Urgent reform needed for whistleblower laws
The recent AFP raids highlight the need to “rein in” laws that “damage Australia’s democracy”, according to the Human Rights Law Centre.
Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) legal director Emily Howie argued that the June 2019 Australian Federal Police raids on journalist Annika Smethurst’s home and the headquarters of the ABC demonstrate the need for urgent law reform to protect public interest journalism.
“Attacks on public interest whistleblowers and the free press strike at the heart of our democracy. Governments may be uncomfortable about journalists and whistleblowers exposing wrongdoing, but that doesn’t justify silencing them,” said Ms Howie, who is giving evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security.
“The government should take this opportunity to urgently protect and encourage people to come forward with information about abuses and wrongdoing.”
In recent years, whistleblowers have “exposed the false pretences on which Australia has gone to war, police misconduct, corruption, the dangerously inadequate clean-up of nuclear waste, and the cruel treatment of asylum seekers in immigration detention,” she added.
“Australians have a right to know what the government is doing in their name, and journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of prosecution,” Ms Howie posited.
“Maintaining national security is important but our espionage and secrecy laws are so broad that they criminalise journalism and shield the government from legitimate criticism. Our democracy relies on public interest journalism and we must defend it.”
These issues, Ms Howie continued, and the ease with which governments can override civil liberty concerns, further highlight the need for an Australian Charter of Human Rights.
“Let’s face it, politicians can’t be relied on to always do the right thing. An Australian Charter of Human Rights would help us better navigate these issues in a way that doesn’t unreasonably restrict people’s rights. It would also give people and communities the power to hold governments to account when they do cross the line,” she concluded.