 

We now have a situation in Parliament where we've seen Liberals and Labor voting down motions [to drop the charges against McBride and Tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle] from Andrew Wilkie and the Independents, teaming up together, the duopoly, to keep it between the two and continue. It's an absolute disgrace.

Bernard Collaery, a former A.C.T. Attorney-General and ALP politician who faced prosecution and imprisonment under the Coalition Government – not because he was a whistleblower, but because he was the lawyer of a whistleblower – likened Australia under the Coalition Government to France after WW2 when the country had to deal with the issue of collaborators. The Coalition was not a government, he asserted. It was an occupation of our country by a gang of villains.   

Collaery said:

We had an occupation in this country and we are still suffering the wounds of occupation. It’s not just weakness and the timidity of the Albanese Government. It’s the overflow of occupation.   

 

And who were the main collaborations? They are over across the lake in the bureaucracy and they include all the mates appointed to the tribunals by the corrupt government. Now what has failed to happen is that the national security clique across the lake have remained in place. As Professor James Curran says, the entire skill set of the Coalition, of the occupation, are still directing our policies in relation to China.   

 

We are here in the overflow of the occupation. There is something wrong with the Labor Party at the moment. Something seriously wrong and we need to support the right people there. What we need is to continue the fight all the way through David’s prosecution. It’s all the result of the occupation of that gang. I am very happy to be with you. I am very happy to not be in gaol myself.

The Australian Strategic and Policy Institute (ASPI) illustrates what Collaery called “the occupation”. On 29 February 2022, 12 days before the writs of the 2022 Election were issued and the Government went into caretaker mode, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton appointed new board members to ASPI.

Justin Bassi, whose previous job was chief of staff to L-NP Foreign Minister Marise Payne, became CEO of ASPI. Before that, Bassi had worked in Malcolm Turnbull’s office and before that, for L-NP Attorney-General George Brandis. As well as appointing this ex-Coalition staffer to head of ASPI, Dutton also appointed former L-NP Ministers John Anderson and Michael Keenan to the board of ASPI.

The democratic thing to do would have been to allow the incoming government to appoint the board, but Peter Dutton was concerned with putting his people in place, in occupation. Collaery implied this was widespread. 

The final speaker was David McBride, a big man with silvery hair and his trademark white glasses, wearing the uniform of the accused, a white shirt and a fine blue coat, accompanied by his therapy dog, Jake. The organisers had bought 200 whistles for his supporters to blow, and the cacophony of cheering and applause, overlaid by the chorus of 200 whistles, reached a crescendo as he prepared to address his supporters.  

“Just a few words. Thank you, everybody. You are part of my family. Today I serve my country. And the question I have for you, Anthony Albanese is, ‘Who do you serve?’”  

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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