Me­dia de­mands le­gal shake-up, not an in­quiry

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - ROSIE LEWIS

Scott Morrison is con­sult­ing ed­i­tors and senior me­dia ex­ec­u­tives about es­tab­lish­ing a press free­dom in­quiry, amid calls from La­bor to create a pow­er­ful par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee span­ning both cham­bers to re­view na­tional se­cu­rity laws af­ter last week’s raids on a News Corp Aus­tralia journalist and the ABC.

Writ­ing in The Aus­tralian to­day, op­po­si­tion home af­fairs spokes­woman Kristina Ke­neally de­mands that politi­cians “look with fresh eyes” at whether laws are un­bal­anced.

Gov­ern­ment sources stressed that any in­quiry must have teeth and not simply rec­om­mend leg­isla­tive changes.

But Camp­bell Reid — group ex­ec­u­tive for cor­po­rate af­fairs, pol­icy and gov­ern­ment re­la­tions at News Corp Aus­tralia, pub­lisher of The Aus­tralian — last night ques­tioned the need for a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into press free­dom. Mr Reid de­clared the dangers as­so­ci­ated with “the ev­er­ex­pand­ing dossier of laws that can put jour­nal­ists in jail” had been raised re­peat­edly with gov­ern­ments and politi­cians over the past decade. “This is not a mat­ter where we need an in­quiry to iden­tify the prob­lem,” he said.

“The gov­ern­ment should stop ig­nor­ing what it has al­ready been told. Rather than an in­quiry, a bet­ter so­lu­tion would be a work­ing group of senior politi­cians, me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives and le­gal ex­perts to work to­gether to re­frame leg­is­la­tion so it strikes the right bal­ance be­tween na­tional se­cu­rity and the na­tion’s right to know.”

The Prime Min­is­ter, who yes­ter­day met ABC chair­woman Ita But­trose and manag­ing di­rec­tor David An­der­son, urged

jour­nal­ists and the public to keep mat­ters in per­spec­tive. Mr Morrison noted that raids by the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice on the broad­caster’s head­quar­ters and the home of senior News Corp Aus­tralia journalist An­nika Smethurst were con­ducted un­der laws that ex­isted in 2013.

Ms But­trose and Mr An­der­son raised con­cerns about the ABC raid with Mr Morrison and said they looked for­ward to work­ing con­struc­tively with other me­dia com­pa­nies to pin­point ar­eas of concern and pur­sue the case for leg­isla­tive re­view.

The Aus­tralian was told there was no time­frame locked in for a press free­dom an­nounce­ment by Mr Morrison.

Anthony Al­banese sig­nalled La­bor was pre­pared to break ranks with the gov­ern­ment on na­tional se­cu­rity laws if he deemed leg­is­la­tion was too dra­co­nian or im­pinged on cru­cial free­doms.

Se­na­tor Ke­neally was briefed by the De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs yes­ter­day on is­sues rel­e­vant to her port­fo­lio, in­clud­ing asy­lum­seeker boats and na­tional se­cu­rity.

She re­newed calls for an overhaul of the bi­par­ti­san par­lia­men­tary joint com­mit­tee on in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity so it pro­vided in­creased over­sight of in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity agen­cies, which had re­ceived ex­panded pow­ers in re­cent years.

“Among our Five Eyes part­ners, Aus­tralia is an out­lier in not pro­vid­ing such over­sight,” Se­na­tor Ke­neally said. “All of these pro­pos­als will re­quire thor­ough re­view. The gov­ern­ment could ask the PJCIS to do this work. Al­ter­na­tively, the gov­ern­ment should con­sider the mer­its of es­tab­lish­ing a new par­lia­men­tary joint com­mit­tee to rec­om­mend leg­isla­tive and other steps to en­sure we are get­ting the bal­ance be­tween na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion and free­dom of the press.”

Se­na­tor Ke­neally said rec­om­men­da­tions from News Corp Aus­tralia, Seven West Me­dia and the Law Coun­cil of Aus­tralia to amend var­i­ous na­tional se­cu­rity laws, such as the 2014 for­eign fight­ers bill, and to leg­is­late ex­emp­tions for jour­nal­ists and whistle­blow­ers in the name of public in­ter­est were a good place to start. “The events of the past week de­mand that we, as par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, look with fresh eyes to con­sider whether the bal­ance has tipped too far, whether the laws are be­ing used as in­tended, and, if not, how laws could be changed,” she said.

Op­tions raised by me­dia ex­ec­u­tives and lawyers in­clude over­haul­ing the na­tional se­cu­rity clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, which deems it a crim­i­nal of­fence to pub­lish or re­port on se­cret doc­u­ments with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion. The war­rant sys­tem, which al­lows AFP of­fi­cers to ap­pear be­fore a reg­is­trar at an ex parte hear­ing with­out me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives, could be changed to re­quire a con­tested hear­ing be­fore a judge.

Mr Morrison said he would lis­ten to con­cerns on press free­dom, but stressed no one was above the law. “There are ad­di­tional pro­tec­tions that have been built into … new laws,” he said. “If there is a sug­ges­tion, or evidence, or any analysis, that re­veals that there is a need for fur­ther improvemen­t of those laws, well the gov­ern­ment is always open to that.”

The Op­po­si­tion Leader pointed to com­ments he made in 2014 when he warned there had not been enough scru­tiny of the Ab­bott gov­ern­ment’s na­tional se­cu­rity agenda af­ter a new of­fence was in­tro­duced that potentiall­y crim­i­nalised the re­port­ing of spe­cial in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions.

Cen­tre Al­liance se­na­tor Rex Patrick sup­ported a par­lia­men­tary in­quiry, sub­ject to the terms of ref­er­ence, but raised two is­sues with the PJCIS con­duct­ing it: meet­ings could be held in se­cret and there were no cross­bench mem­bers.

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