Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announces the federal government’s plan to enshrine protections for journalists and whistleblowers in federal law, as a response to a comprehensive review of the nation’s secrecy laws, addressing concerns about the excessive focus on national security interests.
Overview of the Review and Response
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus aims to introduce safeguards in federal law to prevent prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information, in response to a thorough review of the country’s secrecy laws. This initiative seeks to address the prevailing concerns that national security interests have overshadowed the public’s right to access government information.
Increased Protections for Freedom of the Press
Former Attorney-General Christian Porter had previously instructed lawyers to obtain ministerial approval for prosecuting journalists. Now, the federal government plans to solidify this requirement in federal legislation to shield journalists from the looming threat of imprisonment while carrying out their professional duties.
Revisiting Secrecy Laws
The extensive review, initiated in December last year, was prompted by apprehensions that the legislative focus had tilted excessively towards national security concerns, neglecting the public’s entitlement to insights into governmental operations. Currently, there are 875 secrecy offenses encompassing a wide array of domains such as national security and tax laws, prompting calls for simplification and alteration.
Reduction of Criminal Liability
As part of the response to the review, the government is striving to alleviate criminal consequences by eliminating the criminal responsibility associated with 168 secrecy offenses. This move aims to safeguard press freedom and assure protection for individuals divulging information to royal commissions.
Creation of New Secrecy Offense
Furthermore, the federal government is contemplating the establishment of a comprehensive secrecy offense to address breaches of confidentiality, extending its scope to cover Commonwealth officials and consultants. The proposed offense is intended to establish the necessity of actual harm to the community resulting from the dissemination of sensitive information, emphasizing that government embarrassment alone should not warrant maintaining secrecy.