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The Australian Federal Police’s raids on press freedom

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Annika Smethurst
The facts

On 4 June 2019, the Australian Federal Police raided the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst after she revealed in April last year that the Defence and Home Affairs departments had been discussing monitoring Australian citizens for the first time.

The following day, the Australian Federal Police raided the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sydney offices as well after a number of stories known as the Afghan Files revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan and were based on hundreds of pages of secret Defence documents leaked to the ABC.

Commissioner Gaughan said the raids were part of an investigation and alleged there had been an unauthorised leak of national security information to journalists.

Broadcaster Ben Fordham subsequently revealed he was the subject of a probe over his recent story about six asylum seeker boats attempting to reach Australia.

Relevant law

Section 79(3) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) provided that:

    (3)  If a person communicates a prescribed sketch, plan, photograph, model, cipher, note, document or article, or prescribed information, to a person, other than:

                       (a)  a person to whom he or she is authorized to communicate it; or

                       (b)  a person to whom it is, in the interest of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen’s dominions, his or her duty to communicate it;

  or permits a person, other than a person referred to in paragraph (a) or (b), to have access to it, he or she commits an offence.

Section 79(6) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) provided that:

     (6)  If a person receives any sketch, plan, photograph, model, cipher, note, document, article or information, knowing, or having reasonable ground to believe, at the time when he or she receives it, that it is communicated to him or her in contravention of subsection (3), he or she commits an offence unless he or she proves that the communication was contrary to his or her desire.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 2 years.

Last year, legislation was passed by the federal government which repealed section 79 of the Crimes Act but which inter alia expanded the definition of “national security” to include not just what we would normally think of as security matters but also Australia’s “political, military and economic relations with other countries”. Although this legislation provided a public interest defence to journalists, such protections were not afforded to whistleblowers who leaked to them.

Implications for journalists

Chris Merritt is not impressed:

“The Law Council last year suggested a mechanism to the government that, had it been adopted, could have removed the incentive to conduct those raids.

In the midst of the debate over changes to national security laws, the government changed tack and gave reporters a new defence that protects the publication of secrets that the reporter believes, on reasonable grounds, to be in the public interest.

But the government rejected the Law Council’s proposal for the same defence to be made available to those who provide such information to the media.

This gave rise to the current lunacy: public interest disclosures such as those made by Smethurst are defensible if made by a journalist, but the same information is not defensible if disclosed by a whistleblower in the federal public service. That inconsistency might explain why AFP officers targeted Smethurst and the ABC and why more reporters will inevitably be raided.

The main game, from the perspective of those who rejected the Law Council’s suggestion, appears to be all about finding reporters’ confidential sources and punishing them regardless of the public interest in what they revealed, and regardless of how many journalists and newsrooms are subjected to raids.”

Media lawyer Justin Quill believes that the warrants may be unconstitutional given that the chilling effect of the raids could be found to breach the implied right of political communication.

Conclusion

Whilst politicians and governments often pose as friends of free speech, press freedom and transparency, their actions demonstrate the opposite attitude. Powerful people will always have an incentive to entrench their own power and authority and reduce the power of others.

Who can forget Kevin Rudd’s promises of a new era of transparency, or the Gillard Government’s hamfisted attempt in its dying throes to regulate the media to make parts of it less critical of Labor?

Whether the warrants may be unconstitutional is a fascinating legal question for the High Court to consider. But the system should not have to rely on judges to protect press freedom. Accountability and transparency are increased when leaks are made to the media which are in the public interest. Federal legislation needs to be amended to allow for such unauthorised disclosures.

Professor Peter Ridd wins dismissal case against James Cook University

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Last year, Professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University after speaking out on issues relating to climate change research.

He took James Cook University to the Federal Circuit Court, arguing his termination of employment was unlawful.

Today, Ridd has won his case, with the Court awarding judgment in his favour:

“Handing down his decision today, judge Salvatore Vasta said that the 17 findings used by the university to justify the sacking were unlawful.

