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In the Dark: Secrecy and Democracy

What level of state secrecy are we willing to accept? And what happens when we don’t know – or don’t wish to know what our government is doing in our name?

The capacity for the public to scrutinise government decisions is central to a functioning democracy. But since the introduction of Operation Sovereign Borders in 2013, we’ve seen increasing secrecy around the implementation of asylum seeker policy: on-water operations are confidential, offshore detention centres are difficult to access, and new rules under the Border Force Act mean people working in Australia’s detention system can now be jailed for disclosing ‘protected information’.  

Does this culture of secrecy violate Australia’s democratic values? Or are our politicians upholding their elected responsibility by representing the national interest? As a nation, is our moral obligation to restore government transparency and accountability?

Ultimately, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Can secrecy be justified in the name of national security? At this forum event, we’re bringing together three speakers to respond specifically to this provocation. Join host Gael Jennings, human rights lawyer Madeline Gleeson, philosopher Raimond Gaita and media ethics expert Denis Muller for a discussion of the dark corners of democracy.

Presented in partnership with Asylum Insight.


Portrait of Gael Jennings

Gael Jennings

Gael Jennings is an award-winning national TV and radio broadcaster with 25 years’ experience as presenter, reporter and TV executive.

Portrait of Raimond Gaita

Raimond Gaita

Raimond Gaita has published widely to academic and non- academic audiences. In 2009, the University of Antwerp awarded Gaita the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa ‘for his exceptional contribution to contemporary moral philosophy and for his singular contribution to the role of the intellectual in today’s academic world’.

Portrait of Denis Muller

Denis Muller

Denis Muller is a leading expert on media ethics and worked as a journalist for 27 years, including as assistant editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and associate editor at the Age.

Since 1995, he has conducted independent social and policy research across education, health, environment and media fields. Dr Muller teaches media ethics for the Master of Journalism at Melbourne University and is the author of Media Ethics and Disasters and Journalism Ethics for the Digital Age. Denis is an Honorary Fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism.

Portrait of Madeline Gleeson

Madeline Gleeson

Madeline Gleeson is a lawyer and Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. She holds a Master in International Law from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, which she completed after being awarded the prestigious John Monash scholarship in 2012. Madeline also holds a Bachelor in International Studies and Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours from the University of New South Wales, and a Diploma of Political Studies from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Aix en Provence, France.

Madeline has extensive experience working with forcibly displaced people around the world. She has worked on statelessness, refugees, human trafficking, labour migration and land grabbing with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Cambodia, and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in Geneva. She also has human rights and refugee experience in South Africa and Indonesia.


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