House debates

Monday, 21 October 2019

Statements by Members


1:36 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

In a 21st-century globally connected world, a free press is a national security imperative. The internet has brought the world onto our handsets and into our living rooms, but it has also brought a far greater risk of foreign interference and foreign influence operations into our democracy. We are not alone here. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute has found that 20 nations have experienced cyber-enabled foreign interference in electoral or democratic institutions since 2016. Our best defence against this foreign interference is healthy, vibrant, democratic institutions, including a free press.

Our journos are the ones who bring covert, corrupt or coercive foreign influences to light. Excessive constraints on the freedom of the press, through the chilling use of secrecy laws to raid journalists, the misuse of freedom of information laws, stifling laws of defamation, chronic underfunding of the ABC or interference with its independence, do little to protect our democracy. Rhetorical attacks on fake news or the contemptuous dismissal of journalists' questions as rumour or 'Canberra bubble' issues by our politicians don't do any service to our democracy either. The government haven't gone as far yet as Sir Robert Menzies did, when he actually jailed a journalist, but it's about time the Prime Minister stopped treating the freedom of the press as little more than an inconvenience and started treating it as an essential pillar of both our national security and our democracy. (Time expired)