By Cynthia Kardell, President, Whistleblowers Australia (a version of this article with hyperlinks: http://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/Kardell15.html)
These are dangerous times for whistleblowers and the “fair go” society we have grown to know and love.
Solid information is becoming very hard to come by and it is likely to become even harder if, for example, our healthcare professionals allow themselves to be intimidated by the draconian border protection laws enacted only recently by federal parliament. These laws have little or nothing to do with maintaining the security of our borders and everything to do with frightening good people into silence in the face of human suffering and tragedy. More than ever before we need people of good will, like our healthcare workers, to stand firm with those who come forward in the public’s interest to put what is right ahead of rampant political self-interest.
We may need to see many more of us pushing back with rallies and social media like the “je suis Charlie” campaigns with “je suis refugee” # tags, flags and banners flying from every corner of our nation before our political representatives get the message of not in our name you don’t, when you try to stop good people exercising their ethical and professional responsibilities to speak out for their patients, whether they be asylum seekers or not.
If you need any convincing about what might be the result if these draconian laws are not repealed, then consider recent revelations that top psychologists and senior officials in the American Psychological Association (APA) secretly collaborated with the Bush Administration’s interrogation programs. The secret “rendition” laws ensured that we too were a part of it. If we are ever to learn anything from history, then this is the time to learn that this shocking behaviour is the natural endpoint of laws introduced to normalise wrongdoing and justified as needed to combat the wrongdoing of our geopolitical enemies. It is a race to the bottom with tragic human consequences.
We have learnt the Bush administration deliberately legislated processes to make it acceptable for ordinary people to secretly torture others for reward, when we all know that waterboarding and other forms of torture are illegal, inhumane and a failure anyway, because the evidence obtained is worthless. But worse, these laws and policies were deliberately set in place to corrupt and encourage the compliance of citizens, even when they violated every value that people hold dear.
The APA revelations make for some very uncomfortable comparisons much closer to home and not so long ago. It was the 1970s when top cop Phil Arantz exposed falsified police crime statistics and was forcibly sectioned and detained by government agents in the Prince Henry Psychiatric Hospital in Sydney to bury him with his allegations.
It was not an isolated incident, because by the 1990s Soviet-style psychiatry had become standard practice for some. They were what the late Dr Jean Lennane, Whistleblowers Australia’s founder, called the “hired guns,” who were all too willing to do a government agency’s bidding to ensure that whistleblowers were seen to be bad or mad or both.
But better methods of getting good information out there are tipping the balance in the public’s favour more often and creating enduring legal precedents. The recent court ruling by Justice Hollingworth in the Victorian Supreme Court is being seen as one of the first tests in a superior Commonwealth court of the need, and the difficulty in the digital era, of balancing a country’s national security and diplomatic interests against the public’s right to know.
Justice Hollingworth had previously issued a suppression order to prevent misreporting in Australia’s biggest bribery case, but later quashed the suppression orders when WikiLeaks’ publication of their contents made the suppression orders redundant.
Yes, indeed! Whistleblowers Australia says thanks are certainly due to an anonymous whistleblower and WikiLeaks, because the public’s interest in political transparency should always trump fanciful arguments about national security.
The lifting of the orders means Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, his predecessor Abdullah Badawi and Indonesian leaders Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri (who all deny any wrongdoing) may now be named in the event they are subject to any allegations in future court proceedings involving Australian businessmen charged with foreign bribery offences.
But these are dangerous times for whistleblowers and those who stand shoulder to shoulder with them, because of the opportunity that the spread of militias like Da’esh has offered to really conservative governments to make laws that intimidate, even terrify their own citizens into accepting more and more secrecy in government to keep themselves safe from us! If our whistleblowers and journalists can be jailed, good people everywhere like you and me will be left with very little other than a well founded fear that they have been duped. Because you do not beat extreme conservative fundamentalism by matching it with them! We need to stand proud, on the things that make us very different. Open, accountable, secular and civil society that embraces whistleblowers and the good people everywhere who stand with them!
This is why it is so important at least once a year to say thanks to all the whistleblowers who we have come to know in the media and the hundreds and hundreds of others who we will never know. Whistleblowers from our charities, schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, police, private businesses large and small and banks and financial institutions, who have been quietly blowing their whistles, all the while despairing that it was a bit like throwing a pebble into a pond, but hoping that the ripple effect might over time build a better, open, more civil society. And, looking back over nearly a quarter of a century we think it has, which is why Whistleblowers Australia would like to say, thank you to all good people everywhere!
Cynthia Kardell, President, Whistleblowers Australia
A version of this article with hyperlinks: http://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/Kardell15.html