||Issue No. 278||26 August 2005|
A Secret Country
Interview: On Holiday
Unions: One Day Longer
Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Politics: Spun Out
Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
History: Taking a Stand
International: The Split
Legal: Pushing the Friendship
Poetry: Simple Subtractions
Review: Sydney Trashed
The Locker Room
Proof in the Pudding
Safeguards Already There
A Secret Country
Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey's 'crime' is to protect the sources of a story that embarrassed a government minister; but their prosecutions speaks of an erosion in accepted freedoms that is occurring before our eyes.
In the name of fighting terrorism, we have accepted - through the political consensus - a whittling down of our civil rights in the name of giving our governments the power to keep us safe.
There is an argument that some of these changes , such as giving government agencies power to monitor, interrogate and detain suspected terrorists, may be justified; but they open the door for abuses.
The Herald Sun journos' story related to national security in only the most tenuous way - changes to the payments of veterans.
But as Workers Online reveals this week, the targeting of journalists is not confined to Defence; Australian Financial Review journalist Marcus Priest has also been questioned by Australian Federal Police attempting to track the source of the leak of a story critical of Workplace Relations minister Kevin Andrews.
This sort of interrogation crosses a new line in intimidating both journalists and their sources within government departments. Silent supplication can be the only objective.
And, as building legislation currently before the Senate proves, this is an approach wholly consistent with the Howard Government's new unshackled administration. The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act takes decisive steps towards criminalising industrial activities.
Based on the expensive and discredited Cole Royal Commission, the government has drawn up laws giving it the power to fine workers and unions who take action outside narrowly defined legal parameters.
In order to find such action illegal, government officials are given powers to interrogate workers and jail them if they refuse to answer questions that incriminate either themselves or fellow workers.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission will have unprecedented powers for a government authority and has already shown its preparedness to secretly tape workers and send letters to their home addresses before industrial action. The building blocks are in place to develop a system of personal files on workers' industrial history, that would warm the cockles of J Edgar Hoover's heart.
And Howard Government ministers have already suggested this model will be applied across the entire Australian workforce once it is bedded down.
The alarming thing is not just that the government is pushing these laws through the Senate, but that there has been so little debate and outrage about them. Maybe this is what happens when we are lulled into thinking the government is dealing with a crisis of national security.
Add in a federal government prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising to spin their truth; an open-ended war and the continual marginalisation of other cultures - ramped up so deftly by Brendan Nelson this week - and we start to have the sort of society George Orwell warned us about.
Notions such as freedom of the press, the right to silence and the right to strike may sound twee concepts hardly worth the fight. Until they are taken away.
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