I saw a fairly bizarre article in the English version of the infamous Russian tabloid, Pravda, the other day. The article, possibly subject to a dubious translation, was written as an anonymous opinion piece entitled 'Why we escaped from Australia'.
As the author explains:
We have escaped recently from Australia because of Secret Police harassment
that has been going on for many years. For people overseas that think that the
Western countries have freedom and democracy, I have bad news: it's only
propaganda and lies.
The author is a bit sketchy on the details of the said harassment, but asserts that his wife is related to a high-profile public figure in Australia, who is himself part of the 'Secret Service' and a government 'fixer'. The author suggests that this was the reason that he and his wife came to ASIO attention:
We were followed and people were clicking their phones in our faces. People
following us also use and have used psychological tactics and disguises both
here and overseas. By the type of PSY Operations used we realized that spooks
had personal information about my wife which could only have been gained by
spies or their agents working over a long period.
The author adds that he tried to seek help through the official media, but eventually gave up:
One of the reasons that pushed us to leave Australia is that despite the
facade of democracy and openness there was no body or Institution that was
interested in hearing our story or offering help. The print media and
broadcasters are simply not interested because 2 or 3 media barons control every
print media outlet and broadcaster and those people work hand in hand with the
The author is certainly correct as regards this latter statement, as this story does not appear to have entered Australia's mainstream media. On the other hand, an anonymous report making unsubstantiated allegations about ASIO is hardly likely to make it into the press.
So what can we make of this story? I will bypass the irony of the Russian media publishing a piece asserting that Australian authorities are controlling and undemocratic.
On the other hand, significant control has been ceded to 'Secret Service' people, with sedition laws and anti-terrorism legislation generally. Frankly, I am not sufficiently informed to be aware of what ASIO gets up to, and I have not heard any stories of them pursuing Russians for obscure familial connections. On the other hand, I have heard that some Chinese are definitely targeted, but not necessarily the 'average guy' in Box Hill or Cabramatta. Plenty of relatively innocuous Australians must also have been targeted at some point; I recall an article in the Weekend Australian a while ago in which Radio National broadcaster, Murdoch columnist and former communist Philip Adams claimed, with some evidence, that ASIO had a file on him for years.
Then again, the claims made by this Russian author are probably to vague to allow us to form a definitive opinion. Reading through Pravda, it seems that there is often an anti-Western subtext running throughout, with particular emphasis on anti-Bush sentiment, to a level that makes The Age, or even Le Monde, appear like an American-apologist propaganda organ.
Still, I wonder if anyone can shed any light on this. Are ASIO abusing their powers at the behest of the Government? We Australians certainly seem to know much less about the wheelings and dealings of our secret service than say, the Americans know about the CIA. Accountability and secrecy do not exactly go hand in hand.