Thursday, February 20, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Freedom press
A Greens bill could spark a useful debate

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young on ABC News Breakfast this morning

Last year’s outrage has receded, the ABC has lost its challenge against the federal police, the joint committee on intelligence and security inquiry into press freedom has stalled due to government division, and the threats to free speech keep piling up. Against that rather gloomy backdrop, the Greens communications spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, has announced she will shortly present a media freedom bill to the Senate. Hanson-Young chairs the Senate inquiry into press freedom, which is due to table its final report in mid March. “The court ruling on the ABC raids on Monday, which comes after the ABC Ultimo headquarters raid, and the raid on the home of a News Corp journalist, shows our laws are broken,” she said yesterday, arguing that media freedoms should be enshrined in legislation. The chances of a Greens bill passing parliament are next to zero, of course, but a debate on the floor of the Senate could be a useful exercise, considering that the need for a free press to hold an increasingly Trumpian federal government to account has never been greater. 

According to Hanson-Young’s announcement, the bill will address many of the issues raised by media organisations during the Senate inquiry, by: (i) instituting a contested warrants process, where law enforcement would need to apply to a judge to search a media outlet or access a journalist’s metadata; (ii) introducing a public interest defence to protect whistleblowers; (iii) putting the onus on prosecutors to disprove public interest rather than on journalists to prove it; and (iv) enacting shield laws to protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources. There are many other issues impinging on press freedom in Australia, of course, including a pressing need for defamation and freedom of information law reform, but this list is a start. Hanson-Young has support from Peter Greste’s Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, and can likely expect support from Digital Rights Watch and GetUp!, who coauthored this report on press freedom by former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and party adviser David Paris last year.

It is an interesting tactic to start drafting a bill without waiting for the conclusion of the inquiry. But why wait? Bi- or tri-partisan agreement to a set of recommendations coming out of a Senate inquiry seems an increasing rarity – I can’t remember the last time I opened a committee report that had no dissenting or minority opinion. Sometimes these are laughable, undercutting months of evidence and research, and defeating the purpose: if everyone’s position is going to be the same as when they went in, why soak up everybody’s time preparing submissions and attending hearings? Governments can hardly be blamed for leaving divided reports on the shelf – no consensus means no progress. 

Hanson-Young’s bill, when it is released, may keep press freedom on the parliamentary agenda, but even if it passes the Senate, it is unlikely to be debated or voted in the House of Representatives. Labor’s focus remains on working through the PJCIS inquiry, which is currently delayed while waiting for a response from the Department of Home Affairs. Although the crossbench is not represented on that committee (it should be), there is hardly a cosy consensus on this issue. The divisions are not so much between the Coalition and Labor, as between the Liberal Party’s more libertarian members and those who toe the Peter Dutton line on national security. 

Monday’s court judgement on the ABC raid underscored the need for law reform to protect press freedom in Australia. Hanson-Young’s bill may be the catalyst for a useful debate about what that should look like. 

“You cannot be serious, @FOXSportsAUS. ‘Dies alongside his three kids’? You make yourself part of this national scourge. Fix it immediately.”

Federal Labor backbencher Anika Wells, member for the Brisbane seat of Lilley, attacks Fox News’s coverage of yesterday’s shocking alleged murder of Hannah Baxter and her three children by her former partner, ex-NRL player Rowan Baxter.

“The deliberateness of the attempt to make the sign look like an AEC sign by someone in Mr Frost’s position bespeaks a view of someone with experience in political campaigning that there was some advantage in doing so.”

From the Federal Court judgement finding former Victorian Liberal director Simon Frost should not be referred to the High Court over purple and white election-day signs designed to look like AEC material in the electorates of Chisholm and Kooyong.

The minister for nuclear power
Meet Keith Pitt – climate sceptic, coal evangelist and the parliament’s most strident nuclear advocate. He’s also the new minister for water and resources.

The unemployment rate in January – above economists’ expectations – up by 0.2 percentage points after the number of people looking for work rose by 31,500.

“[Whereas] the changing global climate carries risks for the Australian environment and Australia’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to bushfires and other natural disasters … [the royal commission will inquire into] Australia’s arrangements for improving resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions, what actions should be taken to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, and whether accountability for natural disaster risk management, preparedness, resilience and recovery should be enhanced.”

From the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, released by the prime minister today.

The list

“To view their work together is to understand the culture of the day more fully. And what a culture it was. Graffiti was moving at speed from the street to the worlds of art and fashion; so too were hip-hop and new wave. Fame, particularly the 15-minute Warholesque variety, was in the air. Figures such as the recently crowned pop-princess Madonna (she and Basquiat briefly dated) were regular patrons at venues like Club 57 and CBGB.”

“A newborn oil and gas company that four years ago bought an ageing Woodside offshore facility for a pittance, allowing the gas giant to avoid a $230 million clean-up, went into liquidation last week and Australian taxpayers may be left with the bill.” 

“It was to be the fairytale wedding of 1990. The groom was Lorenzo Montesini, Prince Giustiniani, Count of the Phanaar, Knight of Saint Sophia, Baron Alexandroff. The bride-to-be was Primrose ‘Pitty Pat’ Dunlop, heiress to the empress of Australian high society, Lady Potter, and step-daughter to well-heeled Sir Ian, Knight of the Bourse and Broker of the Stock. The nuptials were to be performed on Easter Monday at the Basilica di San Pietro in Venice before a glittering congregation of congregating glitterers who flocked to the Hotel Cipriani for the occasion.”

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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