Australia doesn’t protect free speech, but it could

Published:

Misha Ketchell, The Conversation


Because we are so saturated in American culture, very few Australians realise that free speech in this country isn’t really a thing. It is not merely not protected – it’s far worse than that. If you read any of the vast array of laws that protect government secrets, disclosure in the public interest is discouraged, criminalised, punished, and deplored.

The closest we have ever come to having any positive protection of free speech is a series of High Court decisions which say that our Constitution creates an “implied freedom” to communicate so we can be informed citizens. But it is weak. It can be cancelled out by any law that is reasonable and proportionate to achieve another government objective. Former High Court judge Michael Kirby put it bluntly on the ABC yesterday: Australia has less protection of free speech than most Western countries.

Journalists have cared about this sorry state of affairs for a long time, but their pleas have been dismissed as mere self-interest. Yes, journalists are often victims of laws that protect secrecy and target whistleblowers. But what we want, and what everyone should want, is a healthy system of government that can serve the public interest by bringing important matters to light.

The journalist and academic Denis Muller expresses the anger felt by many when he writes that Australian Federal Police, in conducting raids on the ABC and the home of News Limited journalist Annika Smethurst, have allowed themselves to become a tool of “secretive, ruthless and vindictive executive government”. Michelle Grattan writes that Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a keen defender of freedom when it comes to religion, is now faced with the perception that Australia is hostile to a free press.

Meanwhile, Peter Greste, now a Professor of Journalism at the University of Queensland, has long been advocating for greater media freedom as part of a group called the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom. In May they put out a paper suggesting we should create a law that enshrines media freedom as a positive aspect of our democratic system. Such a law would improve the balance between press freedom and national security, as well as provide a measure of protection from future legislative incursion. (Disclosure: I was part of a round table discussion during which this idea was developed.)

It’s an idea that warrants serious consideration. It’s not a First Amendment, but it could take what many of us already imagine to be the case and turn it into reality.The Conversation

Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
Blogs & Opinion Community Law & Safety Lifestyle Political Surveys & Your Say Technology & Communications TV & Radio University & TAFE
Social:   

The Conversation :
Australia Wide
The Conversation
Showing 10+ recent articles for this business
What's your favourite pool? 20 December 2019 | Why are ocean pools not more widespread? It isn’t the cost – our research suggests the public benefits of NSW ocean pools greatly outweigh the investment in building and maintaining them. And these pools do... More information...
Shark nets are destructive and don't keep you safe – let's invest in lifeguards 04 December 2019 | As Australians look forward to the summer beach season, the prospect of shark encounters may cross their minds. Shark control has been the subject of furious public debate in recent years and while some governm... More information...
Government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission will not stamp out public sector corruption — here’s why 25 November 2019 | Attorney-General Christian Porter added a little more flesh to the bones of the long-awaited Commonwealth Integrity Commission this week. In a National Press Club address, Porter argued there must be a balance... More information...
Hackers are now targeting councils and governments, threatening to leak citizen data 11 November 2019 | In recent weeks, Johannesburg's computer network was held for ransom by a hacker group called Shadow Kill Hackers. This was the second time in three months a ransomware attack has hit South Africa's largest... More information...
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough 12 November 2019 | Fires of unprecedented number and ferocity are today raging in New South Wales and Queensland. Residents in some regions woke to news that the fire danger was “catastrophic”. Rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons... More information...
Is the Morrison government ‘authoritarian populist’ with a punitive bent? 04 November 2019 | Although the term “authoritarian populism” is often associated with far-right parties, it has also been used to describe mainstream governments, such as those of Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990). More information...
We asked 13 economists how to fix things. All back the RBA governor over the treasurer 04 November 2019 | Thirteen leading economists have declared their hands in the stand off between the government and the Governor of the Reserve Bank over the best way to boost the economy. More information...
5 charts on what a Newstart recipient really looks like 30 October 2019 | The Newstart unemployment benefit is all over the news. It’s the subject of a Senate inquiry. Today it will take evidence in Elizabeth, in what used to be Adelaide’s industrial north. More information...
Australia needs a Media Freedom Act. Here’s how it could work 22 October 2019 | Australians picked up their morning papers yesterday to find heavily blacked-out text instead of front-page headlines. This bold statement was instigated by the “Your Right to Know” campaign, an unlikely... More information...
Robo-debt class action could deliver justice for tens of thousands of Australians instead of mere hundreds 17 September 2019 | The announcement by Gordon Legal of a class action to compensate victims of the government’s so-called robo-debt scheme is welcome, perhaps even groundbreaking. More information...


comments powered by Disqus

All articles submitted by third parties or written by My Sunshine Coast come under our Disclaimer / Terms of Service