Contributed by Jim Hayes
When the Scott Morrison government claims it is working on a plan to protect democracy, counter disinformation and promote transparency, it’s time to get worried. These are not exactly this government’s style.
The track record has been to whittle away at rights and undermining democracy, scapegoating certain communities, restricting and punishing journalism, hunting down whistleblowers exposing wrongdoing, increasing surveillance of citizens, and seeking to pull away rights at work, while being the least transparent government seen for a long time.
Claims to be aiming at the opposite don’t match up, and only make sense as a cover for something entirely different.
A task force within the within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is to be established, to counter supposed propaganda campaigns and promoters of social division, we are told. The real target are Australian citizens. The purpose is to silence critics.
Online activist group GetUp is a special target, already accused of spreading propaganda and social division. GepUp has also been accused of being an agency for foreign interference.
GetUp counter Advance Australia was set up in 2018, is linked to the Liberal Party and big business lobbies, and through this, Advance Australia is associated with the government.
The attack is also far more extensive than dealing with GetUp.
The Liberal Party has a history of setting up a network of social media accounts, and the use of created identities to promote the government and troll critics. All contrary comment is labelled as fake news. There have been cloned accounts imitating opponents, attributed to people connected to the Liberal Party or government. The government and media are closely intertwined, especially when it concerns the Rupert Murdoch NewsCorp empire, which is not exactly innocent of falsifying news.
Special attention has been paid the Chinese platform WeChat. It is a messaging platform every similar to messenger and WhatsApp. This means a whole range of individuals and organisations use it to putout what they have to say. Some of it is pro-government. Some of it is against.
But this hasn’t stopped from being singled out as a propaganda vehicle for the Chinese government, while other platforms, especially those based in the United States, are left alone.
Claims are made that Chinese and Russian social media are means to interfere in Australia’s domestic affairs and that this must be stopped. Undoubtedly some critical comments come from sources like WeChat, and there could be an element of surveillance. But then again critical comments come from all platforms, the intelligence services of all countries are involved in spying, and this includes Australia’s.
A selective response suggests that the real target is unwanted opinion, and mostly unwanted opinion form Australians. This is especially telling, when the nation is ringed by American surveillance posts, and at the time when there is a further plan to give the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), open access to spy on all Australians.
No other countries spies on Australia and Australian citizens, recruits agents, and offers money, applies diplomatic pressure, anywhere near the scale practiced by the United States. Wikileaks revealed documents that show the CIA has been using various tools to hack into computers, mobiles phones and other hardware linked to the Internet.
The Task Force is going to take part in counter propaganda activities across the Asia Pacific region. In other words, it is going to be party to building propaganda networks to interfere in other countries.
In March this year, at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit, the United States Ambassador called on the Australian government to increase its participation in the Us led effort to counter Chinese influence in South East Asia. The Task Force is one means to comply with this request.
The mission is therefore not to protect democracy, counter disinformation, promote transparency, and protect Australia from foreign interference. It is about attacking democracy, censoring criticism, creating a big brother state. And it is about locking Australia more securely into the geopolitical agenda of the United States during the Donald Trump era, as well as assisting United States interference in Australia’s domestic affairs.
If this were genuinely about protecting democracy, there would be action to dismantle laws and practices that have undermined it. Means would be put in place, to help give a voice to those currently without one.
If this were genuinely about protecting the nation’s sovereignty, there would be moves to ensure no country, no matter who, is allowed to interfere in Australia’s internal Affairs.
Lest but not least, if there is a genuine intention to put a stop to fake news, the target would be to set up standards promoting proper evidence based news, to tackle monopoly control of media, outlaw profiling and vilification according to race, ethnicity, culture, and faith.
The Scott Morrison government would start by cleaning its own back yard.