LCA welcomed the release of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s Advisory Report on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, saying the report had accepted evidence of a need to ensure proportionality and appropriate responses to threats.
The report contained numerous recommendations aimed at clarifying how national security and security classification are defined, thus underpinning a range of offences, as well as a suggested broadening of several defences, such as the journalist defence for security offences to editorial, legal and administrative staff within news organisations.
In addition, recommendations were put forward to reduce maximum penalties for proposed new security offences and the requiring of consent of the attorney-general to any prosecution under such offences.
LCA president Morry Bailes said early indications from the advisory report were such that the recommendations being put forward were a step in the right direction.
And, while further analysis of the report is required, he said it was pleasing to see the bipartisan joint committee take on many of the suggestions put to it during the consultation process, including from LCA.
“Key clarifications to definitions such as ‘national security’ should be set out in the legislation, not only contained within the Explanatory Memorandum,” he said.
“This is critical given the seriousness of the proposed offences which attract heavy penalties.”
Defences need to be further strengthened, he noted, such as to include a ‘good faith’ defence for espionage and a public interest defence for individuals other than journalists or those assisting them.
This, he argued, was a necessary safeguard for freedom of expression.
“In addition, the definition of national security, still to include economic and political relations with another country, might be best likened to a leap into the unknown for freedom of speech in Australia,” he explained.
“While there is no doubt we all want to keep Australia and Australians safe from foreign interference, that must not be at a cost to our freedom — and where that does encroach, the encroachment must be measured and justified.”
Legitimate political and public debate in Australia should be encouraged, he concluded, and it is the responsibility of parliamentarians to ensure that debate is not stifled through legislation.
“It is vitally important that on matters of national security we get the legislation right,” he said.