Court puts national interest before public interest in case allegedly involving Asian leaders
WikiLeaks has revealed the existence of a blanket gagging order applying to all citizens and news media throughout Australia.
Issued on 19 June by the state of Victoria’s supreme court, it cites the need to protect “national security” and “damage to Australia’s international relations” as grounds for banning any form of coverage of an alleged case of bribery involving several Asian presidents.
The existence of this sweeping “suppression order,” posted by WikiLeaks yesterday, says volumes about the current level of transparency in Australia.
Effective for five years, it forbids any media coverage of a case involving seven senior executives with banks affiliated to the Reserve Bank of Australia, who have been charged with spending millions of dollars in bribes to obtain contracts with the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries to print plastic banknotes.
The court injunction names 17 international political figures including Vietnamese President Truong Tan San, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The injunction is so sweeping that the Australian media and journalists are even forbidden to mention its very existence. As a result, Reporters Without Borders is unable to discuss it with its correspondent in Australia.
“The grounds given for this gagging order, which include national security, are unacceptable and cannot justify such complete censorship applying to all news and information providers, including both journalists and ordinary citizens,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“This disproportionate order, whose aims include protecting the interests of certain Southeast Asian leaders, is tantamount to asking everyone to turn a blind eye to a crucial aspect of this case – the identity of those receiving these ‘financial incentives.’ We urge the authorities to put the public interest above national interest and to restore transparency in this case by rescinding this order at once.”
According to Melbourne Law School senior lecturer Jason Bosland, the state of Victoria’s courts are in the habit of issuing such bans. He said an average of 200 suppression orders a year were issued from 2008 to 2013 for often unclear reasons and unlimited periods, and were rarely rescinded.
Reporters Without Borders already criticized Australia’s growing tendency to put national interest ahead of public interest on 22 July in connection with a bill submitted by attorney-general George Brandis on 16 July that would make disclosing information about “special intelligence operations” punishable by imprisonment.
This proposed law would be a serious blow to freedom of information and would violate international treaties signed by Australia, which is ranked 28th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF VICTORIA AT MELBOURNE CRIMINAL DIVISION
BARRY THOMAS BRADY & ORS
GENERAL FORM OF ORDER
JUDGE: The Honourable Justice Hollingworth
DATE MADE: 19 June 2014
ORIGINATING PROCESS: Indictment
HOW OBTAINED: Oral application, following the giving of notice under s 10 of the Open Courts Act 2013 (Vic)
ATTENDANCE: Dr S Danaghue QC and Mr J Forsaith for the Commonwealth of Australia (instructed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) Mr J Forsaith for the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mr N Robinson QC and Mr K Armstrong for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Mr M Cahill for Barry Thomas Brady Mr C Mandy for Peter Sinclair Hutchinson Mr C Thomson for John Leckenby Mr P Tehan QC for Steven Kim Wong Mr P Higham for Christian Boillot and Clifford John Gerathy Ms M Fox for Myles Andrew Curtis
THE COURT ORDERS THAT:
1. Subject to further order, there be no disclosure, by publication or otherwise, of any information (whether in electronic or paper form) derived from or prepared for the purposes of these proceedings (including the terms of these orders, and the affidavit of Gillian Elizabeth Bird affirmed on 12 June 2014) that reveals, implies, suggests or alleges that any person to whom this order applies:
(a) received or attempted to receive a bribe or improper payment;
(b) acquiesced in or was wilfully blind as to any person receiving or attempting to receive a bribe or improper payment; or
(c) was the intended or proposed recipient of a bribe or improper payment.
2. Subject to further order, order 1 applies to the following persons:
(a) any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia (including refereces to ’PM’);
(b) any current or former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia (including references to ’DPM’);
(c) any current or former Finance Minister of Malaysia (including references to ’FM’);
(d) Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, currently Prime Minister (since 2009) and Finance Minister (since 2008) of Malaysia;
(e) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (also known as Pak Lah), a former Prime Minister (2003 – 2009) and Finance Minister (2003 – 2008) of Malaysia;
(f) Puan Noni (also knows as Ms/Madame Noni, or Nonni), a sister-in-law of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi;
(g) Mahathir Mohamed, a former Prime Minister (1981 – 2003) and Finance Minister (2001 – 2003) of Malaysia;
(h) Daim Zainuddin, a former Finance Minister of Malaysia (1984 – 1991; 1999 – 2001);
(i) Rafidah Aziz, a former Trade Minister of Malaysia (1987 – 2008);
(j) Hamid Albar, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs (1999 – 2008) and Minister of Home Affairs (2008 – 2009) of Malaysia;
(k) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004);
(l) Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001 – 2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party;
(m) Laksamana Sukardi, a former Indonesian minister (2001 – 2004; in Megawati Sukarnoputri’s goverment);
(n) Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam (since 2011);
(o) Nguyen Tan Dung, currently Prime Minister of Vietnam (since 2006);
(p) Le Duc Thuy, a Former Chairman of the National Financial Supervisory Committee (2007 – 2011) and a former Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam (1999 – 2007); and
(q) Nong Duc Manh, a former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (2001 – 2011).
3. Subject to further order, order 1 does not prevent:
(a) disclosures to and among Commonwealth officers (as defined by s 3 of Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)) or international investigators, international prosecuting authorities, and other like international entities;
(b) provision by the Court to registered media organisations, under cover of a notice referring to the existence of these orders, of transcript and exhibits (which, for the avoidance of doubt, must then be treated in accordance with order 1 above);
(c) provision of material by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to Note Printing Australia Pty Ltd and its legal representatives, provided any such material is provided together with a copy of these orders.
4. The prohibition on publication in order 1 applies throughout Australia.
5. The purpose of these orders is to prevent damage to Australia’s international relations that may be caused by the publication of material that may damage the reputations of specified individuals who are not the subject of charges in these proceedings.
6. These orders are made on the grounds that they are:
(a) necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice that cannot be prevented by other reasonably available means; and
(b) necessary to prevent prejudice to the interests of the Commonwealth in relation to national security.
7. These orders operate for a period of 5 years from the date of these orders, unless sooner revoked.
8. The affidavit of Gillian Elizabeth Bird affirmed on 12 June 2014 be sealed in an envelope marked „Not to be opened without an order of the Court“, and not be opened without order of the Court.
9. There be liberty to apply.
DATE AUTHENTICATED: 19 June 2014