ABC PM Radio Interview

SUBJECT/S: Foreign influence legislation; Turnbull’s attack on charities.











SUBJECT/S: Foreign influence legislation; Turnbull’s attack on charities.


LINDA MOTTRAM, HOST: With me now is the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Mr Dreyfus, welcome to PM.




MOTTRAM: Why can’t we trust the government’s insistence that they are not targeting journalists with these laws?


DREYFUS: Because we’ve seen now in this Bill, which the Intelligence Committee started to examine last week, that it’s an extraordinary overreach by the government. They’ve cast a much, much wider net than is necessary and the defences that have been provided are inadequate. And that’s what media organisations across the country are concerned about. What this Bill amounts to is criminalising journalists going about their ordinary work.


MOTTRAM: These laws do though have a proposal to provide a defence for journalists, as long as the reporting is fair, as long as it’s in the public interest, but the onus is on journalists and media organisations to demonstrate those circumstances at trial. Is Labor committed to ensuring that that’s not necessary?


DREYFUS: It’s an extraordinarily narrow defence as has been pointed out in submissions. It calls for journalists to not only prove that what they were doing was journalism, but that it was fair and accurate reporting. That phrase is fraught with difficulty. By way of example, I don’t think President Trump would agree with the editor of the New York Times on what fair and accurate reporting was. What we need are clear defences that are a defence for media organisations and not just in their reporting, but in all of the stages of dealing with information that may come their way. This is a statute that criminalises, providing very heavy gaol terms, 15 years in gaol for journalists or the journalist’s editor, or the journalist’s lawyer, simply for receiving documents. That’s an extraordinary extension of existing secrecy laws and if the government is saying that changes to their Bill are inevitable, I’m calling on the government to show us what those changes are so that we can have a proper debate.


MOTTRAM: Would you insist on an exemption shield that covers all acts of journalism?


DREYFUS: We provided when we were in government, in a journalist shield law, something that entitles journalists to protect their sources, because clearly that is part of accepted journalistic activity, which is a core part of our democracy. That’s what we’re talking about here. Freedom of the press and the extraordinary value that it provides to our democracy. We need to make sure that if we are going to make changes to our national security laws, which we are pursuing appropriately, strengthening our protections, making sure our country is secure, we need to make sure that at the same time we are not throwing out vital liberties, including freedom of the press.


MOTTRAM: Christian Porter says that there are some areas that obvious improvements could be made to the drafting. He hasn’t given specifics. You’ve said you’d negotiate with the government. You also said yesterday that you wouldn’t write legislation on TV. So what precise details today can you give us today about what you want to see in this legislation?


DREYFUS: This secrecy legislation should for a start be following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission made in 2009 in a huge report that they did on Australian secrecy laws. They said that if Australia’s secrecy laws are to be re-written, they should be on a basis of harm. They also said that if the secrecy laws are to be re-written, there should be a differentiation made between the person giving the information, the leaker, and the person receiving the information. The way this Bill is drawn, just to take the recent example of the shocking security breach of the filing cabinet full of documents, the person who bought the filing cabinet, not knowing what was in them, would be committing a criminal offence if this Bill became law. Now that’s clearly much too widely drawn. The government if it accepts that change is inevitable, needs to come forward with the ways in which it is proposing to re-draft it. And I’d say the same for the other Bills in this set that the government has produced. The foreign donations law where the government has also conceded that some change is needed to what they’ve produced, a much too widely drawn attack on charities and on advocacy and an attack on civil society. And the other Bill, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme where the government has also overreached and again attacked the charities sector in Australia.


MOTTRAM: Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time.


DREYFUS: Thanks very much Linda.