Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced today (28 September) that the Commonwealth Government will support a bill put forward by Senator Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie that will provide additional protection for journalists and their sources.
As Australia's 43rd parliament sits for the first time this week, Wilkie will give notice in the House of Representatives that he will introduce the private member's bill to amend the Commonwealth's Evidence Act.
The amendments are based on New Zealand legislation which provides a rebuttable presumption in favour of journalists not disclosing information in court proceedings that would identify their source.
"Journalists should have the right to protect sources who provide information to them which is in the public interest," Senator Xenophon said. "This bill doesn't just protect journalists and their sources - it also ensures information in the public interest can be reported."
Senator Xenophon, Wilkie and the Attorney-General met last week to discuss the legislation.
"Our discussions with the Attorney-General were open and constructive and I am impressed that we have been able to work together on this issue," Wilkie said.
Senator Xenophon said under the provisions of the bill, it will be incumbent on parties seeking disclosure of the source to prove that the public benefit in revealing the source outweighs the harm to the source. "This is about protecting every citizen's right to information. This is about protecting the public's right to know," Xenophon said.
Last year the Government introduced amendments to the Evidence Act, however the bill lapsed with the last parliament.
"I have written to all state and territory attorneys-general today advising of the Federal Government's support to strengthen journalist shield laws and encouraging them to adopt similar provisions at the state level as part of uniform evidence laws," McClelland said.
"A harmonised approach to journalist shield laws across Australia is important and I welcome Victoria's recent support for the New Zealand model."