Australia’s new security laws were passed with bipartisan support in 2018. They were meant to give the Australian Federal Police (AFP) more powers in order to protect us against terrorism.
The recent warrants issued against the ABC and a News Corporation journalist have little to do with protection against terrorism and a lot to do with suppression of the press.
Freedom of independence of the press has been important in Western democracies since 1787, when the English MP, Edmund Burke, opened up a debate about freedom of the press. Remember, this was even before the French Revolution! Burke talked about the importance of the “fourth estate” as he called it, and its role in holding the other elements of society to account. He referred to the other elements as the clergy, the nobility and the commons (parliament).
Since 1787, the concept of freedom of the press has expanded throughout Western democracies as a means of preventing totalitarian states evolving from democracies, particularly as occurred in Western Europe in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The purpose of our most recent foray into security legislation was never to allow the government to prevent transparency or embarrassment, but rather to make us safer. Unfortunately, there is a long tradition of various governments introducing restrictions on both the freedom of the press, and on human rights, in the name of “security”.
Despite the fact that this approach was bipartisan by the two major parties, because neither wanted to appear weak on security, there were many lawyers, politicians and journalists who spoke out against these new security laws when they were enacted.
Misuse, or potential misuse, of those laws in relation to the warrants issued against the ABC and the News Corporation journalist should be opposed. At the very least we need to be protected from our government by enshrining freedom of the press, protections for whistle-blowers, and transparency of government into our laws.
A better long-term result would be a bill or charter of rights, but that’s a discussion for another day.
The independence of our journalists and their rights to hold governments to account must be protected, particularly in relation to potential crimes or corruption. It is our view that this is particularly true after the creation of the monster and monstrous government Department of Home Affairs, which now controls the AFP and is headed by Peter Dutton. This is a breakdown in transparency and communication of government, and that affects all of us.