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Inquiry into the Impact of the Exercise of Law Enforcement and Intelligence Powers on the Freedom of the Press

The submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s (Committee) inquiry into the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press (Inquiry) was prepared by the Law Council of Australia. 

The freedom and independence of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. By providing a public forum for debate, it informs citizens through the presentation of current affairs, opinion and analysis. The media is often impacted to a greater extent by the powers granted to law enforcement and intelligence agencies than other types of sectors due to the social and political purposes with which it is charged. Importantly, its part in protecting Australia’s rights and freedoms through public interest reporting and protecting and maintaining an open government must not be understated, nor undermined.

In order to ensure that the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies do not unduly supress public interest reporting through encroachments on the right to freedom of expression and the media, the legitimate public interest in protecting some information from disclosure must be balanced with the need for open government. This requires the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to be proportionate, necessary and contain adequate safeguards.

The Law Council notes that there are many secrecy and other offences under Commonwealth law that impact on freedom of the press. However, due to the relatively short timeframe given to provide a submission to the Committee, the Law Council has not had the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the myriad of law enforcement and intelligence agency powers that affect press freedom in Australia. 

In the Law Council’s view, one of the key areas in Australia’s national security law framework that requires urgent addressing is the unauthorised disclosure and secrecy provisions. In 2010, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) published the report Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia (the Secrecy Report). The Law Council has consistently supported the development and amendment of secrecy provisions in a manner consistent with the Secrecy Report.

You can read the full submission below.

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