SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 27 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: Foreign Interference; Media Freedom; Victorian COVID Powers.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Journalists who are the targets of police raids will be given new protections under recommendations made by an important parliamentary inquiry into media freedoms. The year-long probe by the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security was launched after those high-profile raids on the ABC and the home of News Corp’s Annika Smethurst. Its long-awaited report calls for stricter procedures for the issuing of warrants on national security grounds, but rejected calls by media organisations they be allowed to challenge the warrants before they are issued. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and a member of the committee, Mark Dreyfus, welcome back.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Just before I get to media freedom, these foreign interference laws, the Government wants to use the External Affairs power to override any agreement struck by state governments that would be contrary to the national interest. Will Labor support the legislation when it hits Parliament next week?
DREYFUS: Well we haven't seen it yet but of course managing our relationships with other countries has always been the Federal Government's job, and of course the Federal Government should be determining what's in our national interests.
But let's not forget that this is the Government that ticked off the sale of the Port of Darwin to Chinese interests. This is the Government that includes Marise Payne and Simon Birmingham who supported the Victorian Memorandum Of Understanding when it was signed.
KELLY: The Prime Minister’s Office has been in contact to say they never supported that. There was no endorsement of that plan.
DREYFUS: Well, people can read their interviews at the time and draw their own conclusions. And let's not forget that this Government signed its own secret Belt and Road Initiative in 2017. That was Steve Ciobo and the Government should come clean and explain what that deal with China was all about.
We've made it clear, Labor's made it clear, that we would not sign up at a Federal Government level to the BRI, which of course is something that this Coalition Government's already done.
KELLY: If the law was used, for instance, to force Victoria to cancel its Belt and Road deal with China would you support that? Do you think that agreement shouldn't have been signed in the first place?
DREYFUS: We think that the Federal Government should be managing our international relations, and in particular should be working towards a productive relationship with China. That's been our position for a very long time. It should be this Government's position.
KELLY: This will change and limit the states’ sovereign powers to sign deals with other countries about tourism, about science agreements about, you know, infrastructure won’t it?
DREYFUS: Let's just see what the Government's proposing when we look at the legislation. Let's see exactly what they want to do, and let's then consider what the implications are for Australia's economic prosperity and Australia's trade.
KELLY: Okay, on the press freedom issue, the media freedoms report, the committee made up of Government and Opposition members was unanimous -journalists deserve more protection under the law, but they can still end up in jail for doing their job. Was this a missed opportunity to do something more when it comes to public interest journalism?
DREYFUS: Let’s bear in mind that this is a consensus report of six Liberal members of the Committee and five Labor members of the Committee. We've made it very clear that we think that more needs to be done to protect press freedom in Australia. And what is striking about this report is that those six Liberal members of the Committee, are in direct disagreement with Mr Morrison and Mr Dutton and Mr Porter, all of whom told the Committee and have said publicly that no change is needed to our laws.
Quite rightly - and I commend those six Liberal members of the Committee for reaching this conclusion – they’ve concluded as we concluded that there is a need to change our laws. Our position is that even these recommendations of the Committee, are only a starting point. The Government should immediately implement all of these recommendations and it should go further.
KELLY: The most significant change, as I understand it anyway, being recommended is how warrants are issued. A public interest advocate would be able to make a submission to the judge issuing the warrant. But would that submission be given equal weight to an application by police for the warrant for instance? Is there any inherent imbalance there?
DREYFUS: We see this is a way to make sure that the competing interests here of law enforcement and protecting journalists who are doing their jobs, protecting journalists who are engaged in public interest journalism, that the best way we think, to balance those competing interests is to have a public interest advocate at the stage of the application for the warrant, which we’ve recommended should be before a superior court judge, to raise the level of the person authorising the warrant. We think that that's a good way to make sure that the interests of journalism are considered in the process.
But of course, there are competing interests here. No one can shy away from that. What we're on about here is making sure that there's a process to ensure that the interests of a free press, the interests of public interest journalism, aren't forgotten in the process.
KELLY: The Committee rejected the call to make warrants contestable, that means they'd still be issued without notice. Why didn't you support that?
DREYFUS: We accepted that there's a potential prejudice to investigations to the criminal justice process if there is notice given that a warrant is being sought. And again, there are competing interests here. We've looked for ways to protect the public interest, and we urge the Government to make the reforms that this report has recommended, and to go further, because it is absolutely clear that the interests of a free press are not being protected in Australia. It's still the situation Fran that an ABC journalist, three years on from the start of an investigation, is under threat of being charged with a serious criminal offence and being jailed…
KELLY: That’s true.
DREYFUS: … for simply doing his job.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, just finally and briefly, we've only got a minute to the news, but can I ask you about the bid by the Andrews Government for a 12-month extension to the State of Emergency in in Victoria. You’re a Victorian, do you see anything to fear from that extension? Do you agree with Bill Shorten that, you know, people are freaking out about it?
DREYFUS: This measure is needed to make sure that the health emergency is able to be dealt with decisively, that this highly infectious disease is able to be met by necessary restrictions. It doesn't mean that the lockdown is being extended for 12 months, it means that the Victorian Government will have the power necessary to continue restrictions if they need to. At the moment we're all looking forward to the Stage Four lockdown ending on the 13th of September.
KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thanks very much for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much Fran.