To all Liberal Democrat members and supporters,
By now you may have read the media reports in relation to the Attorney General’s department targeting the organisers and key speakers at the recent CPAC event in Sydney. If not, please take a look at Janet Albrechtsen’s reports in the Australian newspaper on Saturday 2nd November 2019.
We, the National Executive of the Liberal Democrats, have conducted a meeting called specifically to discuss the s45(2) notice sent to Andrew Cooper, President of the Liberal Democrats, under the Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme Act 2018 for his role with LibertyWorks and his involvement in the organisation of CPAC Australia.
This meeting was called with the knowledge of Andrew Cooper who was voluntarily absent from the meeting so as to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.
Our statement on the matter is as follows:
The Liberal Democrats are a party dedicated to the freedom of all Australians. We believe that people should be free to live their lives however they see fit, without government interference, as long as they afford the same right to others. We believe in the uniqueness, sovereignty, value, and inalienable rights of all peoples.
We are Australia’s sole libertarian and classical liberal party and are absolutely dedicated to these values. The Liberal Democrats hold no formal agreements with LibertyWorks, the American Conservative Union, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), or CPAC Australia.
Our people – members, supporters, volunteers, funders, and leadership – lead diverse lifestyles. We strongly support the right of all people to peacefully advocate for their lifestyle and values, again, as long as they afford the same right to others.
Andrew Cooper, President of the Liberal Democrats, wears many hats in his private capacity. We note that in addition to his Liberal Democrats commitments, Andrew is also the President of LibertyWorks, the organisation primarily responsible for organising CPAC Australia. Whenever potential conflicts of interest have arisen in relation to his entrepreneurial endeavours, Andrew has always declared them and abstained from any related votes or decisions in his capacity as President of the Liberal Democrats.
In a recent letter from the Attorney-General’s office, Andrew has been ordered to “produce any information or documents relevant to the question of whether LibertyWorks is liable to register under the Act in relation to the American Conservative Union (“ACU”)”, including but not limited to, “Any agreement, contract or other document detailing any understanding or arrangement between LibertyWorks and the ACU; Any invitations, letters or other correspondence from LibertyWorks or the ACU sent to individuals invited to speak at or attend the Conference, including correspondence subsequent to the initial invitation; Copies, transcripts or video or audio recordings of speeches made by speakers at the conference, including of speeches by members of LibertyWorks or the ACU to introduce or conclude the Conference or specific day or event at the conference; Summaries of the topics covered by speakers at the Conference, and; Material produced or distributed by LibertyWorks promoting the Conference or the ACU.”
Andrew has been given 14 days to hand over all information under the threat of 6 months imprisonment. Given that LibertyWorks is a volunteer-run organisation, and that Andrew Cooper acts in a volunteer capacity, the burden of labour imposed by the government on Andrew is so great that these bureaucrats may as well have saved themselves the time of sending a letter and placed him directly in a cage.
We find the request sent to Andrew to be, without hesitation, reprehensible and antithetical to the principles and values of a western liberal democracy. We would find this letter equally reprehensible if it were sent to someone affiliated with the Labor Party, the Greens, or any other Australian political party or actor, as a response to their political activity.
Free speech is necessary for a healthy democracy. Speech is not free if, at any time, a faceless bureaucrat can demand without reasonable suspicion, without obtaining a warrant signed by a judge, without any due process, a dragnet of information pertaining to the political communications of free citizens. The Liberal Democrats strongly believe in the fundamental tenet of the presumption of innocence – it appears the Attorney-General’s Department does not.
If there is evidence against Andrew that shows he has acted contrary to the principles and values of this great country we urge that he be charged and given the opportunity to defend himself in court. Until that time, it is our firm and unwavering opinion that the notice sent to him amounts to nothing more than a direct attack on the freedoms this country supposedly holds dear. We view the demands as disgusting, abhorrent, and an absolute disgrace to the Attorney-General’s Department, casting shade over the whole Australian Government.
Whether one supports Andrew Cooper or not, whether one supports the Liberal Democrats or not, whether one is a conservative or not, it should be clear to any reasonable student of history that the demands made of Andrew are not in alignment with the values and principles of a western liberal democracy. They more closely resemble those of the East German Stasi.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme would safeguard the nation’s democracy, however, it is clear that the unchecked ability of the government of the day to demand all prior communications from political actors in Australia under the threat of imprisonment serves as a greater threat to democracy than any conceivable influence from foreign actors.
The Liberal Democrats call on the government to start an immediate review of the Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme Act 2018 and given they are responsible for the passage of this illiberal document, to immediately explain themselves to the Australian people.
The Liberal Democrats call on Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, to immediately suspend the enforcement of the Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme Act 2018 until a review has been conducted, especially, removing the power of the faceless, unaccountable, deep state bureaucracy to threaten political parties and actors with imprisonment should they not kowtow to their outrageous demands.
Given that Andrew Cooper is the only person to receive an s45(2) notice in the 12 months since this legislation has been active and given the Liberal Democrats are the party with the strongest opposition to unaccountable and intrusive government, the Liberal Democrats call for an investigation to ascertain whether the targeting of the Party’s President was politically motivated.
Finally, in the absence of any proven wrongdoing by Andrew, the Liberal Democrats call for an immediate suspension of Sarah Chidgey from her position at the Attorney-General’s Department and a full investigation into the circumstances leading to this perversion of our liberal democracy.