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Friday, February 20, 2015

Shooting the messenger

It's no secret that the current Australian government has a responsibility problem. Every interview, every soundbite is scripted to blame others, and Labor in particular. Recently, Queensland and Victoria's LNP governments went down in history as one-termers. Outgoing Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, unable to take responsibility for the loss, turned on his colleagues, claiming it was their fault. Just after the election he blamed Labor and Unions as if there was something wrong with them campaigning against his attacks on workers.

This blame game, apparently in the DNA of the LNP, has now morphed into shooting the messenger ... the whistle-blower.

Freya Newman blew the whistle on Prime Minister Abbott's daughter, Frances, being granted a $60,000 scholarship for a Bachelor of Design course. The revelations were published on New Matilda (1). While the Abbott government was planning to deregulate university fees that would drive up the cost of degrees, Freya Newman revealed that a secret deal was done in 2011 while Abbott was Opposition leader, with the Whitehouse Institute of Design which granted the scholarship. This was at a time when the Whitehouse Institute claimed on its website that it didn't provide scholarships. Abbott failed to disclose the gift which he was required to do as an MP.  Freya Newman worked in the Institute's library and had illegally accessed files through the college's computer network to reveal the gift. The Whitehouse Institute is chaired by Les Taylor, a Liberal Party donor and long-term friend of Tony Abbott (2). It raises the question of lobbying and whether the Whitehouse Institute was expecting benefits to flow their way. The Whitehouse Institute, like many private colleges, is a recipient of government funding (3). Abbott claims that the college didn't lobby for funds ... then again, he also said he complied with the rules of disclosure (4).

How did Abbott respond to this allegation of an undeclared personal gift? He attacked the whistleblower and Freya Newman was subsequently charged. After five harrowing months, Freya Newman faced court and pleaded guilty. The Magistrate sentenced her to a two year bond but did not record a conviction as Newman's actions were not 'driven by greed or any desire to embarrass Ms Abbott'. (5)

Prime Minister Abbott has attacked the ABC on a number of occasions for blowing the whistle. For instance, when the ABC reported allegations of abuse of asylum seekers by Royal Australian Navy personnel. Surely it would have been prudent to investigate the matter rather than shoot the piano player.

Of course, this isn't the only report that Abbott and his government have criticised the ABC for. It seems any report that criticises the government is 'biased' according to the government. The ABC may be funded by the Australian government but it isn't Pravda ... it isn't the mouthpiece of the government.

The ABC reported, along with the Guardian, a phone hacking scandal in which the Australian government under former Prime Minister Rudd had been monitoring phone calls from senior Indonesian government officials, including the wife of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono(6). The report was based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden, former computer contractor with the NSA.

In relation to both of these events, Abbott accused the ABC of being unpatriotic and stated that the ABC was on 'everybody's side but Australia's'. He accused Edward Snowden of being a traitor for revealing illegal behaviour by the Australian and American governments. Ironically, Abbott also stated that the ABC should give the Navy the 'benefit of the doubt'(7). Ironic because Abbott declared that Australia had to stop giving the benefit of the doubt to asylum seekers (8). So, based on this logic it's ok to give benefit of the doubt for allegations of abuse by military personnel but not to give the benefit of the doubt to people fleeing persecution and abuse.

Recently, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its 'Forgotten Children' report which blew the whistle on systemic abuse of asylum seekers, particularly children, in immigration detention on Nauru and Manus Island. The report documented serious issues of abuse that had resulted in physical and mental illness in children. It reported suicide attempts, deteriorating mental and physical health and a basic lack of human rights by the Australian government. The report called for a Royal Commission into the treatment of children in immigration detention. Instead of acting on the report to ensure children were not abused, that their human rights were respected and a Royal Commission held, Abbott tried to have the President of Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, sacked for the report (9). He accused the report of being partisan even though the abuse it documented commenced under the previous Labor government. Triggs revealed the information while Abbott and his then Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, perpetuated the abuse.

On 16 February 2015, ABC's Four Corners program revealed wide-spread incidence of live-baiting within the greyhound racing industry. Live-baiting includes the use of live animals, such as rabbits, piglets and possums, to train greyhounds who run them down and kill them. It is illegal and it is cruel. The report resulted in the entire board of Greyhound Racing NSW being stood down (10). Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, attacked the ABC and the whistle-blowers who had trespassed in order to gain the evidence(11). Of course, had they not trespassed the scandal wouldn't have been exposed.

Contrast this to when Four Corners revealed allegations of the brutal slaughter of live exports to Indonesia. Then Prime Minister Gillard banned live exports until Indonesia could prove animal welfare safeguards were in place (12). Although she eventually gave into agriculturalists and resumed live trade, she didn't shoot the messenger.

Former Prime Minister Howard had a record of attacking whistle-blowers too. He attacked and attempted to discredit intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie, who blew the whistle over the false 'weapons of mass destruction' claims being used to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 (13). Wilkie quit his job and entered politics, initially as a Greens candidate and then as an independent member.

Attorney-General George Brandis has called for the jailing of an ASIS officer who revealed that Australia had been spying on East Timor Cabinet during negotiations for the Timor Sea Treaty (14).

These are not facetious or trivial claims, so why is the government attacking the whistle-blower instead of taking action on the claims. The Abbott government is introducing legislation to jail journalists who publish Snowden-style leaks(15). The government is clearly opposed to freedom of speech and particularly opposed to those who reveal the misconduct, or the possibility of misconduct, by the government or its agencies.

