AFOI – Lifting the lid on whistle blowing – Adelaide Festival of Ideas

Yesterday’s festivities started with a trip to Elder Hall for Lifting the lid on whistle blowing?

Lifting the lid on whistle-blowing
Julian Morrow

Guy Pearse

Norman Swan

Marian Wilkinson


I sat behind the sound desk and was happy to see a dude wearing a
radio adelaide (101.5) Tshirt, armed with a Marantz pmd670.  He was
recording the session for the festival podcasts.  Based on some
conversations while waiting (in the freezing rain) to be let into Elder
Hall, the festival podcasts aren’t due to be posted until next week. 
As always, I will look around and keep you posted.

The session itself was pretty interesting, and the room was choc a
block full.  (Quite possibly due to the celebrity status of the
Chaser’s Julian Morrow – who’s bio for the event is a real treat, describing himself as ‘Satirist and wanker from the The Chaser’s War on Everything, ABC TV‘). 
I was feeling crook as a dog (too crook to have a chat with the
podcasting dude) so here is a very coloured report of what stood out
for me:

Paul Chadwick set the scene with a definition of whistle blower and got my attention with the phrase ‘Whistle blowers step outside the authorised channels of communication’ – sounds very cluetrain eh?

Norman Swan kicked things off with stories of his encounters with
whistle blowers.  As an investigative journo he goes to great pains to
try and explain the potential costs to would be blowers – who often
come off worse than the accused at the end of the day.

Guy Pearse took the opportunity to present the writing of his recent book ‘high and dry
as an act of whistle blowing (of impeccable timing – just before an
election).  Guy spoke with much authority of the U-turn in John
Howard’s approach to the environment and was clearly nervous that the
short term fame he is currently enjoying might give way to the
long-term obscurity that awaits many whistle blowers.

Marian Wilkinson delivered a rousing tribute to one single whistle blower – Dr John Gee
Her careful and eloquent telling of the demise of the reputation of our
true heroes in the fight against chemical weapons by the closed ranks
of Government power brokers and information gatekeepers was as chilling
as it was moving.  I was chilled to be confronted by an example of how
easy it is for our government to make advice it doesn’t like vanish (or
take a very long time to find).  Dr Gee did not have the impeccable
timing of Guy Pearse and only broke the ‘culture of compliance
demanded by our halls of power after being diagnosed with a terminal
condition.  I was moved by how visibly upset Miriam was at the
completion of her story.

Julian Morrow divided his time by two – speaking of his former life
as a lawyer representing whistle blowers and then his efforts as
satirist and wanker with the Chaser.  Neither account was earth moving
– just like the effect of comedy on culture – its a rather slow and
indirect form of influence.  Julians quip about foreign doctors being
terrorists, and the need to be suspicious of any nutter with neatly
tabulated folders were amusing.  The protection afforded by the Chaser
team’s ability to control their broadcast message (editing to make
their victims look more stupid than themselves) was quite revealing.

The Q&A session was robust, with a ray of light emerging from
Mirian’s response to a late question in reflection of her visit to the
Nordic nations around the time of the Tampa debacle.  Her observations
on the true freedom of information in a culture (Norway) where the
default is open access to everything were quite inspiring. 
(particularly in contrast to how things were here in Australia while
searching for the ‘other’ side of the story).  Imagine how things would
be in our country if free and open access to information was the

So, if you want to keep up with the stuff I find from the festival, subscribe to and keep an eye out for posts that start with AFOI.

FangMike Seyfang


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About mseyfang

Interruptus Digitalis
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