THE ATTORNEY-General Philip Ruddock has introduced a Bill to parliament allowing judges to excuse journalists from naming sources in court.
The Bill to amend the Commonwealth Evidence Act is based on similar provisions already in existence in NSW. It is based on recommendations made by the Australian, New South Wales and Victorian law reform commissions in their Uniform Evidence Law report tabled in 2006.
“This privilege will assist journalists to reconcile their ethical obligations with their legal duty to provide courts with relevant evidence when requested,” Ruddock said during the Bill’s second reading speech.
However, the privilege will not be absolute, and in determining whether to exclude the evidence the court will be required to consider the nature of proceedings, the importance of the evidence, the likely harm to the journalist’s source, other means to obtaining the evidence and the means available to limit the impact of disclosure.
Victoria is preparing to follow the lead of NSW and implement similar legislation while the Queensland’s government is still investigating whether to follow suit.
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the Commonwealth reforms but said the job was only half done as journalist’s sources were not protected from being hunted down and prosecuted.
“The government has shown they are determined to track down whistleblowers and hold them to account. Shield laws for journalists will do nothing to protect their source, nor stop them from being intimidated into silence,” MEAA federal secretary Chris Warren said.
Former customs official Allan Kessing is due to be sentenced on 14 June for leaking confidential information regarding airport security. The information led to the biggest-ever security shake-up of Australia’s airports.