Oz govt secrecy starts to stink

Comment and opinion

By Barry Tucker                    6 November, 2013

Just over two weeks ago I wrote in The Sniper’s blog about the “Rise and rise of secrecy“.

“The Australian Liberal-National Party coalition government elected with a large majority on 7 September, 2013, is exhibiting an unpleasant and unwelcome tendency towards secrecy.”

The MSM, on-line magazines and bloggers are taking up the cudgel.

“The Rise and rise of secrecy” contained several current links and updates. It is now time to migrate the story to Truth in News Media.

By far the best summary of what is happening appears in today’s on-line magazine Independent Australia. That round-up, by Clint Howitt, presents a staggering picture of government arrogance and indifference, under the title Abbott’s Secret State.

In an article in Fairfax Media’s The Canberra Times, veteran press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes says the Abbott government is “thumbing its nose at voters” with its lack of transparency and communication. Some see the story, by Tom McIlroy, as a promotion for Oakes’ book, Remarkable Times: Australian Politics 2010-13, due for release soon.

Others might say it’s hypocritical of Oakes or any other mainstream news journalist to criticise the L-NP government after they worked so hard to install it by destroying any credibility the previous Labor government had earned.

Oakes referred to news media control, the expenses rorting scandal, lack of access to Ministers and arrogance.

I have read of others saying it was similar disregard for the Canberra Press Gallery, and for its then doyen Michelle Grattan in particular, that set Grattan and then the whole pack against then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The government is playing a risky game. If it favours any one news organisation (like former Prime Minister Rudd II did) it could suffer the wrath of the remainder. At present, the Liberal-National Party government can rely only on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp newspapers, Channel 10, Sky and radio shock jock mates and a handful of ABC journalists and presenters. With that bloc supporting the government and the remainder of the news media attacking, it won’t take long for news consumers and voters to see the light.

Howitt writes: “Singling out Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Mr Oakes said arrogance and disregard for truth would ultimately backfire.”

He quotes Oakes: “You can’t thumb your nose at the voters’ right to know and you can’t arrogantly say ‘we’ll let the voters be misinformed and we won’t help journalists get it right’. That’s just a disgusting attitude.”

People have been wondering what Murdoch might have been after when he switched his backing from Kevin Rudd I sometime late in 2009, after a visit by L-NP Parliamentary Party Leader Abbott, a few days after he succeeded to the role.

Writing in the SMH’s Business Day today, Elizabeth Knight claims Murdoch’s after the rest of Channel 10 (his son Lachlan owns 10 per cent). Her article is titled Murdoch wants his pound of flesh and is slugged Opinion. As Knight points out, Murdoch would have to jump a lot of hurdles before reaching this goal. Perhaps Treasurer Joe Hockey (foreign investment decisions) and Malcolm Turnbull (Communications, including media), who sat at Murdoch’s table at his Lowy Institute address last week, can move these hurdles out of the way.

At least Murdoch is not after the ABC, or parts of it — a thought that was making some people seriously ill. See also in this resource centre: War on ABC continues.

The secrecy story is being run in conjunction with stories of L-NP MPs rorting of their expenses (claiming expenses for attending weddings, football games, race meetings, anything where politics may be discussed or voters bumped into). Also in the mix is the Draconian anti-biker laws recently introduced in Queensland by the extreme Right wing Premier Campbell Newman. Similar laws have been enacted in NSW and Victoria and South Australia took action a few years ago. It’s a revival of L-NP State government law and order campaigns of the ’70s, which drew criticism that they were designed to deflect attention from other matters.

Queensland’s version of the anti-biker laws has drawn the most criticism, with legal experts and citizens expressing fears the laws could easily have a wider application. Michael Cope, president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, wrote about this in an article in today’s Guardian, under the title Queensland’s ‘anti-bikie’ measures are an assault on our civil liberties.

Cope writes: “The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) takes the view that any interference with a recognised civil liberty or human right should only occur if that interference can be rationally demonstrated to be necessary, reasonable, justified and proportionate. The Queensland government has demonstrated neither.”

• Former Liberal party member and political blogger Andrew Elder (@awelder) has given the MSM a good thrashing for its recent unprofessionalism, willing blindness and current hypocrisy.

• Elder’s blog refers to this article on the government’s attitude, by Paula Mathewson, in King’s Tribune. Both articles refer to another, by journalist Bianca Hall. All are relevant to this blog.

Update, 9 November, 2013: I referred to Laurie Oakes’ hypocrisy above. In an open letter for on-line magazine The Australian Independent Media Network today, Victoria Rollinson gives Oakes a severe dressing down. Ouch!

Update, 9 December, 2013

A few days ago a row broke out in the federal Coalition ranks over criticism of the leader of the government’s Chief-of-Staff, Peta Credlin. Complaints about her dictatorial manner and attempts to control elected MPs and lesser mortals are not new. On this occasion the news had more to do with her defender, Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann. He told critics within government ranks to “back off”.

Credlin is married to federal director of the Liberal party, Brian Loughnane, and has previously been CoS to Liberal ministers.

Note: Stories in this resource centre will be corrected, if necessary, and some will be updated as the subject evolves.