Enhancing protections for journalists and public sector whistle-blowers

The Morrison Government has today announced a range of measures designed to strengthen protections for journalists and public sector whistle-blowers, which will further enhance the freedom of the press.

“Transparency is a key foundation of a healthy democracy and these reforms support the right of journalists and whistle-blowers to hold governments at all levels to account by shining a light on issues that are genuinely in the public interest,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

All of the recommendations directed at the Government by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s (PJCIS) recent press freedom inquiry have been accepted, which will:

  • ensure that only Supreme or Federal Court judges can issue search warrants against journalists for disclosure offences;
  • ensure warrants can only be issued against journalists for disclosure offences after consideration by a Public Interest Advocate;
  • enhance reporting requirements in relation to warrants exercised against journalists; and
  • require the government to consider additional defences for public interest journalism for secrecy offences.

The reforms complement strong action already taken by the Government to protect journalists, including the Ministerial Directions to the Australian Federal Police and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. These directions require police to consider broader public interest implications before investigating journalists, and for prosecutors to seek the consent of the Attorney-General before prosecuting journalists for a range of disclosure offences.

The PJCIS also recommended that the Government release its response to the Moss Review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PID Act), which recommended improvements to the regime governing disclosures made by public sector employees.

The Government accepted 30 of the review’s 33 recommendations and has also today outlined further reforms that it intends to consider, including some suggested by the PJCIS.

The reform will focus the Act on more serious wrongdoing and misconduct, strengthen the oversight role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, require agencies to support public officials when making disclosures and improve the Act’s interaction with other investigative processes.

The Government will also make further reforms to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of the Act and make the protections more consistent with those available under the private sector scheme.

“The PID Act was introduced by Labor in 2013 and is an important piece of legislation, but it has been widely criticised for being confusing and impenetrable – not only for judges and lawyers, but most significantly for public servants who rely on it for guidance and support,” the Attorney-General said.

“Our reforms will ensure the Act is clear and understandable and provides an effective legal framework that supports and protects public sector whistle-blowers, while balancing important national security considerations with regard to the unauthorised release of sensitive information.”

The Government thanks members of the PJCIS and Mr Philip Moss AM for their thorough approaches to these important reviews. The Government extends those thanks to the many stakeholders that made valuable contributions to both inquiries.

Read the Government response to the Moss Review and the Government response to the PJCIS’s inquiry.

/Public Release. View in full here.