Last night in Melbourne, Edward Snowden spoke to Australian audiences for the first time. Host Julian Morrow quizzed the virtual Snowden at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. There were plenty of topics covered including Australian policy, privacy and protections for whistleblowers in Australia.
The event held by Think Inc. provided the platform for public audiences to hear him speak last night in Melbourne. Originally events like these were planned around the country, but have since been revised to just 2 events, the second to be held on May 28 at the Big Top, Luna Park in Sydney.
At last night’s event, Snowden discussed his return to the United States. He said that he would return if he was allowed a fair public trial, but that the US Attorney General has not assured him of that, stating, dismally, “we promise not to torture you”.
The free press
Snowden does not blame terrorism or public security for the government spying on ordinary citizens, but stated that “terrorism is the justification … It’s about control of the public by the government”. Snowden said he was an idealist, and states that it may be a mistake not to believe in the system. Snowden said he chooses to respect the sanctity of the free press, which is evident in the way he chose to release documents to journalists. He said that the government were briefed on documents before they were released and they had the chance to make their case. “I love journalists, but they’re people too,” he chuckled, and in the same vein, Snowden reminded the crowd that “not a single life has been lost on the basis of the release of information” and we have to “trust the press to be reasonable”.
Snowden said,”Privacy is the basis of all other human rights. It’s the right to self-determine, the space to create your own ideas.” He went on to say that “Privacy is the right to protect the product of your intellect … Saying I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide is like saying, ‘I don’t care about freedom of speech because I have nothing to say’”.
Mr Snowden, though not suggesting that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had direct dealings in regards to Australian Federal Police Raids two weeks ago, did suggest that all information in regards to the NBN is of public interest.
The future of whistleblowing
Mr Snowden said that officials are starting to see the value of whistleblowers as they should. “We need to make sure that whistleblower protections are reformed in Australia. If we don’t have the processes, we start to reach areas that the system starts to fail comprehensively.” In the same vein, Snowden went on to critique the lack of checks and balances between the branches of government. “The minute we start allowing institutional failures to progress to the level of culture, that is the point that we become a closed society, and there is no recovering from that,” he said.
Refugees in Australia
“The issue with refugees is pretty bad,” Snowden says, “and for political reasons, they have sought not to fix it.” The central issue is that these individuals never had the opportunity for any court process, Snowden said, “they couldn’t defend themselves”. “Refugees are good people doing bad things for good reasons,” he said. He went on to say, “We have to focus not on the nationality or circumstance of an individual. It doesn’t matter if you’re an ordinary citizen or the Prime Minister, all people are entitled to human rights,” he said.
About the future of his situation: “What am I more afraid of? What will happen to me if I stand up, or what will happen to all of us if I don’t?” Snowden said, “I am more freer today than I’ve ever been.” “I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you tonight,” but “Malcolm Turnbull did not have a favourable position in providing visa,” he joked. “We are living in an extraordinary moment that is changing everything, between governing and government. We are witnessing the end of exile,” he said, He went on to say, “We have serious problems, but if you look at any metric, it’s getting better, as long as we keep caring it will continue to get better”.
“Australia is facing an issue that has previously been foreign, or simply a non-issue. But with the changing face of Australia’s security and its potential impact on civil liberties and human rights, we want the Australian public to have a head start on these issues. Bringing Edward Snowden’s voice to Australia is our ounce of prevention to potentially avoid the pound of cure”, say Think Inc. founders Suzi Jamil and Desh Amila, with the foresight that the imposition of the Australian government’s recent metadata laws could be the slippery slope into a more ominous mode of surveillance under the guise of ‘national security’.
The hosting conduit for the conversation with Snowden is one of Australia’s well-respected political satirists: Julian Morrow of The Chaser and CNNNN fame. Morrow has made a career out of exposing the comical yet concerning inconsistencies of national and international politics and feels that “What [Snowden]’s done, it’s been really important. People have started to engage with what democracy means in an era of massive technology and surveillance; he’s provided the material that lays the groundwork for a better discussion than our leaders were letting us have.”.
An Evening with Edward Snowden enabled Australian audiences to think critically about the vast uncertainty of what the Australian government’s growing surveillance laws really mean for the public.