A 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.
The inquiry was set up following the raids on Annika Smethurst’s home and the ABC’s Sydney Headquarters in June 2019.
The PJCIS says the bipartisan recommendations in the report would, if implemented, result in significant improvements to the law including improved legal protections for journalists and sweeping changes to the way federal warrants that relate to professional journalists or media organisations are issued and contested.
The committee recommends that warrants for journalists or media organisations must be contestable by a Public Interest Advocate before a senior judge, and that 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.
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.
Labor says, however, that the recommendations don’t go far enough to protect freedom of the press and the public’s right to know.
According to the Labor members of the committee, Senator Kristina Keneally, Michelle Rowland and Mark Dreyfus, the report will make a valuable contribution to the public debate, and implementation of the bipartisan recommendations will result in meaningful improvements to the law, but Labor members remain of the view that a broader set of issues require improvement.