Media freedom reforms welcomed
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has backed the government’s acceptance of recommendations made by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security following its inquiry into press freedom.
LCA president Pauline Wright said the acceptance follows the LCA’s calls for “meaningful reforms” to the legal framework for media freedoms in Australia.
“[This] is a positive beginning that will allow the process of meaningful legal reform to commence,” Ms Wright said, who noted the LCA particularly welcomes the government’s commitment to implementing the committee’s key recommendations that all warrants seeking to investigate journalists should be issued by a superior court judge, “and that all such warrant applications should be contested by an independent public interest advocate who is a retired judge, practising Senior Counsel or Queen’s Counsel”.
“These have been key features upon which the Law Council has long advocated, and we are pleased that the Committee and the government have accepted that these vital safeguards are necessary,” she said.
Ms Wright added that the LCA is also pleased the government has recognised the need for increased protections for journalists from secrecy offences.
“While the government will be reviewing whether public interest journalism is adequately protected under Commonwealth legislation, immediate reforms are required to amend the elements of secrecy and disclosure offences (requiring proof of harm or likely harm caused by a disclosure) and to enact broader public interest disclosure defences, not merely for journalists,” she said.
Going forward, Ms Wright urged the government to promptly implement the committee’s recommendations, “particularly the recommended amendments requiring the independent issuing of warrants, record-keeping and reporting on those warrants, and the appointment of public interest advocates”.
“Action on these matters needs not, and should not, await the completion of any further reviews into other laws (for example, reviews of secrecy and public interest disclosure laws),” she concluded.