Australia remains one of the freest countries in the world, according to the latest report from global watchdog Freedom House.
According to the US government-backed NGO, Australia scored 97/100 on its survey of global political rights and civil liberties.
Only seven countries, including Canada (98), Norway, Sweden and Finland (100 — it’s always Scandinavia!) beat us. Australia and New Zealand (also 97) are the freest countries in our region, according to the report, well ahead of neighbours like Indonesia (61), Papua New Guinea (62) and Fiji (60).
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The United Kingdom is slightly behind us (94), while the United States, land of the free, is way back on 86.
But for anyone who paid attention to Australian politics in 2019, our rating might seem strangely high. While Australia’s rating dropped from 98 to 97, that decrease is small for a year when the erosion of press freedom became stark, headline news.
Our rosy report card is also inconsistent with other recent studies. Late last year, global civil society monitor CIVICUS downgraded Australia’s civic rating from “open” to “narrowed”. Speaking to Crikey at the time, CIVICUS research officer Joseph Benedict noted the “number of regressive steps” taken by the government.
CIVICUS were particularly concerned with the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) raids on the ABC, and on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, over reporting on national security matters. While those incidents outraged many in the media, who saw an unprecedented assault on press freedom, they were met by a shrug of indifference from the Morrison government.
Meanwhile, we saw the expansion and abuse of police powers in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. And in Senate estimates this week, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) admitted it had been spying on Australians for the past year due to “rare circumstances”.
Ironically, it was Smethurst’s 2018 report that the ASD would soon have powers to spy on Australians which led the AFP to raid her home last year.
So, while political rights and civil liberties in Australia might be strong compared to the worst offenders (China gets a 10, Syria a 0), it’s hard to deny we have plenty of work to do.
Freedom House’s full narrative report for Australia will be available next week.