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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6064


Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (12:23): I cannot help but take the bait—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Sinodinos ): I thought you might.

Senator LUDLAM: as I presume Senator Brandis was hoping that I would, and draw the distinction which appears to have escaped Senator Brandis: that the threshold of transparency that we apply to states for obvious reasons is qualitatively and quantitatively different to the threshold of privacy that we should apply to private citizens and individuals. As a citizen in a democratic country, we should be afforded privacy online and offline. States, on the other hand, particularly democratic states—if we have pretensions to be one and to be in military alliances with similar democratic states—should also afford transparency and accountability to their citizens. That is part of our role as a chamber, but there are many other ways of doing that.

I presume Senator Brandis and his colleagues would have been interested to know what our government was up to and what the United States government was up to: seeking DNA samples and seeking to surveil diplomats to the United Nations. War crimes were disclosed—indiscriminate killings by our great and powerful ally, the United States—in theatres to which Australian troops were deployed. I do not think you can argue, Senator Brandis, that those disclosures, which were run in the mainstream press on front page after front page for months, were not strongly in the public interest.

We can perhaps take this debate elsewhere, because I recognise that it is somewhat a departure from the clauses we are debating, but to me this bill is a powerful instance of governments getting that balance wrong. We are seeing in the United States at the moment with this assault on whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, which was drafted during the First World War, while in Australia there is no sign of formal legislative protections at a federal level for whistleblowers, that states are seeking zero disclosure of their internal matters while seeking total transparency of the private affairs of their citizens, including us. That is where I think the balance is wrong and where we need as legislators and as citizens of Australia, and as global citizens, in effect, to push back and retain some measure of privacy for ourselves. I think this bill gets the balance precisely wrong. I commend our final amendments to the Senate.