The AFP raids on journalism this week have brought widespread criticism from much of the media (including News Corp), the Unions, GetUp!, and even the international press, like the New York Times. I found the NYT comment about Australia being the most ‘secretive democracy’ rather funny – it inadvertently implies that the US is not a democracy. But this is not the first time the AFP has been used as a political tool, and that should concern everyone.
During the 2016 election campaign, the AFP raided the office of a Labor Senator and the home of a staffer over leaks relating to the NBN. At the time, Labor called the move unprecedented and politically motivated, given the timing. Turnbull (PM at the time) rejected that accusation, saying that the AFP was independent from the government. Oh, and coincidentally, Labor MP Jason Clare said this at the time.
“You’ve got police apparently investigating where these leaks have come from. What is next? Are they going to raid The Daily Telegraph? Raid the AWN newspaper? Raid the Sydney Morning Herald? Raid the ABC and arrest people in those news organisations who reported these leaks?”
The answer, three years later, is yes.
In 2017, the Australian Workers’ Union’s offices were raided in an investigation into a donation to GetUp! in 2007, triggered by the Registered Organisations Commission (a shiny union watchdog set up by the Coalition just months before). The AFP raids were accompanied by a media entourage as they were likely leaked by someone in Michaelia Cash’s office, if not by her herself. The Federal government, however, rejected that accusation – the AFP, they said, was independent.
The spinoff investigation into these leaks led absolutely nowhere, with Cash and others refusing to cooperate with the AFP, and it was eventually dropped with no indication of further discussion or any form of penalty. Cash accused the AWU of shady tactics, all the while doing everything possible to avoid answering questions about the leaks. Seems like there’s a double standard between the AFP’s approach to Labor and their approach to the Coalition. But surely not – they’re independent, we’re told.
Now, this year, raids against News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC regarding their reporting on leaked materials are being denounced as politically motivated. They most certainly are moves designed to intimidate those who challenge or properly report on the government’s hidden dealings; in this case, the leaks in question were the Afghan Files (ABC) and information about security laws (Smethurst).
This time, the government has not made any statement about the AFP’s independence – Scott Morrison has merely defended the AFP’s actions, saying that they had to continue their work. The government’s justification for this is that it is a “matter of national security”, because troops in Afghanistan and monitoring the conversations of millions of innocent people is just an everyday part of the national security routine.
Anyone who dares to question that might just get themselves raided by the AFP – gee, lucky I’m just a casual writer and not a professional journalist, my tendencies towards the abolition of State power mustn’t be given much notice. I told my friends recently that I wish to be on some government watchlist in the future. When asked why, I simply said that that means I must damn well be doing something right.
The Coalition knows full well that it is abusing its authority over the AFP – no matter how many times they scream independence; maybe they should take a similar stance on the ABC? Nah, the ABC, along with Unions, the Opposition party, and other media organisations are all political enemies. Numerous investigations into the ABC’s independence have in fact revealed a mild tendency towards the ‘right’, not the ‘left’ as so many morons tout daily on social media. The Royal Commission into Union corruption resulted in a single casualty, with the report finding the Unions to be of the least corrupt organisations in the country. Despite much of our monopolised media landscape rooting for the Coalition, many outlets are deemed ‘Labor-fests’, including the Sydney Morning Herald who ran ads for the NSW Liberal Party earlier this year.
The latest raids are troubling in terms of press freedom and the public’s right to know what its government is up to, but the use of the AFP as a political tool is becoming a frequent occurrence under the Coalition. This must not be allowed to continue, but I fear it is only just beginning.
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