Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter


United States

May 5, 2014

Who -- and what country -- is driving Brandis' conservative shift?

The Attorney-General's chief of staff seems to have strong views on complying with US demands. And they may be having an influence on George Brandis.


One of the most intriguing supporting actor performances of the Abbott government has been that of Attorney-General George Brandis. His first nine months in the job have been marked by two characteristics: a political tin ear responsible for his botching the proposed reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act, and his sudden, enthusiastic support for a crackdown on internet service providers at the behest of the copyright industry.

Today Fairfax reported that the government may be on the brink of forcing ISPs to monitor their customers’ internet usage and warn about filesharing, and perhaps censor access to well-known filesharing sites. Brandis has previously flagged his enthusiasm for forcing ISPs, via either a “voluntary” code or some regulatory system, to police filesharing, which would cost ISPs millions of dollars, raising internet access prices across the board (call it the Brandis Levy).

This is exactly what the copyright industry — movie, media and music transnationals, most of them American — have long sought. Forcing ISPs to police their users is the outsourcing of copyright enforcement from the copyright industry itself — which has failed miserably at the task for over a decade — to another industry, and to government. It is a position the US government has aggressively and persistently pursued through a series of multilateral and bilateral trade deals, including the Trans Pacific Partnership currently being negotiated.

This raises the issue of the role of Brandis’ chief of staff, Paul O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan was a remarkably senior figure to be appointed mere CoS to an Attorney-General. He is a former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ambassador to Germany and high commissioner to New Zealand under the Rudd government, as well as adviser to then-prime minister John Howard. Yet he is now only the senior staffer to a middle-ranking minister, though there is speculation he will be moved into a more senior role in time.

What’s missing from O’Sullivan’s CV is any political experience; he may have been adviser to Howard, but that was on national security, not exactly a domestic political issue. Brandis’ stumbling efforts to sell s.18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which have managed to alienate even  pro-Coalition groups and portrayed the government as eager to support the rights of bigots, suggests poor advice, particularly as Brandis himself — a Queensland lawyer with a hypertrophied ego — is not the most natural politician.

But another aspect of O’Sullivan’s CV might explain Brandis’ enthusiasm for implementing the agenda of the United States copyright industry. Bob Carr’s Diary contains this interlude from June 2012:

“Breakfast this morning with Paul O’Sullivan, former head of ASIO and just retired as High Commissioner in New Zealand. He does not echo the line that we are too close to America. The reverse. He thinks we should aspire to be in a different class of ally, not an ally like Holland or Canada but a country that can be relied on pretty well all the time. This is novel. The first time I’ve encountered this notion on the alliance, at least explicitly expressed.”

A country that the US can rely on pretty well all the time appears to be an accurate description of Brandis’ emerging pro-copyright industry stance, in which Australian ISPs would be required to implement the surveillance and enforcement agenda of US copyright companies.

O’Sullivan’s apparent view that Australia should, in effect, subordinate its sovereignty to the US in order that we can always be relied on might also explain the substantial hardening of Brandis’ rhetoric on issues around mass surveillance and national security. Since becoming Attorney-General, Brandis — who still portrays himself as a Voltaire-style free speech advocate when it comes to climate denialism — has flagged that he is being given access to national security information that makes him more hostile to civil liberties.

“The more intelligence I read, the more conservative I become,” he told a Washington security think tank. Brandis’ phrasing was important — he has long portrayed himself as a genuine, traditional liberal, in contrast to more conservative colleagues.

The Attorney-General’s sharpening of his rhetoric and the increasing clamour from intelligence and law enforcement agencies suggests that data retention — which is mass surveillance under another name — will soon be revisited, although the government refuses to say when it will respond to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report on data retention and other security reforms.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

54 thoughts on “Who — and what country — is driving Brandis’ conservative shift?

  1. aswann

    This guy is going to break the internet.

  2. Graeski

    @aswann: well if he breaks the internet we won’t miss the NBN, will we? Two birds with one brick.

  3. Yclept

    Yet I bet he wouldn’t be so keen about surveillance of political donations!

  4. Bill Hilliger

    They say its the US government and to a greater extent Rupert calling George …do something about the file-sharing issue, its bad for business and costing us too much. George says ‘consider it done my lords’.

  5. Jreff Broadbrent

    “will soon be revisited”
    didn’t they say before the election, when they tried to sneak through opt out filtering that they were opposed to mandatory filtering? yes, yes they did.

    “The Coalition has never supported mandatory internet filtering. Indeed, we have a long record of opposing it.”

    considering that promises are mere butterflies in the wind to the coalition i suppose mandatory filtering and data retention policies were to be expected.

