The best governments are those that are open and transparent.
Those that realise they have been entrusted with the public’s permission
to form government. They govern without secrecy and take the people into their confidence.
But when a political party deliberately, secretly,
withholds information the voter needs to reach informed, balanced and
reasoned opinions, it is lying by omission. It is destroying the
democracy that enables it to exist.
In the first weeks of forming government Tony Abbott made his
intentions unambiguously clear. Truth and openness would not be gifted
to the people by him or his ministers. Secrecy would
trump the public’s right to know. It is normal for Government
Departments to release briefing documents when a new government is
formed. The wide-ranging, high-level briefings contain the bureaucracy’s
assessment of the winning party’s election commitments, and other
information designed to allow a smooth transition between governments.
No Government Department has released a brief since the election.
Requests to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury
and the Attorney-General’s department rejected requests for their
briefs. Labor Senator Joe Ludwig lodged FOI requests but was quickly
told that a processing charge of $2000 would be applied to each request.
Secrecy had begun. They would become the most secret Government in Australia’s history.
Since then Freedom of Information has been subjugated or covered up
by the Abbott Government. And it is ongoing. If the Government doesn’t
want us to know what we are entitled to know they suppress it, lie about
it directly or by exclusion. Everything is a secret.
So frustrated by the secrecy of a new conservative government was the
media that it provoked a plethora of commentary from very experienced
journalists. From these observations on Independent Australia . . .
‘The new Coalition government has established an early –
and unwelcome – habit of shutting down debates it doesn’t want to have.’
Michelle Grattan described the muzzling of ministers by the PMs Department this way:
‘It was the ultimate “get stuffed”.
Annabelle Crabb asked:
‘If a boat is turned around, and nobody is told about it, did it happen at all?’
Lenore Taylor was somewhat annoyed that Treasury would no longer release its advice to the Treasurer:
‘Treasury has advised that the “blue book” – one of two
documents prepared during an election campaign by each department for
each of its possible incoming ministers – will not be released under
freedom of information laws.’
Barry Cassidy observed:
‘How long can the ministerial sound of silence last?’
Sean Parnell suggested that:
‘A new era of government secrecy has been ushered in …’
Laurie Oakes at the time was particularly critical of Scott Morrison’s media diplomacy. Or his ability to say much while saying nothing.
Mark Kenny deplored the Governments cover-up or rorting of travel allowances.
‘It is jarring to see how quickly the public’s reasonable
expectation of probity in its political representatives has been
superseded by the reflex to secrecy and self-protection in the new political class.’
Mungo MacCallum had this to say:
‘It is now clear that the underlying principle of the
Abbott Government is to be ignorance: not only are the masses to be kept
as far as possible in the dark, but the Government itself does not want
Crikey in an editorial said this:
‘… worrying signs of a secretive government.’
It is reasonable to ask what has been going on to make senior political
commentators so alarmed about the descent into political darkness.
Since its election the Abbott Government sought to dumb down the
Australian community with lies, half-truths and distorted statements
designed to create a constant stream of blame for everything on Labor.
Budget crisis, debt and deficient etc. etc.
The first step was to limit what Ministers could say by insisting
that all public comment go through the Prime Ministers department. A
leaked email from Abbott’s press secretary revealed:
‘All media coordination and requests should go through
(the PM’s press office). This covers all national media interviews on
television, radio and print.’
A veil of secrecy was hung over the media.
As a new Government they further sought to demonise those seeking to
escape persecution by creating a perception of national security rather
than a humanitarian one. They created “Operation Sovereign Borders” and
announced to the Australian people that they didn’t have a right to know
anything. And that continues today. It’s a secret. We will determine what you need to know. Secrecy, not in the interest of human morality but for the protection of a political slogan was born.
So secret, so embroiled in underhanded
confidentially is everything about this issue that when Abbott says he
has stopped the boats, one really wouldn’t know.
