Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Fight to know
The media must not simply protect itself

ABC chair Ita Buttrose and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February 2019. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Gathering major-party and crossbench support suggests there will be at the very least a Senate inquiry into the erosion of press freedom in Australia, which is a good thing, but it is important that the rights of journalists alone do not dominate and curtail discussion. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already signalled that he is open to reform, and is today meeting with ABC chair Ita Buttrose, who issued this strongly worded statement slamming last week’s AFP raids. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has said that a free press is a “bedrock principle” for the government. But actions speak louder than words, and the federal government and the federal police have just given a fresh demonstration of their hypocrisy by closing the investigation of a national security leak that suited Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Nonetheless, the looming Senate inquiry – or joint parliamentary inquiry, if independent Andrew Wilkie gets his way (and let’s hope that he does) – is a critically important opportunity to turn back the tide on two decades of national security–inspired legislation that has turned Australia into the world’s most illiberal democracy.

Fletcher told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that the government was open to a review of press freedom, indicating there would be “further statements in relation to this later in the week”, backing a similar call by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Labor backbencher Ed Husic told Sky News that his party should “not necessarily prioritise bipartisanship as an end in itself … We should make sure we get the balance right between protecting people and protecting their rights.” Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has proposed a constitutional amendment to guarantee something like the first amendment rights of the United States – which seems a roundabout way of trying to achieve some urgent reform – and today accused Home Affairs department secretary Mike Pezzullo of trying to intimidate him. Wilkie and the Greens have joined the call for a review. So has Pauline Hanson, with qualifications.

As the ABC’s Media Watch host Paul Barry observed last night, “If there is a benefit of last week’s raids it is that proper protection may now be on the agenda.” It behoves the media, however, to ensure that proper protection from draconian surveillance laws and jackbooted security agencies is not just afforded to journalists but also to whistleblowers, activists, and ordinary citizens. As Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance CEO Paul Murphy told Media Watch: “I think our parliament has failed … I think there is no doubt that the very public nature of these raids in combination with the deluge of legislation we’ve seen in recent years will succeed in intimidating whistleblowers from coming forward with information in the public interest, and without the bravery of whistleblowers coming forward, investigative journalism becomes impossible in many aspects.”

The ABC is reportedly [$] challenging last week’s raids, and it is fantastic to see the media unite to push back on the government in a fight for the public’s right to know. ABC MD David Anderson, Nine’s CEO Hugh Marks and News Corp’s Australian chair Michael Miller are set to speak at the National Press Club on press freedom in a fortnight. Hopefully they will speak up for the freedom of all Australians, not just their own organisations and employees.

“I don’t want him in our party, it’s that simple. My concern here is that John Setka undermines the credibility of the trade union movement, through the position that he holds, and the public views that he has expressed.”

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese calls for the Victorian secretary of the CFMEU, John Setka, to be expelled over his reported comments that Rosie Batty’s campaigning had led to men having fewer rights.

“We now have a monumental task to get people to come to the Great Barrier Reef. As a living organism it is in wonderful shape and people need to be proud enough to stand up and say it. Our tourism industry here is pretty well static, if not in recession.”

Former Cairns mayor Kevin Byrne tells The Australian that a decline in reef tourism is the fault of activists claiming that the Great Barrier Reef is dying.


The reported number of suicide or self-harm incidents on Manus Island since the federal election.

“Oil and gas companies with production assets in Queensland will be hit by a 2.5 per cent increase in royalties, with the rate lifted to 12.5 per cent [but] the coal mining industry [has] dodged a bullet, avoiding an increase in royalties, which was believed to be under consideration recently.”

The Queensland budget unveiled by Treasurer Jackie Trad today introduced changes to payroll tax, land taxes and an increase to the royalties paid by oil and gas producers.

The list

“Australians are the biggest gamblers on earth, losing more than $24 billion a year ... One explanation for Australia’s world-record gambling spend is cultural preference. From Birdsville to the trenches, a love of the punt has supposedly been central to national identity. The other explanation for why Australians became the world’s biggest gamblers during the 1990s was that the expansion of gambling was a deliberate government policy choice.”

“Thirteen years after Scott Morrison was mysteriously sacked from a senior public sector job as managing director of Tourism Australia, a six-month investigation by The Saturday Paper has created the clearest picture yet of the events surrounding his dismissal.”

“Ostensibly it is a dispute over an employment contract between Folau and Rugby Australia, but it has been conflated with a major battle over religion and free speech: should an employer have the right to sack an employee whose decision to publicly make homophobic comments is at odds with the organisation’s values of inclusiveness? It is up to the various judges to sort this out, but in the meantime it is worth unpacking just what he said and its implications.”

Sacking Scott Morrison
Before entering parliament, Scott Morrison ran Tourism Australia. He was sacked by the minister, but the details of what happened have never been made public.

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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