Words by: Jonathon Davidson
Last year at Rotunda we exhausted ourselves doing idiot’s guides and articles on the big national issues, the offshore processing of asylum seekers on Nauru, metadata, privatization, the inability of the Abbott leadership to engage in meaningful discourse with young Australians, the gay marriage debate, the role of the media, the systematic removal of Aboriginal heritage sites from the heritage registry without any alert, the antics of the West Australian government, Australia’s position on Internet provision and pirating, arts funding and Australian security laws, just to name a few recurring topics. This was all alongside all our killer music reviews, arts write-ups and entertainment pieces, and if you enjoy this mix, you can buckle in for another year because in the last two weeks it’s become very apparent how little change we’ve undergone.
In January, the Human Rights Watch released its 2016 report, in which Australia was slammed for its anti terror and security measures, treatment of Indigenous Australians, disability rights, sexual orientation rights, as well as its asylum seeker policies, reportedly now leading diplomatic circles to “shake their heads” when Australia is mentioned.
You’ve probably read today that Australia is likely to be sending 267 further asylum seekers to Nauru island, despite the outcries of human rights groups, doctors, journalists, senators and organisations like Unicef and and Amnesty, and the 2015 Moss Report that detailed highly disturbing and extensive cases of mental, physical and sexual abuse within Nauru. The report, which received a lot of media attention and then its own corresponding smear campaign from the coalition, was also released to the public about 1/4 totally censored and with information redacted from some of the most serious case reports involved, and was essentially hidden on “border.gov.au” until it rose to the top of Google. Still under wraps from the popular spotlight is the often high rate of LGBT individuals amongst those seeking asylum, and the homophobia that exists in our policies on top of the general “being an awful hypocritical nation.”
This concealing of information seems to be a phenomena in no short supply from our State and Federal leaders. Just at the end of last month, The West Australian ran a front page feature based around the revelation that the Perth state government had rejected Freedom of Information requests into ten of the biggest infrastructure projects being developed in WA in the last five years.
Updates to whisteblower laws made in 2014 regarding ASIO have been in the media spotlight twice in the last 24 hours. Yesterday a writer at the Guardian reported on the findings of a 2015 report from Australia’s national security legislation monitor, Roger Gyles QC, which stated that vague and broadly applicable laws prohibiting journalists from reporting on special intelligence operations, could in fact see journalists jailed for reporting illegal spying by ASIO, if that situation were to arise – fears that were risen back in April last year, and reiterated again this month. Today, George Brandis told The Australian that if a journalist is to ever be chased legally for reporting on ASIO, it will only be with his permission, a similar sentiment to that given by Julie Bishop last year when concerning media reports on leaks from her office. This promise from Brandis was delivered in the same monologue where he ensured that protections were being enhanced. You should only trust that as far as you can throw it, especially keeping in mind last year the Abbott government requested that they’d like to keep the national security legislation monitor as a part-time role. Interestingly, it looks like journalists are going to end up with more rights than ASIO personnel.
Metadata retention, as an issue, hasn’t gone anywhere. The government have currently put out an industry grants program to small Australian Internet Service Providers (think Dodo) who cannot afford to retain 2 years of metadata. A large list of organisations recently requested to be classified as security and intelligence bodies, thus having access to Australian metadata, much to the apparent non-concern of the Australian community. The fact that among those organisations lies the Australian Post, the National Measurement Institute, the RSPCA and local councils goes to show just how easy it is to declare yourself as requiring a security arm in your operations, and also just how many authoritative bodies are keeping their eye on the troves of citizen data now required to be kept. Canberra have recently been in trouble for accessing metadata without a warrant in order to ‘update territory tax laws’ – that happened on Monday.
To end on that vein, it’s also come out that centrelink are hiring private, outsourced contractors to e-stalk Australians receiving welfare, and check their social media accounts to ensure that they are not committing fraud. This is despite the news which broke over Christmas that big Australian-active companies like Transfield, News Australia, Fairfax Media, Vodafone and Chevron, all evaded massive portions of their owed taxes.