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Proud Mary praises people power

Briefs

Cite as: April 2011 85(4) LIJ, p.14

Whistleblowers using the internet and other social media have triggered a “shift in the massive imbalance of power” between the governed and governments, according to Sydney Peace Foundation chair Mary Kostakidis.

Ms Kostakidis made the comments at the 2011 LIV and Victorian Women Lawyers Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Lunch held on 4 March at Federation Square.

In her speech, “The Price of Courage: Has freedom of information gone too far?” (http://bit.ly/dX4RQo), Ms Kostakidis spoke about the changing political landscape and the importance of whistleblowers.

“While governments have honed their skills in managing the official media, a revolution is occurring among the public, spawned by the internet and other new media,” she said.

“(They) demand freedom of expression and information and more transparency and accountability of governments and, through global citizen connection, we are seeing a shift in the massive imbalance of power between the governed and the governors.”

Ms Kostakidis presented SBS television’s World News for two decades. Since leaving the network, she has been involved in the governance of numerous organisations.

She told the audience of 360 that online petitions were becoming a powerful force in changing the behaviour of politicians and said the website of grass-roots community advocacy organisation GetUp (www.getup.org.au) generated over 100,000 signatures in hours in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

She said whistleblowers reaffirmed the primacy of freedom of speech; that freedom of information was critical in a robust democracy; that governments lie; that the media needed to be fearless and independent; and that whistleblowers should be better supported.

“We know the toll is massive on the individual whistleblowers’ professional, financial and ultimately personal life,” Ms Kostakidis said.

“If we don’t protect whistleblowers and their publishers, we will get the society we deserve.

“No country and no government is beyond critical assessment.”

She said potential whistleblowers should be buoyed by the last year’s election of federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who quit the army in 2003 over concerns that intelligence was being used for political purposes.

“He is one whose electorate declared: You are the sort of person we want representing us, we value your courage and integrity,” she said.

LIV president Caroline Counsel told the lunch, which also celebrated the centenary of International Women’s Day, that despite inroads “every single one of the women in this room knows sexual bias is still an issue”.

“Statistically, women lawyers outnumber men on graduation 60–40. By the time they hit their 30s and 40s it is the opposite and men far outnumber women,” she said.

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