Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, warned foreign journalists that they may be investigated if they give a “slanted view” of the country. Meanwhile, cops in Victoria have crushed lockdown protests with an iron fist.
Dutton’s comments came several days after the arrest of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist with China’s CGTN broadcaster, and after the evacuation of two Australian journalists from China last week.
“If people are here as journalists and they’re reporting fairly on the news, then that’s fine,” Dutton told ABC TV on Sunday, adding that these journalists shouldn’t give “a slanted view to a particular community.” Dutton added that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – comparable to the British MI5 or American FBI – questioned some journalists this summer, but would not confirm if they were Chinese nationals, as had been reported.
Dutton’s comments came amid a diplomatic spat with China over the evacuation of the Australian journalists. Beijing has accused the Australian government of “interference in a Chinese legal case” by pulling them out of China. The minister didn’t directly address Chinese journalists in Australia, but indirectly cautioned any foreign reporters who may be “interfering or conducting espionage-type activities.”
However, they also come amid growing government authoritarianism in Australia. The state of Victoria has imposed one of the harshest lockdowns anywhere in the world, with citizens of Melbourne under an 8pm curfew (extended to 9pm from Monday) and forbidden from leaving home without a work permit. Police are permitted to enter property without warrants, and military troops and drones have been brought in to ensure compliance.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has extended the state of emergency in his territory for another six months, and furious citizens who’ve taken to the streets in protest have been met with the full force of the law. Police arrested 74 people and fined another 200 at an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne on Sunday.
Earlier this month, the Victoria Police drew scorn and condemnation when they arrested a pregnant woman for allegedly making Facebook posts in support of an anti-lockdown rally. Commentators online described the arrest as an example of “full-blown fascism in Australia.”