Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, politicians rush in extraordinary legislative reforms in record time. Many of these laws restrict the rights we take for granted, making it more important than ever that we keep watch on our democracy and freedoms. As the US experience is showing, we need public trust in governments to successfully recover from Covid-19. But public trust in government is contingent on open process, transparency and scrutiny - all of which are under threat.
Since the pandemic started, we have been working hard to keep the democratic institutions that check Government power functioning. A few weeks ago we published a report about the impact of the Government’s decision to suspend Parliament for five months, and called for Parliament to resume in a safe manner as it had in other countries.
Thanks to support from the Grata Community and our partners, the Government disbanded its plans to suspend Parliament until August and agreed to issue a new sitting timetable, ensuring this critical democratic check remains in place during the crisis.
In recent weeks we have also:
Helped to establish a cross-sector coalition to raise instances of discriminatory policing during Covid-19.
Quickly released an important report analysing the impact of Covid-19 measures on our democracy and civil liberties, and recommending processes to ensure our communities are not left subject to unaccountable governments.
Funded litigation to secure safety for refugees in detention who are at risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19.
Worked with legal and integrity groups to shine a light on the opaque Covid-19 Commission and its enormous powers to shape economic and non-economic aspects of our lives for generations to come.
While Covid-19 grabs the nation’s attention, accountability and transparency continue to be quietly stifled and silenced. Just last week, while the Senate Select Committee raised serious concerns over the Covid Commission’s credibility, transparency and unchecked power, the Government introduced legislation in Parliament that would give ASIO agents new powers to question children as young as 14 year old, use tracking devices without a warrant, and unilaterally remove your right to legal representation while being questioned.
The systematic assault on transparency and accountability is part of a concerning broader trend. New Espionage Act offences are so unreasonably broad that they can be used to criminalise criticism of the Federal Government with a punishment of life imprisonment by journalists and civil society. Legitimate requests for information about government actions are being denied as part of broadscale gaming of the Freedom of Information system, enabling the Government to keep wrongdoing secret.
New laws in Queensland quash the right to protest and directly target climate activists. The Australian Federal Police have aggressively targeted ABC and News Corp journalists who have reported on war crimes by Australian military forces and high level plans for Australia’s spy agencies to secretly hack the phones of Australians without a warrant.
These attacks have the potential to change Australia as we know it by making it impossible to hold Governments and corporate leaders to account. Grata is responding to these threats by advocating for stronger democratic checks and balances and pursuing cases to protect and defend our rights as Australians.
By supporting strategic public interest litigation, campaigning and advocacy you can help to ensure that we live in an Australia we can all be proud of - where our rights and freedoms are protected, our right to know is upheld and our communities are empowered to hold governments accountable for their actions in court.
With your support, we will be able to achieve our six point plan to:
Publish a Justice Report into the impact of Covid-19 on the Courts and how we can continue to ensure accountability through the Courts as justice shifts online.
Launch a new Covid-19 Law Monitor website to track new laws, public orders and other measures that governments adopt that restrict civil liberties and freedoms.
Conduct and publish research to strengthen our democracy through greater transparency and accountability for politicians and new laws.
Undertake campaigning and advocacy to challenge draconian anti-dissent laws that criminalise journalists, charities, and people like you for speaking out.
Fund prohibitively expensive court costs, including filing fees, disbursements, expert witness testimony to bring these landmark cases to court.
Protect plaintiffs from adverse costs, so they aren’t forced to make the impossible choice of risking bankruptcy in order to fight for their communities in the courts.