Friday, July 18, 2014

Australia's new authoritarianism

Australia has had a run of bad luck in having its dirty deeds uncovered, first with Wikileaks, then the Snowden revelations that they've been spying on their own citizens (and offering to share the data with the Americans), on Indonesia, and for the rich. Plus of course the whole East Timor spying scandal. These revelations have caused international embarrassment and ruined relations with their closest neighbours.

But now the Australian government has a solution: jail any journalist who reports on their crimes:

Australian journalists could face prosecution and jail for reporting Snowden-style revelations about certain spy operations, in an “outrageous” expansion of the government’s national security powers, leading criminal lawyers have warned.

A bill presented to parliament on Wednesday by the attorney general, George Brandis, would expand the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio), including creation of a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who disclosed information relating to “special intelligence operations”.

The person would be liable for a 10-year term if the disclosure would “endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation”.

Special intelligence operations are a new type of operation in which intelligence officers receive immunity from liability or prosecution where they may need to engage in conduct that would be otherwise unlawful.

(That latter definition BTW seems to give the government carte blanche to disregard its own laws on wiretapping and spying. They can just redefine it as a "special intelligence operation" and the spies are suddenly in a lawless zone where they can spy, steal, and even murder with impunity).

As with their raid on East Timor's lawyers, this is the action of a guilty government, one with a lot to hide which sees its own citizens as the enemy. This law cannot be allowed to pass.

Meanwhile, Chris Finlayson has recently been at the Five Eyes Attorney-Generals meeting, so how long will it be before we see such Orwellian legislation here?