When it comes to the State, I am pro-secrecy. I think it’s much better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as it were, and secrecy allows governments to talk more openly in negotiations, in information exchanges, and in collaborations. Leaking information makes it more difficult to conduct the business of government. and making the business of government more difficult isn’t in a country’s best interests.
Of course, if you’re going to have government secrecy, you need a robust system to reduce the scope for inappropriate use. There are models for how to govern secret State actions such that you don’t have to rely on trust and Australia is a long way away from being a model secret citizen. As a public, we have a genuine interest in those discussions being conducted sensibly and rationally — away from the megaphones who scream ‘THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD HAVE NO SECRETS’ and who shout ‘IF YOU DON’T LIKE GOVERNMENT SECRETS, YOU’RE AN ALLY FOR TERRORISTS’.
But, alas, the Outrage Economy is too profitable and so we don’t get anything resembling the sort of debate that we should have. This has been comprehensively proven by News Corp and Fairfax following the revelations by the ABC and the Guardian that Australia had been accessing the telephone metadata of Indonesian officials (and family) and, it seems, trying to listen in on particular calls made by the President of Indonesia. Instead of opening up a conversation about government secrecy, whose responsibility it is to protect Government secrets, and how do Australians feel about their Government operating in this way, we have our two largest private media companies venting old grudges about the ABC.
It is shameful.
Worse, it reveals the Conservative Credibility Gap in Australia: instead of having the intellectual heavyweights contribute to the discussion, we get nothing but the petty moaning, the personality politics, the vendettas, and the feuds. Where were the rightwing tut-tutters when News Ltd’s Cameron Stewart filed a story which contained leaked information about an upcoming raid on terrorists operating in Australia? So the ABC should have suppressed a story about spying on Indonesia, but the Murdoch Press was justified in jeopardising a raid on terrorists operating in Australia?