.

  • Written by Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton appears to have backed down from his previous hardline position on AFP raids and press freedom. AAP/Sam Mooy

In light of the ministerial direction issued to the Australian Federal Police by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on August 9, it would be a spectacular contradiction in policy if the Australian Federal Police’s current pursuit of journalists were to end in prosecutions.


Read more: Explainer: what are the media companies' challenges to the AFP raids about?


The direction stated in part:

I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So much for the uncompromising stance of Dutton and the then acting commissioner of the AFP, Neil Gaughan, that the law was the law, and if journalists broke it they could expect to be prosecuted like anyone else.

The political sensitivity of this climb-down may be gauged from the fact the direction was issued at 4pm on a Friday.

A combination of early deadlines for the Saturday papers, the incapacity of television to pull together a comprehensive story in time for the evening bulletins, and the dead air of the weekend make late Friday the preferred time of the week to drop bad or embarrassing news.

Dutton’s announcement was bereft of explanation. However, events since the AFP raids on the home of a News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, and on the ABC headquarters on June 5 and 6 respectively give a hint of the likely reason.

First, there was the international condemnation across the Western world of the repressive nature of the police raids, expressed in a tone of disbelief that this could be happening in a mature democracy.

Then there was the unified response from the heads of Australia’s three main news organisations, the ABC, News Corporation and Nine. Their message, delivered in a nationally televised broadcast from the National Press Club on June 26, was that a government obsessed with secrecy had now gone so far as to criminalise journalism.

There was also the statement by the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, that he was “seriously disinclined” to prosecute journalists for doing journalism. His consent is needed for any such prosecution.

Faced with international condemnation, pressure from the media and the potential for a major row in Cabinet between Dutton and Porter, the government then tried to take the sting out of the situation by setting up an inquiry into press freedom.

Bizarrely, this is being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), the very body that has waved through most of these repressive laws in the first place.

The inquiry has generated a body of strongly worded submissions arguing for the balance between press freedom and government secrecy to be struck in a way that is more consistent with democratic principles.

It begins its public hearings this week.

So Dutton’s ministerial direction may be seen as having two objectives: heading off a potentially damaging split in cabinet, and accomplishing a preemptive buckle before the parliamentary inquiry calls him and outgoing AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, to give an account of themselves.

Of course, as far as anyone knows, the AFP investigations are still on foot. Already officers have removed thousands of records from the ABC, accumulated travel data concerning two ABC journalists and requested their fingerprints, as well as turning Annika Smethurst’s home upside-down.

So the government’s intimidatory tactics have had a good run already, even if prosecutions do not follow.

There is nothing to stop the police from completing these investigations and providing a brief of evidence for Porter. However, given his stated position, allied with the new political dynamics created by the reaction to the raids and Dutton’s directive, it seems unlikely prosecutions will follow.

While the ministerial direction represents a genuflection in the direction of press freedom, it provides nothing by way of protection for whistleblowers.

The direction says it

does not constrain investigation by the AFP of unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So it seems the pursuit of whistleblowers – the people who provide journalists with leaked information – can continue unabated. They still have only a demonstrably useless law – the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 – offering a fig leaf of protection.

The present prosecutions of Richard Boyle (Tax Office) and David McBride (Defence) attest to this.

The last paragraph of Dutton’s directive deals with the process by which government departments or agencies refer leaks to the AFP, and the AFP then assesses for investigative possibilities.


Read more: Media raids raise questions about AFP's power and weak protection for journalists and whistleblowers


This entire reference and assessment process has been shot through with politics, either at the departmental end or the police end, or both.

That is why the ABC and Smethurst leaks – neither of which had much to do with national security but were acutely embarrassing to the government – were subject to police action.

By contrast, a leak to The Australian about the alleged security effects of the medevac legislation, which the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis publicly complained was a real threat to national security, was not subject to police action because it played into the hands of the government’s scare campaign about people-smuggling.

Dutton’s direction says:

I expect the AFP to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required from a Government department or agency when they are referring to an unauthorised disclosure. Referring departments or agencies will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security.

If the direction is to be taken as meaning only leaks significantly compromising national security are to be referred to the police, then there may be a larger safe space within which journalists can operate.

But the hunt for whistleblowers will go on.

Denis Muller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/dutton-directive-gives-journalists-more-breathing-space-but-not-whistleblowers-121730

Private health premium increases might be the lowest in years, but that doesn't mean they're justified

Those facing large price increases might drop or downgrade their cover. Wayhome studio/ShutterstockEvery year private health insurers raise premiums and every year we rue the hit to our hip pocket. Th...

Nathan Kettlewell, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Economics Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Nathan Kettlewell, Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Economics Discipline Group, University of Technology Sydney

So your kid's finished their first year of school. Here's what they should have learnt

Every child progresses at different levels, just like everyone learns to talk and walk at different times. from shutterstock.comIt’s the end of the first year of school for many children and pro...

Jenny Johnston, Lecturer in Primary Education, Southern Cross University - avatar Jenny Johnston, Lecturer in Primary Education, Southern Cross University

5 human rights issues that defined 2019

One of this year’s most refreshing developments was the youth-led action on climate change. AAP Image/Dan PeledAs we approach the last days of the decade, it’s important to reflect on the ...

Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW - avatar Elaine Pearson, Adjunct Lecturer in Law, UNSW

As heat strikes, here's one way to help fight disease-carrying and nuisance mosquitoes

Although yellow fever does not currently exist in Australia, the species Aedes aegypti - which can transmit the disease - is found widely across northern Queensland. The virus remains a global health ...

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney - avatar Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

Don't blame the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's climate and economic change driving farmers out

For the thousand or so farmers in Canberra in the past week venting their anger at the federal government, it’s the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to blame for destroying their livelihoods and forcin...

Sarah Ann Wheeler, Professor in Water Economics, University of Adelaide - avatar Sarah Ann Wheeler, Professor in Water Economics, University of Adelaide

Expect family talks about climate change this Christmas? Take tips from Greta Thunberg

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is a master of staying on topic. AAP/Julian SmithAs bushfires rage and our cities lie shrouded in smoke, climate change is shaping as a likely topic of conversa...

Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland - avatar Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking; Curriculum Director, UQ Critical Thinking Project, The University of Queensland

Climate explained: seven reasons to be wary of waste-to-energy proposals

Many developed countries already have significant waste-to-energy operations and therefore less material going to landfill. CC BY-ND Climate Explained is a collaboration bet...

Jeff Seadon, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology - avatar Jeff Seadon, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology

In our time of climate crisis, the exhibition Water is a subtly crafted plea

Olafur Eliasson, Denmark, b.1967 Riverbed 2014 (detail) Site specific installation. Pictured: The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, DenmarkCourtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, B...

Chari Larsson, Lecturer of art history, Griffith University - avatar Chari Larsson, Lecturer of art history, Griffith University

We're still fighting city freeways after half a century

Demonstrations against freeway construction in Melbourne included a street barricade erected in protest at the F19 extension of the Eastern Freeway. Barricade! – the resident fight against the...

Andrew Butt, Associate Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University - avatar Andrew Butt, Associate Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University

Why were tourists allowed on White Island?

The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place. AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-NDThe official death toll remains at six, and eight...

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology - avatar Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

Curious Kids: why do we get bruises?

From red, to blue, to purple, to yellow and even green – why do our bruises change colour? From shutterstock.com How and why do we get bruises? – Francesca, aged 8. Hi Francesca, thank...

Abishek Santhakumar, Senior Lecturer in Haematology, Charles Sturt University - avatar Abishek Santhakumar, Senior Lecturer in Haematology, Charles Sturt University

To save koalas from fire, we need to start putting their genetic material on ice

Over the coming months, koalas will depend on wildlife hospitals to recover from the effects of unprecedented bushfires. Lachlan G. Howell , Author providedThousands of koalas may have died in fires ...

Ryan R. Witt, Conjoint Lecturer | Conservation Biology Research Group, University of Newcastle - avatar Ryan R. Witt, Conjoint Lecturer | Conservation Biology Research Group, University of Newcastle

(Almost) everyone's a winner? Art is meant to break rules and prizes must adapt

British artists (L-R) Oscar Murillo, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Tai Shani celebrate after being announced as the joint winners of Turner Prize 2019. Vickie Flores/EPALast week Britain&rsq...

Lachlan Warner, Australian Catholic University - avatar Lachlan Warner, Australian Catholic University

Unlawful metadata access is easy when we’re flogging a dead law

After watching this year’s media raids and the prosecution of lawyers and whistleblowers, it’s not hard to see why Australians wonder about excessive police power and dwindling journalisti...

Genna Churches, PhD Candidate, UNSW - avatar Genna Churches, PhD Candidate, UNSW

Why the profit motive fails in education

The disastrous experience of vocational education and training in Australia holds many lessons about trying to fit education into a for-profit market model. www.shutterstock.comThe Morrison government...

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland - avatar John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

The X17 factor: a particle new to physics might solve the dark matter mystery

Anomalies in nuclear physics experiments may show signs of a new force. ShutterstockA team of scientists in Hungary recently published a paper that hints at the existence of a previously unknown subat...

Celine Boehm, Head of School for Physics, University of Sydney - avatar Celine Boehm, Head of School for Physics, University of Sydney

The water crisis has plunged the Nats into a world of pain. But they reap what they sow

Angry farmers are pressuring the Nationals to tear up the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Lukas Coch/AAPWhen farmers descended on Parliament House in Canberra this month to demand the Murray Darling Basin ...

Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University - avatar Daniel Connell, Research Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

8 Factors to Consider When Buying a Standby Diesel Generator

Diesel generators play a vital role in different home and business applications. However, they are commonly known for providing backup power, especially during the mains outage or blackout. Though...

News Company - avatar News Company

2019 was a year of global unrest, spurred by anger at rising inequality – and 2020 is likely to be worse

2019 may well go down as the most disrupted year in global politics since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the subsequent implosion of the former Soviet Union. However, the likelihood is that ...

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University - avatar Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Latest Wednesday Lotto Results

Wednesday Lotto draw 3917 Lucky numbers for this draw were 43 followed by 25. The rest of the...

Ways Love and Relationships Benefit Body and Mind

Being in a happy relationship is great. You always have someone to greet you when you come home ...

The Importance of Smiling: How You Can Smile More

Happiness is something we all strive for and is often just out of reach. Of course, it’s impos...

5 Things to Do On Your Wedding Morning

After months of meticulous planning, wedding mornings usually find the bride excited but stressed ...