In 2014 the government changed the rules for whistle-blowing which made it an offence for a whistle-blower to go public rather than keep the matter internal(16). This means that those within an agency, or even the Minister, could try to shut down the whistle-blowing without ever acting on it. Given the government's history of shooting the messenger, federal public servants may be more inclined to 'leak' the information rather than come out as the whistle-blower.

Gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson said, 'There are always risks in challenging excessive police power, but the risks of not challenging it are more dangerous, even fatal'. This quote doesn't just apply to police powers, but to government power, behaviour, policy ... and those things they government wants suppressed or hidden.

What ever happened to transparency and good government?

Surely good government includes doing the right thing, caring for people and acting on allegations of impropriety.

Rather than shooting the messenger, the government should heed the message.

Update 9 March 2015

The United Nations has released a report into Australia's detention centres and found that they breach the international convention on torture. Abbott's response? Shoot the messenger! Instead of being horrified by the report, Abbott stated that Australians are 'sick of being lectured by the United Nations' (17).

The report found a number of breaches of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, including the indefinite detention of children and the deportation of Sri Lankan asylum seekers. It's no surprise that Abbott has shot the messenger. After all, Abbott and his government unleashed an unprecedented attack on Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission for reporting the systemic physical and mental abuse of children in Australia's detention centres.

Abbott's behaviour clearly shows that he has no concern with child abuse or torture. Instead, he is genuinely horrified that someone would dare call him out on it. His behaviour, and that of his minister's, condones child abuse, condones torture, condones human rights abuses.

What sort of amoral human being ignores abuse and torture, ignores the perpetrators of it, ignores the role his government and government policies have played, but attacks the whistle-blower.

Abbott provided Sri Lanka with two naval vessels to hunt down and capture anyone who dared try to escape the brutality of the Sri Lankan government. Four days before the release of the UN report, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice reported that 84% of people in north-east Sri Lanka have experienced a family member being detained (18). The Campaign was pleading with the British Home Office not to tighten rules on asylum seekers from Sri Lanka because the situation is as dangerous as it ever was. Disturbingly, they warned of reprisal actions by Sri Lanka's paramilitary organisations. The UN has also stated serious concerns about the level of torture in this country. The same country whose torture and human rights abuses Abbott sponsors and is happy to return asylum seekers to.

Is it any wonder then, that Abbott has not grasped the gravity of the UN report into Australia's breaches of the torture convention. This is a government of cruel, fascist politicians who consolidate power through fear-mongering. They attack the most vulnerable in the world purely for political expediency.

A UN report that identifies Australia's detention policies amount to torture and human rights abuses. An Australian Human Rights Commission report that identifies ongoing abuse of children because of Australia's detention policies. For each report, the Abbott government attacked the author rather than defending the victims against the abuse and torture reported.

What next? Will the government start blaming rape victims for being raped?

Blaming the victim is the hallmark of the coward and the corrupt.

Based on the government's response to these reports, it's failure to act or take responsibility, it is clear that Abbott presides over a depraved, corrupt and criminal government.


1. New Matilda, Chris Graham and Max Chalmers, 21 May 2014, 'Leaked Documents Cast Doubt On Abbott's $60k Scholarship Claims', Accessed 19 February 2015.

2. Sydney Morning Herald, Dan Harrison and Daisy Dumas, 21 May 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

3. Whitehouse Institute of Design, Accessed 19 February 2015.

4. SBS, Source AAP, 'College didn't lobby for funds: Abbott', 23 May 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

5. SBS, Gary Cox with AAP, 'No conviction for student who leaked Frances Abbott's scholarship details', 25 November 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

6. ABC, Michael Brissenden, 'Australia spied on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leaked Edward Snowden documents reveal', 5 December 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

7. ABC, Latika Bourke, 'Prime Minister Tony Abbott says ABC not on Australia's side in interview with 2GB', 4 February 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

8. Sydney Morning Herald, Liam Mannix, 'Bad people' treating us as mugs: Abbott's national security warning, 15 February 2015, Accessed 19 February 2015.

9. Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Gordon, 'Revealed: Abbott government tried to remove Gillian Triggs as head of the Australian Human Rights Commission', 14 February 2015, Accessed 19 February 2015.

10. Sydney Morning Herald, Natalie O'Brien and Chris Roots, 'NSW Racing boss says no excuses for live baiting of greyhounds at training', 19 February 2015, Accessed 19 February 2015.

11. The Australian, Jared Owens, 'Barnaby Joyce criticises activists in greyhound live-bait expose', 17 February 2015, Accessed 19 February 2015.

12. Sydney Morning Herald, Richard Willingham and Tom Allard, 'Ban on live cattle trade to Indonesia', 8 June 2011, Accessed 19 February 2015.

13. The Age, AAP, 'Personal attacks don't explain war: Wilkie', 23 August 2003, Accessed 19 February 2015.

14. Crikey, Bernard Keane, 'Brandis moves to jail whistleblower and lawyer for revealing ASIS scandal', 1 September 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

15. The Guardian, Paul Farrell and Daniel Hurst, 'Journalists will face jail over spy leaks under new security laws', 16 July 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

16. Lowy Institute, The Interpreter, 'The silence of the lambs: The public service, leaks, and whistleblowing in Australia', 2 May 2014, Accessed 19 February 2015.

17. The Age, Lisa Cox, 'Tony Abbott: Australians 'sick of being lectured to' by the United Nations, after report finds anti-torture breach', 9 March 2015, Accessed 9 March 2015.

18. Tamil Guardian, '84% of people in North-East have had a family member detained, says Sri Lanka Campaign', 5 March 2015, Accessed 6 March 2015.

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