“The Court rules that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful,” Judge Vasta said.

A penalty hearing will be set for a later date.

At a hearing last month, Professor Ridd’s barrister Stuart Wood argued his client was entitled to criticise his colleagues and the university’s perceived lack of quality assurance processes.”

This is a win for free speech and academic freedom.

 

The pro-pedophile, out of touch ‘Human Rights’ Commission

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The Human Rights Commission’s decision to award compensation to a man convicted of child pornography offences shows that it is an out of touch organisation that sides with pedophiles over businesses.

Rosalind Croucher

The Australian ‘Human Rights’ Commission has courted significant controversy in recent years as a result of its decision to delay an enquiry into children in immigration detention until after the Liberal-National Coalition was elected in 2013, its former President’s repeatedly false and misleading evidence in Senate estimates and its failure to notify the students in the QUT case that a complaint had been made against them for 14 months.

The most recent controversy is the Commission’s awarding of compensation of $2,500 against bank and insurance company Suncorp for refusing to employ a man convicted and sentenced to 12 months’ jail in 2008 for accessing child pornography via a “carriage service” and for possession of child pornography.

To make matters worse, when applying for the role the man intentionally failed to disclose his criminal history.

If any organisation (other than the EU) typifies the foolish and dangerous worldview of the elites, it is the ‘Human Rights’ Commission. This organisation seems not to realise that people with serious criminal convictions usually are not of good character, particularly if they then try to deceive or mislead prospective employers as the man in this case did.

According to the Commission, a person convicted of accessing and viewing child porn should not be ‘discriminated against’ by employers when applying for jobs. On the other hand, students who complain on Facebook about being kicked out of an Indigenous only computer lab, and columnists and cartoonists who dare to express controversial opinions about Indigenous affairs should be sued, punished, dragged through the Commission’s Kaffkaesque processes and/or silenced.

This is precisely the sort of outcome we can expect more of if the ‘Human Rights’ Commission is given real power, or a Bill of Rights is ever implemented, as we warned some time ago. The ‘human rights’ of criminals, illegal immigrants and extremists will inevitably take precedence over the rights and interests of others.

JCU in Court for adverse actions against academic freedom

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Climate blogger Jennifer Marohasy provides an interesting report on Dr Peter Ridd’s case against James Cook University in the Federal Circuit Court. Ridd’s employment as an academic of the university was terminated in May due to him speaking out and defying a gag order imposed by the university.
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Liberty Victoria’s Orwellian Voltaire award

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“War is peace / freedom is slavery [and] ignorance is strength” was the grand party slogan in George Orwell’s 1984.

A more recent example of doublethink involves the bizarre choices by Liberty Victoria for its Voltaire Awards.

Yassmin

“War is peace / freedom is slavery [and] ignorance is strength” was the grand party slogan in 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian novel about a totalitarian society characterised by omnipresent surveillance and the policing of thought. The slogan itself is a famous example of doublethink: the process of accepting opposing and contradictory beliefs.

A more recent example of doublethink involves the bizarre choices by Liberty Victoria for its Voltaire Awards.
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Identity politics, political correctness and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

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On 4 November 2016, Judge Jarrett of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia dismissed a claim brought by Cindy Prior under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) as a result of posts published on Facebook by students at the Queensland University of Technology that complained of being kicked out of an ‘Indigenous only’ computer lab. This ends a 3 year long legal saga and ordeal for the students concerned.
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Response to invitations for submissions concerning a Bill of Rights in Australia

Posted on Categories Bill of Rights, Human rights, Judiciary1 Comment on Response to invitations for submissions concerning a Bill of Rights in Australia

To: The Human Rights Working Group

Queensland Law Society

RE CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS ON A BILL OF RIGHTS

Dear Sir/Madam,

We refer to the invitations for submissions concerning a Bill of Rights in Australia in the February 2016 edition of Proctor.

We write to voice our opposition to a Bill of Rights, for the reasons below.
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