Tuesday, 23 July 2019
Environment and Communications References Committee; Reference
That the following matters be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by the third sitting day of December 2019:
(a) disclosure and public reporting of sensitive and classified information, including the appropriate regime for warrants regarding journalists and media organisations and adequacy of existing legislation;
(b) the whistleblower protection regime and protections for public sector employees;
(c) the adequacy of referral practices of the Australian Government in relation to leaks of sensitive and classified information;
(d) appropriate culture, practice and leadership for Government and senior public employees;
(e) mechanisms to ensure that the Australian Federal Police have sufficient independence to effectively and impartially carry out their investigatory and law enforcement responsibilities in relation to politically sensitive matters; and
(f) any related matters.
The government is committed to ensuring our democracy strikes the right balance between a free press and keeping Australians safe—two fundamental tenets of our democracy. That's why the government has asked the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to conduct an inquiry into law enforcement and intelligence powers in relation to the freedom of the press. The PJCIS is well placed to conduct this inquiry, given its responsibility for and experience in handling issues concerning national security information and legislation. The PJCIS has already commenced its inquiry and will report back to both houses of parliament by 17 October 2019.
Unlike the Morrison government, Labor believes in freedom of the press and the public's right to know. We believe this inquiry is essential because it will be carried out by a committee that the Morrison government does not control. That the Morrison government opposes this inquiry tells the Australian people all they need to know about this government's contempt for freedom of the press and for the Australian public's right to know what this government is up to with their money, including the litany of policy disasters and personal scandals that the Morrison government is always trying to hide from the Australian public. A strong and independent media is vital to holding governments to account, and Labor will continue to fight to defend and strengthen press freedom through this inquiry.
Centre Alliance will be supporting this referral. The PJCIS is in fact the very organisation that has had carriage of all the security legislation that has placed constraints on journalists in this country. I point out also that there are no crossbenchers on the PJCIS, and some of us crossbenchers are probably the strongest advocates for press freedom in this chamber. We're indicating our support for this. We don't want to leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.