The public forum “Breaking Australia's silence: WikiLeaks and freedom” took place on March 16 at Sydney Town Hall. More than 2000 people attended. The event was staged by the Sydney Peace Foundation, Amnesty, the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, and supported by the City of Sydney.
It featured speeches by journalist John Pilger, MP Andrew Wilkie (the only serving Western intelligence officer to expose the truth about the Iraq invasion) and human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, QC.
Pilger’s speech to the meeting appears below. The video recording of the event also appears below.
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This is a secret document [holds up document]. It is dated September 29, 2009. It was leaked by the Ministry of Defence in London to WikiLeaks. It identiﬁes what it calls the “greatest threats” to the national security of the West.
At the top of the list, a terrorist and Russian spies. Yes, Russian spies.
But by far the biggest threat is said to come from one group: journalists. Investigative journalists! How gratifying that is.
In other words, journalists who do their job, who tell you, the public, how and why politicians lie to you and start wars in your name and threaten our security must somehow be stopped. Coerced, even smeared.
This is another secret document, leaked of course by WikiLeaks. This one is from the Pentagon in Washington and explains in great detail the predicament facing Julian Assange. It is dated almost exactly three years ago and describes the planning of a smear campaign to destroy WikiLeaks.
And I quote, “destroying WikiLeaks’ centre of gravity, its public trust”. And this would be achieved with, “threats of exposure and criminal prosecution”. Three years ago.
Silencing a rare source of independent journalism is the explicit aim. Smear is the method.
Why? Because the real threat is not WikiLeaks or Julian Assange but you, the public.
The real threat is you, ﬁnding out the truth about those who pretend to be democratic and to act in your interests and to promote a peaceful world. The real threat is your right to call your government to account.
And by that I don’t mean the usual circus of tweedledee and tweedledum, with the very honourable exception of Andrew Wilkie, competing for your vote, but the telling of truths that allow us to examine the cynicism that deﬁnes Australia’s place in the world increasingly.
When the truth is replaced by silence, said the Soviet dissident [Yevgeny] Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie”.
This meeting tonight is about Australia’s silence on the denigration of Australia’s basic liberties, such as freedom of speech and the presumption of innocence.
It’s about the right of Australians to know what their government is doing in their name, in secret. It’s about the duty of those charged with alerting the public to the truth — journalists, broadcasters, writers, academics — to end their compliance with rapacious power.
To be corrupted by totalitarianism, wrote George Orwell, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.
And it is about a plight of an Australian citizen and a very courageous one, Julian Assange. Threatened with an epic miscarriage of justice and incarceration in a hellhole in America. Like the heroic Bradley Manning whose conditions of torture President Obama called the other day “appropriate”.
In 1917, Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented the term “public relations” as a euphemism for propaganda, which he said the Germans had given a bad name.
Bernays was the “father of spin”. He described spin as the intelligent manipulation of the public with “false realities,” which a compliant media would dispense. He called this an “invisible government that is the true ruling power in democracies”.
Declassiﬁed ofﬁcial ﬁles from the past tell us how this invisible government has worked. In 1968, the British Chief of Staff wrote: “The Soviet Union will not deliberately start general war or even limited war in Europe.”
This was in stark contrast to what the propaganda disguised as journalism told us year after year. Imagine, just imagine if we had WikiLeaks back then. The Cold War may have ended well before the Berlin Wall came down.
In the 1960s, Prime Minister Robert Menzies lied to us that the Saigon regime had pleaded with Australia to go to war in Vietnam. In fact, we know now that this was false, that Menzies sent our men to war on a lie, hoping to impress Washington.
He didn’t give a damn about the people of Vietnam. Imagine, just imagine, if we had WikiLeaks then. All those Diggers that died might have lived. That suffering might not have happened.
Today something has changed. Reality is no longer what governments echo and what the media say it is. Of all the spectacular revolts in the world, the most exciting and hopeful is the insurrection of knowledge, much of it sparked by WikiLeaks.
I know this to be true because over the years as a reporter and as a witness I have watched […] subjugated knowledge give power to people instantaneously — from Southeast Asia to the Chagos Islands, to the people of East Timor.
In those cases, the governments said one thing in private and lied in public. Their reaction in being caught out, as I know from personal experience, and Andrew Wilkie certainly knows from personal experience, is ruthless and rough.
They hate it. They hate the democracy of knowledge and they abuse and they smear and worse, as Julian Assange now knows all too well.
In Australia, we have an urgent and critical part to play. For unless we make our voices heard now, Julian Assange is likely to end up in a judicial system in the US that is now so corrupted that not a single detainee since 9/11 has been accorded any redress in America’s courts, including innocent people detained and tortured.
Sitting with us today, on my invitation, is one of those people. Like Julian Assange, he’s a courageous Australian citizen who is denied the help of his government. His name is David Hicks [sustained applause].
For six years, David was incarcerated in the hellholes of Guantanamo. He was beaten for hours on end, his bones were broken and things were done to him that you can’t imagine.
David was tried in a military kangaroo court yet has not received legal redress. Nor has he received a cent in compensation from the US regime or his own government in Canberra, which allowed this outrage to go on and on.
I was then going to ask you to join me in your support for justice for David, but youʼve already done that.
David Hicks broke no Australian law, even [former Australian PM] John Howard admitted this. His conviction was illegal.
In 2003, the then shadow Attorney-General Robert McClelland demanded a public inquiry into the treatment of David Hicks.
