The Coalition Government last July refused to sign onto the British Government initiated Global Pledge on Press Freedoms citing it did not have enough notice on what it was or would lock the government into.
But nine months later Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it still had not been reviewed and the government held some concerns about an apparent fighting fund clause.
Senator Payne said while she believed in press freedoms it was not a pledge she was currently willing to sign onto without more review.
This was despite many other countries signing, notably close allies the UK, US and Canada which placed the onus on governments to ensure their respective nations could enjoy “human rights and the benefits these bring to society”.
“I think the pledge contained some fairly vague requirements and requests around funding which we had sought more advice on, I’ve discussed this recently with (British Foreign) Secretary Dominic Raab and undertaken to him to have another look at it,” Senator Payne said.
She added a “contentious” press freedoms inquiry in Australia was underway at the time and the British Government’s pledge proposal was not as “well articulated” as it could have been.
Labor foreign spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong said in light of a police raid on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, which had caused “a lot of understandable concern”, she found it perplexing the government was unconcerned about not standing with other like-minded democracies in asserting the democratic principle of a free press.
It was reiterated the financial implications of the pledge had to be taken into account.
“So what, we don’t want to put our money where our mouth is, is that what that means?” Senator Wong asked.
“Senator we put a considerable amount of effort behind our advocacy, a considerable amount of effort both in our posts …” Senator Payne said.
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The parliamentary inquiry is looking into potential law reform to better protect whistleblowers and journalists writing public interest reports.
The Australian Federal Police and Department of Home Affairs have proposed officers be allowed to ask journalists for documents and the names of their confidential sources to avoid future raids on their homes.
The proposal was contained in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into press freedoms which followed the Smethurst raid and a similar one on the offices of the ABC over coverage of contentious reports.
The outcome of the inquiry has been held up by the late filing of the six-page submission by Home Affairs.