Monday, October 21, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

The government appears to be dragging its heels on media law reform

Today’s blitz by the Right to Know coalition of media outlets is a welcome reboot of a campaign that appeared to be flagging when initial hearings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security showed MPs denying Australia had a problem with press freedom. As Sky News host Laura Jayes put it on air this morning, the PJCIS was probably the wrong body to handle a press freedom inquiry. “How can we expect that committee to come up with any kind of balance when it is a committee committed to looking at national security?” she asked Energy Minister Angus Taylor. Good question, which he fobbed off quickly. Thankfully the PJCIS has been supplemented by a parallel Senate inquiry that includes the crossbench and will be more inclined to take the fight up to the country’s intelligence establishment. On the flipside, it will have less influence with the government. 

Hearings of the Senate committee got underway on Friday and the Right to Know spokespeople presented a united front, arguing that successive governments were “not listening” when media organisations put in submissions on the more than 60 pieces of national security legislation that encroach on press freedom. Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann made the very pertinent point that the current prime minister had built his political career on increasing secrecy around asylum-seeker boat arrivals to “ludicrous levels”.

Which is why it is hard to see the Morrison government, of all governments, winding back restrictions. They just want the fuss over the AFP raids on the ABC and News Corp back in June to be forgotten and hope that, as long as no journalists are actually prosecuted, the whole thing can be left in the Canberra bubble. On the ABC’s Insiders yesterday, Attorney-General Christian Porter gave an indication of his thinking when he threw up a bunch of straw men, complaining there have been demands from the Right to Know coalition that “journalists have a blanket exemption from all national security and secrecy laws”. He would not comment on the specific ABC and News Corp cases, saying any recommendation from the public prosecutor would be taken at “extreme arm’s length” (not a legal term) from the government. Given the brazenly political conduct of the AFP under this government, that is scarcely believable.

On ABC RN Breakfast, News Corp’s Campbell Reid called out the government for “wrongly creating the impression that journalists are seeking carte blanche”. The six key demands of the Right to Know coalition are eminently reasonable, and as Guardian Australia’s Lenore Taylor writes today, in line with the views of the majority of Australians. The six demands are: the right to contest search warrants; protections for whistleblowers; restrictions on secrecy; freedom of information reform; exemptions to protect journalists from prosecution under national security laws; and defamation law reform.

Whether the government is onboard or not, says MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy, every member of the Right to Know coalition is “committed to running this campaign for as long as it takes to get change, because these issues are of fundamental importance to our democracy and the community. We really need to keep pressing.” 

Murphy admits the response of successive governments to date has been “really disappointing” and criticises the government’s response so far, which has been to ensure the attorney-general must approve any prosecution of a journalist. Arguably, Murphy says, putting that decision in the hands of a politician makes things worse, and ABC chair Ita Buttrose made made a similar point in a Q&A session at the Lowy Institute on the weekend, saying: “it’s not one bloke that should be deciding this – I’m not happy with that at all.”

Murphy says the members of the Right to Know coalition are determined: “It does nothing to take away from our motivation and commitment to continue campaigning until we get change. The only way to fix this is to put in black and white proper protections for public interest journalists and for whistleblowers.”

“For the minister to turn around and just take a unilateral approach to this very important unfinished business is disrespectful to [Indigenous] leaders in this country … I was the first one in the media to come out and say congratulations, Ken, we look forward to your leadership. However, just because he is an Aboriginal man doesn’t mean you can’t disagree if he’s not delivering.”

Roy Ah See, co-chair of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, takes on Ken Wyatt, the first Aboriginal man to become minister for Indigenous Australians, who has ruled out a voice to parliament enshrined in the Constitution.

“A number of the groups involved, including the Greens who put the motion up last week that Labor supported, have said: no more coal, no more gas, no more oil … They’ve jumped in the electric car with Bob Brown.”

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor tells Sky News host Laura Jayes what he thinks about parliament’s climate emergency motion.

A classroom full of dollars
The boom in international education has seen students become commodities. It has also changed the way universities operate – chasing rankings and casualising teaching staffs.

The proportion of off-the-plan apartments in Melbourne and Sydney that are now worth less than their purchase price, according to CoreLogic data, amid oversupply and concerns about construction quality and flammable cladding.

“We propose that the following principles should govern the interpretation and application of the new subdivision: (i) every person has a fundamental right to choose whether or not to participate in a sexual activity; (ii) a person’s consent should not be presumed; and (iii) sexual activity should involve ongoing and mutual communication, decision-making and free and voluntary agreement.”

The NSW Law Reform Commission, in draft proposals to rewrite sexual consent laws to adopt the “communicative model of consent” used in Victoria and Tasmania.

The list

“He succeeded as almost no one does (without the benefit of television) in being a supreme populariser. He’s up there with Robert Hughes, Kenneth Clark and David Attenborough, and it’s fascinating that he created his own persona without having to translate himself into another medium.”

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Indigenous people make up about 3.3 per cent of the Australian population. But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprise 70 per cent of the 10- to 13-year-olds in detention in any given year.”

“The iron ore trains take 15 to 20 minutes to pass you by as they wind their way through the red hills of the Pilbara from the mine to the port. These trains typically consist of more than 200 wagons, and they demonstrate in stark terms who gets what from extracting our common wealth. The income generated from the iron ore in 10 of those wagons pays the royalty to the Western Australian government, while about one wagon’s worth goes to the traditional owners of the land.”

Paddy Manning

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?


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