Eight years later, McClelland is the attorney general and his silence is a scandal. What David Hicks and Julian Assange have in common is that two prime ministers and two attorney-generals have thrown these two Australians into a chasm of injustice and suffering.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have broken no law and are charged with no crime and it is clear the Gillard government is trying to do to Assange what the Howard government did to David Hicks.
Not only has the prime minister defamed Assange in suggesting he was guilty of and charged with a crime.
Not only has the attorney-general threatened to take away the passport of an Australian citizen guilty of no crime, we now know that they have secretly discussed a charge of treason against Assange.
I know that the attorney-general has been made personally fully aware that the circumstances of Assange’s problems in Sweden stink. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” said Marcellus in Hamlet. I would substitute Sweden for Denmark.
The other day the Sydney Morning Herald declared that Assange should give up his appeal and be extradited from Britain. The paper called Sweden a neutral country. Sweden has not been a neutral country for 30 years.
Two weeks ago, a parliamentary brieﬁng in Canberra heard expert evidence that under international standards the behaviour of leading ﬁgures in the Assange case in Sweden would be considered “highly improper” and reprehensible and preclude a fair trial.
The Swedish prime minister is a warmongering mate of George W. Bush and has hired Bush’s crony Karl Rove to advise him on the problem of Julian Assange.
The law partner of one of the leading ﬁgures pursuing Assange was the minister of justice who in 2001 secretly handed over two innocent asylum seekers to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport.
Sweden later awarded them damages for their torture in Egypt.
The implications for Julian Assange in Sweden are dire. Not a word of this critical hearing in Canberra was reported or broadcasted in the mainstream media in Australia. Instead we had been saturated with the spectacle of Julia Gillard in Washington.
Yet again an Australian prime minister has made us a laughing stock. In a so called historic address to Congress, a Congress half ﬁlled with interns and minor ofﬁcials, Gillard surpassed Robert Menzies’ notorious declaration of love for the Queen.
It actually reminded me of a grovelling Stalinist party boss in Eastern Europe summoned to Moscow during the Cold War. That her foreign minister was at the same time arranging the Middle East, trying to start an air war in Libya, added a macabre element to the whole farce.
The Australian media reported that Gillard’s speech was punctuated with ovation and had members rise to their feet. Had they no clue that all of this is orchestrated? Watch the footage of Blair doing the same turn with Bush and Obama.
The standing ovations are mandatory. It is what Edward Bernays would call
However, there was a serious purpose: to ensure that Australian troops remain in Afghanistan — that disaster where NATO’s latest achievement is killing nine children collecting ﬁrewood.
Have we no pride? Have we no historical sense that with every prime minister we elect, their ﬁrst wishes are the priorities of the United States, a nation whose record of violence is documented in the crushing of 50 governments since World War II, many of them democracies?
It is no wonder that WikiLeaks and real journalism are considered as threats in that
In Washington, Gillard described [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton as “the emblem of female leadership”.
As WikiLeaks has revealed, this emblem of female leadership ran a secret spy campaign against members of the United Nations, demanding their credit card numbers, their passports, passwords, even DNA — all of it illegal. And it was Clinton who in
2008 said she was prepared to “annihilate Iran”.
We have a right to know about these machinations. We have a right to know that Kevin Rudd advised America to attack China if the Chinese didn’t do what they were told.
We have a right to know that [former Labor leader] Kim Beasley wanted to commit the Labor Party to an American war with China over Taiwan.
That plotters like [Labor MP] Mark Arbib are assets of the US Embassy in Canberra.
That Obama is no different from Bush, that secret US provocations within Pakistan now threaten a nuclear war.
We have a right to know these things, just as the people of Egypt and Tunisia have a right to know about the corruption of their regimes and they acted on that information.
At the close of this meeting, I will offer a few thoughts on what I think we might do.
Certainly, we can be inspired by what others have already done fearlessly and then we too
can lose our fear. Thank you.
I think we’ve said from up here probably all we need to say. What you have said has been so important. I would like to thank first of all Monica Baroni, the CEO of the City of Sydney, who I phone in January when she was on holiday and she called me back and the idea for this fantastic meeting really kicked off thanks to her.
I’d like to thank the Sydney Peace Foundation. Stuart Rees and of course Mary [Kostakidis]. When I called Andrew and Julian they unhesitatingly in their busy lives agreed to come here tonight and I’m really grateful to them.
I think we should demand, we should support Andrew’s whistleblowing legislation. Even if it means we all go to Canberra and stand there: we should support that.
Andrew himself has said, of course, that that won’t solve the problem. Julian has said the same thing. We have to think about betrayal. We have to turn this ridiculous Orwellian idea, that our citizens like Julian Assange have somehow betrayed us when our government has betrayed us.
It’s something we have to take, and I repeat, to those that govern the airwaves, who govern the print and who govern much of the internet. The highly restrictive Australian media, we have to go to them and say, alright, Edmund Burke once said that the fourth estate was something that would check power.
Well it hasn’t done that. We need a fifth estate. We need journalists, and lawyers and people who are genuine representatives. We need teachers. We need all members of the community coming together to monitor our media, to contribute to our media and to give us a democratic media.
And we need the same applied to politics in this country. In other words, we need if you like a very quiet — a not so quiet — revolution. No blood in the streets, but we need a change of thinking.
And what is absolutely critical, and Julian has made this point so well, that the moment we leave the Sydney Town Hall that’s when all this begins. Because mustn’t throw away this incredible expression of several thousand people coming together to express their concern about what has happened to our country, what has happened to Julian Assange and what will happen to us unless we do something now.