Contributed by Jim Hayes
The David McBride trail in Canberra reveals two sides of Australia. On the one hand is David, who on Monday said, “today I serve my country.” He as referring to the importance of standing for the truth and honouring the right of every citizen to know what is being done in their name. The other is the prosecution strongly pushing that the public interest should not be accepted as a defence. This questions the right of citizens to be informed.
A sharper contrast is hard to imagine. Its playing out in court is a reminder that Australia is drifting towards deepening authoritarianism, where big brother spies on everything and the wall of secrecy to cover what those in power don’t want us to see grows by the day.
McBride has been charged with 5 crimes, including the unauthorised disclosure of information, breaches of the Defence Act, and theft of Commonwealth property. Put this into proper perspective. These charges concern his having gone on air at the ABC to reveal the murder of innocent civilians. The property theft, presumably, refers to documents and footage showed as evidence.
Public angst against the prosecution has already delivered trial by jury, instead of the case been heard by judges behind closed doors. The opening of the trial was accompanied the presence of McBride supporters gathered in a vigil outside the court. McBride spoke to them briefly before he entered the court.
Photo from ABC News: David McBride addresses media and supporters outside the Canberra Supreme Court
Australia knows that the charges are overreach, and a political response to embarrassing disclosures. McBride has been accused of harming Australia’s national security interests. Implying that the hiding of murder is necessary is an indictment on is own.
In its preliminary address to the court, the prosecution argued that McBride had a duty not to disclose the information. The defence answered this by saying had a duty to act in the public interest. The prosecution added that when it comes to the alleged contravention of military discipline, if there is an issue here, it is a matter to be considered by a military tribunal and not a court.
Lead prosecutor Patricia McDonald SC told the court,
“Nowhere in the oath does it refer to the public interest or say that members of the ADF have to serve in the public interest”.
Stephen Odgers SC for the defence responded with,
“In the 21st century, for the crown to make the contention that the duty of the member of armed forces is to obey unquestioningly a lawful order from a superior officer … ignores the acceptance in our society that members of the military have higher duties”.
The Australian government is seeking to be party to the case, saying that the National Security Information Act imposes a duty on anyone working for the government to observe the restriction of information that the government wishes to be restricted.
Regardless of this, the outcome will ultimately be influenced by a political decision, coloured by the demand of political expediency. The toss up is between a perceived need to set a warning precedent for other who might wish to speak out, or to duck the likely political fallout that a conviction will probably bring.
The case continues before Justice David Mossop.