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Will Australia Get Its Own Ministry of Truth?

Prof. James AllanMay 19, 2022

There is a values vacuum at the heart of the Morrison Government. But first, let’s start in the US. The Biden Administration has created a Disinformation Governance Board. Its stated goal is, I kid you not, ‘to combat misinformation ahead of the 2022 midterms’. The day-to-day head honcho will be Executive Director Nina Jankowicz. This woman’s appointment has stirred up derision because Ms. Jankowicz is on the record as saying all claims about Hunter Biden’s laptop were Russian and Republican disinformation.

Even the New York Times – not exactly a mouthpiece for Donald Trump – has now conceded the laptop and its very damning contents are legitimate and real. Ms. Jankowicz is also on the record asserting that the Russia collusion claims were true. We now know that the Steele Dossier, the lying to the FISA court, the Fusion GPS stuff, the whole lot was a political hit job. After a multi-million-dollar investigation they found nothing. That was disinformation. The new czar of disinformation thought it was real. Ms. Jankowicz is also no fan of free speech. If you’re that way inclined, and have ever voted Republican, she is likely to describe you as a ‘free speech absolutist’ – her term of abuse she throws around with unrestrained abandon.

This all looks eerily similar to George Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’. It is no comfort to anyone to be assured by the Biden Administration that this ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ is just a ‘small working group’, there ‘to address … the connectivity between threats and acts of violence [without] infringing on free speech’. That assurance that Homeland Security was forced to rush out is completely hollow.

We have all seen how bureaucracies, including the FBI, operate and how politicisation has crept in. Just compare how BLM protests were handled versus anti-lockdown protests, or how the FBI dealt with right-leaning Project Veritas after it was given the diary of Hunter Biden’s sister (with heavy-handed raids and more) versus how the FBI dealt with leaks to left-leaning Politico about the draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion overturning Roe v Wade (no raids, no threats, no nothing).

No democratic government should be in the game of pretending to certify what is and is not accurate information. First, it’s often not clear who is right. Time will tell. Having Big Government or Big Tech censors declare their take from on high is both dangerous and asking for mistakes. Think back to the pandemic and the fear porn press and government and police heavy-handedness it engendered. Do you remember when the Lab Leak Theory was deemed ‘misinformation?’ Well, the balance of informed opinion today, including the opinion of Matt Ridley and of a former MI5 boss, is that the origin of the virus was precisely that.

It was bad enough with Big Tech blocking, shadow blocking and censoring opinion on this and all sorts of other lockdown matters (such as the worth of the Great Barrington Declaration on focusing on the vulnerable and leaving everyone else to get on as normal, written by three of the world’s top epidemiologists, and now ever more seen as being correct on everything to do with the virus – and yet was pilloried as misinformation). But can you imagine how much worse it would be if (or when) government gets into this ‘we’ll certify the truth’ game?

I raise these US issues because the Coalition is proposing to establish in, or give to, the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) the power to be what the IPA describes as ‘Canberra’s Thought Police’. Minister Fletcher is prepared to legislate to make government, through ACMA, responsible to enforce rules for ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ on digital platforms. Put differently, they’d have the power to define some sort of ‘official’ line on what is true; this would go some way to controlling what counts as acceptable opinion. This wholly illiberal ‘Liberal’ government of ours – led by the man who not that long ago stupidly and wrongly suggested that free speech had never created one job – wants to police what you can say on the internet. This would be the first step to government-backed censorship on the internet. Heck, ACMA even wants to create a ‘Misinformation and Disinformation Action Group’.

Frankly, this all beggars belief. Does the Morrison government get its ideas from the Biden Administration? Is it wholly incapable of standing up to the Commonwealth bureaucracy on anything? If you’ve watched Josh Frydenberg roll over on everything suggested by the uber-Keynesians in Treasury, best not answer that question. ACMA is a bureaucracy. All bureaucracies seek to expand their powers and reach. Yet the idea that this sort of request would be contemplated for even one second by a Liberal government is enough to make any right-of-centre voter throw up his hands in disgust.

This is a terrible idea. It’s a Joe Biden sort of idea pushed by people who don’t understand free speech and who don’t like it the few times they do. Alas, that group now includes a big chunk of the Liberal Party party room. It’s enough to make one weep in despair.

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