Australia’s foreign interference laws threaten whistleblowers and media freedom
9 July 2018
An exchange on June 28 in the parliament, prompted by questions from Green senator Andrew Bartlett, underscored the fact that Australia’s sweeping new “foreign interference” laws have immense implications, not only for whistleblowers, but for the right of media organisations to publish leaked information. Aspects of the legislation, relating to espionage and secrecy, appear to call into question what millions of Australians consider to be fundamental democratic rights and the freedom of speech.
Bartlett highlighted remarks made in an interview by Liberal-National Coalition government member Andrew Hastie—the former special forces officer who chairs the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which drew up much of the legislation.
Hastie insisted that the laws were needed, in part, to criminalise “seeking to get secrets from the United States.” He declared that Australia could not allow “radical transparency.” Asked to define this term, he said: “Radical transparency is Julian Assange dumping a whole bunch of Commonwealth secrets out for public consumption.”
In parliament, Bartlett challenged the government over Hastie’s statement. He commented: “The things he [Assange] exposed and, more specifically and definitely, that Edward Snowden exposed, are things that governments wanted hidden—things so-called democratic governments were doing to their own people. So now we have that definition—‘radical transparency is Julian Assange.’ These laws are attempts to criminalise and attack people like Julian Assange. Let’s not forget that Julian Assange is acknowledged as, and registered as, a…