Wonderful editorial in the Northern Territory News:
The Federal Government’s attempt to gag journalists reporting on asylum seekers in the Territory is contemptible – and laughable.
Contemptible because it is undemocratic; laughable because it won’t work.
Canberra has told the NT News it broke the law by speaking to an asylum seeker.
It also said a complaint had been lodged with the police.
It turns out that both these things are untrue.
It seems that the federal Immigration Department has resorted to threats, bully-boy tactics and deceit in a bid to prevent coverage of a news story embarrassing to itself.
As it is, secrecy already surrounds asylum seekers and the way they are handled in the Territory.
The Immigration Department contracts out some services, for which it is responsible, to Serco – a giant foreign company.
Serco in turn has subcontracted out to MSS Security in Darwin.
MSS – until recently – subcontracted out again to other smaller companies.
Each time, lines of responsibility blur.
And it gives bureaucrats the opportunity to refuse to discuss some elements of asylum seeker “management” – a public interest issue – under the guise of commercial-in-confidence.
Thus Territorians are not ever likely to see reports about the riot or the mass breakout and protest at the troubled Darwin Detention Centre last year.
Australia is a democratic country and Territorians have every right to know what’s going on with the asylum seekers in their midst.
Territorians may agree with the content of some stories; they may strongly disagree with others.
But either way, they have a right to know.
Canberra, of course, would prefer that reporting on asylum seekers stemmed only from its press releases. That’s not going to happen.
The Federal Government needs reminding that it exists to serve the people – not itself.