Australian attorney-general holds firm on 'whistleblowers'

The AG's office maintains the distinction between 'genuine whistleblowing' and 'unauthorised disclosures' and says Manning and Snowden's actions were not whistleblowing.

The Australian government is standing firm on its position that the actions of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning in bringing the activities of the US government to light did not constitute whistleblowing.

In a speech given last week, Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus argued that where an activity has been authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies, and where no wrongdoing has been identified, the disclosure of such information is not whistleblowing.

"This is a critical point that is often overlooked in much of the media coverage of the release of classified information by Mr Snowden in particular," Dreyfus said.

In a statement to ZDNet, Dreyfus' office maintained the argument that the actions of Snowden and Manning did not fall under this definition and were therefore not whistleblowing.

"The attorney-general drew attention to the important distinction that should be made between genuine whistleblowing, which means revealing illegal activities by government, and unauthorised disclosures of confidential information in relation to actions that are in fact authorised under law and overseen by appropriate government bodies," a spokesperson for Dreyfus said.

The response follows an allegation by the Greens party that there was a "bipartisan agreement" between the Australian government and the opposition to ignore the contributions that whistleblowers such as Manning and Snowden make to democracy.

"We have, over the last day or so, seen our attorney-general declare that people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are not whistleblowers, and respectively cutting them loose, indicating that the Australian government doesn't support the kind of legal protection that really should be [given] to whistleblowers who disclose war crimes," Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said.

"I would argue there is a bipartisan agreement to simply not talk about it. To not make eye contact with any of us and pretend it is all going to go away."

Dreyfus' spokesperson said that rather than sideline whistleblowers, the attorney-general has taken "an active role" to protect whistleblowers.

"Commonwealth public-sector whistleblowers have greater protection under the government's recently passed Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013," the spokesperson said.

"The Public Interest Disclosure Act provides a clear set of rules for agencies to respond to allegations of wrongdoing made by current and former public officials, and strengthens protections against victimisation and discrimination for those speaking out."

In addition, Ludlam claimed that the PRISM program, as well as proposals such as the Australian government's shelved plan for a data retention bill , constituted a "surveillance agenda" being pushed by Western governments.

The spokesperson for the attorney-general said that the Australian government would not comment on the surveillance and security practices of the US — in particular the PRISM program — but maintained that Australia's own practices are legal.

"The attorney-general has said that all communication interception activities carried out by Australian government agencies are conducted in strict accordance with Australian law," the spokesperson said.

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