Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (19:13): I rise tonight to make some remarks about whistleblowers, their importance to democracy and how their treatment reflects on the state of democracy in Australia and in other democracies around the world.
I want to dedicate this contribution tonight to a great journalist, Mr Michael Hastings, who reported on whistleblowers and was one of the most genuinely courageous national security journalists working in the United States. I met him in London, in the northern winter, in December 2011. He and I, by coincidence, were on our way to the safe house where Julian Assange was being detained at the time. His death in a car accident in Los Angeles, at age 33, is a loss to all of us. May he rest in peace.
I have had something to do with whistleblowers in my time here. I have always been moved by their courage. The decision to blow the whistle has a profound effect on people's lives, and it can be an extremely lonely path. One person that comes immediately to mind for me is Dave Reid, a man who blew the whistle on the shocking state of health and safety standards and the culture at the radioisotope plant at the reactor complex in Sydney, at ANSTO. His revelations prompted inquiries and change, but he lost his job and he has paid a high price for his actions, even though official reports have vindicated his story and recommendation after recommendation have finally cleaned up some of the problems that he was pointing us to.
Thank you, Dave. You saw something, you did not turn away and you spoke up-and it cost you. The workers at ANSTO and the people of the Sutherland Shire are safer for what you did.
Private First Class Bradley Manning saw something and he did not turn away either. He saw war crimes. He had evidence which showed deep and systematic wrongdoing. On 11 March this year we heard in his own words what his motivations were for blowing the whistle. He said in court that he hoped the release would:
... spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also said:
I believed if the public was aware of the data, it would start a public debate of the wars.
Australia deployed troops in these wars. We are still complicit in them and their aftermath-one illegal war and one futile war.
Private Bradley Manning did spark a debate. He sparked a debate about whether killing journalists and children by remote control from helicopters is within the scope of international humanitarian law. He presented us all, the global community, with some brutal and haunting truths about how the laws of war and international human rights standards are violated in the ordinary course of conflict. For doing so, he was arrested and placed in an animal cage in Kuwait for months. He was kept naked for many more months with a light perpetually on, but he did not break.
Given what he has been through, the dignity of this extraordinary young man-he is 25 years old-is impressive and so is his statement to the court, which I now seek leave to table. This is the declassified statement of Private Bradley Manning to the court proceedings which are underway in the United States at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: After three years under harsh conditions, Private Bradley Manning is finally getting his day in court. He says:
The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this type of information should become public.
I agree with Bradley Manning, who has been incarcerated for three years.
I also thank the WikiLeaks publishing organisation, whose editor-in-chief has for one year this week been living in a room about the size of these two Senate wedges where I stand tonight. We learned much about our relationship with the United States government and about our joint efforts with them-such as, for example, the efforts to weaken the treaty to ban cluster bombs. Citizens of this country, and of countries around the world, have the right to know what is being done in our names.
Professor John Keane, the author of The Life and Death of Democracy, talks about how vital the media and non-government organisations are to the health of democracy. He calls them the watchdogs, the guide dogs and the barking dogs of scrutiny. Such scrutiny is essential for holding institutions, governments and leaders accountable for their promises-to the standards that we agree and to the rule of law.
Somebody that I admire very much and had the opportunity to meet last January, Jacob Appelbaum, has described the price one pays for being a watchdog of democracy and for working to uphold human rights and for peace. He said:
I don't have important conversations in the United States anymore. I don't have conversations in bed with my partner anymore. I don't trust any of my computers for anything at all. And in a sense, one thing that it has done is push me away from the work I've done around the world trying to help pro-democracy activists starting an Arab Spring, for example, because I present a threat, in some cases, to those people. And I have a duty as a human being, essentially, to not create a threat for people.
In the last week or two we have learned a new name, that of Edward Snowden. He has exposed the scale of surveillance being undertaken by the United States National Security Agency. While some had suspected this and some had said it was probable, we now have a better idea about what nine corporations, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, said they did not know-that their servers were backdoored by the NSA to collect information on their customers, including us.
I am concerned now for the welfare of Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who has done the world a public service. I have put questions to this government on notice this week about whether our customs and immigration services have put a watch on this man to prevent him from entering Australia-as we know the British government have.
He has stated that his greatest fear is that nothing changes as a result of his actions and his sacrifice. I found it extraordinary this week in this chamber to note the bipartisan blindfolding which seems to have occurred. Yesterday in this chamber we lost a vote-10 against the rest of the chamber-just to request the Attorney-General to make a public statement in the other place to inform Australians about the degree of our complicity. For all we know, perhaps Australia is not complicit. Perhaps we have not engaged in the systematic violations of the rule of law and customary democratic practice we have seen in the United States. We are owed that explanation by the Australian Attorney-General. Nobody in here yesterday would make eye contact as they voted that motion down.
I will conclude by quoting a great philosopher, Robert Foster of Rap News. He said:
Whistleblowers, they leak in the public interest, now what remains to be known is, is the public interested? If so, this might be a good day to exhibit it. Ignorance is choice in the age of the internet.