The chair of the Senate cross party committee investigating press freedoms in Australia Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is to introduce a Media Freedom Act draft regardless of the outcome of the inquiry, frustrated by what she sees as the continued outlawing of the press.
The Greens senator was on Tuesday fuming over the ABC’s legal challenge loss on Monday over raids on its Sydney headquarters last year which followed a raid on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst home and another planned but abandoned police raid on News Corp offices.
Under Senator Hanson-Young’s draft, expected to be backed by the cross benches, there will be a contested warrants process where law enforcement would need to apply to the courts to search a media outlet or access metadata.
A public interest defence will be introduced to protect whistleblowers, onus placed on prosecutors to disprove public interest rather than a journalist prove it and shield laws to protect journalists from being forced to reveal sources.
The draft is likely to be supported by media groups which last year had formed an unprecedented alliance in the Your Right to Know campaign, calling for those reforms.
“In just two years there’s been about 22 pieces of legislation the Federal Government has rammed through the parliament that increase secrecy in our democracy, under a guise of ‘national security’,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“The truth is, those in power don’t want the public to know what they’re up to and are shutting down transparency and accountability to serve their own interests.”
The inquiry is expected to report about the same time as her draft is introduced.
The senator said the inquiry had already been provided with enough examples of wrongdoing and misconduct that would not have come to light had it not been for whistleblowers and media.
“From the Afghan Files to sports rorts, the (Scott) Morrison Government is more worried about covering its backside than national security. When trust in politics is already so low, a bill to protect public interest journalism is like an insurance policy for our democracy.”
The Senate inquiry conducted its last public hearings last week with evidence taken from the first independent National Security Legislation monitor prominent barrister Bret Walker SC.
He said the issue of freedom was less a crisis than it was “chronic”.
“It’s something that we, bit by bit, imperceptibly, boiling-frog style, are losing, that is an expectation, part of being free and confident, particularly confident, that we will have
means of finding out what’s being done in our name and what’s being done, if you like, for us,” he said.