The Turnbull Government has announced its intention to ramp up legislative powers against foreign interference to Australian political process.
The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, introduced to the House of Representatives in December, is aiming to ‘comprehensively reform key offences dealing with threats to national security, particularly those posed by foreign principals’.
The Bill describes Australia’s current legislative framework as failing ‘to take into account the current operational environment and technological advances which have provided hostile foreign intelligence services with greater global reach, access to sensitive data and tools to obscure identity’.
Coming under criticism, however, is the government’s failure to offer journalists an exemption from the charge.
The provisions will introduce offences for possessing sensitive information. If the information is classified, charges may be laid without the possessor even having knowledge that the content is privileged. This, of course, could have grave consequences for unsuspecting journalists and damage Australia’s free media landscape.
While Attorney-General Christian Porter, in defence of the provisions, has stated that charging journalists is “not the intent” of the proposition, this stance has left many, including former NSW Supreme Court Judge, Anthony Whealy, pondering why, when “the law is sufficiently wide to get [journalists]” and this is the not the intent, have journalists not been made exempt from the provisions?*
*The Australian, ‘Spy law puts journalists at risk of jail, ex-judge warns’.