Dennis Richardson's Comments on AFP Raids Highly Inappropriate
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick today condemned the assertion of former ASIO Director-General Dennis Richardson that critics of last week’s Australian Federal Police raids should just “have a Bex and a lie down”.
"Dennis Richardson’s comments are highly inappropriate and call into question the impartiality of his work reviewing Australia’s national security laws," Senator Patrick said.
"Last week’s Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and a News Corporation journalist rightly triggered widespread concern about the erosion of press freedom in Australia."
"Remarkably, however, virtually no attention has been paid to Mr Richardson’s current review on Australia’s national security legislation."
In announcing the review on 30 May 2018, Attorney-General Christian Porter said that Mr Richardson’s work would be “the most comprehensive review of intelligence legislation in Australia since the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security in the 1970s.” Mr Richardson has been commissioned to present “options for harmonising and modernising” the legislative framework for Australia’s intelligence and security agencies including “powers, protections and oversight.”
A contract notice on the AusTender database shows that the Attorney-General's Department has awarded Mr Richardson, a former ASIO Director-General and Defence Department Secretary, a contract from $800,000 for work between 14 May 2018 and 31 December 2019.
In comments reported by The Weekend Australian on 8 June 2019, Mr Richardson strongly rejected concerns that the recent Federal Police raids on the ABC and a News Corp Australia journalist posed a threat to press freedom, saying that critics of the AFP needed to “have a Bex and a lie down”.
In a further report in today’s Australian, Mr Richardson further argues that Australia’s politicians should not link the controversy surrounding the raids with the wider context of Australia’s national security and counter-terrorism laws.
Senator Patrick said it was "seriously worrying that the person commissioned by the Coalition Government to undertake a wide-ranging review of Australia’s national security laws should so casually dismiss the strongly held concerns of many journalists, media organisations and members of the public. It is even more concerning that, as a government contractor, he should gratuitously seek to lecture members of parliament about how they should view these critically important issues."
"Official secrecy, national security and the public’s right to know have gotten seriously out of balance, and any review of our national security laws needs to address that issue in an open, transparent and impartial way."
"Mr Richardson’s inquiry has been conducted in secret. There have been no public hearings. All submissions to the inquiry are being treated as secret and are not being published – remarkably even including my own submission in which I forwarded a copy of Centre Alliance's proposed Intelligence Services Amendment (Enhanced Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies) Bill 2018 and related dissent from a report by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee."
"While Mr Richardson is a highly experienced national security bureaucrat, that background combined with his highly secretive conduct of his inquiry and his recent public statements do little to inspire confidence that he will pay anything other than lip service to the importance of a free press, able to conduct public interest journalism in relation to national security issues."
"Mr Richardson’s review has already been used by both the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition as an excuse to block Centre Alliance's proposals for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of Australian intelligence agency operations.
"Mr Richardson’s secret review may well pose new threats to press freedom. At the very least it is likely his eventual report will be used to bat away further calls for stronger protections for journalists reporting classified information that governments wish to be kept secret."
"This review would have been much better undertaken by a senior judicial figure who could be relied on to consider all perspectives on these very serious issues in a totally impartial way. It is not too late for the Government to bring Mr Richardson’s secret inquiry to an end and to commission a new process that would inspire a greater degree of public confidence."