  6. bushby jane

    Brandis and co are getting more and more scary.

  7. klewso

    Big Brother has a face?

  8. Mark Lewis

    “The more intelligence I read, the more conservative I become,” he told a Washington security think tank.

    Intelligence? Like that of children overboard? Iraq and the WMD’s that NEVER EXISTED?…hind-sight proves that was not very intelligent. Just ask the hundreds of thousands innocent men, women and children who were butchered because of false intelligence.

    It appears he accepts what ever the US Intelligence rams down his throat and that’s a HUGE PROBLEM.

  9. The Pav

    Could somebody please exlain to me why Brandis regards being deliberately untruthful is something that should be protected as free speech?

  10. AR

    This game is long over – we have mass surveillance and data retention at the moment, it’s just that it is illegal.
    Hands up those naifs we believe spooks and governments obey silly technical laws.

  11. CML

    Isn’t this just another version of the conservative cry during the 50’s? You know, ‘reds under the beds’, and all that cr+p!

  12. Kevin Herbert

    I and many other Aussies support the changes to 18C…well done to Brandis.

    Free speech is way too important to have Federal Court judges ruling history in and/or out.

    Check out Syd Walker’s website for a superb summary of this issue.

  13. Sally Freezon


    The country is obvious, but the who is a little more slitheringly less obvious.

  14. Sally Freezon

    Who — and what country — is driving Brandis’ conservative shift?

    The above was supposed to be included in the previous comment. But still on that subject of the headline Mr Keane, it’s still not wise to pin all this on the political hook of Conservatives or Progressives, or Right or Left.

    That’s a cheap inference that requires little analysis. They are all in on this and why don’t you just come out and say it?

  15. Tyger Tyger

    ‘During [George W.] Bush’s years in office, military spending more than doubled to reach $700 billion. The Pentagon had increasingly usurped the role of the State Department in foreign policy making, a process that had begun under the Kennedy administration.

    ‘After marginalizing the agency [CIA] in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush largely completed the decades-old process of destroying the nation’s intelligence-gathering capabilities when he appointed Congressman Porter Goss to replace George Tenet in July 2004. Goss had joined the agency as a Yale undergraduate forty-five years earlier. But he had become an unbridled critic who, according to Howard Hart, denounced the agents as a “bunch of dysfunctional jerks” and “a pack of idiots.” As director, he undertook the biggest purge in the Agency’s history. According to Tim Weiner in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the CIA, “The new director surrounded himself with a team of political hacks he had imported from Capitol Hill. They believed they were on a mission from the White House – or some higher power – to rid the CIA of left-wing subversives.”‘

    “The Untold History of the United States”, pp. 542-3.

    (Obama’s approach has proved little different, although, under him, the militarised intelligence and foreign policy focus is shifting from the Middle East to China.)

    No wonder George is alarmed: that’s the idea.

  16. Sailor

    Geez, Tyger Tyger, I was having a relatively good day (the Russian Consulate has at last accepted our visa applications for a week’s [expensive!!] holiday in St Petersburg) before I read your comment.

    Not saying I disagree but …..ahhhh bugger. You’re probably right to bring it up. Curiously, I see no difference between either “Evil Empire” in the paranoia towards tourists. Maybe I’m the only one in step………Depressing, I believe.

  17. Belinda Roberts

    Strewth Tyger Tyger! Can you trust anyone or anything associated with the Pulitzer Prize? More like controlled confusion to me. It’s the inner sanctum of the CIA that has the devil in the detail, not the more overt security periphial stuff. “Untold History of the United States”..my ar-se. Sounds like a Fox doco, nothing but propaganda.

  18. Tyger Tyger

    That’s the way, Belinda @17. Don’t like the message – shoot the messenger. Friend of the “great defender of freedom” are we? Sounds like you’re the one getting your “history” from Fox. If you have a problem with a well researched, fully annotated source you haven’t bothered to read yourself, you shouldn’t have any finding the facts cited above elsewhere.
    And you’re right about the Pulitzer. If you don’t agree with something a prize-winner says, clearly the prize and everyone associated with it are suspect. I understand: that’s the way public discourse works these days.

  19. Liamj

    I don’t see how being head of ASIO to puppet-master of the AG is a step down, quite the opposite. Steering George Brandis seems pretty easy, perhaps OSullivan should run the army too, or have they already been subverted?

  20. Dogs breakfast

    Brandis, from what I have seen, looks just like so many other politicians, so grafting, so easily led by the nose, as asses are, when a US politician performs the slightest duchessing.

