Illustration: John Spooner
I am not a fan of the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis. He’s a politician with a slender grasp of matters such as fairness and accuracy, as he demonstrated last year when he branded me publicly as an enemy of press freedom.
I defended myself at the time, and don’t need to do it again here. The sad truth is few politicians have much regard for fairness and accuracy. Exaggeration and distortion are much more useful on the hustings. What’s more concerning is that Brandis, who constantly applauds himself for his championship of press freedom, appears not to understand it at all.
Witness his bizarre defence of section 35P of the newly minted National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1). That’s the section that makes it an offence, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, to “disclose information” about a so-called special intelligence operation.
A question of trust: Attorney-General George Brandis urged members of the Press Club to trust the Coalition. Photo: Andrew Meares
On Q&A on Monday night, Brandis announced the law was not aimed at journalists. But, asked Tony Jones, if a journalist reported what a whistleblower had disclosed, would they fall under the law
Here, verbatim, is Brandis’ convoluted reply:”If it’s a whistleblower, the whistleblower protection laws still apply. If it’s a journalist covering what a whistleblower has disclosed, then the journalist wouldn’t fall within the reach of the section, because the relevant conduct is the conduct constituting the disclosure; so if the event is already disclosed by someone else and a journalist merely reports that which has already been disclosed, as it was by Snowden, then the provision would not apply.”
Well, for a start, as the Attorney-General must know, there is no chance at all that the whistleblower protection laws would apply to anyone disclosing information about an intelligence operation (let alone a “special” intelligence operation) to the media. Not a chance.
Second, most whistleblowers do not act openly, as Edward Snowden did. They approach the media, seeking confidentiality. The first public disclosure of the information is by a journalist, either quoting a confidential source, or publishing a document supplied by that source.
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Press Freedom: George Brandis is talking plain rubbish