Follow Australian Federal Police raids on journalist Annika Smethurst and the Sydney newsroom of the ABC in June 2019, the Senate’s Standing Committees on Environment and Communications commenced an inquiry into the impact of law enforcement powers on press freedom, with particular reference to the laws and protections for disclosing and reporting sensitive information.

The inquiry is due to report in early 2021.

Contributions to the inquiry

PIJI’s recommendations to the inquiry include the following:

  • Enshrine a positive protection for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Australian law;
  • The federal government should lead an effort to harmonise shield laws across jurisdictions and adopt a broader, functional definition of journalists;
    • Protection should be extended to all those involved in the newsgathering and publication process whose material or evidence may tend to reveal the identity of a source;
  • Change the definition of a journalist provided in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 to be consistent with the definition provided in the Evidence Act 1995.
    • Additional protection should be extended to other people whose metadata may reveal the identity of a source.
  • Journalists and their employers should be informed when enforcement agencies seek access to their metadata and journalist information warrants should be contestable by the subject of the warrant and their employer.
    • Where that is not possible, allow the Public Interest Advocate to consult with the subject of the warrant and present their assessment of the potential harms of disclosure.
  • The public interest consideration required before issuing a journalists’ information warrant should be expanded to consider the potential harm that could be done by the issuance of the warrant and the public interest in a free press.
  • Amend section 280 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to prevent agencies from accessing retained data except those enforcement agencies listed in the TIA Act.

View PIJI’s appearance before the inquiry.
Dr Margaret Simons and Gary Dickson, 18 October 2019

Read PIJI’s submission to the inquiry.
Gary Dickson and Dr Margaret Simons, 30 August 2019

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