Cyber privacy proving a two way street

OPINION

Crispin Hull

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The major parties are increasingly nervous of international cyber hacking. IMAGE: Facebook
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The major parties, particularly the Liberal Party, were not even aware of the stench of their own hyprocrisy. They went into a complete tizz when a foreign state, presumably China, cyber-hacked their internet servers and information.

Yet, for the past decade or more, the Coalition has been banging the drum demanding more government access to everyone’s metadata and access to anyone’s internet account on the grounds of national security, saying “if you have got nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

So, major parties, if you have nothing to hide, you should not be too troubled if your servers are hacked and the material made public.

But you have a lot to hide, don’t you?

Listen to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton: “Like 99 per cent of Australians I have nothing to hide. I’ve got nothing to fear by my information being recorded in databases, most of which is already in existence in Government and financial organisation databases anyway.”

At the time he was having a go at the usual vote-bait suspects: welfare cheats, terrorists and organised crime.
 

Well, Peter Dutton personally may have nothing to hide, but his hacked political party certainly does.

And the hiding of it poses just as great a threat to Australian democracy than organised crime, terrorism or social-welfare cheats.

We could start with the written coalition agreement between the Liberals and Nationals drawn up after the 2016 election and renewed upon the leadership change last year.

Remember, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said at the time that his first aspiration was “that the agreement remains confidential. That’s aspiration number one, two, three, four, five and six.”

The Oakeshott-Windsor-Gillard minority government agreement of 2010, on the other hand, was made public, as it should be.

We do not know what is in the Coalition agreement. Does the agreement include any policy commitments on energy, climate change or competition. Did it in 2016 deny a parliamentary conscience vote on marriage. Did it have any ministerial split up? For example, did it give the Nationals the Agriculture portfolio which enabled Barnaby Joyce to put the interests of big agriculture over the environment, resulting in this year’s catastrophic fish die-back in the Murray-Darling?

So, China, if you did the hacking and have got a copy of the agreement, the Australian people would love to see it. As for the Coalition’s objection to its publication, surely if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

Now let’s turn to the secrets the major parties hold on political donations – the key to it all.

In the end, the cause of the growing disillusionment with Australian democracy over the past 20 years it is not the antics, the political point-scoring, the hyberbole or scare campaigns, or even leadership changes and instability. These things have been around since the first parliament in 1901. No, the disillusionment has arisen mostly because of the secret conspiracy between the major political parties and their donors against the public interest on things like mining, especially coal, big supermarkets, tobacco, hotels and poker machines, powerful unions, big banks and financial institutions, the shift of public money to private schools and private health, the shifting of the tax burden from the very wealthy and older to the less well-off and the younger, and the worshipping of growth in GDP and high population growth for the benefit of the big end of town and at the expense of the environment and everyone else.

They, particularly the Coalition, sold us out to appease their donors so they would have enough money to fight elections.

This process has gone hand in hand with privatisations and contracting out which gutted Australia of public organisations that could set an ethical example – banks, telecos, government travel contracting, prisons, airports and on and on.

This election we will not see who gave how much to which party until eight months after the election is over.

And we will never find out about anonymous donations of up to $13,800, which can be made multiple times and in all state, territory and federal jurisdictions.

Businesses, unions and individuals mostly give money because they want a result for themselves, and research in behavioural economics shows that even a very small gift gives rise to a sense of obligation on the part of the recipient to reciprocate in whatever way they can.

So we should ban all corporate donations and all individual donations over $1000. All donations should be declared and made public in a computer-readable form on the day they are made. Modern computing makes that easy.

No more hand-written declarations.

It might be difficult to get that past the High Court because of the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution. But that freedom was implied because it is an essential part of representative government to have an informed electorate. Banning large corporate donations surely does not place an unacceptable burden on political communication and informing the electorate.

Also, it is hard to imagine either of the major parties invoking such a ban, unless forced to. That is why a hung Parliament would not be such a bad thing.

Independent and minor-party members of the House of Representatives almost invariably get re-elected, so the public must see some good in them.

Another set of secrets the major parties hold are meetings with lobbyists. Unlike organisations such as the Grattan Institute and the Australia Institute, lobbyists put their policy positions to the major parties in secret.

We need the disinfecting force of sunlight to send these cockroaches scurrying. MPs, especially Ministers, should be forced to make their office diaries public online along with notes about what was put to them by whom.

A strong anti-corruption body would also help. Again, a hung Parliament would make that more likely.

Finally, the membership lists of political parties should be public, just like the shareholders’ lists in companies.

So China, if you are out there, feel free to publish this stuff. Your hack, far from damaging Australian democracy, might improve it.


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This article first appeared in The Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 23 February 2019.

 

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