Govt admits police excess: new inquiry into press ‘freedom’

By Bill Rowlings, CEO of CLA

The federal government has at last realised police raids on the ABC and on the home of a journalist from The Australian newspaper were totally over the top, and should not have happened.

At least that’s the only reasonable explanation for why the first inquiry announced by the new government is into how excessive security laws and police powers should be curtailed, and the press allowed a skerrick more ‘freedom’.

Of course, all the anti-terror laws passed since 2001 should be examined in toto, and the extensive excesses wound back, CLA believes. This inquiry should not be undertaken by the PJCIS – it’s the body responsible for approving most of the excesses!

The announcement, on Friday 5 July, said:

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has begun an inquiry into the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press.

Terms of reference are:

a) The experiences of journalists and media organisations that have, or could become, subject to the powers of law enforcement or intelligence agencies performing their functions, and the impact of the exercise of those powers on journalists’ work, including informing the public.

b) The reasons for which journalists and media organisations have, or could become, subject to those powers in the performance of the functions of law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

c) Whether any and if so, what changes could be made to procedures and thresholds for the exercise of those powers in relation to journalists and media organisations to better balance the need for press freedom with the need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate serious offending and obtain intelligence on security threats.

d) Without limiting the other matters that the Committee may consider, two issues for specific inquiry are:

  • whether and in what circumstances there could be contested hearings in relation to warrants authorising investigative action in relation to journalists and media organisations.
  • the appropriateness of current thresholds for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access electronic data on devices used by journalists and media organisations.

The committee will report to parliament by 17 October 2019.

Civil Liberties Australia expects to be making a submission to the inquiry. If you would like to suggest a sentence, paragraph or section to add to our submission, please email: secretary@cla.asn.au

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