No quick fix
The review of media and whistleblower protections should not be rushed
Rolling back the tide of draconian national security laws that restrict press freedom and curtail protections for whistleblowers and others is a task to be approached with determination and patience, and not in a hurry, because it’s going to take months if not years. So it is difficult to understand why News Corp’s Campbell Reid today declined to support a much-needed review, which was backed by shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally in an op-ed [$] in The Australian this morning. Some say there are 75 pieces of post–September 11 legislation that have brought us to where we are now – with police raiding journalists and the government secretly prosecuting whistleblowers – and some say there are hundreds. It is clearly not a case of needing to act now to prevent a recurrence of exactly and only what happened last week. It is a case of needing to slowly but surely review and carefully amend every surveillance-state law on the books, whether passed in the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison era or before.
Keneally supports a review to amend national security laws to protect the media and whistleblowers, and reforming the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to provide increased oversight of intelligence and security agencies. She proposed that the review could be conducted by the PJCIS itself – problematic, because the committee currently has no crossbench representation – or by an entirely new parliamentary joint committee – better – to “recommend legislative and other steps to ensure we are getting the balance between national security legislation and freedom of the press”.
News Corp’s Reid, however, told ABC Radio: “We think that an inquiry serves the purpose of uncovering something that’s wrong, and our view in this case is that, for the better part of a decade, we and media companies, legal experts, legal academics and people interested in the public’s right to know have been repeatedly raising concerns about new pieces of legislation that have been passed that enshrine a creeping constraint and criminalisation of normal journalism.”
News Corp hardly has clean hands here, as it has consistently sided with the government to attack Labor for being soft on national security – most notably in a ridiculous beat-up over the medivac laws. As Bernard Keane writes, News Corp is today quite laughably blaming Labor for going along with the government. The Morrison government’s encryption-cracking access and assistance laws, the Turnbull government’s foreign espionage and interference laws and creation of the home affairs portfolio, and the Abbott government’s data retention laws, all make the Coalition far more guilty than Labor. The ALP did propose tougher media regulation and internet filtering, but it wasn't motivated by national security paranoia, and in both cases it was unsuccessful.
It’s not a time for finger-pointing, however. A thorough review is the best place to start, and the mixed signals out of the government so far, following the closed meeting with the ABC yesterday, are not good enough. But that review would just be the beginning: the broader problem, as University of New South Wales law dean George Williams toldThe Sydney Morning Herald last week, is that Australia is the only democracy in the world that does not protect free speech and freedom of the press through a charter or bill of rights. It’s time to fix that.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Rolling back the tide of draconian national security laws that restrict press freedom and curtail protections for whistleblowers and others is a task to be approached with determination and patience, and not in a hurry, because it’s going to take months if not years. So it is difficult to understand why News Corp’s Campbell Reid today declined to support a much-needed review, which was backed by shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally in an op-ed [$] in The Australian this morning. Some say there are 75 pieces of post–September 11 legislation that have brought us to where we...