When the ABC reported Asylum Seeker claims of mistreatment, the Prime
Minister described “Aunty” as unpatriotic. The Foreign Minister
followed up with similar remarks and the announcement of a review into
Journalists seeking information would, generally speaking, approach a minister or his or her department. If a wall of secrecy
was met they could file an FOI request. The Attorney General George
Brandis has made the process so difficult, so convoluted, so censored
and expensive that it’s hardly worth their time.
A democracy cannot function without scrutiny. To her credit Julia
Gillard would stand before journalists and answer questions to the
degree that one or the other would reach exhaustion. This Prime Minister
is the opposite, usually making a statement then allowing a few
questions before walking away when the questions become too probing.
Everything is clouded in secrecy.
This walking away from hard questions does him no credit and only reinforces the secrecy he seeks to perpetuate.
Tony Abbott won the last election for three reasons. Labor’s
leadership dysfunction, Murdoch’s support and Abbott’s convincing of the
Australian public with shock and awe tactics that everything was a
disaster. His secret hidden agenda of lying and deceit has since been
uncovered. His first budget has divulged his secret
objective. Inequality in all its manifestations. His omission of not
telling the people of what he fully intended at the election has
manifestly been uncovered. He held in secret his intentions on many policy issues.
Whilst being openly a denier (even if he says otherwise) of climate science the extent and secrecy
of his motives was kept hidden from the public only to be later
revealed by the scrapping of the ministry of science and other
environmental departments. His uttering on this subject have been
demonstrably full of secrecy. The hidden agenda was for our country to be dependent on coal.
When, early in his Prime Ministership the issue of “Travel Rorts”
raised its head and the public was outraged. Abbott feigned righteous
indignation. Secrecy was made the order of the day. Or many days as it turned out.
Mark Kenny said:
‘It is jarring to see how quickly the public’s reasonable
expectation of probity in its political representatives has been
superseded by the reflex to secrecy and self-protection in the new
He promised to govern for all Australians but immediately cultivated
those who agreed with him, having little time for those who didn’t. He
decided to entertain those in the media who had supported him. The guest
list included a Who’s Who of locked in Coalition supporters — among
them, Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Alan Jones, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda
Devine, Chris Kenny, Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker, News Corp
editor Col Allan, Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson.
Again Secrecy was the order of the day with guests being asked to keep the evening strictly confidential. So secret was it that we still don’t know who footed the bill.
Secrecy is a natural divider. Those who know and
those that don’t. What motivates a Government to lie and be secret about
its intentions? It may be the embarrassment of being found to be wrong.
Or the fear of losing office. More sinister motives might come into
play but essentially it’s about two things. One, the attainment of power
and two the retention of it. People wouldn’t vote for them if their
secret program was exposed. It’s easier to manipulate society with lies
blurred in long term malevolent secrecy, than truth.
By its very nature secrecy corrodes democracy. Power is compromised when the people are exempted from the full knowledge of a party’s motives and actions.
We must guard against the evil that is political secrecy. Unless of course it is in the national interest.
Secrecy and lying are interwoven and history has shown the greater evil they can lead to.
The right of Australian politics should be careful as to where they are leading us.
An excerpt from:
They Thought They Were Free
The Germans, 1933-45
But Then It Was Too Late
“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap,
took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps
not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated
with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the
crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they
did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of
government growing remoter and remoter.
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice
it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of
political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to
develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained
or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the
whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole
thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no
‘patriotic German’ could resent must someday lead to, one no more saw it
developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn
growing. One day it is over his head.
How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated
ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many
times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims,
Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider
the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see,
the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how
is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things
might have. And everyone counts on that might.
You see, one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me,
this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a
little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one
great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes,
will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even
talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why
not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just
fear, fear of standing alone that restrains you; it is also genuine
Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as
time goes on, it grows. In your own community, you speak privately to
your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they
say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things that aren’t
there’ or ‘you’re an alarmist.’
You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing
process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has
flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your
part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably
every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you
would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your
father, even in, could not have imagined.
Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what
you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was
all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember
those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one
had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small
matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one
rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks.
Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.” (Milton Mayer).