Monday, 27 December 2010

"Frankly we need a degree of secrecy" -- Re WikiLeaks

Letters noted in SMH on 13th December....

The breathless reporting of the Herald and the outraged responses of letters writers over WikiLeaks needs a reality check.

MPs across all parties belong to committees and friendship groups which meet regularly and formally with visiting foreign delegations or individual foreign visitors, politicians or officials.
Most visitors also line up to meet ministers in a similar way. These visitors, accompanied by members of their embassies, meet for talks in Parliament House or MPs are invited to the embassy for drinks, lunch or dinner, again so that discussions might take place.
Those talks are noted and no doubt the detail is sent home as part of the diplomatic reporting of the embassy. That is their core business. All members join in these proceedings if they are invited. If you get on a Foreign Affairs committee of the Parliament you will have weekly briefings with some of the most interesting people visiting Australia.
The Australians' aim is to learn as much as possible from the visitors, and they do. The discussions are remarkably frank about policy, parties, people. Perhaps sometimes members are indiscreet, but talks often take place in front of members of an opposing party, government officials, parliamentary officers and officials from the embassy of the visitors, so it is rarely secret in the clandestine sense of the word.
Unlike the image conveyed by the televising of question time across the party lines, members often talk to each other of their internal politics and different personalities within their parties.
Talking is their business. All this talk of ''briefings to a foreign power'' is overblown nonsense.
Margaret Swieringa Reid (ACT

Frankly, we need a degree of secrecy
Margaret Swieringa (Letters, December 13) makes a curious point. She says rightly that discussions with foreign representatives "are remarkably frank about policy, parties, people". Yet she approves of the publication through WikiLeaks of such talks, which would make them much less frank. I used to work in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of National Assessments. If we had known our discussions and analyses would see the full light of day, they would have been written quite differently and certainly less frankly.
There is a benefit, of course, in simply knowing the content of such discussions. Whether that outweighs the damage done to open and frank reporting is for others to decide, but I suspect not. There is a price to pay for being permitted no discretion.
Peter Forsythe Hong Kong