    They all lack the vital quality of self respect which would allow them to see when they are being flattered and not swoon whenever USA calls upon them.

    Personally, I would be enacting laws that make it a criminal act for ISP’s telephone companies, and everyone else keeping any records of activities going back more than 6 or 12 months, rather than making them retain records. Wipe the bloody lot of them.

    And as for the copyright issue, well that just means that every time USA extends the copyright on Mickey Mouse that we have to just accept it.

    Where is our self respect.

    Sorry, stupid question.

  21. Belinda Roberts

    Woooo Tyger Tyger! ok, I might have used a bit more of a broad brush than I should have, but I see little difference between the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize. Shall I name a few of those absolute travesty of justice winners? No, I don’t need to because you know them too and I’ll probably vomit all over me keyboard just at the mention of their names.

    The point is all those awards and accolades are set up to furnish favour on shills who push the illuminous agenda..mind control, social engineering, and whether it’s academia/education, economics, politics or religion, they are the ones who get exposure. They are the ones who get profiled and glorified while the truth tellers and whistle blowers get buried and villified. So don’t fkn preach to me about “friends of freedom” when all that exists in this world is a created false reality by the likes of your prize winners and all that gets promoted is evil disguised as truth.

  22. Kevin Herbert

    Belinda Roberts: 100% agree…well put.

  23. Kevin Bernardo

    The Australian people should support George Brandis with the 18C. There is never anything to fear from open dialogue and discussion. Only those with something to hide would oppose it. Hey there Georgie Boy! Well done.

  24. The Pav

    DEar Kevin B @ 23

    Please explain who writing falsehoods is part of free speech.

    That is what Bolt was convicted of. Nothing more nothing less

  25. Meza Nohoour

    @Kevin Bernardo – can I call you Kevin?…or would you prefer Mr Bernardo?. At least it explains a few things.Pfffhhhtttbwahahaha.

  26. tonyfunnywalker

    Kevin Bernardo — you stand alone with Andrew Bolt — 18c will not be changed the IPA has told George to back – off — he botched it by butchering the opportunity by his remarks to Senators Wong and Perris. This article certainly explains some of his bizzare behaviour however. Belinda Roberts is right especially where Brandis is concerned.

  27. Uriah Sleep

    I offer no defence for Bolt, but that is very subjectional.

  28. Say It Isn't So

    “Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.” Carl Bernstein

  29. fractious

    K Bernado #23
    “There is never anything to fear from open dialogue and discussion. Only those with something to hide would oppose it”

    So why is it that your “Georgie Boy” seems … reluctant, shall we say, to extend all that openness to matters relating to climate change? Or conservation? Or sustainability? Or asylum seekers’ rights? Or…

  30. Kevin Herbert


    You’re missing the point completely.

    No-one’s prevented from discussing any of the issues you raise.

  31. Belinda Roberts

    ” Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country.” Carl Bernstein

    Geez, I hope Tyger Tyger is reading this. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. Well how about that one, Tyger!!!? Where’s my Pulitzer for exposing the Pulitzer. The first 3 letter are are least correct..” Pul” like in Pul the other leg. There are other appendages that might fit more apply, any guesses?

  32. Belinda Roberts

    err..that should have been aptly and not apply..aggh, who cares.

  33. Tyger Tyger

    I am reading, Belinda. Why the obsession with the Pulitzer? I didn’t set out to defend it and to be honest know 3/5ths of sweet f.a. about it. It’s hardly relevant and just happens to be mentioned in the quote I transcribed. I merely attempted to point out @18 that denigrating the authors of that quote because they mention somebody won a Pulitzer is an odd refutation of the facts contained therein. Have you read the book yet? Does anything you say in your posts refer in any way to what I referenced @15? I post a quote talking about the militarisation of U.S. intelligence gathering and foreign policy and you bang on about the Pulitzer!?! So what IS your point? I’m bemused to say the least.

  34. Tyger Tyger

    For what it’s worth, I pulled up Tim Weiner’s biog. on Wiki:

    “Tim Weiner (born June 20, 1956) is a New York Times reporter, author of three books and co-author of a fourth, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize[1] and National Book Award.[2] He is a graduate of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and has worked for the Times since 1993, as a foreign correspondent in Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan and as a national security correspondent in Washington, DC.[3]

    “Weiner won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting as an investigative reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, for his articles on the black budget spending at the Pentagon and the CIA.[1] His book Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget is based on that newspaper series.

