“Infantile display”: Ludlam on Brandis’ surveillance arrogance



news Greens Senator and Communications Spokesman Scott Ludlam has has accused Attorney-General George Brandis of delivering an “embarassing and borderline hysterical” and “infantile” display in Federal Parliament, due to the Liberal Senator’s continued refusal to answer basic questions about the surveillance powers used by Australian intelligence agencies.

In the Senate yesterday, Ludlam pointed out to Brandis that more than 6,000 organisations globally, including major technology companies and Australian groups interested in civil liberties, such as the Greens, Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Pirate Party, had joined a global Internet blackout against indiscriminate government surveillance. The event was known as “The Day We Fight Back” and was held yesterday.

The event has particularly been held following ongoing revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency in the US, which have forced US President Barack Obama to place strict controls to the agency in terms of how it can utilise electronic surveillance. Snowden’s revelations have had a significant impact in Australia, and the Senate will shortly open an inquiry into surveillance locally.

“They are joining their voices with business, civil society organisations and even senior Republican and Democratic congress men and women to demand reforms to the dragnet surveillance conducted by the US NSA,” said Ludlam. “Does this government and, in particular, the Attorney-General recognise the legitimate concerns of Australians about indiscriminate surveillance, or does he honestly believe there are no reforms necessary here in Australia?”

In response to Ludlam’s question (you can watch the entire video here), Brandis said:

“I note that Senator Ludlam has today published on the Guardian website an article in praise of the American traitor Edward Snowden displaying a photograph of a bus bearing the signage ‘Thank you, Edward Snowden’ and under the headline ‘Today is the day we fight back’. Senator Ludlam, you celebrate and make a hero of this man who, through his criminal dishonesty and his treachery to his country, has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk. I wonder how you can sit in this parliament and hold your head up high when you celebrate a man who, through criminal conduct and treachery, has put Australian lives at risk.”

The Attorney-General further repeated a statement he has made several times before, stating that Australian intelligence agencies operated under “a strong framework of surveillance” and “under very strong statutory obligations and accountability obligations”.

Brandis noted that he had studies Obama’s remarks on the issue “carefully”.

“Australian governments, of both sides of this aisle, are always alert to ensure that the statutory framework which undergirds and provides for the accountability mechanism of our intelligence agencies is as appropriate and relevant as possible,” he said, before noting he would not comment further on what discussions it may have with other countries with relation to the issue.

In response, Ludlam described Brandis’ comments as an “embarrassing and borderline hysterical display”. “He was behaving like an infant; it was like having a debate with a four-year-old,” the Greens Senator said. You can watch the entire video of Ludlam’s reaction here.

“I think this parliament and millions of people around this country and around the world deserve better. They have legitimate and deep concerns about the surveillance activities of the US NSA and its partner agencies-including some in Australia-and their being treated with the contempt put on the record just now by the Attorney-General is completely unacceptable. If the attorney is not up to the job, he should set it aside for somebody who is.”

“The debate that is unfolding in the United States is actually, I think, quite profound,” said Ludlam. “In contrast, what we get here in Australia is the kind of infantile display put on the record earlier by our Attorney-General. It is completely unacceptable. Senator Brandis accused Mr Edward Snowden, a whistleblower whom I hold in extremely high regard-as do, I imagine, a majority of Australians and millions of people around the world-of being a traitor. You could almost see the spittle flying from his lips.”

“No evidence or justification was provided for the accusation that the revelations put into the public domain by Mr Snowden — through The Guardian, The New York Times, the ABC and other news organisations doing their job around the world — had created risk for Australians. No evidence at all was provided. They said exactly the same thing about the WikiLeaks revelations: the State Department cables, the war logs that disclosed war crimes, the cables that disclosed illegal activities by the United States State Department in the UN. There was no comment at all from the Liberal Party on those revelations. There was no comment at all about the fact that it appears these agencies have acted unlawfully in the United States or that a detailed set of reform proposals is now before President Obama. Instead, in Australia, there is complete silence — not simply silence, but the kind of content on display from our Attorney-General this afternoon.”

Ludlam concluded: “It is to be hoped that our present Attorney-General’s tenure is as brief as possible so that somebody can come into that office who has some respect for the positions that have been put-that these things need to be urgently reformed-and so we are not again treated to the kind of display that was put on the record earlier.”

