Tuesday, 23 July 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. After the arrest of four French journalists in Queensland yesterday, has the minister or her department been in contact with the French ambassador or attempted to assist the journalists concerned? Furthermore, what diplomatic steps would the Australian government take if an Australian journalist were arrested in similar circumstances in France or perhaps Hong Kong?
I thank Senator Hanson-Young for her question. Yesterday, on 22 July, the Queensland Police Service arrested seven people following protest activity at a port facility near Bowen. The Queensland Police Service have said that the seven are due to appear in the Bowen Magistrates Court on 3 September this year. Any inquiries or queries relating to the circumstances of the arrest of course would be appropriately referred to the Queensland Police Service, and any inquiries regarding consular support which would be extended to French nationals are ones which would be addressed by the Embassy of France.
A further question for the minister: how will the government respond to the concerns of the international community regarding Australia's press freedoms after the heavy-handed arrest of these four journalists? And could you please answer the remainder of my first question: what would you do if it were an Australian journalist in France?
As Australia does, appropriate consular support is extended to Australian citizens when they are travelling overseas in a broad range of circumstances. That is a responsibility the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our consular services division take very seriously.
In relation to the matters of the arrest: they relate, I presume, to an ongoing investigation or an ongoing inquiry being carried out by the Queensland Police Service. I don't intend to comment on those details.
Australia's international reputation has been called into question after the arrest of these four French journalists, on the back of raids on our national broadcaster and on individual journalists. What will the government do to restore the faith of Australian citizens and the international community in our press freedoms?
As I said in recent weeks when I spoke at a conference on these matters in London, the Australian government has asked what is a very senior parliamentary committee, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, to conduct an inquiry into how law enforcement and intelligence powers interact with protections for journalists and for press freedom, to ensure that we strike the right balance. The Australian government has also directly invited media organisations to provide direct submissions to government, and has engaged with those organisations prior to this, of course, on those key issues of concern to them, and the government is looking forward to working with them and continuing what is a constructive dialogue over the coming months. We are committed to ensuring that, in our democracy, we strike the important right balance between a free press and keeping Australians safe—two fundamental tenets of our democracy which Australians expect us to observe.