    “He won the National Book Award in Nonfiction for his 2007 book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.[2]

    “He is featured along with other foreign affairs experts in interviews in Denis Delestrac’s 2010 “Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space”. Enemies: A History of the FBI, Tim Weiner’s latest book, traces the history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations—from the bureau’s creation in the early 20th century through its ongoing role in the war on terrorism.[4] Weiner places heavy emphasis on the role of J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO.[5]”

    I’ll have to get a couple of his books. Sounds like he’s done some good work to me and might even know a bit more about the topics on which he writes than you, Belinda, having dedicated much of his working life to them. Or should I simply dismiss his output because he’s won a Pulitzer?

  35. Tyger Tyger

    BTW, Say it isn’t so @28, one of the few things I DO know about the Pulitzer is that Bernstein himself won one for uncovering Watergate with Woodward. Does that negate the quote you posted? Of course not. That would be silly.

  36. Belinda Roberts


    That’s why Bernstein knew so much on the overlap between Journalism and the CIA. There is strong evidence that Nixon was derailed by the CIA and Watergate was a CIA plot.

    The evidence presents that Nixon was becoming too stubborn and moving away from the script. He had to go, enter Bernstein who received all the credit but it was the agency administering all along.

  37. Belinda Roberts

    What is going with this website? I have tried to place several posts and it just fades on me or stalls and then the post disappears. Nice one Crikey.

  38. Tyger Tyger

    Well Belinda, at least you’ve stopped talking about the Pulitzer. So what exactly is “why Bernstein knew so much”? Because he investigated Watergate or because he won that thing we won’t ever speak of again? I’m confused. I’m also fully aware of the CIA’s efforts to infiltrate journalism and academia. They’ve co-opted and commissioned many “respected” academics and journalists to write stuff pushing the party line. That would be the least of their myriad crimes. And Nixon was “derailed” by his own drunken, paranoid lunacy and the fact he wanted it all on tape; the CIA weren’t required. He was “off the rails” long before he was even elected. I still fail to see the relevance of anything you’ve said regards my original post.
    If you think I’m somehow defending the CIA, the U.S. intelligence community or U.S. foreign policy in any way, I’m not. The point my original post makes is that intelligence gathering and foreign policy in the U.S. has, over a long period of time, been politicised and militarised to the point where it’s impossible for the government of the day to get any sort of objective, disinterested analysis of the situation, and is instead conducted along ideological lines to manufacture fear and ensure there’s always an “enemy” to justify the continuing expansion of the military-industrial complex. This is all done under the cover of America’s “exceptionalist” vision of itself as the world’s great moral leader and arbiter and is one of the main theses of the book I referenced and you dismissed out of hand because the authors mentioned something which shall now remain unmentionable. If you want to talk about that, let’s. Otherwise I’ve got better things to do.

  39. Belinda Roberts

    I have been censored TT, and you know it, so what’s the point of continuing with the subject at hand.

    For the dumbed down, Nixon was not as bad as history makes him out to be. Actually, very similar to JFK once he worked out who was pulling his strings. But go and find it out for yourself. The filters here will waste your time and my time.

  40. Tyger Tyger

    “I have been censored TT, and you know it…”

    Ummm, no, I don’t. How would I?

    “Nixon was not as bad as history makes him out to be…But go and find it out for yourself.”

    I have. It’s all on tape, remember? The criminal gang he ran from the White House; the “hit list”; the undeclared wars against Laos and Cambodia; the backing of the genocidal Yahya Khan in East Pakistan/Bangladesh; the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile and installation of Pinochet’s murderous regime in its place… Need I go on?

    So you’re right when you say he wasn’t as bad as history makes him out to be. He was worse.

  41. Recalcitrant.Rick

    I understand that Brandis is also going to require that all Aircraft, train, tram, and bus passengers are to be stopped and searched by the respective transport operators, on the basis that some of them may be carrying stolen merchandise. The gates are already being installed on all tollways for the same reason.

  42. Belinda Roberts

    ” the undeclared wars against Laos and Cambodia; the backing of the genocidal Yahya Khan in East Pakistan/Bangladesh; the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile and installation of Pinochet’s murderous regime in its place… Need I go on? ”

    Context, Biff, context. Name one US president without blood on his hands? For someone who on one hand criticizes the MSM for lack of detail you sure keep referencing it. Is everything you ever learnt come from the daily broadsheets? Huh!..I dunno.

  43. robert biggs

    Is the first dog on the far side?

  44. Tyger Tyger

    “For someone who on one hand criticizes the MSM for lack of detail you sure keep referencing it. Is everything you ever learnt come from the daily broadsheets?”