Look, I want to say that there are two sides to this story, but I find it very hard to. Globally, Snowden’s revelations have caused consternation and parliamentary reviews of surveillance in virtually every first world country. The US President himself has been forced to act directly to curtail the NSA’s activities on this front. Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Labor politicians; everyone is concerned about this issue; and that’s just the political sector. The private sector and the mass public are just as concerned.

In this context, the refusal, the abject refusal, by Brandis to say or do anything about the issue is, as Ludlam said yesterday, infantile. This is an important issue which deserves serious consideration. Australia’s Attorney-General cannot just get away with repeating stock phrases about how Snowden is a “traitor” and how he will not comment on intelligence matters. That approach didn’t wash in the US, and it’s not going to wash in Australia.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. C’mon leave poor georgie alone, he is only doing what his puppet masters in the U.S govt tell him to, same as mr wabbit and the queen of bishops.

  2. Watched this yesterday, it’s timed like this I wonder if anyone actually answers questions in QT or whether it’s more who can avoid answering questions the most.

  3. Brandis: “accountability obligations”, “accountability mechanism”

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    There can be no real accountability when the government won’t actually tell anyone anything, a synonym for accountability is answerability, and without answers they make a mockery of the whole thing.

    Even the people running the NSA system say there are problems with it (and that it may even be illegal on the scale it’s been running at).

    • Amen to that.

      What I find almost more disturbing than George Brandis’ commentary is the fact that Ludlam is the only one asking these questions. I get the feeling that if Labor were in power then they’d be similarly resistant to acknowledging anything needs to be investigated or changed. A lack of understanding of technology amongst politicians appears to be the problem, and that’s only going to change as late Gen X (such as Ludlam) and Gen Y start entering into the political arena. This is not going to be in the short term.

      • “What I find almost more disturbing than George Brandis’ commentary is the fact that Ludlam is the only one asking these questions”


        I have my conspiracy theories that our intelligence services are used for political/commercial interests to an extent that would be very uncomfortable if revealed and that is why we get silence from both Labor and the Coalition. Without having anything more than anecdotal evidence I will simply say that my vote goes to those who embrace transparency, have a long term vision based on principles and evidence and doesn’t overuse adjectives in describing political opponents. Use of the word “traitor” is a tool used by communist dictatorships. Is that where our country is going? So in Australia, we can’t question the operations of our military. Our government believes it shouldn’t have to report on its actions and it avoids questioning by calling people traitors.

        The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  4. If Ludlam doesn’t get back in after the court case and/or new election I’m moving to a different planet.

    • Great see if you can take this moron Scott Ludlam with you, Mars sounds a good place humans can’t live there

      • Wow, I haven’t commented here in a while, has it really degraded to this sort of standard?

      • @mick (aka ‘rhyming slang’, although I’m sure you won’t get the inference, but there is a ‘d’ involved):

        Maybe its time for you to move on and leave your comments elsewhere, see your stinking things up a bit here …

        … I am sure George (the fat dancer at taxpayer paid weddings of right wing radio ‘personalities’ and head parliamentary librarian for free books) Brandis is probably looking for someone with the required intelligence level to defend him after he sells YOUR arse down the pike to the US carpetbaggers and gatekeepers, and I reckon a low level drone with minimal brain processing like you would be perfect…

        You will probably find George at the local US embassy, you see even the Institute of Public Affairs won’t wear him on this one…

  5. Yer, shoot the messanger and ignore the message. That’s how this government works, right?

  6. Snowdon is only exposing the treachery of the organised crime mobs that are our leaders.
    It’s not the right of any government to have an unlimited interception and collection of telecommunications surveillance operation on it’s own citizens. Governments that think that they have had this right, like Ceaușescu’s Romania always end up in the same place, lying on the side of the road with flies buzzing around their eyes.

  7. Hmmmm….if Ludlam keeps asking hard questions like this, I could be persuaded to vote Greens…woah!

  8. BRANDIS: “The Australian government is certainly not going to be commenting publicly on what discussions it may have with other nations in relation to the operation or the scope of intelligence services.”

    I think this guy forgot who he is actually working for: The Australian people!

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