Oct 18, 2012

How not to launch a public debate, by the A-G’s Department

Several months after the Attorney-General initiated an inquiry on data retention, we finally got a definition of "data" this week. It's all a bit of a shambles.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

It’s become clear over the course of several months that the Attorney-General’s Department has produced what will become a classic how-not-to example of shaping public debate on important issues.

Its discussion paper on its 44 proposals for reform of national security laws to be considered by the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is, not to put too fine a point on it, a shambles, one that has created more problems than it solved for the government.

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11 thoughts on “How not to launch a public debate, by the A-G’s Department

  1. David Sattler

    “..To be clear, Nicola Roxon and the government are to be commended for initiating a public inquiry into national security reforms..”

    Well, yes of course Bernard. And as you pointed out, the Howard Govt was only too happy to ram through what ever it could to avoid any rigorous oversight.

    But a lot of us see Roxon’s attempt at this as flake and floss. More to the point, she and the govt are just covering their backsides so they can’t be accused of being open and accountable. As you also said, hence all the confusion and continued muddying of the waters.

    Great article BTW.

  2. John Bennetts

    If the extent of information gathering and the purposes for same is ever publicly defined, the spooks will demand that, in the interests of national security, their powers must be widened again and protected by secrecy.

    Is there nothing about a right of a person or corporation to find out what access has been made by the spooks and fuzz in respect of themselves?


    More power without responsibility.

  3. Helen Wheeler

    I agree with David Sattler. Working within the parameters of proposals is too vague and directionless.

    Having a legal background would enable me to write a treatise in this regard, but using plain-speak, it seems the AGD is treating us like mushrooms….and Roxon needs to watch her political step here.

  4. Bev McCart

    (But the AGD submission also re-confuses an issue that had seem clarified by the Attorney-General herself.)

    Is this surprising? The Attorney General is a politician and her job is to get this through with a minimum of fuss and there is a time-line she must stick with.

    She will occasionally check and see what her department is doing and as long as there is an absence of accountability and prying eyes she won’t interfere with the process. Hence the confusion between what Roxon is actually saying and what the AGD is actually doing.

  5. David Sattler

    That should have been “so they can’t be accused of “NOT” being open and accountable.”

    Menial, what is it good for? Thanks to Andrew Barton for the heads-up.

  6. AR

    There seems no understanding or insufficient will amongst the times server shiny pants, aka politicians, of the Draconian nature of these proposals.
    therefore, as long as they think it all hunky-dory & benign, the obvious thing to do would be to grant the Citizen (you know, the person in whose name they act and from whose sweat they are paid, lavishly…)full & total access to the information gathered on them, ON REQUEST, no FOI fartarsing about, no equivocations and obfuscation.
    If They have anything on Us, the We are surely entitled to know, if only to check that it is correct.

  7. Helen Wheeler

    The times server shiny pants, aka politicians are sleep walking.Priorities for them equals superannuation funds, perks, retirement and less time in the breach.

    Serving their constituents is well down the list, although there is the odd exception.

    But if you want to know if they have a file on you, AR? I can answer that.

  8. John Bennetts


    You state that priorities for politicians include “retirement and less time in the breach”.

    Sure that this isn’t “more time on the beach”?

    BTW, which politicians do you have in mind. I only know my locals plus a few… they seem to be very highly motivated and conscientious, to the point of exhaustion. This goes for both sides of the House.

    Those few who I know personally, at least started out dead straight, motivated by ethical concern for their constituents. By retirement, they have given their all.

    Perhaps, you have unfortunately been represented (or not) by fabled lazy-bones and dolts. That has not been my experience.

    Conversely, the Federal Fuzz and the Spooks from ASIO and beyond are other breeds entirely. Motivated by what, exactly? Who do they serve? What are the rules by which they operate? There, perhaps, are the ultimate timeservers, beyond scrutiny and immune from disclosure.

    I fear not from politicians. In Douglas Adams’ words, they are “mostly harmless”.

  9. Person Ordinary

    Well done Bernard. Recently you have been giving a negative and lazy spin on what are essentially the good and necessary workings of our system, perhaps swept along with the whipped-up garbage flows of your colleagues in the mainstream media. But if you can continue to think for yourself, to shine a light on what is really happening, and to distinguish between benevolence and malevolence within the political realm, we might just make a journalist of you yet.

  10. Helen Wheeler


    Strangely, you are in good company with that comment.

    I can still remember John Howard making that exact same comment when parliament in general copped a spray from some independents years back and he praised both houses for their hard work and dedication in reply. Do you recall that? I am sure you do.

    A breach is a rupture, a gap or something along those lines, so maybe not standing in the gap of draconian security laws and lacking a national and moral conscience would be a more applicable comment.

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