Singapore achieved self-government in 1959 and the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been in power ever since. Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister from 1959 until 1990. He was followed by Goh Chok Tong who was PM from 1990-2004, and he was followed by Lee Hsien Loong (Lee Kuan Yew’s son), who is now in his fifth term as PM1.
For many years, Singapore has been a pretend democracy, as the ruling party (PAP) uses the courts to stifle any opposition, often by means of suits for defamation and slander. This is possible because Singapore has severe restrictions on freedom of expression2. These suits are an attempt by the government to bankrupt opposition politicians, as bankrupt people are prevented from standing in elections. This is unlike the rule in the Australian Constitution which only prevents undischarged bankrupts from standing for election3.
In 1997, Tang Liang Hong, a Workers’ Party candidate, filed a police report alleging that the PAP leadership had defamed him during the campaign by publicly labelling him an “anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist”. The PAP leaders listed in the police reports, alleging they had been defamed by Tang in the reports, sued and were awarded damages of S$8.08 million reduced on appeal to S$4.53 million3. Tang Liang Hong was subsequently declared bankrupt, and therefore unable to run for election. In 2008, the High Court ordered the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), its secretary general, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, a total of S$610,000. Six other defendants, all SDP central executive committee members, had previously issued an apology and paid a total of SD$340,000 to the plaintiffs2. These are two of numerous instances of such behaviour from the PAP.
The PAP does not just go after opposition politicians; they also go after journalists. They have sued the Far Eastern Economic Review, The New York Times and the Financial Times for articles and opinion pieces which PAP officials believed impugned their character. This has led the media rights organisation Reporters without Borders (RSF) to write an open letter to the PAP urging them to stop suing journalists4.
Given the appalling behaviour, the corruption and the inability of the Morrison government to cope with the concept of quarantine or to successfully handle a vaccine rollout, they now seem to be trying to use the same technique as the Singapore government with regard to journalists. Christian Porter launched defamation proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and journalist Louise Milligan on March 15 over an online story from February 26, which he said implied he “brutally raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988” and that it “contributed to her taking her own life”. Porter vehemently denied the allegations5,6. Although he was not named in the story, Porter alleged he was easily identifiable. He was eventually forced to back down, and dropped the defamation proceedings6.
MP Andrew Laming has now launched defamation proceedings against Louise Milligan, claiming she used a “sensational, accusatory and spiteful tone” when posting “defamatory” statements on Twitter. She is also accused of failing to apologise to the Queensland MP over the statements about “Laming upskirts” (Laming took a photograph of a young woman’s underwear while she were bending over) and her linking of him to an investigation into Canberra’s workplace culture. Milligan has since deleted the tweets and posted a statement saying she hadn’t included Laming’s denials in a “broader Twitter discussion about gender and politics”. In addition to upskirting, Laming has admitted to harassing two female constituents6.
I suspect that Laming’s suit will go nowhere, but I also suspect that the government will attempt to tighten up defamation laws in Australia, such that it will make it easier for politicians and their ilk to attack journalists. This will be a way of trying to silence top journalists such as Milligan. Why would they do this? Because they do not like scrutiny; and it is people like the fearless Milligan who scrutinise them minutely. It is a shame there are not more journalists like Milligan about.
The regressive religious nutters in the Liberal Party realise that Australia is becoming less religious and more progressive and they know this will likely signal the end of their political crusade. As a consequence, they will do anything to attempt to hold onto power. If that means attempting to cow the only journalism outlet which is not peopled, at least in part, by ‘journalists’ who are Liberal Party sycophants. David Frum said it best when he stated: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy”7. This is where we are headed.