Saturday, December 11, 2010

WikiWobbles: What is Julia Gillard Thinking?

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard must be wondering why cyber history is repeating itself, as her government’s reaction to WikiLeaks stirs widespread and vocal resentment.

The Rudd government stubbornly pursued Senator Stephen Conroy's Internet filter proposal. Arguments about its potential misuse or its ineffectiveness aside, this policy has been a political debacle. It was not a vote winner. Its unpopularity united people from diverse backgrounds, ages and political leanings and alienated many in the party's base. It was also a major distraction from the ready vote catcher of the National Broadband Network.

For the Labor Party itself, it underscored and hastened the growing loss of faith among traditional supporters. This was especially true of those who have embraced the online world. The abandonment of the Emissions Trading Scheme following Copenhagen was the clincher for many. The ranks of the Greens swelled with former ALP members who were campaigning against the so-called clean feed and for immediate climate action.

Many party activists would have recognised familiar faces standing behind the new Greens MHR for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, during his victory speech. Ironically the retiring Member, Lindsay Tanner, was one of the few Rudd Ministers who seemed to understand the importance of the Web and he advocated its use for more open government. Another was Senator John Faulkner who is one of the three panel members on the Party review of the 2010 election.

Now we have Web Blunder 2.0.

Perhaps the Prime Minister and her Attorney General Robert McClelland have based their strident attacks on Julian Assange on genuinely held matters of principle.

Perhaps they hold a genuine belief that the leaks were a real threat to national security or endangered people’s lives.

We should expect more from experienced lawyers. If these are the motivation, they have not argued their case effectively or ethically. Moreover, they have shown scant regard for freedom of expression or the rights of Australian citizens. My posts about the Melbourne WikiLeaks Forum cover these aspects in greater depth.

Perhaps there has been some kind of political strategy behind their statements. Some possibilities are:
  • an attempt to neutralise leaks that may touch on Australian politicians by discrediting the source;
  • muddying of the waters until the United States silences Julia Assange and WikiLeaks in some way;
  • a desire to be seen as sticking up for our strongest ally;
  • a populist stance based on woeful misreading of public opinion.
As we left the WikiLeaks Forum on Thursday, I joked that Labor Party heavies believe that getting the Australian voters offside on an issue like Cablegate may not necessarily result in electoral defeat. However, it is certain that the US government can and will destroy our government if they feel antagonsied.

The Whitlam years are an ever present bogey for the ALP. The cables between Marshall Green, US Ambassador in Canberra during his government, and the State Department would make interesting reading. If anyone knows if any secret communications have been published, please let us know.

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