SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
MEDIA FREEDOM REPORT A GOOD START, BUT MORE TO DO
The final report from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into freedom of the press has unanimously concluded that existing Australian law does not adequately protect freedom of the press.
Freedom of the press is central to a functioning democracy. A robust, free press makes our democracy stronger and our nation more secure.
Since the extraordinary raids on Annika Smethurst’s home and the ABC’s Sydney Headquarters in June 2019, the Morrison Government has consistently maintained that the law does not need to change.
Today, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has unanimously rejected that position.
The bipartisan recommendations in the PJCIS report would, if implemented, result in significant improvements to the law including improved legal protections for journalists.
The recommendations include sweeping changes to the way federal warrants that relate to professional journalists or media organisations are issued and contested.
The PJCIS accepted that law enforcement agencies should not be required to give journalists or media organisations prior notice of a warrant but recommends that warrants for journalists or media organisations must be contestable by a Public Interest Advocate before a senior judge.
If these processes had been in place when law enforcement agencies sought warrants for NewsCorp’s Annika Smethurst and the two ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, it is quite possible the outcomes, which caused international embarrassment to Australia, would have been different.
The PJCIS also recommended a range of new record-keeping and reporting requirements to ensure greater transparency for warrants relating to professional journalists and media organisations. This includes a requirement on government to publish the number of covert and overt warrants in relation to journalists issued under Commonwealth legislation.
In total the PJCIS made 16 bipartisan recommendations including changes to:
- the Public Interest Disclosure Act;
- the manner in which Government classifies secret information and processes freedom of information requests; and
- harmonisation of State and Territory shield laws.
While a good start, Labor believes these recommendations do not go far enough to protect freedom of the press and the public’s right to know.
Labor calls on the Morrison Government to urgently implement the bipartisan recommendations of the PJCIS – and use those recommendations as the starting point for further reform.
From the beginning, Labor members did not believe that the PJCIS was the best forum for conducting a comprehensive inquiry into freedom of the press and the public’s right to know.
While the PJCIS report will make a valuable contribution to the public debate, and implementation of the bipartisan recommendations will result in meaningful improvements to the law, Labor members remain of the view that a broader set of issues require improvement.
No journalist should ever face the prospect of being charged or even jailed just for doing their jobs.
Law enforcement agencies should never raid journalists just because they are embarrassing the government.
A strong and independent media is vital to holding governments and oppositions to account and to inform the Australian public. Labor will continue to fight to defend and strengthen press freedom and the public’s right to know.
WEDNESDAY, 26 AUGUST 2020