    I don’t consume much MSM, Belinda. Not really worth the time. Nowhere herein, however, have I even mentioned them, let alone criticised them for “lack of detail”. You just made that up. Another wearisome, meaningless distraction even lamer than the Pulitzer thing.

    You don’t appear to dispute anything I said about Nixon, merely dismiss it in an offhand way as stuff U.S. presidents do. Not surprising given it’s all on the White House tapes and the public record. So what does where one sources it from have to do with anything? The facts are the facts and your tedious slur regarding my education and knowledge base – about which you know nothing – just another distraction. (At least I never wrote, “Is everything you ever learnt come from the daily broadsheets?” Perhaps you meant “the ‘hood”?) But again, to attempt a return to the point, it’s not just the blood on Nixon’s hands that’s at issue here, although that’s considerable even in comparison to other U.S. presidents. It’s the concentration of intelligence gathering, foreign policy and power in the hands of a few people close to the president, the concomitant absence of any rational, objective, disinterested advice from other arms of the government and intelligence community, and the utter disregard for the processes, checks and balances that once mitigated, however imperfectly, against arbitrary, ideologically-driven actions by the president of the day.

    As for your accusing me and my arguments of lacking detail and context, I’m yet to see any of either from you. Just dark hints at conspiracy theories and “string-pulling”. How about you drop the projection and put some meat on them bones?


  45. Belinda Roberts

    Dear Biff,

    I used to love the Far Side, one of my favourites from years gone by.

    ” I’m yet to see any of either from you.”

    Do you live in a vacuum? You know that’s not true, so I will just take that as another one of your cheap ( but funny ) shots. haha

    It’s very difficult to lay out the benefits of research on a forum like Crikey due to the filters. Besides that, it’s not fair to do so even if I could because the site belongs to other people and they bare the legal responsibility if the dogs start barking. So I find myself condensing it all to what resembles the ravings of a lunatic ( don’t say it now hehe).

    As for knowledge, well, is n’t all knowledge just recycled? Knowledge has an origin, but the key is in assembling your point of view by placing knowledge in context of the probabilities. Much like a court Judge, I guess.

    I have some excellent sources on the Nixon affair and would love to share it with you. You’ll be very surprised at it’s conclusion. But how do I do that? Your uncontactable and appear to want it that way, so no problem. I am a lot like you, I never do it on the first date. hahahaha.

    Adios Amigo

  46. Tyger Tyger


  47. Belinda Roberts

    far coff cut.

  48. Owen Gary

    When I first found you, you were squirming in your embryonic blood. You believed up was down and down was up. Thanks

  49. Kevin Herbert


    Would you believe that Tyger Tyger & Belinda Roberts are one and the same person who has opened two (2) Crikey accounts…and is thus able to permanently ‘create’ self important threads full of self-important views…..ad infinitum….new wave el cheapo literary narcissism?….or that Bolivian Marching Powder is working overtime….

  50. Owen Gary

    hahahaha..dream on Kevin. Better stay off the herb too.

  51. Kevin Herbert

    Owen Gary: Touche mon ami..and you should cut back on your cross country riding!!!!

  52. Tyger Tyger

    NOTE TO KEVIN @49:

    You got me! Only my “other self” is not Belinda Roberts, it’s Kevin Herbert.

  53. Kevin Herbert

    Sorry T2: no second prizes….

  54. Tyger Tyger

    For someone who bangs on about lack of “substance” in these posts, Kev, I’m yet to see anything substantive from you. Have you read the Dept of Climate’s refutation of Plimer yet? You know the one – I provided the link for you in the posts following the Crikey review of his latest piece of ill-informed, denialist drivel, in which you, full of bombast, were imagining yourself standing at the despatch box demanding the Honourable Member provide evidence or, “Withdraw that remark!” Read it, then refute it with some FACTS and you’ll have joined the substantive party.
    Of course you won’t. You’re not really interested in answers, rather in pushing a tired, discredited line that fits in with your ideological bent. For the same reason you haven’t checked out the Renew Economy website as a starting point for answers to your questions about renewable base-load power, either. Such information might challenge your fixed ideas.
    Meanwhile, I’m just rapt to have so got under your skin. Keep saying nothing in particular while trying to “discredit” me with distractions, champ. I’m lovin’ it!

    btw: There aint no prizes for the “you’re posting in more than one name” distraction. That one’s as old as the web. Can do better. D-

Leave a comment


https://www.crikey.com.au/2014/05/05/who-and-what-country-is-driving-brandis-conservative-shift/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.