Senate debates

Thursday, 28 June 2018


National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018; In Committee

4:51 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Minister. I will ask about an example shortly, just to try and understand this further, but first I will just pick up on some of your remarks. You spoke a number of times about the 'public interest'. It's an interesting term. It's an important term. But, when you think about it, so often—and maybe more so when a politician uses it—it's equated with what the government's interests are. To highlight what I mean by that, I will use some examples from history.

There was a period when Australia actually supported apartheid. Australian government figures supported apartheid in South Africa and supported the Vietnam War. Now, in time, we—all politicians of all persuasions—came to realise that those were very wrong aspects of our foreign policy. First I will make a comment, and then I'll ask a question. I think this will give context to the question. Let's think about reporting when there were dominant forces in the Australian government who were sympathetic to and supportive, in various ways, of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and, as we know, actually were directly involved in the Vietnam War. Say this bill had been in legislation at that time, and there had been reporting of criticisms—for instance, of the My Lai massacre. At the time when it was first reported, it was as just part of the war effort, with Australia supposedly doing the right thing by stopping the invasion of communist hordes coming down to invade this country, so we had to send troops there. In time, we came to find out about the My Lai massacre—and I'm not suggesting Australians were involved in that, but it's one of the standout examples. It was deeply shocking, with children, women and elderly men killed, and many rapes, and the village burnt. But the initial reporting on it was that it was part of the war effort. It was courageous journalists who pushed through, and some courageous soldiers who gave the story. But considering we were supporting that war effort, if this legislation had been in place wouldn't it have been necessary to prosecute reporters who were writing to expose what actually happened there and who weren't directly supporting the government interest, which so often is interpreted as the public interest, considering at that time the government was presenting the public interest as stopping communist hordes coming down from Vietnam, China and elsewhere into this country and that our soldiers had to be sent there? So if this espionage legislation was in place at the time, journalists who were writing about what actually happened could have been charged for receiving and obtaining, collecting, communicating, publishing or making information available that was contrary to the government interest and public interest of the time?


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