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Home Features Whistleblowers pay a high price for embarrassing the government
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DEPARTMENTSDepartment of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Federal Police, Australian Human Rights Commission
TAGS Australian Federal Police, Whistleblowing
OPINION: The law that enables the AFP to go after whistleblowers and journalists contains no public-interest defence. That needs to be fixed, but the next government must also prioritise changing the “craven culture” of the AFP.
None of the politicians are talking about it, but threats to freedom of speech have emerged in three different guises in the first three weeks of the election campaign.
First there was the assailing of Duncan Storrar by that bastion of free speech, News Corp, for having had the nerve to put his head above the parapet on the ABC TV program Q&A, by questioning the fairness of the federal budget.
The newspaper company dredged up his criminal history — his last conviction was eight years ago — and revealed unhappy aspects of his family life.
“Does the AFP display an appropriate degree of operational independence?”
It was a chilling spectacle for other private citizens. Despite a disability and poor education, Storrar wished to make himself heard in the national debate.
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Dr Denis Muller has been a journalist, political scientist and senior executive in the Victorian Public Service. He is a Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism and a leading expert in media ethics.
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This article frames the issues involved as if they were essentially to do with whistleblowing. But from the perspective of a law enforcement agency such as the AFP and of NBN Co as an aggrieved party, a core issue is the theft of intellectual property. Does the author believe that the NBN’s confidential information was leaked as disinterested whistleblowing? And if so, what is the evidence? The reaction of the ALP suggests that information was leaked for purely political purposes and received on that basis by politicians and their advisors.
Of course, whatever the case, it is hard to see the justification for turning police raids into public spectacles.
My reading is that the whistleblower leaked not for political purposes but for public interest purposes. There is a very weighty public interest dimension to what is happening to the NBN and we can be fairly confident that only garbled versions are being presented by the political parties. The lack of candid explanation of what is going on with a $50 billion project, give or take $25 billion, is appalling.
On your final point, I wholeheartedly agree. Even if we wish to give the AFP the benefit of the doubt, its bona fides were blown away by inviting the media.