Jul 31, 2014

DFAT needs to explain itself over ‘superinjunction’ debacle

The Department of Foreign Affairs' attempt to gag debate over a bribery scandal has blown up in its face. It should explain its role in the Victorian Supreme Court superinjunction.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The debacle over the Victorian Supreme Court's attempt to gag the media from reporting a prominent bribery case reached high farce overnight, when news sites in one of the countries related to the case reported details of the injunction, revealed by WikiLeaks yesterday. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had argued for the injunction in June, claiming that national security and international relations could be affected by revelation of details relating to the case, involving bribery of political figures. The massive attention paid to the injunction after it was revealed by WikiLeaks has ensured that DFAT's rationale has been completely undermined, particularly with regional publications revealing the names of local figures suppressed by the order, producing the very consequence DFAT had sought to prevent. The case involves bribery claims relating to the production of Australian plastic currency banknotes. DFAT's effort to gag the media is another example of the current government's willingness to use international relations and national security as a means of avoiding scrutiny of officials' behaviour. The head of the government's anti-asylum seeker activities, General Angus Campbell, has relied heavily on avoiding "undermining regional relationships" as a justification for withholding a wide range of information about "Operation Sovereign Borders" from parliamentary committees and the media. Attorney-General George Brandis has also invoked national security as a pretext for avoiding scrutiny on ASIO's raid on a whistleblower who revealed Australia spied on the East Timorese cabinet, even after evidence emerged that directly contradicted the claims of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's claims about the matter. Bureaucracies attempting to keep the citizenry in the dark are bad enough, but invoking international relations and national security should immediately raise suspicions about what is being kept hidden, given such areas receive far less scrutiny and are subject to far less accountability -- either via the media or via Parliament -- than is warranted. The lack of transparency around DFAT's assessment of the public interest -- and any of its own interests that may be affected -- means that its behaviour can't be debated by the Australian media, despite the high level of public interest in the issue. Perhaps an Australian MP can follow the lead of British MPs like John Hemming and Paul Farrelly, who asked questions about the superinjunctions involving Ryan Giggs and Trafigura in the UK, thereby freeing the media to report on them. Then our own media can publicly participate in a debate that is occurring in foreign media and on social media. Perhaps DFAT would like to participate as well, and justify its actions.

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10 thoughts on “DFAT needs to explain itself over ‘superinjunction’ debacle

  1. klewso

    DFAT (AWB/NPA) isn’t a dog in this fight?

  2. klewso

    What we need is one of those “truth commissions” Abbott has proved so fond of – to go back over the “Howard legacy”, that seems to be paying such dividends all over the place now?
    Then again it might draw attention from other issues they’re at play with on the international stage?

  3. Stuart Coyle

    The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

  4. zut alors

    Sounds like we’re emulating the Soviet Union circa 1950s.

    Soviet citizens had to queue back in that era whereas we chuckled at the practice. Now we queue…

  5. AR

    Sorry BK, “Perhaps an Australian MP can follow the lead of British MPs” – does not compute. That would require
    a)a modicum of independent thought
    b)an ethical framework
    c)courage and a sense of public weal
    but the real problem is that it would require a functioning brain – with the exception of your bete noir the Greens, the other parties all require their homunculae to sign away all pretense of thought and toe the party line, no matter what it is – remember Shorterm’s quintessential expression of this when he said “I don’t know what the PM said but I support it 100%”.
    Tow the party line seems more appropriate.

  6. Venise Alstergren

    How much longer will the right wing voters be content to see this country becoming an autocracy and a dictatorship? This is Australia, for Christ’s sake, and we are no longer to be trusted with facts? How much longer are we prepared to see the withholding of information vís a vís refugees, only to be attacked by Morrison for disregarding the facts. What facts? We are no longer allowed to read the facts.

    How much longer are they prepared to see the awful little minister to crush the environment, rhyming slang Hunt, to destroy the Great Barrier Reef, grant a license to a foreign country to convert it from a huge wilderness area into a barren coal dump, how much longer are any of us happy to comply with idiot George Brandis’s latest farrago? How much longer are we prepared to allow our children’s schooling to be under the aegis of Christopher Pyne? One of the least educated members of Tony Abbott’s ‘front bench.’

    Because the longer we tolerate this destroyer of information laughingly referred to as the Liberal Party, the longer it will take to get rid of it.

  7. klewso

    And they knew about this before MH17?

  8. Fair Suck of the Sav

    All this when were promised greater transparency. That lie grows larger everyday.

  9. Peter Watson

    This government is like nothing Australia has known. The longer that ALP, Greens, and PUP, allow this lot to continue trying to govern Australia, the more damage they will do to our democracy.

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