Rally for free speech condemns AFP raids

June 21, 2019
Sydney protest against the attacks on media freedom. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

About 100 people protested against Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on News Corp and ABC journalists, outside the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices on June 15.

The rally, called by NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, heard from former ABC and SBS journalist and multiple Walkley Award winner Mark Davis, Stop the War Coalition founding member Pip Hinman, National Union of Students Ethno-Cultural Officer Hersha Kadkol, investigative journalist Michael West and independent journalist Paul Gregoire.

Statements from Mary Kostakidis and Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi were read out.

Shoebridge informed protesters that the police were threatening to charge him with trespass if he stood at the top of the stairs outside the offices. He invited the crowd to take a stand to allow speakers on the stairwell.

After chanting “This is not a police state, we have the right to demonstrate,” and “This is what hypocrisy looks like,” the police backed down.

Davis noted: “A good journalist needs a good publisher that has the courage to publish your stories.” They also need a good source; “whether you call it whistleblowers or not, every good story has a good brave source”.

Davis added: “There is a rapidly weakening network of journalists, whistleblowers and public broadcasters.

“They’re collapsing around us.”

Davis blamed this collapse on the “weaponisation” of the Crimes Act. “We’re not just facing the threat of attacks from our own government, we are now facing attacks from any government on Earth,” he said.

Davis invoked a possible snowball effect from the US government’s extradition move against Julian Assange, saying other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel and Indonesia are observing the case with keen interest. They see extraditing enemies that are “harbouring in third countries” across the globe as a way to eliminate them.

“That’s why I believe, whatever anyone thinks about Julian Assange, that we need to fight this and defend him from being extradited.”

Hinman spoke about lifting the lid on Australia’s secretive involvement in the war in Afghanistan. “If it wasn’t for the AFP raid on the ABC offices to collect evidence in the trial of army lawyer David McBride, the war on Afghanistan may still be lawyer and whistleblower David McBride, the war in Afghanistan may still be off the political agenda.

“If not for McBride’s decision to pass information on to the ABC, we may not have known about the alleged systematic cover-ups within the ADF; its secrets and its lies.

“Now he is facing charges that will be heard in a secret trial!”

Hinman spoke of another brave whistleblower, intelligence officer-turned-politician, Andrew Wilkie, saying he was instrumental in blowing the whistle on the lies that John Howard used to take Australia into the war on Iraq.

“Australia remains a part of the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan, and we have no real idea why.

 “We know the war has been a total disaster for that country at every level. The country’s infrastructure has been destroyed, women have been stripped of their rights and the Taliban fundamentalists have grown.

“McBride is being charged with leaking documents exposing Australia’s crimes in Afghanistan.

“We have a right to know what the government is doing in our name. In these dangerous times we need more — not less — scrutiny of government.

“We pledge our support, to do what we can to end these wars, to scrap the draconian anti-terror laws and to bring in laws that protect journalists and whistleblowers,” Hinman said.

Other speakers pledged to take further action if the AFP and government continued their attacks on free speech.

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